May 2nd, 2009

Retraining Wire and Feature Editors to Be Web Curators

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If the wire editor and feature editor roles are becoming obsolete for print newspapers, as Steve Yelvington persuasively argues, then those editors should be retrained — or retrain themselves — as web curators. Rather than become obsolete, these editors could become essential to their news organization’s future on the web.

Steve observes:

On the Internet, we have no need of wire editors; if we wish to have wire content on our websites, we can plug in AP Hosted News, or run a full feed of AP Online or some similar product from another service. But with everything on the Internet just a click away, the value of such branded and hosted wire content is low (and measurable), and even that may go away before long, based on simple cost-benefit analysis. We may be better off sending users to CNN, MSNBC and NYtimes.

Feature editing faces the same problem:

But the job simply doesn’t transport to digital media. Again, everything on the planet is just a click away, much of it more interesting, entertaining and informative than can be found in the typical daily newspaper’s features.

Yet there is a HUGE opportunity in this shifting landscape. Just because there’s a wealth of content a click away doesn’t mean that news consumers know where to click in order to find it.

Instead, we have what Clay Shirky describes as “filter failure”:

Here’s what the Internet did: it introduced, for the first time, post-Gutenberg economics. The cost of producing anything by anyone has fallen through the floor. And so there’s no economic logic that says that you have to filter for quality before you publish…The filter for quality is now way downstream of the site of production.

What we’re dealing with now is not the problem of information overload, because we’re always dealing (and always have been dealing) with information overload…Thinking about information overload isn’t accurately describing the problem; thinking about filter failure is.

Local news sites may serve their readers much better by sending them to CNN, MSNBC, and NYT for non-local news, as Steve suggests. But they may also send them to local news sites in other regions for stories dealing with common issues. They may send them to local blogs and other non-MSM media sites.

There is a wealth of sources on the web. Helping readers find the best of the web could help local news sites remain daily destinations rather than just a host for content to be aggregated by someone else — which could help those news operations get back into the content distribution business, which is how they made money in print, and how they could make a lot more money on the web.

Wire and feature editors are already skilled content curators — they just need to adapt those skills to filtering the web. One challenge they can apply their news judgment to is discovering new sources of trusted information, something Google CEO Eric Schmidt admits alogirthms struggle with.

For general search, we’ve been careful not to bias it using our own judgment of trust because we’re never sure if we get it right. So we use complicated ranking signals, as they’re called, to determine rank and relevance. And we change them periodically, which drives everybody crazy, as or algorithms get better. There’s no question in my experience that the top brands represented in this room would, in fact, float to the top in our search ranking. The usual problem is you’ve got somebody who really is very trustworthy but they’re not as well-known and they compete against people who are better known, and they don’t, in their view, get high enough ranking. We have not come up with a way to algorithmically handle that in a coherent way.

Another skill that would help wire and feature editors take on the challenge of filtering the web, and make them hugely relevant in the web media era, is collaboration. They could learn a lot from the editors in Washington State who have been practicing collaborative curation, whether for a statewide flood or a flu outbreak.

Publish2‘s Senior Editor Josh Korr wrote about this vision for re-inventing the wire function on the web in a recent Nieman Reports piece, “A 21st Century Newswire—Curating the Web With Links

If I were a wire or feature editor in a newsroom, instead of waiting to become obsolete, I would start immediately learning how to be a top notch web curator. I’d ask myself — how can I become the Jim Romenesko or Matt Drudge for my community. I would start learning how to use the tools of web curation and learning how to collaborate with other web curators. I’d study how newsrooms like Chicago Tribune have created an editorial workflow for collaborating to curate the web (see Colonel Tribune Recommends on the Chicago Breaking News blog.)

And if I ran a newsroom, I’d look at how I could retrain and reassign talented to editors to be vital contributors to the web operation, even as their function becomes redundant for the print operation. (Or, I’d imagine a future where content from a diverse range of web sources could be licensed and curated for print — see this Josh Korr post.)

There’s still time for any journalist in the newsroom to become essential to the future of news, rather than being emblematic of the past.

Comments (11 Responses so far)

  1. [...] clipped from publishing2.com [...]

  2. Hi Scott,
    Great article, like the way you pull different sources together. This is a hot topic and shortly after I tweeted the link to this article, it was retweeted a few times. Thanks!

  3. I wonder how many of us already curate links and information for our personal micro-communities on Facebook and other social nets? And does that have an impact on the commercial viability of Scott’s proposal? Are we beyond the point of needing professional curators if enough people have a few trusted curators in their social orbit?

  4. James daSilva

    To follow up on Seth’s comment, does curating — which is a great, needed thing that Publish2 has long recognized — have a financial future?
    Besides the micro-community curating, aren’t there usually people willing to do the work for free on their own websites, Twitters, etc.?
    If it’s free and easy online, people won’t care about anything else.
    That being said, an advertising base may be able to built upon a trusted curator who makes it free and easy for his users.

  5. @Seth, @James,

    A few thoughts:

    – As Howard Weaver observed at BarCamp NewsInnovation Philly, the only way to sustain professional journalism is to add more value than the people willing to do it for free.

    – My wife (a physician and mom, so valuable demographic) doesn’t use Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking site… but she goes to Huffington Post every day.

    – Nobody though that search — another form of curating the web — had a financial future, and now Google is poised to earn more than the entire newspaper industry in a few years. Curation is equivalent to distribution on the web. And distribution (i.e. delivering the paper everyday) is how newspapers have always made money.

    – There’s a lot of opportunity still in the market — either journalists and news orgs seize it, or somebody else will.

  6. [...] redirecting his efforts to the Web. Before, he was a curator of news for print. Now, he curates for the Web. Get involved with Publish2. Take an ad sales person out for drinks and pick her [...]

  7. [...] Collaboration – although messy and hard to replicate – is vital to success.  Collaboration solves the filter failure issue. (Originally I couldn’t find the right link to the ‘filter failure’ post until Scott Karp posted this). [...]

  8. One shortcoming in this otherwise good article is the lack of examples.
    Why can’t sources be ranked in terms of 1. readability 2 authenticity. Readability would be in terms of simplicity of presentation along with ease of understanding. Authenticity is a harder nut to crack, but all journos would know what I am talking about. This could act as a filter for readers.

  9. [...] Retraining wire and feature editors to be web curabors – Call it the copy editor’s full employment act. If editors can teach themselves SEO and link out to related material, Publishing 2.0 argues, they’ll never be out of a job. [...]

  10. [...] Retraining Wire and Feature Editors to Be Web Curators – Publishing 2.0 If the wire editor and feature editor roles are becoming obsolete for print newspapers, as Steve Yelvington persuasively argues, then those editors should be retrained — or retrain themselves — as web curators. Rather than become obsolete, these editors could become essential to their news organization’s future on the web. (tags: curator editors) [...]

  11. collaboration … a thought on what that means on the web. You may collaborate to create content or collaborate to market web content. In my opinion, the second version is the most important. How do you get noticed on the web? Links. If a group of professional newspaper editors from across the nation banded together and traded links, their web presence would be greatly multiplied through that collaboration.

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