It’s enlightening to hear a respected professor at the prestigious Journalism School of Columbia University say he doesn’t know what journalism is going to look like in five years. Join the club.
Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs at the School, and his student, Vadim Lavursik, were panelists recently in New York City at the Mashable conference on “The Future Journalist” where Sreenivasan made that comment. It’s a bit of a misnomer to call Lavursik only a student, because he writes for Mashable and reported for other publications like the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
But what keeps swirling around in my mind is that journalists, we’ll still call them that for the time being – indeed, everyone who writes for a living – are really becoming curators of news and information. This isn’t an original idea on my part. There has been a lot written about it, including a story Lavursik wrote for Mashable in which he referred to, “journalists as curators and contextualizers.” Both speakers called on the media to become “community managers,” facilitating conversation on the web and pointing their audiences to other sources of information.
We’re accessing this information from an infinite variety of sources, with Google as our guide, and social media sites like Twitter sending us a non-stop stream of news and tidbits. What are we to believe? What’s fact and what’s, frankly, crap? We need to find out.
That’s why writers have to become more like curators in a museum. As John Thomson of the City University London, Graduate School of Journalism, wrote in an excellent post last month: “You are a curator. Like it or not, part of your role will eventually be to aggregate content (but not indiscriminately). You will need to gather, interpret and archive material from around the web using tools like Publish2, Delicious, and StumbleUpon. As Publish2 puts it: Help your readers get news from social media. More signal. Less noise.”
The Role of the Publicist Has Diminished
At the Mashable session, I got up and put in my two cents about how the relationship between journalists and suppliers of information, like large corporations and PR agencies, has fundamentally changed. Journalists don’t need publicists pitching them stories. Sure, they’ll take a press release and put it on the pile of other bits and pieces they’ve gathered online. But journalists have become more important than ever at ferreting out what’s real and what’s – what I wrote earlier. They can bypass PR people (and I love PR people, having been one most of my professional life after a brief stint as a business reporter). If a reporter wants to find someone to give her a juicy quote, say, on nuclear reactors, she can just go online and find the real expert. Now PR people need to feed social media so their companies and clients get found. The blogosphere is a beast with a voracious appetite. It devours information, but indiscriminately.
So, back to the idea of curator. As writers, it’s our duty to feed the beast, but also to whet the appetite of our readers with information we extract: taking just the tasty morsels and making sense out of them in terms that readers can chew on and understand.