An exchange at one of the a.m. ONA ’12 Unconference sessions — “Is Tumblr the new Time Inc.?” — struck me as quite the philosophical one-two punch. An audience member posed the original form of the question above, which I’ve paraphrased to add context, and it struck a nerve with panelist Jessica Bennett, executive editor of Storyboard, Tumblr’s… ‘zine? Is that term still in use, or am I just showing my age? Oh, and BTW, Facebook has one, too: Facebook Stories, which was also represented on the Unconference panel, despite being absent from the session’s submitted title.
People working for a company writing feel-good stories about using the only product produced by said company… seems like a no-brainer: marketing, it is. But hold on a second — I’m not done yet.
Conversely, a follow-up comment from a member of the panel — suggesting that in a certain context, one could call everything on Twitter “journalism” — definitely struck a nerve with the crowd. An interesting notion, but of course, utterly ridiculous — so much so that it struck me as lashing out. Spend two minutes on three random Twitter feeds, and I’m pretty sure it will be quickly apparent how preposterous that last notion is. (I’m sorry to say that the whole exchange happened fast, and I’m not 100% clear exactly who on the panel made the Twitter comment.)
Before I wander too far into the forest here, let me take a moment to clarify: I’m not throwing rocks at Tumblr, or Facebook. I’m merely laying the groundwork for a discussion I believe 1) has merit, and 2) is incredibly interesting… Pondering the definition of journalism is something I always find really fascinating, and even moreso when the definition(s) I’m hearing from someone else unleashes the kind of defensive volley I saw exhibited in that giant yet sparsely populated back conference room at the Hyatt Regency in downtown San Francisco a few Saturdays ago.
On one hand, I can see Bennett’s perspective. In addition to their content appearing in reputable web publications (since we’re not quite yet to the point where we can drop the “web” from that noun), what she and the editorial team at Tumblr are doing is telling stories about their community — not unlike the kinds of community news readers laud and crave. Those same stories that many in newsrooms shovel only to fill holes and keep the paychecks flowing while waiting for that juicy exposé on a respected government official to fall into their laps. After all, we’re all Woodwards and Bernsteins at heart.
On the other, I’m fairly certain the stories — often interesting features/interviews reflecting on culture, issues, people and places — wouldn’t dare make Tumblr seem like anything less than a Mecca of hipster diversity and the future salvation of individuality currently being drained by other more popular — dare I say, mainstream? — methods of social media. Call it a hunch.
No doubt, storytelling is storytelling, and every “boring” community snewser (see what I did there?) is an opportunity lost by a journalist who didn’t bother to elevate it. Trust me; I’ve had the good fortune to work with a reporter or two who found ways to make even the most mundane of assignments — on any topic — blossom into compelling reads. Any. Topic.
But good stories aren’t at issue here. Again, the question here is: Is this journalism?
Forbes called it “newspaper-like.” I could be wrong, but the “-like” in that headline — in the headline! — didn’t strike me as being put there solely because they lack a concrete community or a physical product, especially since its previous coverage of Storyboard highlights the fact that most of the content it was churning out initially was not original to the extent of being sued. And The Atlantic’s take on “the microsite.”
It’s clear Ms. Bennett sees herself views herself as a journalist to the core, and you needn’t be in that particular unconference session to know that. Her posted resumé contains several entries headlined “Newsweek,” another from the Village Voice, and a New York Press Club award named after a pioneer in investigative journalism.
It will be interesting, for sure, to see how this department, its site and its staff evolve. No doubt. But until they get themselves cops and city hall beats, I’m thinking I’ll stick to the traditional definitions of journalism.
As my ideaLab project unfolds, I have also been educating Esri about our workflows — current, theoretical and otherwise. Thinking through those processes led me to this rather simplified take, both in content and presentation, about how our content evolves:
Digital-first reporter workflow
POST tweet tweet *click* tweet tweet tweet tweet *click* tweet tweet RT tweet tweet tweet RT tweet RT *click* tweet tweet tweet RT RT tweet tweet tweet tweet RT tweet tweet RT tweet tweet tweet RT tweet (write) UPDATE (write) (write) SEND call call (write) SEND callllllllllll (write) SEND (write) (write) (write) SEND (write) call (write) (write) SEND call (write) SEND. File. G+ Facebook RT tweet tweet RT tweet Facebook link link link link tweet Facebook g+ tweet tweet call call (write) Final Update.
Digital-first photographer workflow
tweet tweet *click* tweet *click* tweet *click* tweet tweet *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* tweet *click* *click* *click* (record) (record) *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* (record) *click* *click* RT tweet (write) *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* (record) *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* (write) (write) upload Upload UP.LOAD.SEND. Facebook G+ RT tweet
Digital-first editor workflow
Tweet RT RT curate Edit POST RT RT Storify UPDATE Storify Storify UPDATE down/upload_photo (write) (write) down/upload_photo Edit UPDATE RT RTRT curate Edit down/upload_photo Edit Edit curate UPDATE G+ Facebook RT RT RT curate Edit UPDATE curate curate curate (build) Storify. link (build) mapify. link (build) datafy. link Editcurate package Final Update.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE? Granted, there’s always cause to do things differently from one situation to the next. But I think the above is a pretty fair snapshot of our optimum mode of operation. Certainly this version could be much more visual, and the design editor in me will probably attempt to loop back around to that at some point. In the meantime, I’d love to see what other people’s take on such things might be. If you’ve got one to share, feel free to post it here, or tag me on Twitter @designerGNA.
If you don’t already know, Steve Buttry and Mandy Jenkins blogged on Wednesday about the creation of a curation team for Digital First Media. Rather than immediately releasing an official job description, as you would with traditional job openings, they instead asked for input into what a curation team should do, via Twitter or in comments in their respective posts. They also invited responses via blog posts. (Ahem.)
Typically, I’m all over these kinds of online conversations, hashtagging my ass off. Not yesterday. First, because Wednesdays are the days I’ve set aside to work on my ideaLab projects, so I spend them on the Esri campus, semi-out-of-reach of what’s happening in the newsrooms and other realms of our organization. It helps me focus on what I’m trying to learn and do, and is also a bit of a courtesy toward the Esri staffer who has spent his Wednesdays at my side, teaching me about some aspects of data I never really took the time to learn; showing me the ropes and some snazzy features of Esri’s fairly robust programs; and setting up meetings with other Esri personnel who have an interest in what news organizations today need — and what they want.
The other reason for being off-grid in this case was that I wanted to develop a real answer on my own. I didn’t even read the full blog posts about this job until just a few hours ago, and I still haven’t yet looked at a single comment or tweet on the matter. Perhaps that’s folly, but I just felt like I needed the isolation on this answer, at least initially. (If I change my mind on anything, I’ll note it at the bottom of this post.)
I promise I’ll make up for all of that in the next couple days. And beyond.
So here’s what I came up with:
At its simplest, curation at this level is Twitter lists of valued, verified and authoritative tweeters for as many aspects of news as shades of blue in the sky: national and regional collections of everything from lawmakers to philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to weather sources; helpful resources for victims of everything from fire and flood to foreclosure and scams to domestic violence; world and national news media, and maybe even the paparazzi; sports teams and official fan sites; and everything in between — or solidly trending. Same thing on Google Plus. Same thing on Facebook. Same thing on… You get the idea.
Curation is gathering valued, verified and authoritative links to all our properties’ bonafide social media in as many social media platforms they’re utilizing — and then some.
It’s looking for opportunities to leverage social media in ways that augment Thunderdome coverage and increase reader engagement, likely through tools like Storify, VeriteCo., Delicious, blogs, Facebook pages and timelines, Google Docs; plus more I can’t think of at this late hour and some I haven’t even heard of yet.
It’s discovering new tools that aid — or even ease — the aggregation process, with bonus points for those that cater to both web and print. Or discovering new ways to achieve that same objective using “old” tools. Oh, and keeping them all handy in a shared arsenal.
It’s collecting valued, verified and authoritative data — maps, databases, spreadsheets, charts, whathaveyou — of wide relevance, significance and importance — Census data, election results, voter turnout figures, Congressional district boundaries (before and after redistricting), Olympic counts (medals, records, participating nations, etc.), foreclosure rates, fire/flood/major mayhem maps, etc. — in formats that’s readily accessible by any, or many, of our 75 properties’ websites, should they need it in a pinch or for a project.
It’s pulling together links and available authoritative source information on all of those topics and then some into centralized locations readily accessible by reporters and editors across DFM, including links and means of communication with other DFM properties.
It’s teaching, empowering and mobilizing newsrooms across DFM to do as many of these same things as possible on the local level — local officials, agencies, restaurants, businesses, personalities, sports teams, etc. — with the goal of establishing that local newspaper as the go-to resource for anything relating to that community.
And it’s providing back-up to those organizations when national news breaks in their back yard, and curation is the last thing they have time for, but something their community greatly needs.
As I see it, a curation team at the national level would lead these charges, deploy these tactics and continue furthering the development of curation editors/teams across all DFM properties. At least, that’s my take. Eager to see what others had to say on the matter Wednesday, and to talk more about this topic in the weeks and months to come.