News curation is the art of finding, distilling, adding value, preserving and sharing the most relevant stories on a specific topic or issue for a specific audience.
Demand for it has grown out of the increasing need for trusted, subject-matter expert guides to help us find quality, coherent, and informative content on specific topics without having to spend great amounts of time and energies to search, browse and scan multiple different sources.
A few great examples of curated news sites on specific topics are:
Vertical newsletters for over 100 industry sectors each one curated by a dedicated editor.
- P2P Foundation Blog
Michel Bauwens curates all of the relevant news surrounding the world of P2P.
- Content Curation World
Key stories, news, resources and insight into the new world of digital curation curated by the underwriter.
But to curate the news is no easy task.
News curation is a multi-disciplinary, time-consuming activity that requires among others, subject-matter expertise, communication skills, experience and intuition. That’s why, nonetheless it is promoted by content-marketing experts as an easier alternative to content writing, the results it produces are often disappointing.
Gobbling together list of links, tools or articles, while excerpting the first two lines of text from each, it is not curation. It is curation-faking. Why? Because there’s no added value for the reader, and the intent with which this is done is simply the one of producing more content in less time for personal, almost always economic, interests.
Similarly since many of the content-marketing inspired curators do not even vet and verify the actual contents of the links they find, their superficial strategy brings more risks than benefits for them, as each time a serious and interested reader catches them sharing bad content they didn’t vet, they instantly lose whatever tiny bit of reputation they may have had, without any official notice.
What does then make the difference between a “serious”, “professional” content curator and anyone else cobbling up links and articles for the sake of saving time and money?
Process and skills.
The news curator skills range from the ability to search, verify and vet news stories to the ones of preserving content, adding value, insight, and context. But they don’t end there. They also include titling, selecting images, providing credits and attribution while making content as legible and clear as possible.
Overall, I have tentatively identified 14 key skills that match what I would call the 14 basic news curation workflow steps. That is the steps a news curator would normally take to carry out his mission.
Here in detail, each one of these steps / skills, with a brief description of they entail, and where relevant, my suggestion for complementary tools:
1. Search setup
In the news curator typical workflow the first step consists in setting up multiple search bots and alerts that can automatically find and report on potentially relevant stories to be checked. These bots and alerts are built around specific keywords, keyphrases and sources that are relevant and which define the topic being curated. Thus, the news curator needs to set and define such queries and alerts and to refine and update them over time. In addition, the news curator relies on other curators in the same space by subscribing to a number of relevant email newsletters and feeds.
Once the search setup is configured, the news curator checks periodically for the appearance of potentially relevant news to be curated. Generally this is done by using a tool like Feedly where the news curator can aggregate and scan his favorite sources while searching for titles that match his specific area of focus.
Tools: Same tools as for Search Setup + Human curation
During the search and monitoring process the news curator strategy is to save promising stories in a dedicated storage space for further review. The goal is to separate potentially relevant stories from the low quality ones, and to put them aside in an organized fashion for later in-depth reading, vetting, and for future use. Thus, the best tools to support this kind of activity are those that harmoniously mix content discovery features with the ability to save relevant items in discrete, topic-based shelves.
4. Vetting — Validating
As soon as the news curator spots potentially relevant news stories, he/she verifies them by:
- reading them thoroughly
- checking author credentials
- vetting facts and claims
- checking images / video clips
- checking for the originality of the material
- checking validity and quality of links and references used
- checking for non-transparent behavior, missed disclosures, hidden promotion / paid articles.
Tools: Human curation, Crap Detection Resources
5. Saving — Preserving
Once an article or information resource has been identified and verified, the news curator takes care of saving the original content in ways that it can be fully preserved for future reference (in case it will be updated, changed, moved or deleted). For this purpose the news curator may consider:
* saving a local and a remote PDF copy,
* downloading the HTML page,
* taking screenshots, or
* using any combination of these alongside utilizing one of the dedicated web services designed for this specific purpose.
6. Adding Value
Value is always relative to the recipient. Thus, the news curator always works hard to add viewpoint, opinion, perspective, commentary and valuable insight about the story to make it as relevant and interesting as it can be for the specific audience he caters to. The news curator does not try to be a detached and objective observer as traditional journalism would recommend, but rather it strives to provide a personal perspective through which to appreciate the story at hand.
Tools: Human curation
The news curator main objective is to help his audience make sense / understand a subject, topic or issue better. Thus, the ability to summarize, to synthesize and distill the essence of any news story is of paramount importance to the news curator as it allows him to rapidly outline the key value and relevance of any story without needing to waste too much of the reader’s time. Synthesis is critical in crafting titles and introductions to news stories. Summarization is often used at the end of a story to recap and highlight its key elements.
Tools: Human curation.
8. Customization, Titling and Images
To further enhance, give relevance and meaning to any story being curated, the news curator evaluates whether there is opportunity to improve and refine on the title, as to make it be more relevant for his specific audience and for search engines as Google. Often, article titles are written in ways to make them more impactful, emotionally charged or to promote the content that follows as a miracle-like solution. The news curator is keen in catching and cleaning up this marketing layer while communicating clearly what the story is actually about. In the same fashion, the news curator may provide additional value by replacing low-value, generic stock images, often used by journalists and content marketers with more appropriate, informative and relevant ones.
Tools: Human curation + Snappa.io, GetStencil.com, Designfeed.io, Canva
If curation goal is to help readers / viewers make sense of a specific subject matter, issue or topic, it is extremely important how the curated information is visually organized and presented, as this will certainly affect how easy it will be for the reader to read through it. Thus the news curator works to ensure that his curated content is always highly legible, errors-free, easily scannable and void of distracting elements or irrelevant information. To do so the news curator will use different techniques including chunking, bolding, and other basic information design solutions.
10. Crediting / Attributing
The professional news curator credits and attributes used citations, images, video clips, as well as tips and suggestions from readers and other individuals he is in contact with. The news curator does so by providing at minimum the name and the publication where the work originally appeared, and at best he adds a link back to it as well as other useful dates and references. Crediting and attribution are not done just for a respectful tribute to the sources but rather because such additional info represents a significant value addition to the reader, as it provides greater depth and opportunity for further exploration.
Tools: Human curation, Curator’s Code
For however picky it may seem, it is certainly a good practice for any news curator worth of this name to pay a lot of attention to details before publishing anything. This includes double checking one’s own writing alongside additional citations, text passages, names, links, credits and notes, so that the final work is positively 100% error-free. This is a critical activity because the news curator success is largely based on the trust that readers spontaneously place on him. The moment that a reader discovers that his trusted curator is not able to see and correct his own errors, that so valuable trust can be lost or be highly devalued in a matter of seconds.
Tools: Human curation.
12. Publication / Sharing
Once a news story has been found, vetted, preserved, customized, and value has been added to it, it needs to be publicly shared to be fully curated. Thus sharing / publishing are fundamental elements of any type of curated content and consequently unless shared with an interested audience a collection remains only such. Once a news story is ready for publication, it is the news curator who programs, schedules or directly posts the curated content on his own website and/or across the social media channels he deems most appropriate and relevant for his readership.
Tools: WordPress, Medium, Facebook, LinkedIN, Google+, Scoop.it, etc.
Periodically the news curator reviews the stories he has published, and updates and corrects those in need of it. Updates may include additional information, corrections to mistakes and errors caught by readers, newly found resources and/or relevant links that provide additional value, insight, to the original content. Furthermore, with time, older stories benefit from being collected and curated into new collections or timelines or archived and preserved for future use.
Tools: Human curation.
These, in my experience, are the key skills a news curator must have. When applied, as outlined in the sequence above, in the actual production of curated news content, they represent all of the basic steps in the news curation workflow.
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