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Sunday
Feb272011

Curation Isn't Good Enough; Audience Means Spectators

What's my function, professionally, existentially speaking: As a journalist? As a interactive documentary filmmaker? And who am I speaking with (n.b. didn't use 'talking to')?

What does a journalist do? Now, as before in history journalists aggregate information. It's just that the medium we use has been added to lately with social media. But journalists have always aggregated information. 

As social media blasted straight through journalism revenue models, the first belief was that 'content is king.' But that's been upended as well: 'curation is king.' 

The dictionary definitions: 

curator: One who manages or oversees, as the administrative director of a museum collection or a library.

curate:  a member of the clergy employed to assist rector or vicar.

What does curation mean? Affectively, oversight and control. Beckett's point is a good one too: museums are for things past. News is dynamic in that 'old' stories don't cease whence reported, they are dynamic, they have continued relevance. In one sense with the internets as kind of more complete than ever before archive of the way we live now, yes, journalism is curating snapshots. But this is simply a digression and not the primary point nor function.

Really journalists? We're overseers? I don't like the uni-directional and gatekeeper-esq overtones that has.  

Via @kevinmarks excellent blog post on content curation in mobile platforms and devices, Sarah Rotman Epps at Forrester Research wrote on curated computing, it's "A mode of computing where choice is constrained to deliver less complex, more relevant experiences."


I had the privilege earlier in the week to help edit Gerald Holubowicz's #idoc (interactive documentary) manifesto, in which he calls on webdoc makers to move on to focusing on interaction. We know that journalism today is about conversation.

Spot.us was possibly the first journalistic related interactive experience where Rosen's "the people formerly known as the audience" helped with the story: people could vote with their money on which stories needed to be told and even suggest stories that needed some serious investigative journalism.

And there was (pardon me, but I'm going to go cliche on you) the Iranian uprising of late where a HuffPo blogger used "the people formerly known as the audience" to assist him to aggregate, sift, and show (tell) the story of what was going on on the ground. 

The media scholar Lambert (2006) speculates about a practice he sees as developing from increased use of conversational media (social media used for storytelling: youtube, myspace, facebook, twitter): 'storycatching.'

From Couldry (in Knut 2008):

"The aim is, in part, political: 'to engage us in listening to each other's stories with respect and then perhaps we can sort out new solutions... by reframing our diverse connections to the big sotry (2006, xx-xxi); 'as we envision it, storycatching will become central to planning and decision making, the foundation upon which the best choices can be made' (2006, xxi)." (55)

'Storycatching' will catch stories from 'storycircles' 

Again, from Couldry (in Knut, 2008):

"Storycircles seen from a sociological point of view are... for mutual exchange of stories that tests out the degree to which we find each other's lives incommensurable with our own..." (55)

It's becoming clear to me that as a journalist and as a budding idoc filmmaker my job isn't just to aggregate and post information: it's to also provoke and nurture conversation.

You see, past definitions are too simplistic:

mediator: (implied) one who brings about agreement between parties at variance

Where perhaps we can take 'parties at variance' to mean the cognitive dissonance (if you like with in a society's story), yes, this is a component of what a journalist should be.

documentary:Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film

To the extent that documentarians are journalists, I've said this before, I don't believe journalism can be unbiased, ever, at all.

filmmaker: one who produces and directs movies

And who are we to have a conversation with? 

user: one that uses; a person who makes use of a thing

audience: 1. The spectators or listeners assembled at a performance, for example, or attracted by a radio or television program 2. a body of adherents, a following

Jay Rosen's "people formerly known as the audience" is a mouthful. Some people defend using audience because game producers and documentarians at a fundamental level make a space, outline a story but from the definition of audience, it goes against what we are seeing in media: engagement, active participation and what's more demand to do so. But audience doesn't work and it's right there in the definition: spectators, followers, adherents; passivity, shove it down your throat and swallow. Think Shirky, think Doc Searls, think Jenkins.

Some have suggested "interactor" and "the engaged" to refer to the former "audience". But those feel distinctly like post-involvement terms, descriptors of individuals who come upon something instead of coproducing it to begin with

In linear media, provoking conversation was creating a finished thought that made people go away and talk to their friends about it. But now with digitised social information flows it's possible to provoke conversation immediately.

As a journalist, I have trouble pitching and working with editors, especially ones that are looking for churnalism: a lot of editors want to know what a piece is about before I've researched it and done interviews. Trouble is, I don't write like that. I've unfortunately lost a few commissions because of it.  

I prefer to pitch with a question I'd like answered because no matter what I might think a story is about, it never is. The angle I try in the first place always changes. I like to let interviewees and lately tweeple show me what the real story is.  

I've become a big fan of Tummelvision.tv podcast of late.  Tummeling is a genius of a concept from yiddish which means: 

From Freedictionary.com:

1. One, such as a social director or entertainer, who encourages guest or audience participation.

2. One who incites others to action.

From the tummelvision.tv site:

getting the right mix of people, skills and tools together to succeed in a participatory & networked world.

Whilst listening to the Steve Rosenberg Tummelvision episode I had an epiphany: the role of journalists has changed because of social media (no, shit, really?! Bah, hang on) and I say changed, like evolved. Where we can now ask "the people formerly known as the audience" to elucidate the story for us, to help locate the angle, or better-- all the angles-- for a more complete story; this is the modern definition of what a journalist (maybe even interactive documentarian) is: curator-tummler.

In Rotman-Epps curated computing (I understand that Marks is weary of the gatekeeping this threatens when it comes to OS and readers, but...) journalists define a conversation they'd like to provoke, curate and aggregate relevant information and responses as the conversation evolves, assist with placing it in context, all the while in the tummler sense nurturing it, flushing out the real story.

 

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