The Age of Curation – guestpost

Stephen Kinsella, Lecturer in Economics, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick author and futurist sent us this piece on The Age of Curation. He’s kindly let us post it as the first guestpost here on the Storyful blog.

The essayist Wendell Berry once wrote that

    “We know enough of our own history by now to be aware that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love. To defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”

As we migrate from a print culture of scarce supplies of fixed, library-bound canonical works towards a constantly evolving set of easily reproducible information packages, our mass media system is beginning to erode in the face of many-to-many communication, and many-with-many production. Online social structures like Twitter, Ourmedia, TenCent, Wokai and even Irisheconomy.ie are examples of this change.

The notion of a commons becomes important, because, before social media, it was easy to see the economic relationship between producer (journalist(s) working for paper/radio/tv) and consumer (me), with the familiar price mechanism and simple cost-based production decisions at the newspaper/business level, and professional barriers to entry at the individual level, holding sway over content creation. It was easy to value the Financial Times, the Economist, The Irish Times. Now that value relationship is muddied because of cheaper access to methods for both production and consumption. Journalists need a way of curating the commons created by the explosion in digital media.

Journalism is dying as a result of cost-reduction anywhere below a very specific and costly to retain, reputation-dependent, threshold. Thus the FT and Economist will remain, in altered form. The Irish Times and sundry papers, however, will all but die, bled white by the existence of competition from all over the globe, and closer to home.

There is historical precedent here. Hysteresis implies traditional journalism will remain in some shape or form for several decades more. The question I’m interested in is: what will happen to today’s journalists? I think they will become curators, weavers of stories, and that’s why I’m excited by Storyful. I also think there will always be a role for the journalist as teller-of-Truth to Power, something very, very few journalists have ever really done, though those are the journalists who become lionised by the profession. The metaphor of the journalist as creator is operationalised by the verbs searching, scraping, sorting, caching, remixing, packaging, presenting. Very few journalists have this workflow standardised, and very few can curate to a high quality. Curators archive, they catalogue, they exhibit. Both the curator of art and a curator of news need to maintain their collections. Curators will very often specialise in one sub-sub-sub field. Much like the finance or health correspondent now, the journalist becomes the curator of changes in the catalogue for rare metals in China, or somesuch.

Importantly, the journalist-creator should see national boundaries as mere packaging outcomes for the product they are producing that day. Global journalism is suddenly not only possible, but the only way to do it. Notice also that the journalist-curator is the evaluator of the incoming material. That evaluation requires balance, training, and will probably be disciplined by the market. The potential for a career exists in the type of journalism I’m describing, but it doesn’t, at present, exist en masse.

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