October/November Carnival of Journalism!!!

So – it has been revived. The Carnival of journalism. And this is my October contribution.

The prompt this month is about journalism education.

To start, a disclaimer: This is not where I’ve been putting too much thought lately. I taught at UC Berkeley’s J-school for a year and at the end decided the time wasn’t right for me to teach. I left and joined Circa. But Eric Newtown at the Knight Foundation, I believe, has very much put his mind in this space lately. His opus magnum can be found here: “Searchlights and Sunglasses.”

Luckily, there was a fallback question: “Should we teach J school students how to aggregate?” That is the question I want to address.

First off a technicality: consider this distinction between aggregation and curation. With that in mind, I believe strongly that j-schools should teach curation. Aggregation is perhaps something everyone already knows. It’s easy to gather stones together, (Turn, Turn, Turn) but it’s much harder to polish the stones and turn them into a gift.

In some respects, “curation” is what journalists have always done. Journalism is a process of collecting information, filtering that information and then distributing that information (caveats that the information is accurate and collected ethically, etc). So when we talk about teaching “curation” at j-schools – aren’t we describing what is already done? Why is this confusing?

Probably because of newfangled jargon: Now we are talking about curation on “social media.”

“Social media” (See #1 and #2) feels newfangled and therefore brings up questions that, IMHO, don’t really exist. It’s a smokescreen conversation as a result of not recognizing old behavior in new patterns. What do I mean?

A hopefully not too raunchy analogy to make my point. 

The internet doesn’t create new behaviors or paradigms. It exposes those paradigms which already exist in new light.

There was a moment where people pointed a finger at Craiglist because it enabled prostitution. A fair accusation – but this accusation somehow often morphed into blaming Craigslist for the existence of prostitution. Here was something we refer to as “the oldest profession in the world” – and when it appears online we treat it almost as if we’d never heard of it before. It was organized differently here – therefore this new website must be the cause of it.

Everything old is new again

The example above, which shows an example of scorn – also goes for websites that get praise for taking existing human behavior and organizing it online.

The small contributions of funds in order to enable larger projects has existed since the start of organized religion. Put it on a website, call it “crowdfunding” and people think it is a new behavior that was invented in the last 5 years. It isn’t.

Why do I point to these?  

We continually treat the phenemena we see on the web as if it’s new. When most of the time it isn’t new behavior – it’s old behavior and motivations organized in new light. The charge of a journalist remains to collect, filter and distribute information. One could easily call that curation.

So when it comes to J-schools teaching curation, the question isn’t “should they” – but rather – “what are the ways” curation should be taught.

2 thoughts on “October/November Carnival of Journalism!!!”

  1. Nicely put Dave. The ‘old behavior, new context’ is a great way to frame conversations about ‘the internet ‘in general. (I find myself making this argument all the time).

    An interesting thought experiment:

    Based on a set of values, invent ten ways that one *could* curate (or aggregate) that don’t exist yet.

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