Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Real-Time News Curation - The Complete Guide Part 5: The Curator Attributes And Skills

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What skills do I need to have if I want to be an effective real-time news curator? Can I just pick the best headlines and links on my topic of interest or do I need to do know / do more? What makes a great news curator stand out from those who do automatic aggregation or from bloggers who create simple news stories lists?

Photo credit: thesuperph

In the previous parts of this Guide to Real-Time News Curation I have looked at what are the key problems giving way to the emergence of real-time news curation, at the differences between automatic aggregation and filtering and human-powered manual curation. I have also spent some time illustrating some real-world examples of both automated aggregation and human curated news content.

In Part 4 I have gone through the newsmaster workflow, the tasks and specific responsibilities and in Part 5, I am covering the key attributes, qualities and skills a successful real-time news curator must have.

To identify them I have been looking both at the experience I have gained with this practice in this last five years, as well as at the growing literature available online on this "content curation" topic.

Most people to whom I have shown, explained or illustrated the "newsmastering" workflow, as I like to call it, have missed to understand the value and potential of the curation process, by focusing too much on the technology aspect: how do you do it, where do you click, how do you publish it on your site, and so on.

In fact, while technology does play an important role in helping a curator find, aggregate, filter, curate and re-publish existing content, it is in the expertise and skills of the curator the opportunity to create meaning, make sense of disparate info and add value to a newly created "whole".

What makes a successful "newsmaster" is therefore not the ability to maneveur freely with RSS feeds, aggregators and PHP includes, or having access to the latest content curation technology, but rather the level of passion and depth of interest for a specific subject matter, and the harmonious and coordinated application of a rare and multidisciplinary skillset. Something, I would hope, that will be soon taught in professional journalism and communication schools.

Therefore, if you have been wondering what are the specific skills and attributes a real-time news curator must have, I have devoted this section of the guide, to this very specific topic.

Here is what I have discovered:


Key Attributes - Qualities of a Real-Time News Curator

There are some general attributes and qualities a real-time news curator must possess to carry out his topic-specific distilling and refining in a successful way. I personally deem these attributes to be unavoidable, irreplaceable knowledge assets without which the newsmaster work is basically value-less.

1) Subject Matter Expertise


The most important one of these attributes, is undoubtedly, subject matter expertise. Unless you are deeply passionate about something it is next to impossible to become a valid curator for others. As you need to source, pick and select the most relevant stories on a specific topic, how can you do this unless you have been following closely and systematically the area?

It is also true, that there more than a few great individuals who have become "experts" in certain areas, specifically by way of curating information and news for that field for a consistent amount of time. That is: by researching and constantly investigating, monitoring and tracking most everything that is happening in a certain field, you naturally become an "expert" in that area.

Experience and familiarity with a specific topic, makes it much easier to rapidly identify sources, influencers, to understand industry jargon, technical terms and to be well informed on the general industry expectations, fears, and emerging trends. All these are such vital and irreplaceable information assets for any would-be newsmaster, that anyone attempting to shortcut or bypass the personal development of these attributes would find himself in serious difficulty when attempting to become a "trusted" news source or information advisor.

Source Familiarity - Good connections network

"If you really want to learn a body of knowledge or skills (or whatever other learning area you define), it is really hard to beat becoming a curator for that area.

In a sense, this is what academics have always done.

They focus in on a particular discipline and spend their lives researching, writing about, and (less and less) teaching it.

The good curator does much the same, though typically in a less formal way and with no promise of tenure. (The only "job security" for a curator is in continually providing high value to the learning community.)"

Jeff Cobb - Mission to Learn


2) Relevance


Subject matter expertise by itself is not sufficient to provide relevance. It would be like saying that a university professor would be the best type of professional to be a real-time news curator, while in fact it is well known, that until now, academia has often remained too detached, uninvolved and closed to become a reference point for understanding a sector, trends and emerging new ideas on a specific topic. There have been exceptions yes, but in general, academia does not get its hands dirty enough with real-world business, new ideas and information to be able to sense and "tell the pulse" of anyone industry.

Relevance, as I think of it, is the result of subject matter expertise coupled with a very good understanding of the audience one is trying to serve. Only by knowing, or rather, by selecting a priori, a very specific audience interest, problem or need, the news curator can then proceed to source, aggregate, pick and select the most relevant stories to satisfy it.

How can you be relevant if there is a loose, weak link between your audience specific interest and the type of news stories you bring back to them?


3) Trust


Trust is a result of subject matter expertise and consistent, repeated relevance. If you are very knowledgeable at something I am interested in, and you repeatedly provide me with very valuable news stories, links and resources that I didn't know anything about, you immediately gain lots of personal trust for me. Not general trust in you as a person, but specific trust in you as an expert reporter in that specific subject matter area.

Trust can be gained therefore only by first understanding / identifying a specific content / theme connected to a precise problem - interest - need and then by virtue of personal subject matter expertise by scouting, finding, curating and distributing high-value news channels, resources, collections, maps or other forms of curated content.

Trust can be further expanded over time by gaining the visibility, attention and respect of other existing curators and subject matter experts in the same field.


Key Skills Required For a Real-Time News Curator - Newsmaster


New Skills To Be Learned

[...] journalists need to learn better curatorial skills.

Yes, in a sense, they've always curated information, collecting it, selecting it, giving it context in their stories. But now they have to do that across a much vaster universe: the internet.

I hear all the time about the supposed problem of too much information online. Wherever you see a problem, I advise, seek the opportunity in it.

There is a need to curate the best of that information (and even the people who gather it). We have many automated means to aggregate news... Curation is a step above that, human selection. It's a way to add value.

Jeff Jarvis - The Death of the Curator, Long Live the Curator

  1. Online Re-Search Skills
  2. New Media Literacy Skills
  3. Communication Skills
  4. Editorial Skills
  5. Semantic Skills
  6. Social Skills
  7. Information Librarian Skills
  8. Technical Skills


1) Online Re-Search Skills

a) Resource Identification


Searching and identifying key reliable sources of news. These can include both individual blogs or news sites as well as sets of highly-focused persistent search queries + complex filtering formulas on specific subjects, topics, keywords, places, people.


b) Online Search


Creating advanced search queries in any major web content domain (news, real-time, blogs, directories, etc. ) Being familiar with Boolean operators. Knowing how to create "persistent searches". Having familiarity with filtering "variables" available inside search engines. Familiarity with the use of exclusion filters based on keywords, keyphrases, date, language, and more. Query formulation at different levels and on different content bases.


2) New Media Literacy Skills

a) Crap detection


Detecting and recognizing valuable information from crap, spam, artificially created content, political and business propaganda, and paid-for editorial promotion.

Crap detection is about how to find out if something is accurate. It is the ability "to sort the accurate bits from the misinfo, disinfo, spam, scams, urban legends, and hoaxes. "Crap detection," as Hemingway called it half a century ago, is more important than ever before". Crap detection is very much about "learning to ask more questions" and understanding "what are the key questions to ask" when wanting to verify information trustworthiness. The ability to work like an information detective.

Howard Rheingold on Crap Detection


b) Online Collaboration


Making oneself acquainted and fluent in the use of real-time collaboration tools such as Skype, Google Docs, screen-sharing and mind mapping tools. Developing a growing network of personal sources and contributors that can help improve the quality and coverage of a curated channel as well as its distribution and visibility.


3) Communication Skills

a) Copywriting


Writing quality text, storytelling, reporting, reviewing, interviewing. Knowing how to write to explain and illustrate. Developing a rich and qualified vocabulary within the subject matter field.


b) Presentation


Presenting information in the most effective, legible and understandable way. Having some familiarity with basic design, layout, presentation and information design aspects can help a great deal in going beyond the disorganized and unformatted approach that most blog-based curators have.


c) Visualization


Communicating stories and news by leveraging visual communication solutions. The ability to organize, present and communicate messages effectively through visual communication means.


d) Listening


Having active open ears on multiple social platforms, blogs and news channels. Listening and reacting to comments, suggestions and feedback from readers. Treasuring insights from others. Ability to understand further what kind of more specific information your community trusts and loves receiving from you.


e) Marketing Communication


Knowing in depth, the audience and profile of the community of interest being served. Adapting, customizing and tailoring messages, language and vocabulary to suit as much as possible the one of those to whom this information is being provided to.


f) Being unique


Having a personal, unique editorial "voice" and character. Selecting only exclusive, high-quality, high-value content and not signing up for anything less. Going for a specific niche and a precise audience interest.


4) Editorial Skills

a) Selecting


Choosing individual news stories for curation. Having developed precise criteria for deciding what to include and what not. Refining and questioning those criteria on an ongoing basis. Having the ability to select on the basis of quality and relevance to the community and topic-niche being served.

"Become a sommelier. Get rid of the noise. Less is more when it comes to tweets. Don't just parrot what everyone else is tweeting or retweeting. Find your own special nuggets. Dig deeper!"

Angela Dunn - Content Curation for Twitter: How To Be a "Thought Leader DJ"


b) Contextualizing


Helping readers understand the value of a news story or collection relative to their specific interest. This can be achieved by providing context to news, streams, collections or bundles in the form of background information. Context can also be enhanced by organizing, juxtaposing, categorizing, tagging, and by covering other complementary stories and viewpoints.

"Content curation isn't just about passing along information. Rather, it involves creating an experience for the user, telling a story from multiple perspectives and providing analysis or explanation for why you chose a particular piece of content."

Erin Kissane


c) Referencing


Extending the opportunity for more exploration and sense-making by providing explanatory links for new and technical terms which may not be easily understood. The same applies to people, places, technologies and events which may not be immediately familiar to the reader.


d) Crediting


Attributing due credit to all sources, references, authors and contributors utilized in creating a curated news radar, stream, bundle or collection. providing due credit and links back to sources cited always provides extra value to the reader, opportunity for further exploration while certifying you publicly as a trusted and credible source. The more precise and accurate crediting the more value gets created and the more credibility you bring to your work. Crediting is always win-win.


e) Summarizing


Shortening long stories. Synthesizing. Creating lists. Explaining to others in a few words what has taken others a lot of pages to be communicated.


f) Updating


Keeping the curated content always "current" and up-to-date. While this may not appear as a requirement for all curated collections, there is indeed always the opportunity for creating extra value by updating any curated collection in some way or another. Even without changing or updating the elements of the collection itself there are often numerous possibilities to update the collection with stories and information about the people, places and events which have happened around it.


5) Semantic Skills

a) Organization and Classification


Ordering news stories into relevant categories and applying to them keyword tags to facilitate findability and re-use. Adding relevant or missing metadata when needed. These are typical information-librarian skills and they do contribute to provide additional value to the simple republication of interesting stories on a topic.


b) Pattern Recognition


Spotting and recognizing information patterns leading to the breaking of important stories, trends and emerging new issues.

"Curation is all about pattern-recognition, seeing how various and diverse pieces of content fit together under the same taste umbrella or along the same narrative path, so the guiding principle has to be the sole storyteller with a strong point of view.

And the art of curation isn't about the individual pieces of content, but about how these pieces fit together, what story they tell by being placed next to each other..."

The Art of Curation an Interview with Maria Popova from BrainPickings


c) Sense-Making


Analyzing, reading and reviewing information before publishing in order to extract and identify the key value and relevance for a specific audience. Not just republishing, but continuous, ongoing refinement and re-organization (in new meaningful ways) of what is already available. For example: There could be situations in which content that is formally covering a topic very different from the one being curated, could be well used to exemplify a model or solution, that would be valuable if transferred to the curated field of interest.


d) SEO


Understanding the value of long-tail keyword research and content niches for search engine optimization. Having familiarity with keyword analysis tools like the Google Keyword Analysis tool and similar ones. Being aware of the potential benefits and negative side-effects of search engine optimization techniques.


6) Social Skills

a) Networking - Social


Building trusted relationships with thought-leaders, influencers and subject-matter experts. Reaching out to these people and providing value, help, support and extra visibility to them in order to gain some attention from them.


b) Engagement


Interacting and responding intelligently and constructively to audience requests, feedback and suggestions may very well be one of the most valuable traits of a quality new content curator, who by the nature of things, will have him / herself to increasingly rely on other more specialized sources to be able to stay on top of the universe of information she is curating.


7) Information Library Skills

a) Preservation - Archiving


Organizing, storing and preserving curated information streams, collections, bundles and newsradars for future uses. While this may not appear to many as a compelling duty, it is in fact an increasingly pressing one, especially if your curation niche is a highly valuable and business sensitive one. In fact, intelligent preservation, archiving and classification of such curated content may well lead to create further new opportunities for such content to be re-used in many other possible ways.

"...the ability to preserve content. In the future, curators in libraries (closest similar model today would probably be special collections librarians) will not only need to make sense of the information out there but also to preserve the information for the future. How do we preserve a website? Even the Internet Archive is missing links and images that the original site had. It is also a website, itself inherently unstable."

What's a Content Curator - Comment by Gerrit


8) Technical Skills

a) RSS and Real-Time Technologies


Being familiar with search, aggregation, filtering, and content distribution tools and technologies. These would certainly include good familiarity with RSS readers and aggregators, Twitter reading and publishing technologies (such as Seesmic and Tweetdeck among others), social bookmarking and social monitoring tools, as well as some basic competence in HTML tags, the use of digital images, and traffic analytics tools.


b) Content Distribution


Setting up and configuring effective content distribution channels making your curated content available on multiple relevant social networks and other content distribution channels.


"Tools permitting - and I'm not convinced the tools are out there yet - I think good curation is about the only way that digital publishers can successfully address the threat posed by Google and the like.

To me, its about converting searchers to explorers.

Curators of good stories can create the opportunity for exploration - taking the user by the hand and leading them through a topic, rather than sending them back to Google.

This is something we began to measure and I can safely say that our stories that showed the user avenues to explore a topic dramatically outperformed our poorly curated efforts.
From the perspective of a site manager responsible for overall site profitability I can safely say that a focus on curation is the best way to convert a searcher to an explorer, which is critical to monetizing content.

Comment by Stephen Newport to Curation and Journalists as Curators


"Aggregation closely resembles a laundry list of links that are automatically generated by specific meta data (think Google News).

Curation involves someone filtering this aggregated content based on a distinct point of view about audience demographics, company brand, user experience and intended outcome.

Content curation isn't just about passing along information. Rather, it involves creating an experience for the user, telling a story from multiple perspectives and providing analysis or explanation for why you chose a particular piece of content.

One museum curator compared curation to alchemy: When you bring together pieces of content (or museum exhibits), you transform them into something different and greater than the sum of the parts."

Mark Hanson - Curation: It's No Longer Just For Museums


Suggested Further Readings

End of Part 5 - The Skills Required

Coming up next in this Complete Guide to Real-Time News Content Curation:
In Part 6 - The Tools Universe
In Part 7 - Business Applications and Trends
In Part 8 - Legal issues

Already published:

Part 1 - Real-Time News Curation, Newsmastering and Newsradars - Why We Need It

Part 2 - Real-Time news Curation: Aggregation is Automated, Curation is Manual

Part 3 - Real-Time News Curation - The Complete Guide Part 3: Types And Real-World Examples

Part 4 - Real-Time News Curation - The Complete Guide Part 4: Process, Key Tasks, Workflow

Originally written and "curated" by with the editorial help of Elia Lombardi and first published on MasterNewMedia on October 6th, 2010 as "Real-Time News Curation - The Complete Guide Part 5: The Curator Attributes And Skills"

Photo credits:
Subject Matter Expertise - alexsl
Relevance - WebHostingSearch
Trust - AntonBalazh
Key Skills Required For a Real-Time News Curator - Newsmaster - Wordle
Crap detection - Thomas Troy
Online Collaboration - Elena Volegzhanina
Copywriting - Alan64
Presentation - Yasuhisa
Visualization - Graça Victoria
Listening - 4FR
Marketing Communication - Kronick
Being unique - Kativ
Selecting - Elen
Contextualizing - Xiao Fang Hu
Summarizing - FreezeFrameStudio
Updating - MozillaNeokan
Organization and Classification - Neokan
Sense-Making - Sgame
SEO - MacXever
Networking - Social - Clipart
Engagement - Henk Leerssen
Preservation - Archiving - 123render
RSS and Real-Time Technologies - norebbo
Content Distribution - DN Group

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posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, October 6 2010, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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