The Importance of Curators

I posted about the The Gruber Model last week as a theory for how news could be made more profitable and ethical through the filter of a good “curator.” I theorized the current ad model is just a race to the bottom.

I didn’t grasp just how close we are to the bottom, though.

This week Politico's Jack Shafer, a respected, veteran journalist, posted a data-backed article about just how polarized the environment has become among journalists, titled The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think:

"Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country.”

That’s a shockingly small number of people who can relate to what an entire nation is dealing with outside of its largest cities. And the trend is only towards greater clustering within the bubble.

It’s not just about politics. It’s about getting the facts straight, which may not be possible from a cubicle a thousand miles away.

Michael Moynihan of Vice News Tonight put it this way on The Fifth Column podcast (quickly becoming one of my favorite podcasts):

“There’s a problem that happened rather recently…journalism now requires more people doing 24 hour jobs…and at the same time, journalism is making less money. How do you pay cheaper rates and get more content? You get 23-year olds...They come out of college newspapers in which these identity politics battles are all they know…at the same time, nobody has money for these people to go out and report...So, once you put an ass in the seat in New York City, the confirmation bias that envelops you of all these people and all these opinions, that are all very uniform...and you just got out of college, which is a very ideological and uniform place for the most part, and someone says, ‘alright, write me a piece for tomorrow.’ What is that piece?”

It makes sense that the news is getting stupider. This is why I love a good “curator.”

Yes, I do wish there was a better title for these people. “Aggregator” isn’t any better.

When I first started blogging in the mid to late 90s, most typical blogs (they weren’t called “blogs” yet) were what we’d call curators today. They were usually run by someone who had an obsession with a specific topic, an eye for good writing and design, and a distinct point of view. They’d post links to a few good articles they found every day to their front page (blogging software wasn’t a thing yet) with a little commentary. We grew to trust the best ones.

These curators are still around, but a bit harder to find thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Google algorithms that tend to favor anything but a good curator. They're worth seeking out.

It's certainly worth becoming one, in my opinion, if you do have an obsession with a topic. As automation creeps into every area of content, real human expertise will become what's valued.

New ideas are popping up all the time on how to eliminate “fake news” through algorithms or teams of poorly paid editors, but for systemic problems in reporting real news,  a good curator is the best check against faulty journalism right now.