Curating the best and worst of the London riots

August 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

The UK riots have been such a dynamic and sprawling news event. There’s been a marvellous quantity and granularity to the reporting. It has also helped that such a wide ranging news story happened in one of the great media capitals of the world where domestic and international media organisations, by and large, have some of their best news reporting resources concentrated in one place.

Apart from the news reporting by professionals, there’s been an avalanche of citizen journalism – user generated content sourced from amateurs who have been recording what they see around them, in their workplaces and neighbourhoods, on their mobile phones and cameras.

Thanks to both the professionals and the amateurs, there’s been such a verisimilitude and rawness to the online coverage of the anarchy that has unfolded in dozens of locations in London and spread to cities beyond the capital.

The people who got in among the rioters to film and video the violence and looting were either very brave or foolhardy, or both. But the videos posted on YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo have an intimate and personal quality – as seen hereherehere and here – that makes them powerful viewing.

This woman has become a cult figure for the way she berate looters in the London borough of Hackney and you can see why.

Many people have been shocked by this video of rioters stealing from an injured Malaysian student. The Guardian was able to locate the victim afterwards and get his story.

These samples, particularly those of the woman with a conscience and the bashed student, have received thousands of views. They were posted online, shared on the social web and highlighted on mainstream news websites.

In Birmingham, a Sikh community television station, Sangat TV, distinguished itself with its street coverage, so much so that Sky News UK co-opted its footage into its own. Here’s what one blogger said: “Is anyone else watching Sangat TV on Sky 847? Their coverage in Birmingham has been absolutely excellent. They assisted the police, live on TV, in detaining four looters and they’re generally sending out a far better message than mainstream media.”

Whether professional journalists would involve themselves in detaining looters is another story about journalistic objectivity but you can view some of Sangat TV’s riot coverage here. It’s a remarkable story of what can be achieved by a four person news operation, as you can see by this article.

Meanwhile, a journalism student says he received over one million page views on his blog The West Londoner in one day at the height of the rioting. Gaz Corfield told that traffic to his live blogging “went viral” through posts on Twitter and Facebook, and links left in comment threads on mainstream news websites. Here’s the story.

All of this highlights how amateurs are now working alongside the professionals and are often in places where the professionals can’t be. This is why media organisations increasingly need to keep a close eye on the social web to supplement and enhance their own reporting resources.

What this means is that journalists working in news rooms now have a new and evolving role. They need to be curators of the best content on the social web. The rise of news curation is one of the aspects of how the web is changing journalism, as explained in a recent book by Steven Rosenbaum called Curation Nation: How To Win In A World Where Consumers Are Creators.

Rosenbaum’s thesis is that, as online data grows exponentially in volume, a lot of it driven by the amateur web, there is an evolving category of people who are content curators, selecting and sharing relevant and interesting content with their online communities. He also explains that the boundaries between professionals and amateurs are becoming increasingly fluid because everybody has the tools to create and share content.

A corollary of this trend is that some news organisations are moving towards a ‘mixed economy’ or hybrid model that incorporates amateur content with their own professionally sourced content. A successful model that is often quoted is the Huffington Post. It publishes its own content, aggregates content from other news media and curates content from the social web.

News is also about providing context. The best news providers and content curators, whether they are amateur or professional, have an important responsibility to frame the content within the bigger picture so we understand the significance of what we are being shown. Without context, what we see on the web is often unverified, fragmentary and sometimes phoney. Content curators that earn our trust make us confident that what they are showing us is a true and accurate record of an event that happened.

The riots in Britain are just the latest example of how even news organisations are increasingly becoming joined at the hip with the social web and acting in a curatorial role to give us more nuanced, crowd sourced coverage but also by giving us the essential context we need to understand what we are seeing. Welcome to the Curation Nation.


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