Storify: The Curator replaces The Gatekeeper

Josh Stearns


It was the word of the hour Wednesday afternoon when students in my Reinventing the News class spoke with Josh Stearns, of the media and Internet advocacy group Free Press, about Storify. Stearns, in fact, created the Storify of the Year in 2011 with his timeline of journalists arrested at Occupy protests across the county.

The discussion touched on many subjects, from ethical considerations with attribution and editing to the ability to use Storify to archive tweets, even deleted ones. But I was most struck by a topic that emerged  at multiple times during the talk: The Storify user’s role as a curator of content.

It’s a title that is broadly applicable to the job of most modern journalists. A reporter is no longer the gatekeeper of the news, as was historically believed to be the case. The Internet and social media platforms like Twitter have given everyone the basic tools needed to publish their thoughts and experiences.

The directors of Storify address this point quite frankly in the first lines of the company’s vision statement: “Everyone is now a reporter. Whenever something happens on this planet, eyewitnesses, experts and celebrities share what they see and react on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube … and whatever comes next.”

Journalists do not determine what news is and is not worthy of space in the day’s paper anymore. Instead, if something happens, several, maybe even dozens or thousands of people will report on it. They will post on Facebook about information they heard or scenes they saw. Maybe a few will write entries in their WordPress blogs. Not all the information will be correct, but it will be out in the open.

The journalist’s job then is to curate that content, to discern between fact and fiction, insightful and banal.

The class discussion with Stearns about Storify prompted me to research more about reporters’ transition away from being gatekeepers of the news. Steve Buttry, Digital Transformation Editor for Digital First Media, has a particularly interesting personal blog post on this subject.

He writes of journalists, “By identifying the most valuable and reliable reports from blogs, social media and other professional media, we can still be a valuable source of news for our community. We don’t ignore that cacophony of voices. We listen and highlight the most reliable and meaningful voices.”

As Buttry points out, journalists today can have roles as curators, or even as watchdogs or engaging storytellers. Though they may not be gatekeepers, reporters do have a purpose.

Journalists may need to reinvent themselves to maintain a role in the media, but it’s new tools like Storify that help make that possible.

Photo (cc) by CurrentFlickr and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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