I’m following the nascent debate over the need for more formal standards for curation of web content. The recent release of the “Curator’s Code” has sparked debate over whether we need not just symbols (ᔥ for ‘via’ and ↬ for ‘hat tip’) to denote material located through another source or individual, but even a “Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation.” Both of these systems hope to ensure that bloggers and online writers attribute information to their sources completely and accurately, using more than just the longstanding practice of including a hyperlink to the original source.
Though I’m quite skeptical of the utility of both the proposed code and council, this debate made me think of the ways journalism as a profession sought recognition as a formal occupation with consistent “products” in the form of news stories. David Mindich, a professor at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, traced the rise of the norm of “objectivity” and the journalistic focus on “facts” in his excellent book Just the Facts: How Objectivity Came to Define American Journalism. Mindich notes that American journalists’ use of the inverted pyramid “reflect[ed] a new age concerned with facts” (p. 65) and offered a straightforward format that removed seemingly extraneous detail and chronological storytelling from the mix. It was also, critically, a method that journalists had to learn to use (perhaps requiring formal journalism education for the first time); a way of removing perception of ‘human error’ from the recounting of news, as if it were truly “just the facts”; and a means of standardizing the news product to make it recognizable to creators and audiences, regardless of topic.
It strikes me that online curation, as a developing occupation that now provides a reasonable income to some people, may now be feeling the need for professionalizing tactics like the adoption of a “code” and “council” (a.k.a., “boundary work“). If you have to learn how to use special symbols or how to abide by a council’s standards for your work – or face social media denigration – then you must surmount a barrier to entry into that profession that helps it retain its distinctive qualities for those already within it.
I wonder to what degree these proposals truly serve the audiences who use curated content, and to what degree they serve curators themselves – who likely have good intentions but would also benefit from the professionalization of their work. There is value to being able to trace the source of information, to be sure, but adequate means of doing so are already available and widely known. (Among journalists, simple linking is a vital practice, though still emergent.) It will be interesting to trace whether and how digital curators continue to define their unique task and whether the code or council succeed…or whether the term “curation” even survives in the long run.