Why a Content Curator Is Not an Editor – The People Behind the Paper.lis

I had my first online argument recently. I didn’t enjoy it, as I detest arguing in public (or even at all), but this seemed to matter. Not in the way that poverty or injustice or corruption matter. But it was important to me because I felt my adversary was simplifying to the point of losing meaning, which seems to be almost a way of life where a new or complicated word is involved.

It was an argument about the term “content curator” and what it means. I had started an online discussion asking for examples of content curation in internal communications (because it’s one of my fields of interest).

The only response was more than I had bargained for.

My correspondent felt vehemently that “curator” was a lexical relic, exhumed from a dusty Victorian dictionary by software manufacturers hyping their wares. He strongly advised professional communicators not to confuse their clients by using this “jargon”. “Editor” would do fine.

I wasn’t convinced… but… did he have a point? Having been an editor for many years, did I need to add content curator (caveat, still learning) to my bio? What did it tell people about me that they couldn’t infer from “editor”?

Some considerable thinking-time later, I still couldn’t agree with him, and here’s why. Calling a content curator an editor is like calling a precision watchmaker a technician. It just doesn’t encapsulate the role. (I am a writer here at Paper.li, which operates in the curation arena, so you could take the view that I would defend the “jargon”.)

Content curator: a job description

Editor is a general term. It could cover a multitude of roles. To define what any editor does means drilling down to their exact job: copyeditor, editor-in-chief, film editor, picture editor, book editor, web editor. Some editors revise, reduce or reorder creative output; some commission or select material; some direct other people to do these tasks. Some concentrate on the detail, some on the broad picture.

A curator, according to the Oxford Concise English Dictionary, is “a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection” – which can be on or offline.

This is borne out by exemplifications from some of those experts who have been studying digital content curation since its inception.

Gerrit Visser, one of my curator role models, cites this definition from Rohit Bhargava, who wrote a manifesto for content curators back in 2009:

…someone who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares information resources.

Robin Good published a checklist of tasks for high-quality content curation. He says the quality curator does the following (my summary) –

  • Optimises, edits, rewrites titles
  • Formats content
  • Selects and adds relevant images
  • Writes text excerpts to aid understanding
  • Writes an intro specific to the audience using a personalised voice
  • Classifies using metadata
  • Integrates links
  • Personalises each curated item differently for each channel
  • Vets and verifies original sources
  • Credits and provides full attribution
  • Filters out most incoming content
  • Taps into a personally selected network of trusted curators, and recommends them when appropriate
  • Suggests items to other curators
  • Searches for new relevant content and scouts for new sources
  • Creates filters and precise searches
  • Is transparent
  • Crowdsources information, tips and suggestions.

Does the term “editor” really bring to mind all those tasks? Perhaps if we say “digitial content editor”, yes, but just “editor” — not to me.

Say exactly what you mean

“Curator/curation” is increasingly accepted as a term and a practice within content marketing, education and the not-for-profit arena. If these communities are using the terms, shouldn’t professionals working with them speak the same language?

There is a prevailing ethos that, in the English language, simple equals better. We are advised to eliminate jargon, use short words instead of long ones, be direct and clear. Often, this is good advice: plain English frequently makes more sense because it is easier to absorb, confusion is reduced, tasks can be carried out more quickly.

But there is a danger in oversimplifying until precise meaning is lost in a fog of broad generalisations. When we take away the specificity implied by “content curator” we lose the true picture of what the person does, how they work, what skills are required, what they contribute. Accuracy beats simplicity any day, even if it means understanding a new term or putting a few more words on the page.

How would you describe your activity? Are you an editor or a content curator? 


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Categorías: General