Curator of the Revolution
February 12, 2011 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Andy Carvin hasn't slept much for the last 19 days. Curation of news, social media, and rumor: is this the future of journalism? The story of @acarvin.

Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR (and formerly with PBS, the Benton Foundation, and founder of the Digital Divide Network), has been around the social media world for a long time as a blogger and commentor. He's also been liveblogging and tweeting major events for years.

Since January, however, he's taken his tweeting to the next level. With only a few hours here and there for sleep breaks, Carvin's twitter feed has been a flowing stream of news, editorials, translated tweets, rumor crushing information, and an amazing amount of converged information coming out of Egypt. His 20,000+ followers include not only normal people but also news organizations and policy makers.

This is not within his official role at NPR, although the organization has been supportive of his efforts.

His curation of the news might be the future of journalism (according to The Atlantic).

How does he keep track of all the information?

"I use Tweetdeck for the most part. I'm not a partisan about it by any means, but it works for me, including on my phone. I'll usually toggle between various video feeds--Al Jazeera English, CNN, etc--on my Web browser. If I just have my laptop rather than my dual monitor I have at work, I'll use either my phone or TV to access the video. I have a number of columns in Tweetdeck for different things--twitter lists, hashtags, and sometimes individual tweeters. It's not really rocket science--it's just a matter of keeping up with the flow of information and knowing who's behind what post. Oh, and one other thing--I have access to AP and Reuters wires in real-time, so I monitor those as well. Mostly I keep them in the corner of the screen and wait for stories that are color-coded as urgent and referencing either Egypt or Mubarak. That helped immensely when things were particularly chaotic last week."

Why does he do this?

First it was Tunisia... "Tunisia is so rarely covered by any mainstream media, and yet for several weeks I saw twitter and FB lighting up with one protest after another. And once things started getting violent, around the time of the Kasserine massacre, I really started to try and get my NPR colleagues following along. And that’s about the time I decided to create a Storify collection on it, since I hadn’t seen anyone else do one. That was somewhere around Monday of the final week of protests."

And then in Egypt... "Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what my goal is. It’s been evolving as the week has gone on…. When I first started, I was just casually retweeting stuff from sources I found interesting…. But as things intensified, I basically decided to drop everything I was working on and focus on capturing as much as possible regarding what was going on there..."

And after all of this, Andy tweeted to all those that appreciated his efforts that they should donate to their local NPR station and let him know that they did so. Some say this is perhaps the future of fundraising.
posted by k8t (22 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting. This posts a number of issues to think about:

1. WIth the rise of 24/7 news in the last thirty years, and the rise of constant life updates via twitter and such, will work schedules like this eventually become the norm for journalists?

2. As more journalists do this kind of reporting, in what way does slower, but deeper analysis compete for viewers' time, at least in the sense that the audience is patient enough to wait to hear it? This 'fresh from the tap' reporting has an addictive quality, for both the journalist and the reader/listener. This question has been around for years, but now the twitter society has kind of 'upped the dosage' on the amount of immediate reporting from anyone anywhere, how do we ensure that long form journalism is seen as just as important in the minds of the consumers?

3. I applaud almost any kind of act witch will generate support for NPR's excellent news reporting. Although in the article for the fundraising angle, it seems to have an underlying angle that what this guy is doing into a kind of 'stunt journalism,' which is not an entirely fair category to put him in. What if this becomes the norm for journalism? If this is proposed to be the possible future of reporting, with an angle on fundraising, is how will this life affect journalists (considering that their lives have already changed significantly since 24/7 news became the default setting)? To compete with the coming news algorithm programs and much larger global news conglomerates, what will need to be done to keep up?

Imagine: In an effort to keep the pledges rolling in, crazed, extremely devoted sleep-deprived journalists, tweeting and reporting every moment of news they find they deem relevant, until they drop at their desks, like some 21st-century John Henry.

"A listener so mean he pledged money to this local NPR station just to watch a man die."

Okay, that's overblown hyperbole there, but these kind of things signify a whole new level of 'always working' and new kind of lifestyle for journalists may be coming down the track.
posted by chambers at 8:35 AM on February 12, 2011

I've really been loving Andy Carvin's tweets, thinking about what it means for journalism. It's good to see him getting recognition on the blue. I'm curious if anyone knows of any journalists who are using Twitter in a similar way to Carvin?

It's weird to reach The Atlantic wondering if "curation is the new journalism". Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't curation always been in the scope of good journalism?

As more journalists do this kind of reporting, in what way does slower, but deeper analysis compete for viewers' time, at least in the sense that the audience is patient enough to wait to hear it?
Just an armchair-observer here, but I'm sort of getting the sense both through my own personal experience and through blogger buzz that deeper analysis is going to come through the iPad (et al.) changing how people approach long-form journalism (a real change, they've sold over 15 million iPads). Here's an article on how ReadItLater (as well as Instapaper and it's ilk) are changing how people are reading. I think that this is probably where long-form journalism is going to be consumed. For me personally, I had Andy Carvin's tweets appearing in my twitter feed on my screen as I worked all day. When it came time to relax in the evening and lay on the couch and read, I read longer articles on the subject through Instapaper.

I think the second thing that's changing is that the news audience right now is completely losing this old idea that I think people have had as the news being a chore, something must be patient for, something one must endure. It looks to me like the future of in-depth reportage is through making that process as enjoyable as possible, as opposed to dry objective news articles. By enjoyable, I'm talking about things like the Daily Show and This American Life's Giant Pool of Money episode. I look forward to a new This American Life each week like I look for a new episode of Community. I think THAT'S the future of long-form journalism.
posted by ejfox at 9:20 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tweeting links is not journalism. That's not to say it isn't awesome, and timely and all that, but it's not *journalism* in the traditional sense of the word. Maybe we'll have to come up with a new word to describe this new instant information streaming process?
posted by Duug at 10:11 AM on February 12, 2011

with all due respect, and i say this as someone who has known Andy for years, he isnt the only doing this. not only have i been curating what i call "rapid reporting" for years, through blogging and now social media platforms, and in 4 different languaes. if it hadnt been by the work of plurilingual reporters and analysts like Dima Kathib (@Dima_Khatib) and Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy), people like Andy and me wouldnt be able to do what we do.

so credit where credit is due. there is a whole battery of reporters, bloggers and analysts from the Middle East doing invaluable rapid reporting and curating that we got to work with.

more importantly though, there are those of us, outside of institutional journalism, who have pioneered and teaching others this thing called "live blogging", "rapid reporting" and also "news curating".

he does great work for NPR that in the still catching up world of US journalism is considered groundbreaking. but he wasnt the first and he isnt the only one doing what he does. there are many of us who've pioneered this kind of work, still outside of institutional journalism. and there are many of us doing what we do so for years (10 years now for me) not only in the US but worldwide and in a plurality of languages.
posted by liza at 12:04 PM on February 12, 2011

Duug, don't embarrass yourself. Journalism has taken many forms over the years and there was a day when stories were filed by telegram.
posted by dhartung at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tweeting links is not journalism.

Twitter is just a communication medium, so yeah, "tweeting links" is not journalism. Researching and parsing the flood of information coming out a live revolution? That's definitely journalism, and it would be journalism if he were doing the same thing through a blog, filtering articles for a newspaper, or running a news website.
posted by spiderskull at 3:37 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I thought that a journalist, by definition, is a writer in the employ of a publisher, so if NPR pays him, he's a journalist.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:09 PM on February 12, 2011

Again, if NPR paid him to send wind speed updates by Morse code from Alaska, he's a journalist. If they don't pay him to write reams of lovely prose, he's a memoirist.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:14 PM on February 12, 2011

I was one of those people who responded to Andy's suggestion to donate to local NPR stations, since I got almost all of my news of Egypt, for days on end, from his Twitter account. Apparently this donation suggestion was his own idea, not something coming from NPR.

Someone on Twitter asked if you would have been willing to pay to subscribe to Andy's tweets - and yes, I would have.
posted by jeri at 10:49 PM on February 12, 2011

You're right dhartung. I did embarrass myself.
posted by Duug at 4:27 AM on February 13, 2011


One could definitely make an argument that simply tweeting links isn't journalism. Personally, I'd like to think I did more than that.

For one thing, I had sources on the ground in Tunisia and Egypt and I was talking to them, trying to sort out rumor from fact. I also used twitter to do this, as there were lots of rumors flying all over the place. I helped NPR's news room determine which sources were reliable and which ones weren't. I offered analysis of what I was seeing there both online and offline. And I pulled it together on Twitter in an attempt to make a narrative out of it.

Is that journalism? I'd like to think so.
posted by acarvin at 6:31 AM on February 13, 2011

@liza: You're absolutely right. I wasn't the only one tweeting up a storm. Dima did a great job at capturing what was going on, and Mona was extraordinary as a representative for the movement in mainstream media. But both of them were working in support of the revolution, while I was covering it as a news story. This doesn't lessen the impact of their tweets - they were a huge part of the narrative taking place on Twitter. We just had different goals regarding what we were trying to accomplish. There were many others doing similar things to me as well, especially the Al Jazeera folks, and Sultan Al Qassemi. So they deserve credit as well.

As to whether being first, who knows who was first. I've been live tweeting since '07 and live-blogging since '03. But I'm sure there were probably people doing it before I was.
posted by acarvin at 6:36 AM on February 13, 2011

@jeri: thanks for supporting us! Yeah, it was my idea. People had been asking me for days if they could support me either through donations to me or to a favorite charity, but neither would be allowed under NPR ethics rules. So I decided to encourage them to donate to their local NPR station instead. Several thousand dollars have already been donated because of this, though I haven't yet tabulated the totals yet.
posted by acarvin at 6:38 AM on February 13, 2011

Hiya, Andy!
posted by cortex at 6:38 AM on February 13, 2011

Welcome to MetaFilter Andy. Too bad you just joined - we had a DC meetup last night!

I was surprised that you weren't already a member so that I could have written "Metafilter's own Andy Carvin"...
posted by k8t at 6:56 AM on February 13, 2011

@k8t: I was just as surprised as you were - I thought I'd joined years ago and had just been inactive. Either way, I'm here now. :-)
posted by acarvin at 7:32 AM on February 13, 2011

@k8t: so consider me a long-time reader, first time commenter. :-)
posted by acarvin at 7:32 AM on February 13, 2011

Duug, don't embarrass yourself. Journalism has taken many forms over the years and there was a day when stories were filed by telegram.

Right, but that telegram contained original work. It did not say "Drink more ovaltine" or "Good story on page 13 of the Cairo Journal-Ledger".

Link aggregation is great, for what it is. Elevating it to "curator" status is an odd choice.

That's not to diminish the hard work, or the need and usefulness for it. Just that it is a different thing from the people who are there witnessing an event and reporting on it.
posted by gjc at 7:37 AM on February 13, 2011

Hi Andy!
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on February 13, 2011

hey andy,

yup and, given how long we've known each other, am sure this doesnt come as a surprise. after all, you've met me as one of the most outspoken critics of institutional journalism EVEN THOUGH i've also applauded you for your work and as one awesome ally of indie bloggers and journalists.

so this fact checking shouldnt come as a surprise. you know i've done this for as long as you've known me :D

keep up the good work ---and to those wondering: yeah, i knew he'd hit this thread sooner or later :)
posted by liza at 11:32 AM on February 13, 2011

Hi Jessamyn!
posted by acarvin at 12:22 PM on February 13, 2011

Thanks, Liza. :-) Hope all is well with you. And loved your tweeting of the revolution, btw.
posted by acarvin at 12:28 PM on February 13, 2011

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