Content curation: what L&D can learn from journalism

Posted by on 1 November 2017

In this episode, Sprout Labs digital producer and former journalist Tracey Grady grabs the mic and joins Robin in a discussion about audiences, journalism in the digital age, and content that is 'learner-worthy'—did Robin just coin a new phrase?

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Transcript

Robin: 
Hi, it's Robin here—the host of the Learning While Working podcast, and the founder of Sprout Labs. You'll recognise the voice in this interview from the introduction. I'm talking with Tracey Grady, one of the Sprout Labs designers, and one of our media people.

Tracey used to work in broadcast journalism. She actually coached me through setting up the podcast and edits the podcast, so it's quite odd for her to be on the other end of things!

During this conversation, we pick up on Jeevan Joshi's thought (in an earlier Sprout Labs podcast) that content curation in L&D can learn from journalism.  

One of the things that really struck me in the conversation with Tracey is how focussed news journalism is on the audience, and about sharing and reporting on what the audience needs to know about. Not about opinion at all, it's not so much about filtering. It's about making sure that something is newsworthy and engaging and what people need to know.

I coined a term and translated it into L&D as things being 'learner-worthy': about whether or not they are the right content at the right time in the right organisation.

The conversation finishes by returning to one of the common themes on the Learning While Working podcast, which is data. Specifically, around data and engagement. In fact this is what focus of our next podcast will be too.

Tracey, welcome to the Learning While Working podcast. This feels very odd to actually, first of all, be recording one face to face, and for you to be at the other end of it.

Tracey:
Yes, yes. Thank you for having me, Robin.

Robin:
Now at the end of the last podcast, Jeevan talked about the possible linkage between content curation and journalism. I think it's really interesting to have this conversation about what L&D could learn from journalism. We're doing some of the prep work for this conversation and you've really pointed out to me that there's actually two really different types of journalism. The process of newsroom reporting, and also investigative journalism. What's your big distinction about the two?

Tracey:
Well in terms of content curation it's going to be that newsroom journalism is identifying what's immediately newsworthy and that you can report on pretty quickly, and just simply get across the basics and the really important basics in a clear and concise and balanced way, so that people can take it in quickly in usually no more than about a minute, 20, if you're doing it for TV, or 35 seconds if you're doing it for radio. And then they move onto the next thing. That's newsroom reporting in very, very tiny nutshell.

Investigative is when you're drilling down into something much more deeply, because there's the need to, because there are issues that won't come out through the news cycle, the 24-hour news cycle, as we identify we have these days. So you need to spend more time. You need to speak to more people. You need to get to know a subject far better, and find out what's likely to be overlooked in standard news reporting.

Robin:
The newsroom thing is the thing you always think about, and I think in terms of content curation what's fascinating is two bits. One, the ability for journalists to be able to respond really quickly. What's the thinking process about that? Well, what's the hot topic? What's the thing to pick up and how is that picked up for a newsroom?

Tracey:
Well in a newsroom context, what you're looking for - your audience is very specific and it's really about delivering to that audience what's in the public interest, primarily. And so that's what you're looking for. When you find out about an issue or you find out about something that's going on, the first question that's in your mind is, "Is this newsworthy? This is newsworthy. Right. Let's do a story on it."

Robin:
Okay. So with content curation it might almost be, is this ‘learner-worthy’? Is this something that someone's going to engage with? Is this something that someone needs to do their job better?

Tracey:
Well those are two different things. So is it learner-worthy - like you said, which is a really interesting idea in itself - and then, is this something that people are going to engage with? Now, it'd be great to put that one aside for a second and come back to it, because I think it's really important, but let's look at what's learner-worthy first.

And you're right. That's the way that people should be looking at it. Is this something that's relevant to people in your organisation, people in your industry. It depends on who your audience is. And that's where you look at. If it's in-house training, for example, in-house learning, then it's your staff. And if it's people in your industry, for example, like Jeevan has people who follow his email newsletter because that's relevant to them for the work that they're doing. That's your audience as well. So is it going to be relevant to them, and then the follow up question from that as you said is, is it going to improve their work? So, yeah. That's what someone who's in L&D would be asking, and should be asking when they're looking to curate content for people.

But I think it goes a little bit further, and that's where we come back to the engagement. You can go trawling online and you can go looking through journals or wherever else you source content from, and find great tomes of information. But are people going to engage with that? And that is a question you should always be asking. How are they going to be reading this? How would I expect them to be consuming this? Do they have the time? Do they have the incentive? So how do you get them to have the time, have the incentive? How do they fit that into their work day? How do they want to do that? Those are all really good questions to ask. I think back to an example that - I think a lot of people have had this experience: going to a conference. Going to a seminar, and then coming away with a great plastic envelope full of photocopied journal articles and other pieces of paperwork that you're never going to read.

I remember going to a three-hour seminar a few years ago and came away with 200 pages or so of photocopies, which were really worthy and in this context, learner-worthy, but I never read them. I don't think anyone did, because it was too much all at once. So that's where the issue of engagement comes in, is yes, perhaps you've found some really, really good information. How are you going to deliver it to those people so that they read it? Jeevan's come up with a good way of doing this, Jeevan Joshi, where he has the newsletter that people opt-in to, and then once a week he sends out an email message - and he did discuss this with you in the podcast - where he has five podcasts that he recommends and he gives them a star rating. So that's a really great bite-size way for people to go, "Okay, well, I can choose to go and listen to that information, listen to those podcasts, if I want to."

If you're doing it within a workplace, then that's a whole different challenge in itself, I would say.

Robin:
I think Jeevan actually uses LinkedIn to push that stuff out, rather than in a newsletter as well. So that's this thing where people are even making more of a choice to do it. So this is interesting, that word, "Engagement," because there's also a layer of what you're talking about of being really audience and learner-centered. But there's also a thing around journalists being able to distil meaning and messages very quickly. A lot of L&D people wrestle with being able to do it as quickly in terms of speed, but also the way to be distilled. What's your gems of wisdom about that distilling of the information rapidly?

Tracey:
It is a skill, and it's not just about rapid because you may not have to do it rapidly. I mean, journalists in the newsroom have to turn around stories really fast. Sometimes within an hour and sometimes less. So they learn to be able to do that. They learn to be able to pick out, "What are the key points?" And then file that story really fast.

Most people aren't in that situation, you do have a bit more time. I would say, if you want people to engage, when you do find a piece of content that is really learner-worthy, ask yourself, "How quickly are people going to consume this and absorb this? How much is it pushing things further ahead?" And bear in mind that it doesn't always have to, but it's good to have a bit of mix and in some industries you do need to be able to push things ahead where there's continuing education that's required of certain industries, such as the health industry. But you don't always have to. Sometimes it's enough to have content that reinforces a message or reinforces learning, if it's done in really interesting and concise way.

Robin:
Yes. So that's that interesting thing that content curation can sometimes add a real layer around things. Also, as I'm hearing you talk, one of the things that's really striking me is that there’s the journalist’s sensibility around being constantly focused in on the audience and the impact, and what might be the thing that might just get people in terms of a storyline almost becomes a driving force, which is sometimes journalism done badly, is about sensationalism.

Tracey:
Yes, that's true. That's true. What that can come down to is not so much the public interest, which journalists are meant to be pursuing, but what the public is interested in, and sensationalism does come into that too. Hopefully learning doesn't!

Robin:
Yes. So it's actually interesting. So an organisation is probably less public interest. It's probably your organisation's interest is the driving force behind why the content's being pushed out.

As we're doing this prep work, we were talking a little bit about the timetable thing you used to operate on when you were working in a newsroom, and one of the things that I was fascinated around was how you panned out the day as a journalist to make sure you were delivering radio stories during the day, and then your final broadcast at the end of the day. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Tracey:
Well, I mean, that's interesting in that when you work in an - as I did, I used to work in a newsroom where we produced radio stories and TV stories. We had one TV bulletin a day. That has changed now. The newsroom is now supplying content to a 24-hour news channel that has set up since I left. But at the time, it was providing one bulletin a day, and that was in the evening, but radio was happening around the clock. And not just coming out of our newsroom, but coming out of newsrooms all around the country. So if we were putting together a story then we had to be mindful of both one TV bulletin a day, and also hourly - and sometimes half-hourly - bulletins for radio.

And the way that that would be set up was you had - let's say your day started at 9:00. Not everyone's day as a journalist does, because news doesn't always happen nine to five. But let's say your day starts at 9:00. You come in. You get assigned your story. You go off and start covering it. And if you're doing the radio then you go, "Okay, well, I've got a 10:00 bulletin if I've got time to file for that. If not, no matter. I've got an 11:00. I've got a midday bulletin." And the 11 and the midday are both quite big bulletins, because you assume that people are going to be listening and tuning in at those times. There's a 12:30, which might be a bit of a smaller bulletin, and then you start to look towards the afternoon. Your 1:00. Your 2:00. And then there's less going on after that until about 5:00 PM, which is a major bulletin. That's the way that that particular newsroom was set up, and in the meantime that actually gives you a chance to start putting your TV story together.

Robin:
So it's just struck me that in the actual fact in terms of a content stream, in terms of a content curator, could actually use a similar framework to sit there and go: so, during these times of day I know people are engaged in content or the social network they're pushing it out on. There might be just before work or lunchtime to make sure that's when things are lined up. Automated tools make that easier, but then to actually sit there and say, in a day there's time to be able to do deeper work, which is that more investigative style of work that you're talking about as well. But to actually push it on a timeframe is a really interesting, different way of doing things compared to the way learning experiences quite often operate.

Tracey:
Exactly. And it comes back to audiences and when they're most likely to be engaged, and willing to be engaged. And anyone who is in a digital marketing space or follows what digital marketers have to say will find this familiar too. For example, if you're posting to social media, there are certain types of day when people are more likely to be checking social media, and therefore will pick up on your message. And like you said, first thing in the morning when they're commuting to go to work, or they've just arrived in the office; around lunchtime when they're just about to leave for lunch; while they're at lunch; when they've just come back from lunch. And so it's not uncommon for people to send social media posts at around five minutes past two in the afternoon, for example, because people are just coming back from lunch. And then early evening, they've finished work, they go home, they start to relax. So the same principle applies. Know your audience, know the people who you're pushing out your content to, and when they're most likely to be able to consume it and engage with it.

Robin:
So, Tracey, I know you don't work actually in journalism at the moment, but you still follow what's happening around the trends around digital journalism. What do you think some of the real shifts are that are happening around digital journalism? It's not just about putting things online and then building interactive documentaries and some of those other things that occasionally you've shown me.

Tracey:
There's a couple of things that come to mind immediately. One is - if we get away from the 24-hour news cycle, which has been a really big shift in the last few years in journalism. But a couple of things that come to mind immediately. One is the inclusion of social media in journalism, both in terms of journalists putting these stories out on social media and following up on them, watching how people engage with those stories, too. But also, using it as a way to source stories. That's one aspect of how things have changed and really evolved in digital journalism. And the other one is the expanding inclusion of data in journalism, and that is something that you and I have talked about a lot, isn't it?

Robin:
Yes. So it's interesting, because essentially, it's not just the infographics stuff we're talking about. We're talking about being able to put data sets up online that people can then play with and explore. And some of the things that the ABC's done around some of the recent stats and electoral things are just fascinating, because essentially you get a chance to be able to look at the data and quite often part of the journalism is actually the way it's presented visually.

Tracey:
And data's been a part of journalism for a long time, for decades. Any time you look at a story about unemployment. Any time you look at a story about budgets. A lot of those types of stories are told using data, and have been for a long time, because it makes it easier for people to follow. So it's not a new concept. I think what is new is that we are better at incorporating data, we have better tools to do it quickly, and people understand a bit better how it can be used for storytelling.

Robin:
Yes, and I think that's it. Using it for storytelling is a powerful thing. From a learning point of view that can be a trigger for people to realise for a change or just another way of layering information and understanding, as well.

Tracey:
So in terms of content curation, that's another thing to think about, isn't it? That's another way that you might present learning information to your audience as well.

Robin:
Yes. So it's another way of actually thinking about content curation could be data curation.

Tracey:
And that you've been talking a lot on the podcasts lately about data with people, with learning experts. So perhaps for people in L&D who are considering - or who are already using data measurement for their learning - maybe that's something that you could actually present back to the people that you're doing this for so that they get a better understanding of how well they're doing, a better understanding of how it impacts their industry, or the organisation they work for.

Robin:
Yes. And there's some interesting stuff we're about to start to do with some dashboards for people as well. Personalised dashboards for the learners on one of our projects. We might loop back, actually pick up that point in a later podcast.

Tracey, thank you so much for joining me in the Learning While Working podcast today. Had a really interesting conversation. I'll always find it fun when I've coined the term in a podcast, learner-worthy.

Tracey:
Learner-worthy! (laughs)


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