Introducing Digital First’s Curation Team: Now on to the Hard Part

Following a month of non-stop activity featuring dozens of applicant blog posts, applications and interviews via occasionally spotty Google Hangout connections, I’m pleased to announce that the Digital First curation team is locked and loaded.

Julie Westfall will be joining Digital First as the curation team leader.  Angela Carter and Karen Workman, two of DFM’s local superstars, will be moving to new roles as curators.

I was familiar with all three of these remarkable journalists before I ever began hiring for these positions. They were selected because they each had a vision for what could be done – and none of them are the type to be scared off by such a vague concept as “go be a curation team”.

Steve Buttry and I interviewed A LOT of really amazing applicants. We heard a lot of really innovative and interesting ideas on curation tools and strategy from journalists and non-journalists both inside and outside Digital First. You guys didn’t make our choices easy, but I’m confident we’ve got a killer team here.

Julie Westfall

Julie Westfall

I am excited to get back to working with Julie Westfall, who was, in my opinion, the engine that drove TBD’s daily news coverage. Sitting across from her for most of our short time there, I was constantly amazed at how she just never seemed to stop. Julie had a vision for how our news could be better and faster and she worked tirelessly to see that vision come to life.  She was always tinkering with the tools we had or brainstorming the tools she wanted to see if there could be a better way to tell our stories.

Julie was responsible for shaping a lot of the excellent breaking news coverage TBD came to be known for.  When a gunman took hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters about a month into TBD’s existence, Julie grabbed the reins and led our site through what was arguably its national and regional debut. She also served in the thankless role of maintaining the often-difficult relationship between TBD and WJLA TV – for which I personally think she could have gotten a Nobel Peace Prize if that relationship hadn’t ended in such a spectacularly sad way.

But it wasn’t our work history that got Julie into this job, but rather it was her continuing ideas for how online news could be made better. Julie still has a vision for how we can develop new and better ways to tell stories online.  We need someone with that vision to help our team craft dynamic, interesting and useful news resources for our local sites.  It helps that Julie’s pretty familiar with forging her own path in this crazy digital journalism world – she held experimental roles at TBD and KPCC – because we need her to shape this team from an idea into a key part of Digital First’s news strategy.

Angi Carter

Angi Carter

I knew Angi Carter by reputation long before we actually met upon my visit to the New Haven Register‘s newsroom a couple of months ago. As an inaugural member of Digital First’s ideaLab, Angi had already made her mark as an innovator and communicator within the company.

Angi had been a city-side and business reporter for years before taking on the role of community engagement in her newsroom. When you meet her, it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been in that role for years. She’s a natural.

From the time I joined the company, I knew Angi to be an ever-willing guinea pig for digital news projects. When Digital First teamed up with NYU’s Studio 20 and The Guardian for Citizen’s Agenda, Angi was enthusiastically on board, guiding the Register’s engagement around the 2012 elections. When DFM launched its first national news project, American Homecomings, Angi was right there in the thick of it, helping to curate content for the site. She’s always among the first in the company to experiment with new tools and brainstorm new ways to use the tools we already have at our disposal.

Not surprisingly, Angi also went the extra mile with her ideaLab project. Originally it was thought that ideaLab activities would take up a designated amount of hours each week but Angi made it the focus of her everyday work. She also contributed the equipment she receives as an ideaLab participant to the Register’s overall engagement efforts like conducting a Community Needs Assessment, holding public online news meetings and growing the Register’s community blog network.

When this curation team is in full swing, we’re going to need Angi’s organizational skills to guide us on breaking news and long-term projects. She has a habit of planning the details far out in advance of planned news events. Take New Haven’s coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care decision: When the decision came down, the site had a live chat with experts on the case all ready to go.

Karen Workman

Karen Workman

I don’t know Karen Workman well yet, but I know a great deal about her work.  She started her career as an editorial assistant at the Oakland Press, where went on to become a reporter and, later, community engagement editor. When she took interest in this position, Karen wrote a report full of ideas for how the DFM curation team could best benefit our local newsrooms.  She’d know, as she’s already sort of been doing it.

Working the early morning shift at the Press, Karen noticed that DFM’s Michigan newsrooms were all curating stories and videos from the same sites each day. She  took the initiative to change the system to be more efficient. This past spring, she started a curation team for the Michigan newspapers to better utilize the time of the newsrooms’ small staffs.

As an early adopter of new tools in her newsroom, Karen’s also proven herself to be a natural teacher. What started as helping her colleagues learn SEO, social media and digital tools has turned into a much larger effort to educate journalists at other DFM papers. Karen’s patience and talent for explanation is really going to come in handy as a DFM curator, as we’ll be helping all of our local newsrooms with their own curation efforts.

Karen was also part of the first class of ideaLab participants. She’s using her project to build a sense of community amongst members of the Oakland Press’ blogger network. Aside from bringing a disparate group of bloggers together in person and online, Karen’s also setting up workshops they want and need to bolster their own skill sets.

I’m pretty sure Karen and I are going to get along just fine, as she’s a fellow animal lover (even if she prefers dogs).  She writes The Dog Blog, a care and training blog for dog owners – and she’s also got a really cute Lab/pit bull mix with a great name (Sensibull).

This curation team will be getting to work the last week of this month….just in time to start experimenting with curation around the Olympic Games. These three women will have a lot of logistics to figure out, tools to break and workflows to hammer out  – but I have full confidence they are more than up to the challenge. I can hardly wait to get started.

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