Joe Student flails about around his pillows, trying to determine where his iPhone is so he can silence that freakin’ alarm. Once the phone is in his hand and the annoying noise silenced, he begins opening apps. He spends at least 30 minutes every morning looking at his phone, trying to will himself out of bed and to class. He spends so much time doing this that he’s always running late by the time he actually gets out of bed.

This post isn’t about Joe’s bad habit of starting his day on his phone. We know many (most?) people do that, even thought productivity experts advise us against it. The real questions this post is about are:

  • What student media content is Joe seeing during his morning phone time?
  • How much of this content is he reading, commenting on, liking, or sharing?
  • What other content is he engaging with more?

People are consuming more online content than ever before, but their time and attention are not infinite. This means, to win your audience’s attention, your student media outlet has to provide students with the content most relevant to them in the places they are most likely to look.

Are your student media’s online properties serving as one-stop shopping for students’ information wants and needs? If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Before you start to freak out, please know I understand that student journalists do not have infinite time to produce content. You have classes to attend, homework to do, other jobs to work, and you may actually want to have a social life. I get it. There are only so many hours in a day to produce original content, and you probably already are doing that really well.

I’m not suggesting you write more stories. How you’re doing in that area and what you should be doing differently are an entirely different subject. Instead, I’m suggesting that you serve students better by curating the content they want and sharing it with them in the most helpful manner possible.

What is content curation?

Content curation means “to collect, summarize, make sense, add value, attribute, link, intrigue, and entice readers with non-original content,” according to Steve Buttry, a professor and media scholar. Buttry wrote:

Successful curation will make sense on its own if you don’t click through to any of the content you are curating, but will entice many people to click through and read or watch more. Finding and presenting the collected content is important, but effective curation boosts the experience of each of the pieces by presenting multiple pieces in a context that enhances your understanding of each piece.”

How do we add value through curation?

Curating content doesn’t just mean sharing a bunch of stuff on social channels. Journalists need to add value to the content they curate so the audience knows why it’s applicable to them.

Curators can add value in many ways, like:

  • Summarizing the content. Provide a short overview of the issue so students can determine if they want to click through.
  • Including original reporting. I keep thinking about that dress. Do you remember that damn dress that was blue to some people and white to others? The color of this dress blew up the Internet. The graphic design professor in my department had a perfect understanding of why different people saw different colors. Why not link to the dress, ask students what they see and provide a short quote/summary from the graphic design professor on why they see different things? This could be done on Facebook, Snapchat or on your website. The entire thing would take just a few minutes to produce, but would get many views.
  • Grouping content. If something becomes a bigger issue, you may want to actually curate the content into a post for your website. In fact, I would encourage you to make sure most of your online content has features of curation, like more outside reading or related internal stories. Let’s say, for example, your basketball coach resigns. You may want a post that includes an introduction for context, links to related stories (internal and external), a video of the press conference, and reaction from social media.

Where do we find content to curate?

You are spending time reading and engaging with content, just like your fellow students. In fact, the scenario I described at the beginning of this post may sound a lot like your morning routine. The answer to the question of where to find content to curate is simple—everywhere. The great thing about your situation is that you are your typical reader. As a student, you have the inside perspective on what interests students. Chance are, if it interests you, it will interest someone else in your student body. Just start there.

Here are some places you may discover content for curation:

  • Google Alerts. If you don’t already have a Google Alert set up for the name of your university, do it now. Hyperlocal content is important to readers. They’re interested in things happening at your university. Share links to any stories about your university. If there are many stories being reported about the same issue, curate that content by creating a post on your website with an overview of the issue and links to internal and external reporting.
  • University email. I know, I know, university email is a black hole. I get as many emails a day as you do, I’m sure. But some of them include worthwhile information. For example, our university communications department sends out a daily email summarizing external news coverage of students and staff. Each of those items make for easy social sharing. They also send out regular snippets of faculty/student accomplishments. Each of those items could be curated into social media posts or a weekly list on the student media website.
  • Social media. There are endless things to curate on social media. I just logged onto Twitter to see what is trending there. The debate about confederate flags is one of the items. This could be curated simply. You could link to a post on the issue and ask students what they think, or post a photo of a confederate flag and ask students their opinions on the issue, which later could be curated with an overview for an online post. You also could grab a quick quote from a history or political science professor to add some context for social or online.
  • News sites. News sites are an obvious place to find content to curate. Being an avid news consumer is your job as a student journalist. What is happening in your city, state, nation, and in the world that is important for students to know and understand? Inform them, then ask their views. Curate this content for your site, making it more local. You also could consider doing a daily or weekly list of major news students should know.
  • Blogs. Blog content may be less obvious for curation than some of these other sources. I suggest you read blogs by students, well-known alumni, professors, and those writing about college student issues like housing, financial aid, etc. Heck, you could even curate a list of blogs that students should be reading.
  • Life. Why is that pile of dirt in the middle of the sidewalk? Why is there any empty frozen yogurt machine in the caf? How much were your books this semester? Ask the questions, curate the answers, provide truth in context.
  • Your archive. Don’t forget to include your own content in your curation. A popular professor retires? Curate all of the stories you’ve written about that professor and student sentiments from online and post them as a story on your website.

If you start with curating content that is interesting to you, you will begin to notice what readers engage most with and be able to determine what your audience wants most.

How do we know if the content is ok to share?

Don’t share anything if you seriously question the source or its credibility. For example, when I saw the story about the chicken fried rat, I immediately questioned its validity. It turns out that I was correct. However, if you think that story is interesting to your audience, you still could have shared it. You could have linked to a post and asked “A chicken fried rat? This seems unbelievable. What do you think?”

Use your media savvy and questioning nature to determine what content to share. Also, always attribute your information and link back to the original source.

Why does this work?

Content curation works because you are tapping into what your readers want to know and delivering it to them in the place where they want to receive it. You’re also giving them the information in a way that’s easy for them to understand and engage with. And, of course, don’t forget the internal benefit of content curation, you’re giving readers more content they want/need without only hounding them with your own information. Variety… spice of life… and all of that jazz.

Why does this work so well for college media?

There are so many reasons content curation works best for college media, including:

  • You are your typical audience member, so what’s interesting to you also will be interesting to them.
  • Curated content is simple to produce, share and consume, which is perfect for busy college students.
  • College media don’t have to be all serious about curated content. It’s ok for you to curate a BuzzFeed-style list of gifs about finals week. I’ll bet your audience would read it.

The overwhelming benefits to content curation are engaging your readers while provided them with information they need and want. Since content curation is relatively simple to do, it only makes sense that you incorporate it into your regular workload.

Share your nerdery!

Post a link below of great examples of content curation done by your staff or others.