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July 18, 2012, 2:50 p.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

The Guardian formalizes audience curation with #smarttakes

The Guardian’s U.S. site enlists readers in an ongoing effort to help aggregate news and analysis for top stories.

If nothing else, The Guardian is persistent in its desire to ask the public for help with its journalism. Today The Guardian U.S. is launching #smarttakes, a way to aggregate timely news and analysis from Guardian readers. When a big story develops, the paper wants readers to drop a #smarttakes hashtag in a tweet with a link and it will be added to a curated roundup on The Guardian. As the paper puts it:

#smarttakes is a collection of the best ways of thinking about the issues that matter, brought to you by Guardian staff and readers

Hashtags-as-content-aggregators aren’t new — #longreads and #MuckReads being two prominent examples where curation gets outsourced to Twitter, then culled for an editorial product. Unlike those two — which focus on narrative nonfiction and investigative stories, respectively — #smarttakes is organized around specific major stories rather than a type of story. And while The Guardian is proud of its status as an online experimenter, it’s nonetheless interesting to see the idea escape from startups and nonprofits to a major international newspaper.

The Guardian is giving #smarttakes its own home on the site under Comment is Free, where posts will focus on a particular news story and feature links, quoted text and attribution both for the media outlet and the reader who flagged it. Ruth Spencer, community coordinator for The Guardian U.S., described #smarttakes as a pop-up aggregation tool that can help foster discussion and bolster their journalism. “It’s really about fleshing out the issues as a whole rather than saying The Guardian itself is providing the only take,” she said. “It’s like Wikipedia in a way. We’re telling the whole story. That’s the spirit of open journalism.”

That phase should sound familiar by now: The concept is as much an ethos for the Guardian’s work as it is a clever marketing tool. This kind of reader engagement and collaborative journalism is something The Guardian wants people to associate with its brand as it navigates its digital transition. The launch of #smarttakes marks one of the first big developments for the still young U.S. arm of the Guardian, which the paper said yesterday had grown its U.S. audience by 80 percent since its launch last year.

In some ways, #smarttakes is reminiscent of the New York Times short-lived aggregation experiment Times Extra, which brought related links to stories outside the Times. But that was driven by in-house aggregation, not social input.

Spencer told me The Guardian U.S. had been experimenting with news curation for several weeks on stories such as the Facebook IPO and student protests in Quebec. With #smarttakes officially going live, they’ll be opening up the system to a broader audience, namely the Twitter audience. (Quality links will also be retweeted by @GuardianUS.)

It’s not surprising that #smarttakes shares similar DNA with #MuckReads — Amanda Michel, the open editor at The Guardian, who previously worked at ProPublica and had a hand in creating #MuckReads. Over email, Michel told me one lesson from #MuckReads was how to create a long-term commitment to using a hashtag. That helps not just to populate the project, but to build support, she said. “By regularly sharing great investigative reporting using #Muckreads we could support a community of readers and create a living, long-term resource. We’re going to start with a commitment to #smarttakes and take it from there,” she wrote.

You can check the raw #smarttakes feed on Twitter, of course, but on the Guardian’s site, links will be compiled by hand into an individual topic. That means some people’s tweets on particular stories may not be of particular interest to the Guardian for roundup purposes.

Spencer said part of open journalism means transparency in how you work and how others are covering a story. “We think in adding and acknowledging great journalism produced elsewhere, we can provide a much fuller perspective of the implications of these issues and give readers the opportunity to show us what they think is great and bring it onto The Guardian,” she said.

POSTED     July 18, 2012, 2:50 p.m.
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