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The year of the culturally relevant curator

“May the playing field truly flatten.”

There is a confluence of phenomena happening in media, journalism, and the digital world that is opening a lane for a particular type of media professional to thrive. In 2019, we will see a rise in curators that are culturally relevant to their community audience. They will be able to avoid having to rely on ad revenue for funding and be independent from social platforms for their primary engagement.

These digitally savvy players will give context to the news flying around the net to people who gravitate and identify with them. Curators will be able to grow a deeply engaged following without having to develop their own content, but rather by discovering and distributing the best of what exists and adding their perspective for their communities. And they will build and maintain these groups on platforms they control. Here’s where we are:

Eroding trust: Confidence in social platforms is eroding among both users and creators. Users are skeptical about how their data is being leveraged and how they may be targeted. Content makers and publishers increasingly distrust building their followings on platforms that may be reporting inflated metrics and can change the dynamic for how they can engage with their followers.

Marginalized audience: Mainstream news outlets are still at all-time low levels of trust, especially with marginalized groups. Whether real or imagined diminishment, these groups distrust traditional news outlets, claiming they’re biased against them. They continue to seek stories that cover their communities, from a perspective that they respect and they feel understands them.

Overwhelming options: Readers and viewers of digital content in the form of articles, images, memes, tweets, video clips, live video, GIFs, and so on feel overwhelmed with the abundance of information and choices that increase year after year.

Paying for content: There is a rising comfort with paying for digital content, whether as memberships or subscriptions, particularly for organizations that align with the worldview or touch upon a salient identity of their supporters.

Direct and authentic engagement: More and more, publications and personalities are enlisting email newsletters to directly engage with their fans. Along with this is a rise in the use of the podcasts medium — a decentralized format content creators can use to build better one-on-one and authentic relationships with their audiences through engaging hosts. Email and other options also ensure that being banned or censored by a social media platform will not destroy the main engagement channel of the content creator.

Easy payment options: One-time donations and month-to-month subscriptions to content from individuals is also on the rise, as observed by the increase of social media personalities with links on their social profiles or YouTube live broadcasts allowing their followers to send funds or to join their Patreon campaigns.

All of these factors create an opportunity for journalists and media players who thrive with curation to build communities in digital spaces that they control. They will be able to leverage the vast and abundant amount of content available and use social platforms to promote their existence. They will ultimately use both to offer the value of their culturally relevant perspective and build trust amongst their following. And they will be able to maintain, thrive, and grow from the funding and support of their community audience.

This occurrence could be especially encouraging for large groups of marginalized people, who are routinely mischaracterized and stereotyped in mainstream media and the storytellers, like myself, who are working to serve large audience communities but find it difficult to be heard in the mainstream and to fund our work.

May the playing field truly flatten.

Michael Rain is at TED Resident and the creator of The ENODI Project.

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