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The Smartest Job in Local Media: The Curator. Hey, The Register Citizen‘s Doing It, Why Shouldn’t You?

Matt DeRienzo

Add the name Matt DeRienzo to the list of forward thinking journalists who refuse to let local media--especially print--fade into obscurity.

DeRienzo's the publisher of The Register Citizen, a small town paper in Torrington, Connecticut. And he's just appointed Jenny Golfin, who's been reporting and working the paper's website, as the Register's first ever full-time curator. Yep, taking a page from NPR's outrageous success defining a new kind of journalism through curating news as it happens--through tweets, TwitPics, videos, Facebook posts and lots of links--DeRienzo wants to bring that to his paper, an Andy Carvin for small town America.

As he explained it to readers, Golfin will be free to link to anybody--even what used to be known as "the competition." Her beat, unlike Carvin's exceptional work covering uprisings in Egypt, Libya and beyond, will be a lot closer to home: "content relevant to Northwest Connecticut communities and to niche interests including moms from Litchfield County, local and statewide politics and local arts and entertainment."

Why does a local paper our size need, and how does it justify, having a full-time curator on staff?

Well, 10 years ago, it was us, a competing daily newspaper a few towns to our south, a local radio station with a morning news report and the TV stations from Hartford and New Haven.

Scarcity of news sources. High demand for information. Let the good times roll.

Today, our audience turns to thousands of niche websites, blogs and online hyperlocal startups devoted to a single town, neighborhood or interest. Patch.com is arriving on the scene as big media (AOL)’s attempt to scale hyperlocal across a national footprint. The audience itself is now the biggest source of local information out there, equipped with mobile smart phones, free WordPress and Blogger accounts and YouTube logins.

And audience members’ connections to each other via Facebook, Twitter and other social media trump connections, if there are any, between audience member and legacy media brand.

For journalists like me who grew up with and cut our teeth working in legacy media, this is a next generation job description for sure. And to me, it's an amazingly exciting one. (Hey, New York Daily News, I'm talking to you. San Francisco Chronicle, I'm available! Guardian, give me a call...)

This is the future of local media, and a curator plays both to the strengths of the exploding--and highly linked--world of social and digital media, but it also plays into the strengths of small town, well-known papers like the Register. The curator will carry a known brand name, and speak with all the local know-how and expertise an established, decades (or centuries) old news entity can bring. It speaks a language--and offers a familiar name that the carpetbagging Patches (and lesser versions of the same) simply can't compete with.

Television stations would be wise to look at this too. Sure, have people crank out the posts, but think very seriously of a curator--who could surely become an on-camera character as well, with hits on the morning show and when breaking news is happening--to expand the brand, not give up the fight.

And keep an eye on Matt DeRienzo. He's trying new things, and that's worth a round of applause.

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