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Interview with Liz Wilson, Community Editor at Paper.li

Liz Wilson 2012 Interview with Liz Wilson, Community Editor at Paper.liContent curation is hot nowadays, and there are quite a few content curating tools to help you organize and re-use user-generated content that is spreading across the web.

One of the oldest, and still the hottest, content curation tools out there is Paper.li, of course, a great app that helps you create an online magazine of your (or your community) tweets that gives that content second life.

I’ve known Paper.li for ages, and I have blogged a lot about them. For example, here’s an old, but still relevant, one on building your community with Twitter with Paper.li mentioned as one of the tools.

Therefore, I was very happy to get to know Paper.li Community Editor Liz Wilson.

What brought you to Paper.li?

It’s based in Lausanne, Switzerland where I live. Switzerland has a really vibrant startup scene. A friend put me in touch with Kelly Hungerford, the Community Manager, and I started out doing interviews for the Community Blog.

About seven months later, I took over as the Community Editor. So Kelly runs the community management and the team, and my part is looking after the community blog, commissioning guest articles, interviewing experts, telling publishers’ stories, and helping keep the editorial standards high.

Can you give us some insight into the team working on it? How was it born? Where is it heading? How is it evolving?

We have a small yet very culturally diverse team. We cover 19 different nationalities and languages out of the team of 14. We call Lausanne home and are based out of the EPFL’s Scientific Start-up Park, yet our international work is distributed across Europe and Japan.   

Paper.li was co-founded by two Swiss entrepreneurs, Edouard Lambelet and Iskander Pols. They founded SmallRivers in 2008 and began developing services with the aim of connecting like-minded people.

One day they both realized that they were awash in content and thought it would be fantastic to create a tool that could help sift, sort, and make sense out of their Twitter stream. A few weeks later, they had a running prototype that semantically analyzed content in a user home-timeline, organized it, and then presented it in an easy to consume and fun to read online newspaper. 

Paper.li swiftly progressed. Today Paper.li is no longer a service that analyzes a timeline. It is a platform that enables users to curate and publish online newspapers with content from anywhere on the web. Our content engine analyzes over 10,000 articles a minute, and we feature more than 15 million articles on more than 500,000 Paper.lis daily.  We strongly believe that the future of content curation is based on a symbiotic relationship between technology and people and that curators today are helping to transform the way information is organized, discovered, and shared in the future. This is happening already, and digital curation is only in its infancy.  

Good digital content curation requires both technology and people working together, and we believe that people are the ones qualified to make the final selection of content for their audience. We will continue to provide our growing nation of micro-publishers with tools that will help them make their jobs even easier and more efficient, so they can provide their audience with the most compelling and relevant content possible. 

Can you give us some creative example of how people are using Paper.li?

You only need to browse the Paper.li newsstand! They range from advocating for a cause like WaterAid to uniting a community around an interest, like the Mod Generation, to promoting a business, like the FederalLobbyist, or even an event, like Agents of Change. There are so many different uses it’s impossible to catalog them. It can be anything you want. I’ll give you a few of my personal favorites:

The @smexaminer Authors Daily published by Rich Brooks is brilliant for social media news.

If you are into publishing, check out the Best Tweets for Writers Daily from Jane Friedman.

I follow Shashi Bellamkonda’s daily paper because he has a brilliant mix of the expected and unexpected.

I could go on forever. You see the creativity; it is just boundless.

When did you realize that writing should become your career?

When I was studying for my exams at age 15, we had to submit a piece of creative writing. I started writing about a country girl who went to the big city and fell in love with a real no-gooder. I loved doing it so much I wrote 30,000 words. I gave it to my English teacher, and he put it in his office. Then every lunchtime, girls were going in there to read it! They thought it was like a true romance comic.

You used to be a journalist for the most powerful newspapers. Are you still contributing there? When and how did you start writing for the web?

I don’t do print journalism any more, only because I don’t have the time. I love news and news gathering, and one reason I feel close to Paper.li is that it looks like a traditional newspaper. I did print journalism for a long time in London, but I stopped because I wanted to realize a long-held ambition and live abroad.

I moved to France with my husband and his two sons. We just wanted to live out of our comfort zone to see what it was like. I don’t remember when I started writing for online, but it was probably about 2005. When we went to France, I started freelancing in corporate communications, and I wrote loads of content for intranets and static websites.

How is writing for newspapers and writing for the web different?

That’s such an interesting question for me because I disagree with a whole bunch of people about that. I like to think in terms of writing for an audience, not a channel. If you know your audience, then you know how to write for them, what format they want, how timely it has to be, what depth they prefer. If you know they want a long analysis of a topic, it’s the same whether it appears in the Sunday Times newsprint edition or the Huffington Post online. If you know they just want snippets they can scan, that’s the same whether it’s on or offline. If you look at tabloid newspapers, their style is the same as a lot of websites or blogs.

Okay, perhaps there are small differences, but I think a lot of people approach it from the wrong end. I see loads of articles saying things like blog posts must be 400 words, etc. Who says? Some people like 4,000 if it’s really interesting. I’m really pleased to see so many sites that have long form pieces, like The Browser, for example.

So I would say tune into your audience and stop worrying about what other people tell you to do.

Where do you think journalism is heading? How is it influenced by the web and social media?

Well, I could write a book about that, but the main thing is that “journalism” is ceasing to be an occupation practiced by the few, and it’s becoming an instinctive part of daily life for the many. We have gone from mass media, with a few media talking at the masses, to media mass, with an unquantifiable amount of media talking to the few.

I heard the expression “everyone is a publisher” frequently, and I think we can also say that “everyone is a journalist” if they want to be. The tools and access exist for anyone to report what’s happening and tell stories; that is what journalism is at its heart.  Obviously, I’m talking about countries where that’s possible, though even in countries where the tools and access are restricted, people still manage to report.

The influence comes with opening up access for anyone to report or analyze news. The old media companies can’t control the means of getting the news out now. It’s impossible. Some of them are embracing this and working with it, like the Guardian in the UK, which is encouraging people who don’t have journalism training to take part. They even have a platform for people to set up hyperlocal websites, and they have opened up their APIs to encourage innovation and collaboration.

Some media companies are fighting open journalism and retreating behind paywalls, pretending nothing has changed. They still have an “us” and “them” mentality – us being the media company and them being the readers. They will lose out.

The division between so-called “professional journalists” who have gone through training and people who just want to share news or information and have taught themselves to do it will disappear in the end. You can see it happening right here with the number of people who publish a Paper.li. They create and publish the news, too. Their contribution is as important as The New York Times or any established media company. The potential for citizen journalists is limitless in the long run.

 Interview with Liz Wilson, Community Editor at Paper.li
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project, MyBlogGuest.com.
 Interview with Liz Wilson, Community Editor at Paper.li

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