Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

My TV manifesto

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2008

I’ve been working in broadcast news for two years now, and I’ve been following it, I guess for five. And well, I think I’m just a bit tired with it all. With the formats, with the delivery, with the writing, with the style, with the editorial choices.

Surely there must be something different?

Here’s thing: I don’t think there is. We all know radio is in a state, and as for TV? Well I could write a long diatribe, but it’s been done already, far more succintly and wittily, and then put on television by Charlie Brooker:

Watch part one here:

Then part two here

And part three here:

Whether you like it or not, or whether you think it’s the way it’s always going to be or not, I am convinced there is room for something different.

Something aimed at a younger audience; with a journalistic transparency, a complete fluid harmony with digital and web technology, delivered differently, cheaply, eco-friendily, telling different stories, off the agenda, breaking the rules, offering something new.

To avoid sounding like the Alistair Darling when he gave his speech about how to fix the economy the other week (and didn’t actually announce anything), here is – for what its worth – my own TV news manifesto. Just some ideas; debate them, slate them!

a new news manifesto

This is my own idea for an online based alternative news platform. At its heart is a daily studio news programme, uploaded to the website and to Youtube. It is of no fixed length – only dictated by the content.

Content

Ignore the stories of the mainstream media. That means crime stories are out. Court stories with no lasting impact are out. Surveys, unless by major bodies are out, so is the sort of PR pollster rubbish that fills the airwaves. If people want that they have no end of sources. This will be different.

Solution journalism?

Rather than just reporting on a problem and ending with the cliche “whether this problem will be solved is yet to be seen” there’s a good argument for solution journalism. Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick suggest it as part of their own ideas on Peace Journalism (could it be adapted to non-conflict reporting?)  Reports which examine how a problem might be solved rather than just reminding us there’s a problem.

A younger audience; a digital existence

A programme for the ‘web 2.0 generation’. That’s the people who blog, use facebook and myspace and exist in a digital online world. It’ll be up front and direct, but not patronising like Newsbeat‘s “something bad has happened in a place called abroad” style. VJ pieces will be created for web use not to mimic TV styles.

Video Journalism

At its heart will be the ethos of video journalism. David Dunkley-Gyimah laid out his own manifesto on this here. As well as staffing young creative VJs for firefighting stories and assignments, this brand would tap from a huge source of international freelance sources as well as other existing solutions like Demotix and Vimeo. Stylistically it would take its cues from already successful projects like Current TV. Packages are edited fast and with attitude -they know the rules of conventional film, but aren’t afraid to break them.

Focus

It would have an international focus, remembering the unreported stories. It believes the phrase “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. It would focus on unreported issues and people with the story tellers getting right into the story. Creativity is the norm, and the packages do not try to emulate TV news in content or form.

But what about the main agenda?

This wouldn’t be ignored – but would be wrapped in each show in a “newsbelt” form – “the stories the other shows are talking about” It would need to feel connected to the national agenda but not neccessarily following it.

Transparent

A key element to this type of journalism would be transparency in reporting and editing. Packages would be VJ produced – from the root to the fruit – and VJ led. In other words the viewer follows the VJ as they investigate and tell the story. If it’s from a press release the audience deserves to know that. There would also be an openness in editing with misleading cutaways, noddies and GVs removed, and edits to interviews clearly signposted (for example through a flash wipe). Agency footage labelled as such so viewers know it’s not inhouse. Images of reporters can appear on screen as they cover the story.

Delivery

The platform is digital – through an accessible, well designed fluid website. Viewers can watch whole shows or individual reports. Each show would have no time requirements as broadcasters do. It would need to host an online community of viewers who watch, comment, submit and review. They are reflected in the content. The people at 4iP lay it out quite nicely right here.

Attitude

The journalism would have attitude, and would be not afraid to take risks. At its heart is good story telling and brilliant writing. Creative treatments would set the standard mainstream broadcasters will adopt months later.

Cheap and green

The video journalism model is cheap and green. One man bands on assignment, sourcing, shooting and cutting themselves. No need for live satellite link ups or expensive foreign trips housing 5 people in big hotels (what’s wrong with a hostel?) The central programme itself would be studio based but avoiding the “absurdist cathedrals of light” preferred by the mainstream. Solar powered lighting? Light cameras on light peds?

Presentation

The central programme is relaxed, young and doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. The team have the mind set of the Daily Buzz and create great moments even when they’re not trying too. Stylistically the presentation takes its cues from a more fluid version of C4 News in the UK, with almost constant (but not distracting) camera movements.

This news platform doesn’t need to report the mainstream stores – because there is a plethora of media to do that already. It avoids the distorting pressures of the other networks, like the need for live pictures from the scene, uninformed 2-ways and time pressures. It focusses on bringing something new, but allowing analysis too. It’s VJ packages are well produced – but do not try to emulate the style of TV news.

That’s pretty much all I got. As i mentioned I strongly feel there is a demand for a new way of doing things-we just don’t know what that is yet.

And just a quick disclaimer: I’m just a young broadcast journalist with only 2 years under my belt. I certainly don’t suggest this any good a solution, or that I should have anything to do with it. But for what it’s worth I thought it was worth jotting down.

You might agree, or you might disagree…stick your thoughts in the comments box!

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12 Responses

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  1. Mitch English said, on November 11, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    wow. Great article. Tell me when that show is created. Better yet, have them call my agent. The newscast of the future has to have viewer involvement – a trend becoming more apparent in cable news and broadcast news is following suit.
    -Mitch

  2. David Sheffield said, on November 12, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    …and more stories about badgers…

  3. adamwestbrook said, on November 12, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    You can never have enough badgers.

    Also, the man in charge at BBC News, Richard Sambrook gave a speech today on “the future of news” at my old haunt City University – check out the details here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2008/11/reinventing_news.html

  4. Hannah Costigan said, on November 12, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    I’m a recent newspaper graduate from Cardiff University, (been in the meeja one year, did get into City but didn’t go because it was for the mag course) and I have similar concerns, though coming at it from a newspaper angle. I think your proposals would be a very good way forward. See here for my vague ramblings on this a few months ago. I think we need to get away from excessively timetabled journalism. That’s not how you get good stories. And if you have the idea, why not own it? Get a bit more experience and then set up your own news institution. That’s one of my ideas certainly… whether it’ll ever come to be is another matter, but I’ve not been a this lark long. On a related note, have you read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies?

  5. Hannah Costigan said, on November 12, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Sorry, my linking appears to have failed, I’ll try again: Does this work?. If not, don’t worry about it.

  6. adamwestbrook said, on November 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Hannah, looks like you’re 6 months ahead of me!
    I agree with you certainly that the time pressures of broadcast and the page pressures of press distort news, mostly in the presentation of stuff which isn’t news, as news. That’s the benefit of online I guess.
    Money-wise…well that’s something I could never try to solve! 3 years in commercial radio has taught me news just doesn’t make money..like you say it’s value people expect for free. I don’t think that’ll ever be solved.
    And you said: “and if you have the idea, why not own it? Get a bit more experience and then set up your own news institution. That’s one of my ideas certainly…” I totally agree! What’s stopping us!

  7. [...] the same day I published my own thoughts, Richard Sambrook spoke to students at City University on the [...]

  8. richard sambrook said, on November 14, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Really interesting ideas Adam. I’d watch it! I agree news is long overdue a radical overhaul. But suspect it will have to come from “outside” rather than from within one of the current big providers for reasons I talked about at City..

  9. Hannah Costigan said, on November 15, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Time, money and experience? It’s the kind of thing I’d love to do but would find very time consuming whilst simultaneously earning a living… and aside from asking from a loan from a bank, which probably would receive short shrift in these times, I have very little idea about how I’d start setting up my own business. I know a range of people working at different papers round the country who might well be a source of different stories, but asking them to contribute out of their own time for nothing… which is what it would have to be to begin with, is a bit of a non-starter for the same reasons. When I win the lottery I’ll let you know! ;)

  10. Thoroughly Good said, on November 25, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    Mr Westbrook .. a pleasure to read over your blog. I got here courtesy of Captain Sambrook.

    This bothers me .. “I’m just a young broadcast journalist with only 2 years under my belt.”

    Never say this. If you have a passion for journalism then that outstrips the time you’ve spent in a professional situation.

    As for “there must be a different way”. There is.

    Grab a camera or a microphone and go make the stuff *you* want to make. Stick it on the web. If noone watches it you know its fallen on deaf ears. If noone consumes it then satisfy yourself with the thought you’ve satisfied yourself making something which satisfies you not the audience .. That’s the most important thing of all.

    So, when exactly can we see something?

  11. Thoroughly Good said, on November 25, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Oh .. and in case some cocky journalist reads my comments and starts picking holes in what I wrote .. I wrote what I wrote deliberately. *

    * I’m better on camera, honest.

  12. [...] Posted in Journalism by adamwestbrook on February 23rd, 2009 Last year I wrote a post about my ideas for the future of TV news. It’s been one of the most read articles on my blog and solicited a lot of nice [...]


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