Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Goodbye mainstream media. It’s been fun.

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, Journalism, News and that, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on December 14, 2010

This is going to be a very personal post, so apologies in advance; it’s something I try to avoid on this blog as much as I can.

The past two weeks has seen the first, sustained, clash between two ages: a new era of complete online freedom and transparency (and all that this entails, good and bad); versus the old world of secrecy, authority and control. And it’s been paralleled in a clash between a new way of doing journalism and the way the traditional, mainstream media does it.

As someone very much straddling both sides of the fence, so to speak, it has given me a huge amount to think about. I have now come to the conclusion that the future of journalism will not come in any shape or form from the current established media – at least in its present form.

I want to state that here and now because it is something I have not said publicly before: the future of journalism does not lie with the mainstream media. I am not suggesting it will get replaced by blogs or news startups – it will continue to exist. But anyone looking to it to breed a strong, sustainable and effective craft in the decades ahead – that genuinely performs a fourth-estate role – is looking in the wrong place.

NOTE: I know that will send many straight down to the comments box – and please do give me your thoughts! Please read the bullet points right at the bottom first – which clarify what I am, and am not saying.

It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, and it’s the result of a long string of personal events.

Of mice and mephedrone

I’ve described before on this blog how I quit my job in the mainstream media back in September 2009. At the time I was working for a well-established, popular and profitable commercial radio station in Yorkshire, England. I had the privilege of being part of a news team who consistently beat our local rivals in relevancy and quality of our news, despite far smaller resources.

Earlier this year, I found myself back in the newsroom, sitting in the same chair – for a short period of time. I’d returned to do a couple of weeks of freelancing, to see old friends and keep my skills sharp.

My return coincided with one of the big media blowouts of the year (although one which has now almost entirely been forgotten). Two teenage boys had been found dead and Humberside Police suggested it may have been the result of a new, and legal drug, mephedrone. Mephedrone has lots of sexy nicknames, like M-Cat and meow-meow and was instant news-media sugar.

For us, both boys – who I won’t name, but you can find out easily yourself – were from our local patch, just south of the Humber estuary. A big local story then, and we immediately kicked into action. Over the next two weeks we diligently reported all the details of the story: reaction from local health experts, the latest from Humberside Police, growing pressure for the drug to be banned; statements from the Health Secretary Alan Johnson (who, helpfully was also a local MP); and then how Britain’s senior drugs expert Professor David Nutt resigned in protest at that decision.

Finally, on my last day, we reported the funerals of the two boys. I was at the first funeral, and in a superb use of initiative and social media journalism, reporter Jen Grieves was able to contact friends of the two boys via Facebook. We both went out and interviewed them. We asked them about mephedrone and what they thought of it. Within days, the drug had been banned – the one of the quickest changes in legislation in the UK in years.

At the end of the two weeks, I returned to London and we all felt we had done an excellent job – we had done good journalism.

Except, for one thing. The two teenagers did not die from mephedrone. In fact, they had never even taken it. This didn’t emerge until nearly two months later, and when it did, it barely registered in the mainstream media.

And I came to a cold and uncomfortable conclusion: this year I have participated fully in the mainstream media for just two weeks. My only achievement in that fortnight has been to perpetuate a national myth, to compound an echo-chamber, to package more lies and unwittingly sell them as truths.

Here’s the crux: I am not, on the whole, a bad journalist. The journalism we did was exactly the same as every other news outlet in those two weeks. We reported the events in the same way as the most senior BBC, ITV and Guardian journalists. In fact, a lot of our information came from our official news-wire, provided by Sky News.

Looking back, we should have challenged the police press release. We should have actually asked what mephedrone was, instead of going with what our news wires were saying. When the most accepted expert on drugs in the UK resigned, we should perhaps have wondered if he had a point. And we should have waited for the toxicology reports before linking the deaths to it.

Of course, none of these things are possible inside the mainstream news cycle, which is why it has become so distorting and dangerous. The actions of thousands of journalists telling half truths here and there, and passing on unchallenged information as fact from ‘reliable sources’ creates a foghorn for lies on a giant scale.

Iraq and The News You Don’t See

Tonight, ITV in the UK is screening a documentary by the campaigning journalist John Pilger, called The War You Don’t See.

Last night I was at a networked preview screening of the film, followed by a live Q&A with Pilger himself. The film makes this same point, except with far more dangerous lies than legal highs. In fact, he takes on what has become the greatest single lie of the 21st century so far – the reasons for invading Iraq in 2003 – and points the blame squarely at the mainstream media.

His film tries to show how our most respected news outlets: CBS News, The New York Times, Observer, BBC News and ITV News in particular failed to effectively challenge the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. In fact, never mind failed: the mainstream media did not even try to challenge its legitimacy. The film has quite extraordinary confessions from Observer and BBC Journalists (including Rageh Omar) who look back with shame (their words) at their reportage from the time.

But again, they were not doing anything other than follow the cues of their news organisations and the popular narrative of the time. Inside the news machine, they could hardly have done anything else.

The films concludes government propaganda machines have become so fantastically sophisticated – and they are successfully hoodwinking journalists on a regular basis.

Pilger is also very critical of embedding journalists. As a reporter who was embedded in Iraq (albeit very briefly, in 2009) I can see why.

When you are in the pockets of the military (they house you, transport you, guide you and feed you) objectivity is near impossible. Even if you can emotionally detach yourself from your hosts, on most embeds you see what the military want you to see, how they want you to see it. My very affable Media Ops guide, was prone to pointing out all the positive things the army were doing in his soft friendly tones; it was hard to disbelieve him.

And we went along with it, some more than others. Quite remarkably, one print journalist offered her copy to the Media Ops officer to ‘check it before I email it home’. It must have been like Christmas come early for the MOD.

The new ‘fifth estate?’

And so to Wikileaks, the stateless organisation that has given pretty much everyone something to think about.

Earlier this week I was invited to debate Wikileaks’ impact on the future of traditional journalism on Al-Jazeera English with, among others, journalism heavyweight Robert Fisk, perhaps one of the last remaining old-school war reporters. In our debate he argued that Wikileaks shows mainstream journalists up in a very bad way – he said they’ve become lap dogs, while Assange hands out the scraps.

While I think that sentiment is unfair to the scores of journalists at The Guardian, Der Spiegel, New York Times and others who have been doing good legwork sifting through thousands of documents, I do think it shows how passive the mainstream media has become.

Wikileaks publishing the unsorted data is not journalism – however it is an act of journalism, and the most significant since the MPs expenses scandal and Watergate before that.

And it has not been done by journalists. If anything, the success of Wikileaks represents a milestone failure for the mainstream media in the uncovering of truth and the holding of authority to account.

More worrying, however, has been the response to the cables. I personally feel the actions of the US government to get Julian Assange arrested and to shut down the website is on a par with the behaviour of the Chinese, Burmese and Iranian governments in the face of its own dissidents and websites it does not like. It is an outrageous abuse of power that should set alarm bells ringing in democracies around the world.

Does the mainstream media defend a flag bearer for free speech? Does it stand firm against US government pressure?

The more I am convinced of the need to challenge the authoritarian behaviour of our governments in the years ahead, the less I feel convinced the mainstream media has the capability or willingness to do it.

A new way ahead?

So if not the mainstream media, what?

Speaking after the preview of his documentary, John Pilger put his faith in new independent journalists, free from the legacy costs and attitudes of the big news machine and authority itself. He echoed ideas you will have read on this blog before: the internet has made it faster, cheaper and easier to create and publish content – and that gives these independent reporters a new platform and a new advantage.

It’s a future predicted by Richard Sambrook writing about the future of War Reporters for the Reuters Institute. The days of the khaki-wearing Corkers, working their way from hotel lobby to hotel lobby are numbered, he says; but in their place a new, independent – and younger – generation of multimedia journalists can emerge.

I agree. Brave and creative journalists, willing to take risks and innovate online might just be some future protection from corruption, incompetence and abuse of power, which the Cable leaks have shown are all thriving in our ‘democratic’ governments.

I can’t pretend to know the specifics of this future, or even whether it could do a better job than the current mainstream approach. But I do know we need to support and encourage these independent journalists whatever path they take. Our schools and colleges push journalism students through courses towards full time employment, fodder for the hungry news machine. Instead they need to be encouraging them to make a difference in the years to come.

So…

At first I was unsure about whether Wikileaks was a good thing. Then I watched the footage from the Apache gunship circling over the streets of an Iraqi town, and mowing down more than a dozen people, including two Reuters cameramen, a father and his two children.

The film, made public by Wikileaks – and not by journalists – revealed the value the US military puts on a human life and, in stark black and white, how our governments have lied repeatedly to our faces. And worst of all, how our mainstream media have served but to amplify those lies.

So I’m sorry mainstream media. It’s been fun; but me, I’m done.

Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far. More relevant, useful and valuable articles resume later this week!

P.S.

To save the breathe of commenters – here’s what I am not saying:

  • that I will stop consuming mainstream media news. (To clarify: I won’t, at least not right away. If I do, it’s with healthy scepticism)
  • that I think mainstream media journalists as individuals are incapable of doing good journalism. (To clarify: I know scores of talented, experienced and dedicated journalists working in all sectors of print and broadcast. They are good journalists, just working in a broken system)
  • that the mainstream media does no good acts of journalism. (To clarify: it does all the time, but the overall narrative it creates is dangerous)
  • that I will never set foot in a mainstream media office again. (To clarify, I work on a freelance/contractual basis for a range of outlets in the mainstream media, but I have no ambitions to work full-time for anyone)
  • that there is some kind of mainstream media conspiracy. (To clarify: there isn’t)

A birthday treat (for you!)

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 28, 2010

A bit of an off-piste topic for this post, but today is my birthday!

And as I try desperately to negotiate that 26 is still my mid-twenties, I’ve got a special treat (for you guys): Next Generation Journalist is on another 50% offer – right now it’s priced at just £5 for the UK edition and $8 for the US/Canada edition.

But this one only lasts for today! As soon as I’m no longer the birthday boy, the US and UK editions jump straight back up to £10/$15.

This will probably be the last offer now until the 2011 edition comes out in the summer, so if you’ve been umming-and-ahhing, it’s decision time. Don’t forget, there’s also two chapters available for free, if you want a sneak peak at the inside.

UK Edition

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US Edition

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Who do you think you’re not?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 26, 2010

Image credit: Dano on Flickr

“So, what do you do?”

It’s the question I dread at parties, bars and any social gathering.

“I’m a journalist” I say.

“And who do you write for?” is almost always the first response. The fact that I don’t write for many people (I make films or do training and consulting) plus the fact those I do write for are online publications immediately makes it all too difficult to explain.

“Oh, no-one you’ve heard of” ends up being my stock response, which makes me sound either unsuccessful or like a dick.

My problem is I haven’t really worked out what I do.  My first year in the freelance jungle and I’ve pretty much done everything that’s come my way: speaking, lecturing, films, audio slideshows, articles, copy writing, blog posts, consulting, writing books, photography; it’s difficult to tie that all into one job.

It’s not what you do – it’s what you don’t do.

It’s a similar headache when starting a new enterprise or freelance career. You think of all the things you love doing, and come up with markets to sell your markets or products to. And you end up with a list of several strings to your bow.

It’s hard when trying to establish yourself as a journalist, freelance or otherwise, to really understand what you’re about. That’s bad because it makes it almost impossible to market yourself properly. Take a look at my portfolio website for an example. What the hell am I? A film maker? A multimedia storyteller? An online video consultant?

I’m sure most people who see my site leave dazed and confused.

How to nail down what you do

Here’s a really effective way to hammer down to what you’re about: do the opposite. Write down all the things you don’t do.

You don’t make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That’s a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls.

Quoted in Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (affiliate link)

Instead of thinking of all the people you could work for, identify the people you don’t work for. For example, you might be photojournalist and you want to specialise in doing shoots for high end lifestyle magazines. That means you don’t do shoots for companies, charities or local newspapers. It means you are not a paparazzi or a hard news photographer – so don’t pursue work in these fields.

Having fewer products or offerings means you can specialise in making them great.

If you do audio slideshows, then you don’t do video. Just focus on the slideshows and make them the best slideshows around. Become known for how good your slideshows are, so people identify you and your work with excellence and quality.

Apple know what they do, but they also know what they don’t do: you won’t get customisable, cheap and cheerful computers from them. RyanAir know they don’t do luxury flights, so they don’t even try in that market.

It’s not so black and white of course. If you can do video and you get offered a great commission then don’t stubbornly turn it down. And when you’re young or just starting out, it’s hard to know who you are, let alone who you aren’t. By all means play the field a little bit.

But working out what you don’t do is sometimes the best way to figuring out what you do do.


Multimedia workshops in Siberia

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Next Generation Journalist, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on November 22, 2010

Charles Maynes (US) and Ksenia (Russia) work on audio slideshows

I’ve spent the last week working with young radio & print journalists from all over Russia. We’d all converged in the city of Abakan, which if you check it out on Google Maps sits somewhere in the heart of Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border, in a landscape surrounded by vast mountains and dark icy rivers.

It was part of a festival organised by the Eurasia Foundation, and I’d been invited to speak about Next Generation Journalism, new business models for journalism and help out with a multimedia workshop.

It was great to speak with journalists with different perspectives about the future of news. Although ad revenues are down and the internet is fragmenting audiences, the impression I gathered was that job losses haven’t been as severe as in the UK and the US.

A freelance-free country?

In introducing my book Next Generation Journalist, and the concept of a portfolio career to audiences in Abakan, I got an interesting reaction. It turns out that in Russia, freelancing just isn’t an established way of earning a living.

There are all sorts of valid economical and historical reasons for this but it left many asking me how they’d actually start life as a freelancer. How do you pitch work? Do companies come to you, or the other way around?

What is similar though is the commitment to using multimedia to tell stories online. Home to mail.ru, one of the most valuable companies on the stock exchange right now, Russia is no internet backwater. Journalists there are experimenting with video and audio slideshows and working out how to incorporate it with their more traditional practice.

One group of young radio reporters from the Urals were able to turn around a wonderful slideshow, combining text, audio and music with photography to tell a powerful story about a tram accident. They used free software to make the whole thing work. (Reaper for audio editing – a new one on me; and Windows Movie Maker to assemble the photo sequence.)

But the big question of the week was: how do we juggle all these different mediums and still report accurately what is happening? As I wrote, after my own work in Iraq last year, the answer is ‘with great difficulty…but it gets easier with practice.’

And it sounds like these talented Russian journalists, not always working in the safest or easiest of conditions, are committed to practicing their new skills as much as possible.

Editing with Final Cut Pro and Reaper

Stuck on what to do? Here’s a simple solution

Posted in Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 12, 2010

Image: Matt Jones

Last month I blogged about the importance of being prolific in order to get good at anything.

If you want to be a successful print journalist you need to write prolifically; if radio is your bag, you must be podcasting and audiobooing like a mutha. No excuses.

I still think it’s worth emphasising because I know as a busy journalist myself, a former student, and now a lecturer in journalism, that motivating yourself to invest in getting better at something is really hard.

If you’re a full time journalist or freelancer, you’re probably tired, poor, or can’t justify the time spent on going out and shooting some photographs without the commission. If you’re a student, you’re probably hungover.

But it isn’t any of these.

What you’re actually lacking is a project: some kind of framework, an organised challenge, bounded in time. It doesn’t have to be a big project, with a deadline years down the line – in fact, aim for the opposite: something you can achieve quickly and regularly.

They can take many forms. Documentary film maker Gail Mooney describes in a recent blog post how ‘passion projects‘ help her get films made. She’s just launched a new one, and is raising money for it on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

…as my career took hold and I became busier with work, I didn’t have time for sharing or personal projects.  But for someone like me who is a dreamer, I was starting to burn out.

There have been other passion projects since these first two and my head is usually full of ideas that are rumbling around, just waiting for the right time to surface.

Author Gretchen Rubin, currently undergoing a year-long and inspiring Happiness Project, calls it a Creativity Boot-camp. She wrote a novel in a month (it was terrible, she admits, but improved her writing massively); and there’s even a cool website which encourages people to draw a comic book in just 24 hours. No planning, no thinking, just drawing.

You lower your standards. If you’re producing a page a week, or one blog post a week, or one sketch a week, you expect it to be pretty darned good, and you fret about quality. Often, however, folks achieve their best work from grinding out the product.

When I’m having trouble getting work done on a big project, my impulse sometimes is to take smaller, easier steps. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes it helps more to take bigger, more ambitious steps instead. By doing more instead of less, I get a boost of energy and focus.

And author and career coach John Williams describes how a Play Project can get you out of rut and let you practice doing the work you really love, without having to get paid for it.

The process feels completely counter-intuitive at first because it requires that you stop fretting about your ideal work or how you could ever get paid – and start doing something. If you are stuck on that very first question “What would I enjoy?” you will benefit hugely from this. At a later stage, you can create further play projects to move you towards getting paid.

If you’re a journalist, young or old, you should be taking note of this. The shift in the industry has created a unique opportunity: to do the journalism we love, and get paid for it. There is a (slowly closing) window of opportunity to turn your journalism into something which provides income and makes you happy. You can’t just leap into it – you need to work out what your passion really is first.

My projects

I first hit on the idea of “projects” over Christmas 2009, when I read a blog post of good new years resolutions. One clever guy suggested writing an ebook in a weekend as a quick hit project. Inspired, I sat down on the first weekend of 2010, and wrote Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Journalists. I started on Saturday morning, and stopped on Sunday evening. A week or so later, I put the book on sale, and people started buying it.

It never made much money, and looking back, was full of spelling mistakes – but it was a finished project. And it gave me the confidence to write Next Generation Journalist a few months later, which has been infinitely more successful.

Now I’m looking for a new passion project to keep me occupied before Christmas. It’ll be a multimedia film project of some kind – and will get me making films every single week.

Have you got a project? Or an idea for one? Share it down in the comments!


Next Generation Journalist: free giveaway!

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 8, 2010

Amazingly it’s somehow six months since Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism was published.

It’s been selling incredibly well, and judging by comments, emails and tweets, it’s been making a difference in peoples’ lives too. All round awesome.

But I want more people to benefit from the ideas in the book.

Economically, the situation hasn’t gotten any easier for journalists anywhere in the west in the last six months. And arguably, with tens of thousands more journalism graduates entering the jobs market over the summer, the maths have gotten even more impossible.

So I think more people need a book like this – and for that reason, I have decided to give a chunk of it away – completely free.

From today you can get two of the most useful and practical chapters of the book without paying a penny. One of the giveaway chapters is a workbook with key questions you need to ask yourself about your career. Loads of people have found it very useful. The other shows you all about taking freelance journalism to the next level. And as an added bonus, you’ll also get a step-by-step guide to building a portfolio website to taut your wares.

Pretty sweet right?

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To get your hands on the free copy, just click on the button above and a .pdf will be on your hard drive in moments. If you want to get even more involved, you can also now join a new Facebook group, especially for Next Generation Journalists like you. Click here to get a look-in!

And that’s not the end of it – there’s another uber discount offer on the way before the end of the month…

10 things I wish I knew about freelancing a year ago

Posted in Adam, Entrepreneurial Journalism, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on October 27, 2010

I’ve been freelancing for a little over a year now, and I’ve learned lots of lessons along the way – most of them the hard way.

It got me thinking about the tips and tricks I wish someone had told me before I started; so I put together a list of 10 things every freelancer should know.

Owni.fr have put into a neat little Freelance Journalism Survival Guide - click here to have a read.

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The “Pr” approach to being a freelance journalist

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on October 21, 2010

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

What are the qualities of a successful freelance journalist in the 21st century?

Of course, there are all the obvious ones (curiosity, good writing skills, tech knowledge etc) which have been laid out many times by far more experienced and talented hacks than me. But I want to introduce four new qualities, perhaps four you would never have thought of before.

And in this brave new world where the opportunities for the enterprising young journalist are limitless, it’s important to approach it in the right way. So I’ve come up with this ‘Pr’ list of qualities which every journalist should aim for – and they’re one’s every journalist can.

Four ‘Pr’ qualities for freelance journalists

.01 Prolific

First of all, to be good at any form of journalism (writing, blogging, filming, podcasting, info-graphics) you must be prolific. You must create content at a rate of knots, and share it with the world. There’s only one way you get good at something: and that’s practice. Practice = proliferation.

Mark McGuinness (a must read if you want to make money doing something creative) makes this point very eloquently. He points out how one of the great creative geniuses of history, Bach, was prolific beyond belief. We only associate a few extraordinary pieces of work to his name, and assume he was of such unrepeatable talent that the rare tunes he touched turned to gold. But it was not so.

Bach spent his career as an employee, composing music to order on a punishing schedule. One such appointment was as Cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, a prestigious but demanding role, where he produced a cantata (a musical setting for sacred texts) every week of the year and extra ones for holidays — a total of 60 every year. He held that position for five years.

Most of Bach’s music was mediocre and disappeared into history. But the very fact his was prolific meant he got so extraordinarily good at his craft he became an unforgettable name in history.

Image: Marxchivist on Flickr

When I read Mark’s article I looked elsewhere in history for a pattern. It didn’t take me long. Let’s take perhaps the most exalted band of the 20th Century, The Beatles. A quick check at their discography proves their success could be down to sheer proliferation: between 1963 and 1969 they produced two albums every yeara total of 307 songs before they split.

Coldplay, by comparison have produced four albums in 13 years, and just a third of the songs. Sure, who can name all 307 Beatles tracks? And sure, many of them are mediocre – but they needed to produce all the mediocre in order to get good.

So if you’re set on being a kick-ass video journalist, you won’t get good sitting around reading video journalism blogs and polishing the lens of your DSLR. Get off your arse, and make a film. Every week. Week in, week out.

. 02 Productive

Being productive is vital for your success as a freelance journalist. In some cases, when you’re being paid a day-rate, that is literally so. But even if not, your time is money, so you have to start using it properly.

This goes beyond just opening the laptop at 9 and closing it at 5pm sharp. It’s about elimating the stuff in your day that doesn’t contribute to your income. It’s also about understanding your own personal productivity: what time of the day are you most productive? What’s the point of starting work at 9, when you’re at your best between 6pm and midnight?

A lot of people use the 80/20 rule too, so it’s worth thinking about. It goes like this: 20% of your time spent, generates 80% of your revenue and visa versa. So you need to identify the 20% of work that actually brings in the cash (that includes sales/pitching) and make sure you do it without fail. And know what the 80% of non-revenue generating stuff is (tweaking your website, filing tax returns, coming up with ideas) and don’t let it overrun your schedule.

If you’re going to be prolific and profitable you need to be productive with your time. So ring fence certain times of your day, compartmentalise and use something like Google Calendar to control it all.

. 03 Profound

Thing is, there are plenty of other voices out there in the digital landscape – maybe too many. And there are plenty more journalists vying for attention. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your blog more clickable than the next?

Seth Godin

The answer lies in being profound: having something to say that matters to other people. A lot of blogs – hell, a lot of journalists – rely on rehashing other people’s content, aggregating it, just blindly reporting what is being said or done.

But in the fragmented, digital, niche world, that is not enough. If you want to stand out within your area of specialty then you need to be profound. We turn to the most popular bloggers in journalism, for example, because they say profound things. Jeff Jarvis tells us the business models are all wrong and suggests alternatives; Mark Luckie shows us how to use awesome technology in new ways; Tracy Boyer shows us how great multimedia can be; and almost everything Seth Godin says is profound…and they are all leaders.

In this scary new world, people don’t just want consumers, aggregators or reporters, they want leaders. Are you willing to step up to the plate? By being profound, you almost instantly place yourself at a higher level above the rest of the pack.

. 04 Provocative

And finally be provactive too. Stir things up. Cause an argument.

Someone who does that very well are British multimedia producers Duckrabbit, who, if you read their blog (and you should)* it appears they’re always getting into arguments with the photojournalism establishment (for example, this spat with the organiser of an international photography festival).

But Duckrabbit aren’t being argumentative for the sake of it. They have established a strong, authentic, moral, position – on the side of exploited people in developing countries, and photographers exploited by the industry they work for. This forms Duckrabbit’s story, and we, as the audience (and their potential customers) understand where they’re coming from.

And because they stand up for exploited photographers wherever they can, the audience respect them for it. It makes their presence go beyond that of another multimedia company.

It’s a risky strategy perhaps, but there are a lot of multimedia production companies out there now – what will make yours stand out? Stand up for something, believe it it, and mean something. If you’re authentic then it’s all good.

*disclaimer: I occasionally write for Duckrabbit

So – prolific, productive, profound and provocative: four easy to remember words, which if you use them as a guide, they’ll help elevate you beyond all the others in this ever crowded field. Have I missed any off? I could add ‘profitable’ but that’s for another time…

Video: Nick Williams on the portfolio career

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 30, 2010

One of the easiest ways to become a Next Generation Journalist and forge your own exciting work life, is to create a portfolio career.

I go into this in some length in chapter one of the e-book, but the thrust of it is this: we are all good at more than one thing, and we can all make money from more than one thing. The result: a rewarding, challenging and profitable career which takes traditional ‘freelancing’ to a new level.

Last night I went to an event all about portfolio careers, hosted by Nick Williams, one of the thought-leaders on creative entrepreneurialism.  The point of a portfolio career, he says, is not holding down lots of bad jobs to make up a decent income – instead it’s a way of life you purposely pursue.

More and more people are becoming fed up with the rat race, realising life’s too short, and thinking about how they can get paid to do what they really love doing.

Is it something journalists can do? You bet, and many journalists already are. One of last night’s speakers was former ITN newsreader Katie Ledger (pictured, right). She left ITN a while back and now puts her journalism skills to use across a whole range of jobs, from working with Microsoft, to writing a bookAlex Wood, of Not on the Wires, combines his journalism with a thriving web design business; another Not On The Wires journalist, Marcus Gilroy-Ware combines reporting with lecturing and designing software.

I’ve been doing the portfolio career thing for a year now (more on that next week) – but alongside my video journalism and newsreading, I have been lecturing, speaking in different parts of the world, writing books and setting up a new business. It is possible, and it’s awesome fun.

The modern world is calling for more so-called ‘renaissance souls’ as Nick explains:

In this video:

  • you will learn why having a portfolio career is actually more secure than sticking with your 9-5
  • you’ll find out how it’s possible to balance having more than one revenue stream
  • and you’ll hear why journalists are actually positioned perfectly to exploit the demands of the 21st century

Video: Deborah Bonello on setting up MexicoReporter.com

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 29, 2010

Deborah Bonello is the embodiment of the Next Generation Journalist. Faced with the declining journalism industry we all face today, she did what no-one else had done, and created her own ideal job – from scratch.

She flew to Mexico, set up a simple website using WordPress, and single-handedly created a news website for English-speaking expats there. MexicoReporter.com became hugely popular in just a couple of years and got Deborah amazing offers of work.

Here, she talks about how she set up MexicoReporter.com: the challenges and the struggles.

In this video:

  • you will find out how Deborah founded MexicoReporter.com
  • you’ll discover the equipment she used to do it
  • you’ll hear about the challenges of setting up your own online magazine
  • and you’ll find out why it’s a great way to launch a foreign reporting career.

There’s loads more examples of Next Generation Journalists in action, including a comprehensive plan for 10 different awesome career paths in journalism in Next Generation Journalist. Click here to find out how to get a copy.

The 7-step-plan to turn your journalism degree into a career

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 27, 2010

It’s that time of year again. Except this year the stakes have been upped once more.

If you’re starting your journalism undergraduate or masters degrees this month, then first of all: well done. There was another increase in j-course intake, but still (in the UK at least) thousands of young people didn’t get in. I hope someone has told you already that having letters after your name is not the ticket to a job interview it used to be.

These days you need a strategy to prepare yourself for a very turbulent and brow beaten journalism industry – and a road map to give yourself the edge over the competition.

7 steps, you probably haven’t been told, for turning your journalism degree into a successful journalism career

.01 Learn

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice really: get busy living, or get busy dying”

Andy Dufreyne

Image credit: mikebaird on Flickr

Learn at least 3 new skills. And I mean practical, technical, challenging skills: photography, video editing, data mining, motion graphics production, HTML&CSS, JQuery, infographics design, social media… the list goes on. If there’s one that isn’t being taught as part of your curriculum, then make it your business to learn it in your free time. Look for websites, books, blogs and e-courses specialising in it.

The aim is to become what I call ‘a jack of all trades and a master of one‘: do one thing really well, sure, but widen your skills base in as many other areas as possible. You might think ‘what’s the point at learning JQuery if I’m only ever going to be amateur at it?’ – but your amateur level of coding is valuable to people who know even less than you do (i.e. 98% of people currently working in a newsroom).

The renaissance-style ability to be skilled at many things is back in demand, and the polymath is set for a comeback. Being good at one thing is sooo last century, so use your free time to sharpen your range of skills.

.02 Practice…

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

Erica Jong

You don’t get good at video journalism by reading all the books, making a couple of films, and watching TV. Trust me. I sweat away at making online films 4 days a week, and they’re still not nearly as good as I want them to be (and I’ve been doing this for five years).

While you’re a student you have a massive advantage over the rest of us: access to top-of-the-range gear and more free time on your hands than you know what to do with. You will regret not making the most of this, trust me.

Give yourself a specific project which focuses your practice – something which involves getting deep and dirty with this particular skill for at least 3 hours a week. If you want to learn photography, don’t just book out a camera and take random snaps: do a project taking portraits of the homeless people in your town (for example) and create a public platform for your work in the form of a website.

.03 Publish

“There is no such thing as boring knowledge, only boring presentation”

Dan Roam

Released under Creative Commons licence

Image credit: hejog on Flickr

Get really familiar and comfortable creating content for the internet, publishing it online, and marketing it. Chances are your career will depend on knowing how to do this. Don’t hope/expect a ‘techie’ do all the web stuff for you. Editing a film and uploading it (in the correct standards) to Youtube needs to be second nature to you. And so does using social media to make sure it gets watched.

This one is really important, because if you’re starting uni this year, you’re probably the last generation that may have a memory of life before the internet. There are kids coming up behind you who get millions of views on Youtube without breaking a sweat (see this article for examples) – hell, there are probably a few in your classroom right now.

Start a blog, begin a Tumblr, start audiobooing, whatever – you’ll need to do it now to get over beginner’s nerves and to give yourself time to develop your voice.

.04 Watch less TV

“The best assumption to have is that any commonly held belief is wrong”

Ken Olsen

I watch about 30 minutes of TV a week – and that will go back down to zero when the current series of the Inbetweeners finishes.

Since I cut back on my TV hours my life has got at least 5 times more interesting and exciting than it was before. I have quit my job, I have traveled all over, I have written two books and made a dozen films. What could you do if you stopped watching the X-Factor?

If you still need a fix of something that looks like TV then you would be well advised to fence off 36 minutes a week to watch two TED lectures. Short, succinct presentations from some of the worlds smartest people? Cha-ching!

Don’t just stick to ones about journalism or the media – pick a random one from a marine biologist and your eyes will be opened to new story ideas and issues.

.05 Lead

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

A great way to separate yourself from the pack while you’re at university is to take the lead on something. The world (including journalism) is full of people who are happy to follow, to consume, to watch others take the chances – but not to take the lead and create something themselves. Are you one of those people? Initiative is a rare attribute – and therefore a very valuable one.

Start a collaborative reporting project and organise your fellow students to contribute to it. Take on the responsibility for being the editor, even when it goes bad, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the industry. If there is a problem take responsibility for creating the solution.

.06 Up your game

“It’s your thinking that decides whether you’re going to succeed or fail”

Henry Ford

Released under a Creative Commons Licence

Image credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr

Here’s the thing: there are way more of you (people studying journalism) than there ever has been. Oh, and there are fewer mainstream jobs. That means increased competition and it means being average just won’t cut it. Five years ago we could all get away with being average at something – the current (and dying) economy is built on selling average stuff at cheap prices. This won’t last.

Don’t go into the jobs market place choosing to be average.  (Notice how I say ‘choosing‘ to be average, and not ‘being‘ average: average is a mindset, not a physical attribute. You stop being average the day you decide you will be awesome-or-bust, and spend every day achieving that.)

It’s not a simple switch however, and takes people months to come to terms with and apply – start now, and you’ll be rocking the free world before the ink dries on your graduation certificate.

.07 earn

“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others….I find out what the world needs, and then I proceed to invent.”

Thomas Edison

The great thing about being a ‘polymath’ (see point 1, above) is you can potentially make money from doing several different things at once. The internet has made this easier, faster and cheaper than ever. If you haven’t already, aim to turn at least one of your skills into a part-time business before you graduate. Know how to make an awesome website? Then you’ll know how easy it is to set up a web design company. Got a proper SLR camera and all the lenses? Then why not set yourself up as a one-person events photography business?

More than anything, it will get you used to the idea of exchanging your skills for money, and you’ll learn a lot of the basics of business which hold people back from great entrepreneurial ventures in the future. One gig a month shooting an event and you’ll be able to swap the Supernoodles for something nicer – and it won’t invade your study schedule.

Apart from the first one, these are not the traditional “skills the journalists of the future must learn” you’ll see on other j-blogs this year. Preparing yourself for the choppy waters ahead is more than just learning some multimedia skills and starting a blog: it requires a real shift in mindset, and that’s something few students are prepared for.

For more advice and practical skills for Next Generation Journalists click right here!

Have I missed anything off the list? Hit me in the comments box below!

Laid off? What are you going to do about it?

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 9, 2010

Image credit: swanksalot on Flickr

New research by the University of  Central Lancashire on job opportunities for journalists, released this week, makes grim  – if predictable – reading.

Laid Off (pdf), a survey conducted by Francois Nel, in partnership with journalism.co.uk concluded that there are now between 30%-40% fewer jobs available for journalists than there were in 2001. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolling on journalism courses has gone up – it is currently at its highest number and its highest proportion of all undergrad courses.

It was figures like this which prompted me to write Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism in 2010, a downloadable e-book with advice on looking for opportunities among the bad news.

Chapter 7 of this week’s report asks “what are journalists doing next?” – and this is what makes the grimmest reading. Of all the 134 respondents, 23% had found full time work again, 42% were still looking. Of those who’d found more work, the majority were freelancing.

The one phrase that doesn’t appear at all is ‘starting my own business‘ or ‘becoming an entrepreneur‘. Not one of the respondents had any intention, it seemed, of using their journalism skills to plug an information gap and provide a new product or service to an audience. (It may have been that they were not asked about this either).

Thing is, the more I look around, the more I see there being a real need for people like this. The number of niches out there, and verticals within those niches, is almost countless. And if anything, it’s becoming cheaper and faster to do it than ever before. Rarely easier, but cheaper and faster.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, the majority of people in the world are happy just to observe and let others take the lead. There’s a shortage of people who see opportunity where everyone else sees a threat; willing to take the initiative, to enthusiastically accept responsibility for solving a problem which isn’t necessarily their’s to solve. “Initiative is a rare skill” Godin says, “and therefore a valuable one.”

David Parkin could have been like the majority of journalists, when he left the Yorkshire Post in 2007. He could have gone into education, or PR, or maybe tried to get a job at a national newspaper. Instead he decided to become a leader to a community, to create something new and take responsibility for a problem. He founded thebusinessdesk.com, a unique news service for regional businesses in central and North West England.

This week, thebusinessdesk.com signed on its 50,000th subscriber and David is now in charge of a thriving, and growing, company.

Sadly, just one or two laid off journalists might read this, and be inspired to launch their own business. The majority though, will look at whether thebusinessdesk.com is hiring.

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