Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: setting up your story

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 19, 2012

First of all, an exciting announcement.

After three months of work, Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best is ready to launch, and will go on sale one-week-today: Thursday 26th April 2012 at 0800 BST. It’s now more important than ever that you’re a fan of the Facebook page or subscribed to the mailing list to make sure you get your copy!

The English version will be available first, with editions in German, Spanish and Catalans on the way in May. This is totally a fundraising exercise, with every penny from each sale being donated to Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

But what’s in the book?

I’m really confident you’re going to love Inside The Story. For a start, there’s no other book, or website, like it. It’s a real masterclass in what it takes to create high quality, remarkable stories for the web. If you’re making films, designing graphics, animations, websites or podcasts and struggling to make it as good as you know it can be, you’ll find this book incredibly useful.

The contributors are almost all award-winners, and are behind some of the most popular productions on the web – you can get a sneak at some of the names here. And all their advice is ridiculously practical. To give you a taster, for the next week, I’ll be releasing short previews of some of the contributions.

How to set up your story like a pro

Let’s start at the beginning. How do you set up, research and prepare your stories to give them the best shot at being remarkable? The resounding thought from all our contributors is that preparation is key – and so are people.

Drea Cooper is one half of the team responsible for the quite extraordinary California Is A Place web series, which portrays fascinating characters from the US west coast with beautiful heart-breaking flair. Their latest film, Aquadettes, which tells the story of a group of elderly synchronised swimmers will get an airing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Drea gives some great advice about finding the right people in Inside The Story, and for him, finding characters is key:

Whether it’s fact or fiction, dynamic people and characters bring stories to life.  Any film, short or long, should have a dynamic person at its center.

But, Drea warns, it’s really not as easy at all. California Is A Place is celebrated for the incredible characters it features – and in Inside the Story Drea reveals how he, and partner Zachary Canepari go about finding them.

A sneak preview at some of the pages in Inside The Story

Once you’ve found the right person you need to make sure your research is up to scratch, says producer Ben Samuel who makes documentaries and history programmes for the BBC, on his page.

“Whatever field of human endeavour your story focuses on, there are experts who – more often than not – will be happy to give you an excellent grounding in the topic. And secondly, if your research isn’t quite up to scratch, there will be people who will clock your mistake, no matter how obscure your subject matter is.”

If you’re stuck for where to start researching, Ben gives some brilliant advice about where to start with your research, and a clue to the best research source of them all (and no, it’s not the internet).

Finally, some great practical advice from Guardian photojournalist and film maker Dan Chung, based in China. Dan’s covered everything from the Japanese Tsunami aftermath to life inside North Korea, stories you can’t just stroll into.

“Prepare yourself physically and mentally if the story requires. Think about the possible scenarios that will unfold and make contingency plans for them – both journalistically and technically.”

He outlines his preparations for each story in more detail in Inside The Story, one of more than two-dozen hand crafted chapters by some of the best digital storytellers on the planet.

So here’s the drill: find out more on the website….join the Facebook group…and tweet out loud: #insidethestory! There’ll be another sneak preview on Monday.

The end of ‘television’

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on June 13, 2011

Image credit: espensorvik on Flickr (cc)

I

Ask someone who works in television what they do, they’ll tell you they do just that.

“I work in television” they’ll say. Same with folks in radio too. And newspapers and magazines.

But skip down the road five years, and what happens when we’re all watching IPTV, internet streamed through a television set? It’s a pertinent question because when Hybrid-IPTV (as we can call it, to avoid a comments row about semantics) does arrive on the mass market, we will effectively have iTunes on our remote controls.

Never mind another dose of bland reality fodder from BBC One, or NBC – what about a niche documentary shot and uploaded by someone in Mexico? Or the latest interview by online video wunderkind Jamal Edwards on SBTV? They’re both yours for $2.99, or perhaps less, all streamed straight to your living room.

Or perhaps even a sci-fi action movie, complete with top of the range special effects, made entirely independently from the Hollywood systems, for just a few thousand dollars? Gareth Edwards has already proven, with great finesse, that it can be done.

When we can get the internet and all its varied signal and noise through our TV sets, what will “working in television” mean? People talk about it as if it is a craft and a career – but actually a television is no different to Youtube, Twitter or Flickr: it is a platform.

II

Thing is, from an advertiser’s point of view, it is becoming a disproportionately expensive one. Why pay £10,000 for a 30-second slot after Coronation Street, when you could sponsor an independent drama series, or a magazine show on iTunes – aimed at your target customer – for far less?

BBC TV Centre | Image credit: strollerdos on Flickr (cc)

And from a viewer’s point of view, why watch something at a time decreed by a scheduler, when you can watch it at your leisure? (A friend of mine who works at the BBC commented on Facebook today how people complained last night because Antiques Roadshow was cancelled to accomodate the late-running F1 grand prix.)

I’m not dismissing TV’s past or present, nor the people or work that goes into it. Television as we know it has a future, and it is a future making some extraordinary, live changing shows.

But like newspapers before it, it will fight a difficult battle with its own legacy costs. Television is still eye-wateringly expensive to produce. Studio television is some of the most expensive, and that’s declined so much, the BBC are now selling off their studio complex in West London.

III

We’ll have to redefine what we call things a little bit. Jamal Edwards wouldn’t say he “works in Youtube” just because that’s his platform. He probably says he’s a film-maker – or even just a content creator. This (or something like it) might be the job-title of the future. And of course there’ll be issues of quality, copyright, and too much noise – all things we’ve already proven we can solve together.

So if I was young and wanted to “work in television” I wouldn’t bother competing with thousands of others for work experience at the BBC, or spend three years doing the Pret runs at an Indie, just so I could have my shot at pitching segments for Gordon Ramsey’s Strictly Come Cash In The Attic SOS: the celebrity special.

No sir, I would pick up a camera and start making something instead.

Out there, on the internet already, “content creators”: ordinary people, small businesses and independent film makers, are proving that remarkable, popular video can be made with little or no money. Its limitation is that viewers have to peer at our work in a small box on their laptops…but one day soon, hybrid-IPTV will project our films onto 45-inch plasma TVs.

And when that happens, “working in television” won’t mean anything at all. 

Are you waiting for approval?

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

Image credit: SleepyNeko on Flickr

A very insightful post from Deborah Bonello at VideoReporter.com today which poses a really important question any next generation journalist should ask themselves.

Comparing the life of an artist with that of a journalist, she makes a salient point about approval – and how it seems we’re all only as good as the establishment say we are.

The seal of approval

Widely speaking, as an artist, you’re as good as the gallery who puts on your show or the client who buys and gushes about your work. Otherwise, you’re an unknown, and your talent is questionable as it has yet to be given the mark of approval of a major art gallery or culture brand. There are of course exceptions to this, but bear with me.

As journalists, we all want to have been published by major media brands that are respected globally, whether as staffers or as freelance contributors. It is the BBC, and major newspapers and broadcasters who give us, as journalists, that stamp that says we have talent, that we’re good, that we can be trusted and should be listened to as reporters and storytellers. In fact, it isn’t until some have that seal of approval that they have the confidence to go off and start freelance careers.

And that’s an interesting point isn’t it? For as much as independent journalists talk about ‘doing something different’ many still crave that job in a big newsroom. They still need that ‘seal of approval’.

Why is that? Why do we need an editor at the BBC to tell us we’re any good? Why does our name have to be a byline in the Boston Globe or LA Times before we’re deemed ‘good enough’? What makes them so important? One thing’s for sure: if they do give your work the ‘seal of approval’ by publishing it, they won’t pay much for it these days.

Who is stopping you?

But as Deborah points out, things are changing: ‘The internet offers you the opportunity to build your very own journalism brand, around yourself’ she says. Right on.

You can create and publish journalism that doesn’t need a seal of approval from a mid-ranking editor and build a formidable reputation around your own skills – around a shit hot news product which provides good content to a target audience who needs it. Seems tough? It is – your content will need to be great (which is why I’m not worried about standards). You’re up to that right?

I really think if  more journalists were willing to work to please themselves and not a distant editor, we would get somewhere. If more didn’t view their talent as questionable but as extraordinary and unique.

Deborah didn’t wait to be deemed worthy by a London newspaper before flying to Mexico and starting MexicoReporter.com – she did it anyway, and became, almost single-handedly, an important media player in the region. The mainstream media then came to her.

So next time you’re on the verge of doing something epic, something exciting – but you think you can’t or shouldn’t do, remember a bit of the great Ayn Rand: the question isn’t ‘who is going to let me?’.

It’s ‘who is going to stop me?’

A call to action for Next Generation Journalists

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 2, 2010

The last seven days has seen two big announcements from two of the world’s largest broadcasters.

Last week, American TV Network ABC announced a huge swathe of cuts in their newsrooms: more than 300 jobs in total. They’re cutting their technical staff back by using their control room suites more effectively…and bringing in multimedia journalists:

“In production, we will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs, while recognizing that we will continue to rely upon our ENG crews and editors for most of our work”.

David Westin, memo to ABC staff

As Micheal Rosenblum rightly says:  “Welcome, ABC News, to 1990″.

And this morning, the BBC in the UK have confirmed what some within the corporation had been suspecting for months, and fearing since Friday: a £600m series of cuts, which will halve the number of websites, and close two digital radio stations: 6music and the Asian Network.

“The reality for the BBC is that it faces increasingly difficult choices. Failure to make such choices would lead to limitless expansion, increasing demands for funding and corresponding impact on the wider market. That prospect is not one the Trust can accept.”

Sir Michael Lyons, BBC Chairman

There’s lots of concern and a fair bit of understandable anger about both cuts. Thing is, they’re both valid decisions in the financial and ever-changing digital climate.  Two sad victims of the seismic shift we’re undergoing.

Chess piece or chess player?

It’s time for the broadcasters, journalists and creatives of the future to pick up the pieces. These cut backs are tragic, but they create new opportunities for us to exploit. For example, BBC 6music served a young niche audience extremely well with alternative music, documentaries and even radio plays. Who’d have thought that would work?

When it closes all those people will need a new home. Who will they go to?

According to the last UK census, 2% of the British population are Asian. Where will their news, music and community come from on a national level when the Asian Network is taken off air?

Radio futurologist James Cridland, speaking at February’s Future of News Meetup, just hours before the BBC cuts were first leaked, showed us how radio stations in Canada schedule 30 minute documentaries in the middle of their breakfast shows and make it work; how NPR in the US are combining pictures with their audio to reach audiences in new ways. There is still a huge amount of innovation to be done.

With these sad changes, new markets open up. It is now cheaper, faster and easier to become a publisher and broadcaster online than it ever has been. Will you exploit this new opportunity or pass it by? Your call.

Charlie Brooker’s dissection of the TV news package (and what you can learn from it)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 30, 2010

We’ve been big fans of Charlie Brooker round these parts for some time, with at least four articles about him on this very blog since 2006. Combining an ability to conduct a withering criticism of television with a brutal and acerbic wit, Brooker has risen to become one of the BBC’s most cherished (but underexposed) properties.

His current series Newswipe on BBC Four, in the UK, is a must watch for anyone in journalism.

He’s been given extra kudos all round this week after a particularly accurate breakdown of the tired, cliched and over formulated television news package, which hasn’t changed much since the 1990s. And with nearly 500,000 views on Youtube since domestic transmission on Tuesday, he’s clearly touched a nerve:

Charlie effortlessly highlights television news’ ugliest and laziest conventions:

  • a dull establishing shot
  • an over affected piece to camera in the street
  • visual eye candy in slow motion…
  • …which monochromes into a graphics overlay
  • pointless and unenlightening vox pops
  • the inevitable “case study” – human interest
  • cliched GV’s (general views)
  • and a wry signoff

This critique has the BBC’s domestic output firmly in its sights, but similar conventions exist across the UK networks and even more so in North America.

So why do they exist?

The overuse of the TV news package formula isn’t down to shear laziness alone: it has been developed over decades to suit the financial, time and style constraints which come with producing 30 minutes of live television every single day.

These packages are a lot quicker to produce for one; filling in the gaps in a proven templates enables the reporter & producer to clearly picture the final package before filming starts – and therefore only shoot the interviews, shots and pieces to camera they know they need. Similarly it can be turned around in the edit in less than an hour.

It’s cheaper too, relying on the simplest shot structures and filming in public places. It sums up complicated facts (often about consumer data, financial information or government policy)  with graphics, quickly and simply.

And of course, sticking to a style enables a consistency across a programme, or even network of programmes.

So all well and good, but it comes at the cost of visual and narrative creativity. We’re fed stories in the same pattern every day, and as Charlie Brooker says, we become so accustomed to what a TV news report looks and sounds like, we watch on autopilot…and who does that help?

So what’s the takeaway?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re not working in a TV newsroom. You’re more likely to be a video journalist working for a newspaper or the web, right? In which case, the rule is a simple one:

video journalism is NOT TV news!

Journalists from big newspapers have expressed frustration to me before that their attempts to ‘go into video’ end up looking amateurish. What they mean is they don’t look as good as TV news. And the reason: they’re trying to copy this TV formula without really understanding it. And they’re imitating without any need too.

Video journalism is free of so many of the contraints which which created the TV news formula; they might have more time, fewer people, and no style conventions to adhere too…so make the most of that! It’s cheaper than TV news too – so you can afford to experiment and make mistakes.

With the technology to produce video narratives cheaper than ever, I hope more people will pick up a camera and learn how to tell visual stories in new ways. Leaving it in the hands of the conventional herd of the mainstream newsroom alone means we’ll only emerge from this industry upheaval with more of the same. And that would be sad.

Having said that….!

The traditional TV news package still has its place. For proof, look no further than (who I think) is one of the most superb Broadcast Journalists working right now: the BBC’s Matthew Price. Here’s a powerful story from his stint in the Middle East. It’s classic TV news reporting at its best:

Update: Video Journalism guru David Dunkley-Gyimah has cross posted his response to this one on his blog: “The alternative key, I think, to new video making is to look towards new visual languages, rather than hark to traditional ones” – read the rest here.

A noble enterprise: proof network journalism is the future of news

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 24, 2009

Crowd Sourcing: people power (CC image)

One of my predictions for the next year is we’ll see an increase in journalism start-ups as the talk of journalist-cum-entrepreneur starts to come to fruition.

Many will fail, some will make it work, and a few might even shine a light on how to fund journalism.

And I think one thing is for sure: the secret to success is in the big c-word: collaboration.

Charlie Beckett named it Networked Journalism in SuperMedia in 2006: “it is about the journalist becoming the facilitator rather than the gatekeeper” he says.

I think a news start-up which begins without this in mind is doomed to failure.

The triumvirate of UK media scandals in the last 10 days (Trafigura, Jan Moir & Question Time) have proved the importance of people power. Does the future of journalism lie in collaborating, facilitating, and nourishing this power?

Le Post

One newspaper investing in this future is France’s Le Monde. It’s set up a subsidiary site called LePost.fr – built entirely from collaborative journalism. In an interview with Forum4Editors, the editor Benoit Raphael explains:

“[the journalist] checks first what has been said and published in other media. He aggregates the best content from different sources, including blogs, Twitter, Youtube, etc. and traditional media. Then, on some of them, he brings complementary information, new elements, adds value and checks facts…The information is a permanent conversation that is built step by step by the community and the journalists…He understands that information is a conversation.”

Benoit explained the journalists routine is more like that of a blogger.

Mother Jones

Over the Atlantic, US magazine Mother Jones is also seeing what the benefits of networked journalism can bring.

In December, editors are joining forces with editors of other magazines & broadcasters to launch a news product focusing on Climate Change. Its aim is to crowd source journalism using professional journalists.

Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffrey told Dumenco’s Media People:

And I don’t want to underplay how important folks see this as being journalistically. First, on the topic at hand, there was no need to convince anybody how important it is, how media coverage has been fractured and inadequate and not compelling enough. Secondly, everybody is really eager to use this as a way to test-drive collaborations, which everybody sees as a vital part of the emerging media landscape. On that front, we’ll likely learn as much from what doesn’t work as what does.

Journalists can no longer ignore the power of thousands or even millions of social media savvy people. Tapping into this power  will have huge potential: finding stories, processing data, building communities.

And the professional journalist fits in there somewhere, filtering, processing, analysis and contextualizing…there could be value in this old game after all.

Introducing: the journalist of the future

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 23, 2009

There’s been enough talk about the cancer spreading through modern journalism. The cutting of jobs and money, the shedding of audiences and advertising, the invasion of PR guff and the medium’s failure to reject it; and vitally, the disappearance of time for journalists to do some proper journalism.

I’m tired of talking about the past and want to know what’s coming next. Here’s my picture of a future journalist, based on books, blogs, a couple of talks I’ve given recently and all the noise on Twitter. As always, it’s by no means comprehensive – so let me know what’s right and wrong in the comments box!

Typewriter

 

Introducing: the journalist of the future

This combines the technical skills the new journalist will need (plus the old ones), new ways of collaborating with audiences and journalists across the globe; and most importantly an entrepreneurial edge to create an army of “creative entrepreneurs”.

The Jack of All Trades

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: the journalist of the future is a reporter, a video journalist, a photo-journalist, audio journalist and interactive designer, all-in-one. They shoot and edit films, audio slideshows, podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, and longer articles.  They may have one specialism out of those, but can go somewhere and cover a story in a multitude of platforms.

They may start off hiring the kit, but eventually will become a one-person news operation, with their own cameras, audio recorders and editing equipment.

They don’t just do it because it potentially means more revenue; they do it because they love telling stories in different ways. And let’s get another thing straight: they still live and breathe the key qualities of journalism: curiosity, accuracy and a desire to root out good stories and tell the truth.

The Web Designer

It goes without saying the journalist of the future should know several languages, two of which should be XHTML and CSS (and the more spoken ones the better). Their ability to design interactive online experiences will give them an advantage over competitors and a chance to charge more for their work.

They have an amazing portfolio website which shows off their wares.

They understand audio and video for the web does not follow the rules of radio and TV. They know what works online and what doesn’t. They can use social media to drum up interest and audiences in what they do, and are members of LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Twitter to name just a few.

And it also goes without saying the journalist of the future has been a blogger for a long time.

The collaborator

The journalist of the future doesn’t belong to the world of “fortress journalism“. They don’t sit at their desk in a newsroom all day – in fact, they work from home.

They use Noded Working techniques to find collaborators for different digital projects; picking the most talented people from around the world. There are no office politics or long meetings. They market their work well enough to get chosen to take part in other projects.

And the journalist of the future aspires to the ideals of Networked Journalism set out by Charlie Beckett. They are not a closed book obsessed by the final product. Their journalism is as much about the process as the final product and they use social media technologies to get reaction to stories, find contributors, experts and even money. To top it off, they share their final product under the ethos of creative commons so others can build on it.

The Specialist

The internet has shown we’re just not prepared to pay for general news, especially when someone else is giving it away for free. The decline in newsrooms killed off many correspondents and specialists, but the journalist of the future knows there’s more money and more audiences in a niche. So they become more of a specialist in some areas, or use a current specialism to build an audience around what they do.

Science journalist Angela Saini, for example, uses her qualifications in the subject to get her work with a whole host of TV and radio science programmes.

Business, showbiz and sports news I think have a paid-for future – but so do other specialisms.

The Flexible Adapter

The journalist of the future will be born out of this recession and the death of traditional journalism. They’ll succeed now because they adapted, re-trained and were prepared to change their ways. And that is what will help them survive the next downturn too, and the next media revolution. They are flexible, creative and not stuck in their ways.

Mark Luckie, writing over at 10,000 Words says this ability to reinvent is really important:

…being a Jack of all trades is only the starting point. Journalism and its associated technologies are changing at a rapid pace and to learn one skill set is to be left in the dust. Sadly some of the technologies…will be obsolete in just a few years time. To survive in this industry means continuously evolving along with it.

They embrace new technologies, rather than view them as a threat. When a new social media tool or technology comes along, they ask themselves how can I use this?

And they are prepared to live light for a bit. They can live cheap, which means they can charge less and get more business. As David Westphal writes, describing journalist Jason Motlagh:

He lives modestly and accepts that there may be periods in his work where he’ll have to do something besides journalism to pay the bills.

The Entrepreneur

The journalist of the future is a Creative Entrepreneur. Their business is their talent, creativity and knowledge. They are a freelancer, yes, but not a slave to the odd newsroom shift or rubbish PR story; instead they are in command of their destiny by creating content people will pay for. They discover stories and generate new ideas and sell them.

Back to Charlie Beckett in Networked Journalism:

“Entrepreneurship must be part of the process because every journalist will have to be more “business creative”…Journalism and business schools should work more closely together as information becomes more important to the economy…”

Their multiple skills means they can pitch countless ideas in several formats, for a wide variety of clients. They run their new start-ups in the get-rich-slow mentality described by Time Magazine as Li-Lo business:

It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

And they think outside the small journo bubble: their clients aren’t just Cosmo or Radio 4, but B2B publications, charities, NGOs. They get grants from journalism funds to pursue important and under-reported stories.

Evidence has shown several sacked newspaper journalists have made a new career by remembering newsrooms aren’t the only people who pay for content. Brian Storm, from MediaStorm, quoted in PDN Online says:

“NGOs and corporations are just now starting to see the power of multimedia stories…A pr message has no authenticity. It won’t go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that.”

The Storyteller

And most importantly they do the thing all journalists have ever done: tell stories. But they do it better than traditional journalists because they are not so constrained by time or house styles or formulas. They understand what makes a good story and aren’t afraid to break some rules.

And they have the time to tell the stories properly: truthfully, accurately and responsibly.

I think these make up an exciting future for journalism, but also for the people who try this form of journalism out. Is there anything more exciting than being such a creative entrepreneur?

There’s never been a better time, I tell students, to be a journalistic entrepreneur — to invent your own job, to become part of the generation that figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet. The young journalists who are striking out on their own today, experimenting with techniques and business models, will invent what’s coming.

Most experiments will fail. That’s not a bug in the system, but a feature. It’s how we get better.

Dan Gilmore, Centre for Citizen Media

Noded working – a new way to do journalism?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 18, 2009

As the BBC’s  top journalists wrote in a newly published “Future of Journalism” document [PDF], the age of closed cup journalism is over. “…the fortresses are crumbling and courtly jousts with fellow journalists are no longer impressing the crowds” writes Director of BBC World Service Peter Horrocks.

People like Charlie Beckett have been promoting the idea of Networked Journalism for some time now, encouraging an openness throughout the entire journalism process.

Well, I was introduced recently to the idea of Noded working, by marketing consultant Jon Moss. It’s  about connecting and working with people across the world, and it’s becoming more popular among other digital creatives,  so I wondered – what could journalists do with it?

What is Noded working?

Here’s how Noded‘s creators Andreas Carlsson and Jaan Orvet describe it:

Noded is a new and better way of working. It is based on logical and natural ways of interacting with people, nurturing ideas, and simply doing a better job without the constraints of everything that comes with traditional ‘business life’. The Noded philosophy is also about flexibility and efficiency in collaboration, especially among people who are geographically far apart.

It runs off the idea that working in offices (or newsrooms) is rubbish. We’re tied to our desks, forced into ways of working which suit management, and forced to work with people we don’t like. We’ve all heard of “office politics” – now imagine a world without that.

The main characteristic of us Noded type professionals is our desire to set our own goals, and build businesses based on our own values.

So you start-up a new project – say, you’ve got funding to report on the increase in electrical waste in sub-saharan Africa. You’ve been given a grant to go out and film there, but you need a researcher. So you look around and find a good one, in New Zealand.

In a Noded network each member is an individual professional, running his or her own business. We come together to work on projects, as and when a project calls for it. Sometimes we all work together, some times only a few of us. It’s up to who ever brings the project in to choose who, and when, someone contributes.

And our only obligation is to ourselves; if we don’t want to participate in a project we don’t have to. No hard feelings.

Then you need a web designer, and know a good one in India. Noded working lets the three of you collaborate no matter where you are.

The project a success, you then return to your freelance ways…until another journalist approaches you: they’re in America, but need a good shooter to help them on a documentary project. Great! Noded working would let you get involved – this time, not as the project leader, but as an assistant:

This way of working ensures that we can take on different roles in different projects. From Project Manager in one project, to developer in another, to Account Manager in a third.

It’s about what skills match what project. There’s no newsroom politics (“oh, she got to go to Afghanistan last time”) – in fact no newsroom. And that’s the thing Noded can’t help with-established newsrooms. Carlsson and Orvet admit themselves:

In traditional employment this is not an option; company policies dictate how and when employees can further their careers and what if any impact they can have on the companies direction.

But for the burgeoning new brand of ‘creative freelancers’ emerging from the decline of traditional journalism, this presents a really exciting new way of working on stories. Why be limited to people in your own newsroom?

And the forms of Video Journalism startups eschewed by Michael Rosenblum et al, are in a way, already doing this.

I haven’t tried this out yet, but would be interested to hear from anyone (journalist, or otherwise) who has.

And some links for you:

An interview with Jaan and Andreas on Social Media Club

37Signals: a site with tools for noded workers

“Lamentable and predictable”: BBC News writing?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 6, 2009

 

BBC Look North (Leeds)

BBC Look North (Leeds)

Interesting letter made it into the Yorkshire Post today

 

 

MY 11 and 14-year-old sons Frankie and Tommy are very critical of TV presentational style, especially Look North [BBC's regional news programme from Yorkshire].

From Alan Partridge they understand the ridiculous “epithet inversion” technique for an intro to a story.

At its worst, this involves simply repeating some dramatic accusation or cry of pain eg, “You’re killing me and you’re killing my family” (dramatic pause), followed by, “Those were the words of…” or, “That was a 59-year-old Leeds woman’s response to…”

But by far the most common device – in fact every story on Look North was introduced like this last night – is a simple inversion  of the second part of the sentence with the first.

Thus, “Passengers on trains into Sheffield yesterday were stuck for over two hours due to flooding of the track” becomes, “Stuck for two hours on a flood track. That was the fate of passengers on trains into Sheffield yesterday.”

I suppose the editors have come from newspapers and don’t realise that dramatic headlines sound stupid when they’re read out. I imagine it was the same with early films when actors used to projecting for the stage encountered the much more intimate medium of the film camera. But they’ve been making news programmes for 50 years now.

It makes for the most lamentable and predictable TV. Why not aim a little higher, BBC Leeds?

From: Mark Wilson, Headingley, Leeds.

A very good dissection from, what appears to be an ordinary viewer. He could have a background in journalism, but if he’s just an ordinary punter, the overuse of one style must be really noticable.

In TV news you should be writing in a conversational style, and always trying to surprise the listener – while always being accurate.  The “epithet inversion” as Mr Wilson calls it, is a good one…if used sparingly.

And in fact there’s an argument starting a news story with a dramatic statement – and then clarifying it afterwards, is inaccurate and bad writing. But watch the BBC Six O’Clock news tonight  and see how often it’s used.

Lamentable and predictable indeed.

(Hat tip: Larry the News Guy)

Dear BBC, please get rid of the News Channel

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on July 1, 2009

It has tens of thousands of viewers, has won two RTS awards in the last 3 years, and is (according to its own branding) ‘Britain’s Most Watched News Channel’.

But, dear BBC,  you should scrap your 24 hour rolling news.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean close down transmitting, or make hundreds of people redundant, or pull out of the “race” for breaking news. I don’t even mean stop broadcasting news altogether.

It just seems in the growth of satellite news channels, which brought us  CNN and Sky News, and then Fox News, and then ITV News, which then closed down, and then Al-Jazeera…it just seems you have missed a trick.

What I want to see is a BBC News and Information Channel. Except with a better name than that, obviously.

With a whole channel dedicated to news, with 24 hours to fill,  how come fewer documentaries are produced? How come in order to find out about under reported stories from both the UK and abroad we have to turn to the internet? How come for some well thought out analysis of global events, you’re better off in the hands of Radio 4 or the World Service?

Because in the race with Sky News, the BBC News Channel fills its 24 hours with breaking news stories and following them as they develop, just like Sky News. And with that comes all the trappings and distortions of rolling news.

The pointless 2-ways from outside buildings where the newsreader clearly knows more about the story than the correspondent. The irrelevant updates on local, but gruesome crimes. The live broadcasting of police press conferences, of interest to hardly anyone. The parading of guest after guest after guest, each adding very little to the story. The over-reporting of PR news. And the speculation – oh, the speculation!

Click, Newswatch and Hardtalk are all well and good, but they are too few and far between. And you stick ‘em on at 5am on a Sunday morning.

This race with Sky News (which, if it was an actual race in a stadium or something, would have about 15 spectators) has created a terrible distortion in news and facts, where both channels zoom in on a story to such an explosive magnitude, making it seem like the biggest most important disaster since some kind of climate change nuclear tsunami.

And, dear BBC, it really isn’t a race you need to win. Or even run in.

So how about this: a channel with short live news bulletins twice (or even four times an hour), with more 30 minute news bulletins, and the rest of the time filled with amazing documentaries, and great longer interviews with really interesting people, and some right-on analysis from all those clever correspondents. Hey, you’d have so much space to fill you could commission some riskier pieces from non-British journalists or young journalists. They might work, they might not, but it would be interesting.

You could whack more science and history on there. You might even get to be creative and dynamic.

But suddenly – breaking news! What do you do? It’s OK – if it’s not that important, there’s always the ticker at the bottom of the screen. And if it is important, then you can dip out of the programme for a bit. And if it is really important, then you can revert back to your news-channel ways.

We know you covet your “most watched news channel” crown, but come on BBC, the licence fee payers deserve more than this tit-for-tat war with Sky News, right?

When bi-media newsrooms go too far

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2009

There’s always been praise for bi-media newsrooms. Multiskilled journalists supplying for TV, radio and online.

And I agree, it’s a valid cost cutting measure.

What isn’t acceptable though – in my opinion – is the taking of this concept to the extreme and playing TV packages out on radio.

I’ve heard it done a couple of times on BBC local radio,  and you can tell because the report you hear in the news at 1, is the same as you see in the news at 1.30.

Why isn’t it acceptable? Because TV and Radio are their own seperate arts. TV requires tight scripting to pictures. Radio requires good writing to explain complex stories.

And you end up hearing lines like “as you can see behind me” or “this is the moment two robbers were caught on CCTV.” Not to mention gaps of natural sound which are used to punctuate TV reports.

Simply: get a journalist to produce 1 piece for 2 separate mediums…and both mediums suffer.

Christian Bale: the BBC Breakfast cock up (video)

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 6, 2009

Another tip for TV news producers everywhere: if you’re going to play the Christian Bale outburst

1) do it before everyone’s heard it already
2) edit out the swear words

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