Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How to make great stories come to you

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 23, 2010

Finding & telling a great story is what drives many journalists in what they do.

We put lots of effort into figuring out how to tell the stories, but not enough is ever written, or taught, about where these mystical narrative apparitions appear from. Most stories fall flat, not because of the telling, or the media, or the equipment used – but because the story isn’t good enough.

So, where the hell can we find these stories?

Well, the Brighton Future of News Group, run by Sarah Booker, have come up with a great little scheme to find great stories…by getting them to come to you!

How does it work?

Last week, #bfong held an open ‘empty shop’ day in Shoreham-on-Sea, a small seaside town on Britain’s south coast. Anyone could pop in with old photographs, artifacts or just stories of their lives and the town. And on hand were a group of journalists, armed with cameras, laptops and audio recording equipment.

Handily, the press-pack included Judith Townend, Adam Tinworth, Adam Oxford and Sarah Booker, some of the most sharp-eyed Next Generation Journalists around.

The team used a live Tumblr blog as their platform for stories they produced – and collected dozens throughout the day. People wandered in, perhaps attracted or made curious by the sign outside. The team also hit the streets too.

Adam Oxford interviews a resident

Sarah Booker interviews a resident

It seems like a wonderful experiment in doing journalism a little bit differently. If the hacks on the local paper were as enterprising, they’d have gathered enough material to fill an edition. Instead, they were left covering the event as an outsider.

What’s exciting is this approach can be easily mimicked in any community. Pick a day, gather some journalists, find a free public space and open up shop! Judith plans to bring the open-shop approach to the refugee community in London and my mind is spinning with ideas for other settings too.

The irony of this age is there are more stories out there than there ever have been; but too many journalists have paralysed themselves with arguments about who will pay for it.

We just need to get out there, take the #bfong open-shop approach and tell some stories. That’s the future.

Another rare work update..

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on September 23, 2010

It’s been quiet on the blog so far in September, as I’ve been working hard starting and completing around half a dozen new projects (who said multitasking couldn’t be done?!)

I know it’s not what you stop by here for, so I’ll keep it brief.

Some films

Two commissions from the VJ Movement have kept me very busy this month. The first, a challenging story on the uncertain fate of refugees in Britain, was published a week ago. I spent some time with a Kurdish refugee who doesn’t know whether she’ll be kicked out of the UK. Her legal files are in a pile of boxes somewhere in south London; she’s in York. Click here to watch it.

An article on the closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice also appears in this week’s edition of Big Issue In The North.

A second commission, on the surprisingly expensive problem of Japanese Knotweed, is delivered this week. I’ve had fun trekking through woodland, stalking through quarantine facilities and taking a look at the new Olympic site on this one.

Some more films

Meanwhile, studio .fu, my production company is slowly gathering pace. I’ve been working on building a portfolio of work, and building relationships with potential clients too. I’ve finally completed a short about the artist Toni Lebusque, and I am delivering two films for two clients this week (phew!).

Great fun has also been had beginning a series with presenter Matt Walters about green living…which began by filming his car being demolished – I’ll share when it’s up!

Some words and sounds

I’ve been appearing in various forms elsewhere on the internet. Check out my views on paying for journalism on the Tomorrow’s News Tomorrow’s Journalists blog; I’ve also appeared at owni.eu (in French) and the European Journalism Centre this month. More time is being taken up by blog.fu, studio .fu’s own storytelling blog. And I’m also becoming slowly addicted to Tumblr too.

And a couple of weeks back I appeared alongside Richard Wilson and Jon Slattery in Judith Townend’s Meeja Law podcast. It’s called I’m a Blogger Get Me Out of Here and here’s my segment talking about being a blogger and keeping on the right side of the law. (Click on the play button to listen)

Social mediary

I’ve clocked up more track-miles talking to journalists and academics about social media. I was in Glasgow at the start of the month talking about how universities can use social media more; a couple of days later I had the privilege of running a training session at Trinity University College in Leeds. More training plans are in the pipeline as we speak.

Next Generation Journalist

There’s some really cool Next Generation Journalist stuff on the way in the next week or so. I shot interviews with several of the interviewees for the book – you’ll get to see them soon. And there’s also a Facebook group to join. Don’t forget copies are still available – and now there’s five good reasons to get a copy too!

And back to the classroom

And as September rolls around its time to think about the new academic year; I am returning to Kingston University in London on a more permanent basis this month, and teaching both undergraduate and post-graduate video journalism modules.

It’s also required me to return to the classroom as a student, and take a Post-graduate certificate in Higher Education Teaching. Crumbs!

I promise to keep blogging useful stuff as much as I possibly can. And as always, thanks for reading!

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Idea 006: using geo-data during elections

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on February 12, 2010

Apologies for the break in compiling Ideas for the Future of News. The hiatus is over! Over the next week, I’ll report on several other innovative, practical new concepts which could move journalism forward. To see previous ideas, check out the Ideas For The Future Of News page.

Idea 006: the MP candidate tracker

By: Jo Wadsworth, Steve Bustin, Sarah Marshall and others; Brighton Argus Newspaper

This idea, I am very happy to say, emerged at one of the new Future of News Meetup events which have sprung up across the UK since the first London event back in December.

The idea is pretty much as it says on the tin,  allowing web users to report and track the locations and activities of the various parliamenary candidates in the run up to the fiercely contested UK General Election in Spring 2010. According to Journalism.co.uk:

“The map allows Google account users to mark where they have seen candidates for the Brighton Pavilion constituency – Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Nancy Platts and the Conservative’s Charlotte Vere – and upload additional information about what they said.

“The MP candidate tracker page also displays tweets sent out by each candidate.”

This is a great example of new technology and lateral thinking being applied to really provide the public service journalism is all about. Although the project is in its infancy, you can imagine it having some influence, if voters are able to see which candidates have been sitting on their backsides during the campaign.

It is also a good example of the potential of crowdsourcing, and involving the public in newsgathering. Are there some issues around privacy and the accuracy of the information provided though?

The concept isn’t entirely new either. Radio stations have been using map mashups to plot traffic delays for at least 18 months; Viking FM in Hull used a map mashup to add colour to coverage of the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence in 2009.

A business model?

This idea’s real value is in its public service; enough hits and perhaps there are some advertising or sponsorship possibilities for the Brighton Argus, just as radio news has sponsors for its sport or weather bulletins.

And perhaps there’s a model to outsource this idea too. A company, perhaps, who specialise in geo-tagging and data mashups, who could then sell innovative packages to newspapers, magazines and other websites?

The General Election should really fuel innovative new ideas like this, as we saw in the US during the 2008 election campaign. Will journalists, broadcasters and papers live up to this challenge?

What do you think? And if you’ve got an innovative idea for the Future of News yourself, drop me a line!

More UK Future of News talk

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 9, 2010

The Future of News Meetup Group continues to grow from strength to strength this week, with the first local branch meetings held in Birmingham and Brighton.

To Brighton first, where the group (hashtag #bfong), organised by Journalism.co.uk‘s Judith Townend included talks from Jo Wadsworth from the Brighton Argus and Simon Willison from the Guardian.

They both spoke about some awesome innovations in journalism, including the Guardian’s successful crowd-sourcing experiment during the MPs expenses scandal.

Laura Oliver provides excellent coverage of both speakers which you can read here and here.

To Birmingham where the group (hashtag #fonwm) heard from Andrew Brightwell from hyperlocal blog Grounds and debated some exciting new business models; hyperlocal star Philip John provides a good write-up here, and student Alex Gamela shares his thoughts too.

Meanwhile the first Welsh event in Cardiff is being planned and there’s plans afoot to set one up in Scotland too.

And back in London, there are still a few places left for February’s event featuring, among others, radio futurologist James Cridland – click here to find out more!

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