Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

2011 in online video projects

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on December 22, 2011

Continuing my look back at work I’ve done in 2011, here’s some of video I’m most proud of this year.

I’ve been busy all year working on some interesting commissions for lots of clients; I’ve made short documentaries, produced interviews, made 10 minute long features and more. Although the clients have always been happy with the final pieces as I’ve delivered them, looking at this collection, I can see room for lots of improvements in 2012.

[NOTE: If you're reading this in an email, click on the link to view the videos on the website!]

EcoMattic 3: home-made methane

The third film in a web series following Matt and his over-the-top attempts to cut back on his carbon emissions. He’s had his car crushed, tried recycling everything he owns. In this film, shot on the last sunny day of the year, he tries building a methane converter to power his house.

Attribution/ShareAlike

You can read a behind-the-scenes Storify of this project here.

Green Alliance: Bringing It Home

UK environmental think-tank The Green Alliance asked me to produce a film to support the launch of a major piece of research into peoples’ attitudes towards going green. It found some fascinating insight into what makes us tick when it comes to things like recycling and using plastic bags. I combined research footage, motion graphics and interviews for this piece which was shown to MPs at a launch in Westminster, as well as going online.

© 2011 Green Alliance/Adam Westbrook

MediaTrust: Untold Stories

This was the only piece of video which I produced for television this year (I work almost exclusively in online video). I spent some time with a British charity MENTER who support asylum seekers, and other minorities in the East of England.

© 2011 MediaTrust/MENTER/Adam Westbrook

Global Business Challenge China

A highlight of 2011 was traveling to Chengdu in southern China to produce a documentary about the Global Business Challenge. Nearly 100 students from around the world came together to battle for the crown and tensions ran high.

It was pretty inspiring to see such young ambitious people from places like Sri Lanka, South Africa and China showing their mettle with a determination young people in the UK don’t really seem to have: it makes you realise where the power in the future will lie.

© 2011 CIMA/Adam Westbrook

myNewsBiz: can journalists be entrepreneurs?

To promote our nationwide entrepreneurial journalism competition in 2011 we produced a short series of features, where some of the UK’s best entrepreneurial publishers shared their secrets.

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And just for fun…the Absolute Radio Mobility Scooter Grandprix

Probably one of the more bizarre commissions I had in 2011. UK national radio station Absolute asked me to join their grand prix race through Central London …on mobility scooters for their breakfast show. It was one of the earliest shoots too: we had to do the race at 5am to avoid the police, and Buckingham Palace security.

© 2011 Absolute Radio/Adam Westbrook

Next week I’ll be looking at what went well and not so well for me in business terms, and thinking about my big plans for 2012. If you’re serious about doing great stuff and making a difference – whatever your field – then I highly recommend taking a good bit of time out to reflect.

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How to produce online video from scratch

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on December 15, 2011

I recently showed the behind-the scenes progress of a motion graphics commission using the curating tool Storify and it went down pretty well so I thought I’d do it again, this time showing the process behind a typical video shoot.

Last week I published the third instalment of a web series I’ve been making with presenter Matt Walters. In each film he tries something new (and usually ridiculous) to try and drastically cut his carbon emissions. So far he’s crushed his car, and tried to cut his waste to zero.

In this film he tries to power his house using home-made methane, and you can see the results after the jump.

Below is the behind the scenes Storify – as usual, I can’t embed it into WordPress.com – but click on the image and it’ll take you straight there.

And here’s the film, released this week.

How to make money in online video: 3 approaches

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on October 10, 2011

Every week I get emails from readers of the blog asking about online video and entrepreneurial journalism. I try and answer as many of them as I can as promptly as I can.

Since I published Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to make Money in Journalism in May 2010 I’ve received a lot more questions about entrepreneurship, freelancing and making money. A typical one came into my inbox last week, and I’d thought I’d put my reply here so everyone can benefit.

Reporting for radio and video from Iraq in 2009

Nick in Australia got in touch to ask how to make money as a freelance video journalist, and he’s kindly agreed to let me share his question:

I’m about to be a journalism grad and I want to start making video stories. I’ve got lots of ideas, but just got one question that is bugging me. Once I’ve filmed, edited and uploaded my little creations online to my blog/website, how can I build a freelance income from them? i.e. I understand that once they’re online and I’m plugging them on my Twitter, Tumblr and other places with various links with journo folk they will (ideally) create job opportunities. However, I want to be actively sending/selling them to the right sources. Who pays for freelance video journalism, and where do I find these amazing publications? Surely metro papers & mainstream networks wont. Is it possible?

Nick, you’re already doing a few things right here: firstly (and most importantly) you have ideas and you want to start making video stories. I can’t stress how important it is to be prolific in your work. Secondly, you’re smart about using social media to share your content and build up an audience around it.

From here, there are three ways you can approach it: I’ll call the first the traditional approach, and the second the smart approach, and then the smart-er approach.

The traditional approach

The traditional approach is pretty much what you described: find publications who do video and pitch ideas to them. If they like your stuff, they might buy it, it’s as simple as that. You’ll obviously need a body of good work available online to prove you’re good.

As for how to find these ‘amazing publications': there is no short cut I’m afraid: you just have to look. Print freelancers of this ilk often go into a newsagents and browse the magazine section to discover potential titles. A few might put notices out on Mandy.com or similar sites. From here, the old rules apply: find out the name of the right person to pitch to and know their content inside out.

You might be able to tell by the tone of my writing though that this is not how I build income in my career. Why? Well, for a start, it’s what everyone else does, so the competition is fiercer.  The pay often stinks, even at national titles. You spend a long time chasing ignored emails from editors who are, quite frankly, not interested. Beyond this, a lot of publications prefer to train their own staff to make video content (even though it’s usually awful). There is a lot of rejection.

That said, some people are successful at it, although I hear it takes a long time to get established. Personally, it’s not for me: I’m terrible at networking, brown nosing and cold-calling. Some people are really good at it – so its horses for courses. The key to success? Producing remarkable, high quality video.

The smart approach

The smart approach begins by having faith in this belief: the demand for online video right now is huge. Newspapers and magazines want it, yes, but so do think-tanks, chartered institutes, universities, NGOs, charities and even your local barber if you sold it to him in the right way.  Michael Rosenblum is very good at pointing this out almost every week on his blog.

The smart approach also recognises that in the traditional game, the rules are stacked against you, especially with so many other competitors. Timothy Ferris said once ‘doing the unrealistic thing is easier than doing the realistic thing’. The realistic (traditional) approach is packed with competition.

When I first went freelance two years ago, I knew it would be extremely difficult to get noticed by harried editors, already knee-deep in pitches. So instead I created my own online video production company, video .fu; I built a website in a weekend, got some cheap business cards from Moo.com and started making content (in my own time, for free) to prove what I could do. I made this series of environmental shorts with Matt Walters, portraits and more. All in my own documentary style.

As a result of these films plus, it should be said, this blog, I started to get approached by organisations wanting the sort of films I like making. This year I have been nearly fully booked on projects for think-tanks, charities and online magazines; I’ve worked with celebrities, worked in China and have even started to turn down work too.

You don’t just need faith in the demand – you must also have faith in yourself. Writing it out like this makes my approach sound planned, when in fact it’s been a process of ‘making it up as I go along’ – and still is. The key to success? Producing remarkable, high quality video.

The smart-er approach

This is, I think, a smarter way to go about it, and one with a proven track record of success for the smartest people. It’s what I am trying next. The best way to outflank the rejection of traditional pitching to editors is to become an editor yourself.

You said you want to make video stories – well turn them into a web series about something that people are interested in, create a website and start publishing. That’s what Jesse Thorne and Adam Lisagor have done with Put This On, a fashion web series. Their stylish short films clock 30,000 plus views each. It worked for Kirby Ferguson too, the creator of Everything Is A Remix, which has more viewers than some television documentaries. And of course, it has worked for Jamal Edwards, who founded SB.TV who now hangs out with Jay-Z and Richard Branson. I’ve written about all these guys before, here.

Mainstream editors now approach them with offers (and, I imagine, so do some video journalists taking the traditional approach to making money).

The smart-er approach requires faith, passion and a set of squirrel-sized balls to pull it off. But the key to success? Producing remarkable, high quality video. 

My advice to Nick is to start making these video stories now – without anyone to pitch to. If you start worrying about how to make money from the start you’ll never produce anything – and that’s a vicious circle towards giving up. Make a film, publish it – and then make another one. And keep going. Get a staff job on a newsdesk to pay the bills – or work in a bar if you have to.

These approaches aren’t for everyone though and it’s really down to the sort of person you are. But the opportunities to do something amazing are out there – and they won’t exist forever.

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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