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.
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.
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.
Although I write lots about how to make online video, I rarely show you any of my own stuff. That’s partly because I don’t want this blog to be a shameless showreel, but this week I thought I’d collect some of the films I’ve made this year.
On Thursday I’ll put up my best video work of the year, but today I’ll start with motion graphics.
[NOTE: If you're receiving this post via email, click on the link to read the post online to view the videos]
Back in 2010 I bought Final Cut Studio when I upgraded my video production kit. The package comes with other products, like Apple Compressor, and something I’d never heard of before – Apple Motion. It’s Apple’s equivalent to Adobe After Effects, and allows you to create motion graphic animations.
Throughout 2010 I taught myself how to create animations from scratch – an investment in time which has really paid off in 2011. I have completed several commissions for whole range of clients, and even had to turn some down for a lack of time. Here are some of the motion graphic-only pieces, although almost all of my video this year feature a motion element somewhere.
January 2011 – an animation to launch the myNewsBiz student enterprise journalism competition. The two winners are now working on launching their new products. This one has a strong palette and was my first real experiment with 3D and moving cameras.
April 2011 – I created this explainer about the AV referendum back in May to experiment with the idea of making complex issues more simple. It was a bit more complex than any I had done before, and I had to break it down into four ‘chapters’ to put it together. This has led to the creation of a new website & business, launching in early 2012.
September 2011 A commission for StuConnect, a new startup aiming to help students collaborate across different UK universities. Videos like this for startups need to be short & sweet.
VInspired: Food Poverty
November 2011 – A recent commission for V Inspired a UK organisation helping young people become leaders. I’ve written about the creation of this piece in more detail in this blog post and Storify.
Hopefully, the takeaway is that you can teach yourself a new skill and quite quickly convert it into paid work. The great thing about programs like these is that they’re relatively cheap – and learning them can be completely free if you use the right sources.
I invested about £40 in a book about how to do motion graphics, and then about two hours a night for a couple of months – and I’ve easily recouped that now.
Another three months have flown by and it’s been a busy quarter with lots of new articles on online video and entrepreneurial journalism on the blog.
It’s been a bit quieter this spring as I’ve been working on several film and training commissions.
A normal (twice-weekly) blog service should resume shortly. In the mean time, here’s some of the most popular articles on this site since March. For earlier ones, click here.
What makes you a visual storyteller? – we talk a lot about ‘visual storytelling’ but what does it mean? And how do you do it?
The end of television and what that means for you – why I think television’s days are numbered (and why that’s great)
Five principles every video editor needs to know – from the 1920s, the earliest principles from the masters of cinema.
How to let transitions tell the story – how can our use of transitions make us better storytellers?
How I used motion graphics to explain the AV referendum – In May I produced a film to explain the UK referendum.
Two amazing video stories about loss – two more examples of extraordinary video storytelling.
My process for developing new video projects – I explain how I develop my visual storytelling ideas.
How to make online video that really engages audiences (and how to utterly fail it it) – one issue, two very different ways of using online video.
Can we teach journalists to be entrepreneurial? – I argue we must teach journalists to be entrepreneurial – for their own sake, and for the profession.
The age of the online publisher – and five people who are embracing it - some inspiring examples of people who have become online publishers.
Five big reasons to run a small news business – I explain the big advantages of running an intentionally small business.
Why layers could be the secret to improving online video – some ideas I helped come up with for the future of video with Mozilla and the Guardian.
Why do so many student journalists call themselves ‘aspiring’? – would you hire a journalist who called themselves ‘aspiring’?
What does the myNewsBiz competition tell us about entrepreneurial journalism? – as our nationwide search for entrepreneurial journalists wraps up, I look back at what we’ve learned.
So the winners of myNewsBiz have been announced and that wraps up the pilot of our entrepreneurial journalism competition for this year.
The two winning ideas reflected the breadth of entries we received. The winner, Visualist, an idea by City University students Nick Petrie and Ben Whitelaw (of Wannabe Hacks fame) aims to provide journalists in smaller newsrooms with the skills and tools to do data journalism. The judges felt it brought something new to journalism, and targeted a very popular area in journalism today.
The runner up idea was a great idea for a magazine, called Relish, submitted by four students at Kingston University, London. The judges loved the name, but also the fact that it targeted a clear, new and gadget hungry audience – men who like cooking.
What did we learn?
All that’s left to do is give the two winners their £1000 and £500 respectively to spend getting their business ideas off the ground. We announced the competition last November and we wanted to achieve two things (as well as give out cash to good business ideas):
- we wanted to get more journalism students actively thinking about how business/enterprise works
- and I personally wanted a snapshot of how the next generation of journalists perceive entrepreneurship, after lots of talk on both sides of the Atlantic.
We achieved the first measure, and then some. As well as a series of online training videos, I visited lots of universities to talk about entrepreneurial journalism and promote the competition. Even those who did not win benefitted from the process of idea generation and asking themselves important business questions, like what is their USP and what are their revenue streams.
And there were some excellent ideas submitted, with a variety of products and services. Among those that the judges highly commended were:
- a magazine aimed at students
- Plastik magazine, already doing well in South Wales
- a magazine for young lesbians
- an online CV service for journalists
Many of the entries though (understandably!) showed little or no knowledge of what makes a good business idea. Those that scored badly did not have a clear target market identified, or any concept of how or where revenue would be made. Only a small handful of entries had really considered the figures, and were able to say “we’d need to sell 5,000 copies to break even.”
Interestingly (from my perspective, anyway) none of the entries really investigated the potential of launching an intentionally small company with low overheads and exploiting lots of free tools; the majority of entries pitched mainstream-style products (printed magazines) despite the high costs and risks associated with that. Similarly, all but two ideas were for products (even though the idea the judges liked best is a service business).
Five big mistakes lots of first-time entrepreneurs made:
.01 no clear market: lots of entries did not really know who they were trying to target with their idea; great businesses (including publishers) work when they help a specific – easily identifiable – group of people with a specific problem.
.02 choosing a market with little money: those that did know who their audience were had chosen markets where not much money flows – so there was limited chance to sell products, events or services to your audience. By contrast, the judge’s second-favourite entry has a gadget hungry market who are interested in buying.
.03 pitching a product with little value: another common problem was to pitch something that the world doesn’t need. This included blogs, podcasts or magazines that talked about general areas like music, film or sport but didn’t offer anything useful. You have to make peoples’ lives better if they (or advertisers) will part with their cash.
.04 spending money badly: most people did not have a good idea of how they would spend the £1,000 if they won it, often wanting to spend large chunks on posters, clothing or stationary. This can happen to experienced entrepreneurs too though!
.05 their idea doesn’t replicate or scale: finally, the judges were most keen on business ideas that had the potential to grow, or be replicated elsewhere. Too many of the pitches were reliant on the passion/work of one person.
Some interesting early reflections then, which I will delve into in more detail as part of research I am carrying out for Kingston University this year. Clearly, interest in entrepreneurship is yet to grow beyond a small number; the vast majority of student journalists & graduates would rather pursue the traditional path to work.
I believe though that competitions like this are vital if more students are to equip themselves with entrepreneurial skills. I’m undecided about running it again next year, although if we did, we would look for sponsors to get involved. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then please do get in touch.
The countdown to the closing of entries to myNewsBiz has begun – there’s now just four days left to enter your business idea with the chance of winning £1000.
The competition is open to:
- any student studying at a UK university
- any recent gradate from a UK university (summer 2010)
Five reasons to enter myNewsBiz – now!
.01 You’ll get feedback from four of the UK’s most experienced journalist-entrepreneurs: have you seen our panel of judges? We’ve got a group of journalists with decades of collective experience starting businesses. They know what makes a good business, and they’ll be able to give you some sharp feedback on your idea.
.02 It’s a reason to start thinking… use myNewsBiz as an excuse to sit down with a pen, and draw up some business ideas. You just won’t do it otherwise, will you? If you don’t know where to start, the application form gets you asking all the right questions.
.03 .…and a reason to start doing but more importantly, this is a unique opportunity to actually turn an idea – a vague, scribbled down apparition – into something real, something tangible. Your idea for a hyperlocal website means jack until you publish your first article on the completed website.
.04 It’ll make you more employable yes, you heard right! Never mind being an entrepreneur for the rest of your life. Drawing up a business idea, entering myNewsBiz, and making it a reality, will actually make you more employable. Why? Because there are plenty of other journalism students & graduates like you. Very few have used their initiative to start a magazine, design an iPhone app or start a photojournalism business on the side. This initiative is rare, and therefore valuable.
.05 It’s free…oh and did I mention the £1000 cash prize? Yes, entry is free. Click here to get hold of a form.
We’ve already had a good chunk of applications, but there’s room for more.
If you’re a student at a UK university, or you graduated last summer you have no excuse not to enter. And you have just four days left to do it.
This is a 2nd of a two-part series suggesting ideas for revenue streams for a news business. Read the first post here, and don’t forget, the deadline for entering myNewsBiz (to win £1000) is Friday 1st April 2011.
In the previous post, we talked subscriptions, partnerships, newsletters, affiliates and B2B revenue streams. But that’s only half the game, if none of those appeal, try some of these on for size.
10 ideas for revenue streams for your news business (part 2)
.06 a store
This is a method of income completely separate from the journalism, but an online a store is relatively simple to run. It relies on your content bringing in the eyeballs to your site – again, building a community of like minded folk – and then offering them products which you can be confident will appeal to them.
So, for example, say you edit an online magazine for retired people who want to be more green. Once you’ve built up a community of readers, there’s a whole range of things you could sell on the side, from jute bags and wormeries to slippers & christmas cards. You’ll most likely want to partner with a fulfilment company, who will manage sales, stock and delivery for a percentage.
Who’s doing it? You’d be surprised. Big newspapers like the Sunday Times make a mint out of their wine club, which ships wine to readers; multimedia producers MediaStorm sell DVDs and even T-shirts on their site; UK hyperlocal The Lichfield Blog recently started selling t-shirts too.
Again, if you’ve got a loyal readership focused around a niche, events are another way to convert them into money, and this is nothing new. Everyone from Mashable to TheMediaBriefing run events tailored to their audience: think Journalism.co.uk’s successful news:rewired series for another example.
Conferences are big to organise but through ticket sales and sponsorship offer revenue opportunities. Beyond conferences there are meetups, speed dates and training.
.08 digital products
If selling someone else’s products to your lovely readers doesn’t appeal, then why not create your own? Digital products – in particular ebooks, training and podcasts now cost virtually nothing to produce. The two ebooks I have written and sold to date have paid for themselves many times over…chiefly because they cost absolutely nothing to make!
If you’re positioning your product as the ‘thought-leader’ in a particular area (as you should be), then you can legitimately package your expertise in digital form. To recall our environmental magazine example, you can create an ebook called ‘10 Ways To Grow Your Own Allotment‘ or ‘The Ultimate Guide to What’s In Season When‘
Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals argues every business has a by-product. In his excellent book Rework, he describes how the band Wilco brought someone in to film them recording their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was released as a DVD called Am I Trying To Break Your Heart?. So they successfully sold their main product (the album) and a by-product (the DVD).
This clever idea can be adopted by journalists, their products and services. You don’t just make one thing, so what else are you creating? A wealth of data about a story or topic? Stock footage or images? Training opportunities? A book or DVD?
And here’s the one you’re most familiar with. But it’s at the bottom of the list. Why? Because it’s the first (and often the only) revenue stream most journalists think of, and that’s why they never get very far. But it’s also so dependent on the economy. Advertising will boom again I’m sure, but until it does (and when it eventually collapses again) where does that leave you? Sure, do advertising: services like Addiply can help magazines, blogs and other products, for example.
But – in my opinion only – it ought to be the thinnest slice of the pie.
The greatest revenue stream of them all…
Which brings me neatly to the best, most reliable, and safest revenue stream: lots of them.
Having read this post and the one before it, don’t take just one single revenue stream and hope to make a living. Instead pick and choose the 3, 4 or 5 that are most relevant or appealing to you and your business idea.
If one of them doesn’t work, swap it round for another, and keep testing the soup til it works.
So who said journalism doesn’t any money? A targeted combination of several of these revenue streams could keep your idea going. But there are surely more…what have I missed off? Tell me in the comments below!
OK so you might have a brilliant idea for a new news business. You have the collaborators. You’ve got the website. You’ve got the content…
…but you’ve got to make it pay right?
There’s less than two weeks for students in the UK to enter myNewsBiz, the journalism enterprise competition. One of the questions entrants have to answer on their entry form is explaining how their business might make money: where will the revenue come from? To help in that endeavour, I’ve assembled these 10 possible ways to bring in cash.
They are just ideas, and the most successful businesses pick’n’mix from these plus several others. If there are any glaring omissions, let me know in the comments box!
10 ideas for revenue streams for your news business (part 1)
.01 mailing list
It’s an oft quoted maxim among online content creators that “the money’s in the mailing list“. Never mind creating a sharp looking online magazine – if your content isn’t flying straight into peoples’ inboxes then it has a far weaker chance of being viewed. Building a mailing lists means you have a clearly defined group of people interested in your journalism – and therefore they’re more likely to open the email.
Once you’ve built your mailing list up with great content you can look for sponsorship from organisations who’ll appreciate their advert going to inboxes and not just online. They then get a banner at the top of your newsletter.
I’ve mentioned TheBusinessDesk on here before: a daily newsletter of business news to their readers is one of the core things they create. There are plenty of services, like MailChimp who manage lists for you.
.02 other businesses
Here’s another maxim to learn from the business-heads out there: “the best customers are other businesses“. Why? Well, you can charge businesses more than you can charge an individual for something; but also businesses tend to be easier to deal with, and you’re less likely to get complaints.
So how do news businesses find revenue streams from other businesses? Well, there are several ways which pop to mind:
B2B journalism: Business-to-Business publications have mostly done OK during the recession. Their secret is they provide really good journalism to specific industries: their readers aren’t passing individuals, but (often) big corporations with lots of money to spend – who need the information you provide.
Another option is to act as an agency: in this line think of Getty, Demotix and of course, the news wires. Again, they’re building long term relationships with news organisations and charging thousands, not mere pounds.
If you still fancy creating a popular magazine, then there are ways to capture business revenue too. Treat it as a ‘shop-window‘ for a service business. For example, if you love web design as well as journalism, you can run a web-design business off the back of the magazine, with the mag’s awesome design bringing you attention and clients.
On a similar theme, another source of revenue could be the ‘partnership’. Here you are collaborating with a whole range of organisations on a specific project, and it’s very suited to the service business model.
We’re already seeing multimedia producers like VII Photography and MediaStorm talk about partnerships with organisations, either as a funder or a publishing partner. Here’s Stephen Mayes of VII, describing the idea in the British Journal of Photography in 2010:
“Certainly the magazines are still in the mix, but now more as print distribution partners rather than as exclusive clients (with additional distribution through TV and online partners), often co-funded by another party and supported separately by technology partners with access to story-knowledge being supplied by yet other people…The line-up shifts for each project, and as each new partner comes on board the opportunities to do interesting work and to generate income multiply.”
I guess it’s not hugely different to ‘clients’ but instead of finding one ‘client’ to pay you to do some journalism, you’re designing a project and getting involvement & funding from several organisations. This means you’re more driven by the project and not who’s paying for it.
Affiliation is where we get a bit close to the sales/infomercial area of business I think many of us would prefer to avoid. Still, there’s big (and relatively easy) money to be made in affiliates so don’t write it off.
How does it work? Well, you push your readers to someone else’s products, and take a share of every sale made. It has potential in a niche market, because if you can build up a significant, loyal fan-base around a specific area, related businesses will want their product in front of those people. Affiliate deals can nab you between 10-30% of every sale.
Sounds a bit dodgy. Can it be done in journalism? Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com reckons so: his hugely popular website is funded almost totally by affiliate arrangements. But he is very transparent about when a product is affiliated, and separates it from the editorial content: crucially, he can still criticise a company even if they’re an affiliate.
This revenue stream is very dependent on the type of news product you’re out to create, but in the right circumstances you can get people to pay to read your content. Here’s a must-read articles on how media outlets are using subscriptions.
As newspapers are learning, the key is to avoid ‘news’ content – that’s a commodity now, and very few people will pay for it. But even if you’re writing for a very specific niche, you have to work hard to create something people will fork out for. Targeting the B2B market will give you a better shot.
Is it worth it with hardly any readers? Well, do the maths: if you create really good content for a specific audience, of say, 5,000 readers, that is so good, they’ll be happy paying £5 a month to access it – that’s £300,000 in the bank. A legacy news organisation can’t sustain that, but that’s enough cash to pay yourself and a few others a decent salary. This is where being small is important.
On Thursday: five more revenue streams – plus the most valuable one of all.
[NOTE: Lara Dunston, mentioned below, has added some thoughts/corrections to this post & comments - click here to read]
Hold the plane! Someone might just have found a way to make travel journalism pay.
If so, it’s big news for wannabe travel writers the world over, pursuing that elusive dream: to travel the world and get paid to write about it. It’s an area of professional journalism that has declined in the digital age: cheap air travel combined with Flickr, blogs and Youtube, has removed the exclusivity (and therefore value) of being somewhere exotic. Meanwhile, struggling publications have found it harder to justify the flights, visas and travel costs for writers.
Last summer it certainly had a few of us stumped. I held a Future of News bootcamp on travel journalism back in July 2010, where we tried to come up with new approaches to the idea. We came close to something, I feel, focusing on creating a community around a location or travel niche, and selling ‘actionable’ products around our journalism.
But a couple from Australia have come up with another approach, which has been successful a lot more quickly.
The brainchild of writer and photographer duo Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, GranTourismo is a 12 month global journey around the world. According to the blurb on the official website:
They’ll be travelling slowly, living like locals, doing and learning things and giving something back at each destination they visit. Their mission is to explore more authentic ways of travelling and make travel more meaningful and more memorable.
How’s it being funded? Well, they’ve secured a ‘partnership’ with London based travel company HomeAway Holiday Rentals, who are paying for fees and expenses for the trip, and putting Lara and Terence up in their rental properties wherever they go. It’s probably one of the first times professional travel writers have been paid directly by a travel company.
In an in-depth account on the tnooz blog, Lara describes how the idea came about:
Terence and I started developing Grantourismo a few years ago, as a personal travel experiment aimed at exploring more enriching ways to travel. The project grew out of frustrations with our work as travel writers, as much as with how we observed people travel, speeding through places ticking off sights…
…The question was which companies to approach to present our project. I was fine-tuning our proposal in July 2009 when I spotted HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ advertisement on TravMedia calling for a writer-photographer team to work on a similar but more ambitious marketing project. We responded and over the course of a few months persuaded HomeAway Holiday-Rentals to go with our project instead.
A few enterprising themes are revealed here: it’s a project that’s been developed for a long time, born out of a frustration (or pain) about something; and even once HomeAway Holiday-Rentals were approached, the deal took a few months to broker.
So far, so good. But what about editorial independence?
…from the outset we made it clear to HomeAway Holiday-Rentals that we had to have complete editorial control so that the content would not be construed as advertorial. If it was, then their credibility, as much as ours, would be on the line…This, we believed, was essential to establishing our readers’ trust and maintaining the integrity of the project.
A model for the future?
What’s quite promising about Lara and Terence’s model is that it is replicable: it can be used by journalists and photographers (and even film makers) in a near infinite number of ways, in an unlimited number of places. Lara says they’ve already been approached by wine producers who want to use their skills for a wine-specific campaign.
In an interview with Traveling Savage, Lara says it’s a growing trend:
Travel companies will increasingly be exploring direct partnerships with writers/bloggers in order to develop innovative, attention-grabbing projects and cut out the middle man (the editor) so the company knows what kind of coverage they’re going to get. Freelance writers will be increasingly seeking to work directly with companies as the industry becomes even more competitive, as will bloggers, because they’re always looking for ways to monetize their sites. These partnerships can be tricky things to negotiate, however, so writers/bloggers need to take care to ensure that they maintain their credibility, especially if they want to continue to work in the media: professionalism and ethics are everything.
It’s only one way to do it
On the flip-side however, it’s one that’s very dependent upon other people. If you can’t get a ‘partner’ to back you, you might as well put the passport back in the drawer. Lara says there’s no other advertising on the site, which takes away much growth potential if the audience grows.
It also means there’s little benefit for the pair in growing an active, vibrant community around their content. That was the breakthrough with our London bootcamp in 2010. We figured if you’re creating valuable content inside a specific niche within travel journalism (gay/children/eco-friendly are the first three which spring to mind) you can build up a small, but loyal base of readers. From there you can develop sponsored newsletters, sell products (photographs, ebooks etc) and wrangle affiliate deals with all sorts of travel firms. (See Lara’s comments for more on this.)
If you aim to become a thought-leader in your niche, rather than just ‘the water here’s lovely’ type writing then you can really make an impact, change lives and develop a sustainable brand.
That, of course, takes time; and if there’s one thing to be said for the GranTourismo model, it got them travelling pretty quickly.
So what do you think? Is this a new way to do travel journalism in the digital age? Is it worth cutting out the middle-man? Or is it a lucky luxury the new media age just can’t support? Leave your comments below!
Hattip: Craig McGinty on Twitter
Even David Cameron’s saying it now. In a speech to his spring conference this weekend he announced that entrepreneurs are Britain’s ‘only strategy’ for growth, and is promising help for people starting their own businesses in this month’s budget.
The same is true for journalism too. The call to enterprise isn’t a stop-gap, nor an acceptance of defeat trying to get a ‘proper’ job.
Journalism needs entrepreneurs to shake things up and make some new things happen. In the shadow of newsroom cuts, creative famine and spreading churnalism, these brave starters are journalism’s ‘only strategy’ for growth.
As if by magic (or more likely by perusing the planning diary) the Observer yesterday featured several ‘young guns‘: young men and women who, in the face of high youth unemployment, have made their own careers happen. Included was 20-year-old film-maker Jamal Edwards who founded SBTV, an impressive youth channel; Georgina Cooper, 26, the creator of PretaPortobello.com; Gerard Jones, 21, who founded his own football training academy while still at university; and Edwin Broni-Mensah, 25, who’s come up with a great business around refillable water bottles.
They are inspiring stories of young people who, in the face of a game where the odds were stacked against them, invented a new game, with the rules squarely in their favour. And they’re relishing the freedom and opportunity it gives them. Meanwhile, more young journalists who fought their way into a national newspaper the old way are handing in their notices!
The time to make your own career happen is now.
I had the pleasure of speaking at Leeds Trinity University’s Journalism Festival a week ago, alongside Joanna Geary from the Times, Chris Ship from ITV, Patrick Smith from the The Media Briefing and many others.
I was there to talk about entrepreneurial journalism – and in particular, the often overlooked beauty of starting an intentionally small, but insanely profitable business. In it, I presented several examples of journalists making money in new ways, described how I did it launching my business studio .fu and gave some practical advice on how to start a business with no funding, no employees and no office.
You can also read a write-up and listen to an interview here.
The lure of having @bbc.co.uk or @cnn.com on your email address is a temptress, I know. But we are entering an age where the self-starter is the one with the opportunities – don’t miss out! If you still need convincing read this great article in Smashing Magazine.
And for another four weeks, there is the opportunity to win £1000 in cash to get your business off the ground in our unique myNewsBiz competition. Click here for details of how to enter.
UPDATE: a couple of similar excellent posts from other young journalists today: Joseph Stashko asks why are j-students still attracted by the mainstream media; and Marc Thomas explains why he’s going entrepreneurial instead of looking for jobs this summer.
OK, so you’re busy thinking of ideas for a journalism startup – hopefully, so you can enter myNewsBiz and win £1000. Or maybe because you’re being brave and want to create your own business.
You’ve read lots of blogs about the future of news, multimedia, startups and tech. And you’re buzzing around with ideas like “innovative” “unique” “remarkable” “world-changing”, “the next big thing”. In other words, you’re searching for an original idea.
That puts a lot of pressure on the grey matter doesn’t it. The good news is there’s really no such thing as an original idea – nor indeed is there a need for one.
Inventions invented many times
There’s a famous (untrue) myth that the Commissioner for the US Patent Office Charles Duell back in 1902 said “everything that can be invented, has been invented.” A look back through the history books shows, firstly, that inventions have come thick and fast since then; but secondly, that some of the greatest inventions were actually invented several times.
The typewriter was invented more than 50 times, the first time way back in 1714. The lightbulb was famously patented by nearly a dozen scientists, before Thomas Edison’s lamp took hold. Even audio recording, originally invented by a Frenchman Charles Cros, was made famous by Thomas Edison in 1877, a year before Cros could get his idea to the patent office.
The foundation of a great business idea is that it serves a need, fills a gap or cures a pain. For example, someone’s already come up with the idea of starting a multimedia production company in New York. Doesn’t mean I can’t do the same in London, right?
In fact, some of the most successful businesses come from improving on a product or service that already exists. James Dyson didn’t invent the vacuum cleaner, but he made it a whole lot better.
We all thought Mark Zuckerberg had social networking all sown-up; but then along came Twitter.
Four ways to improve on someone else’s idea*
- Do something old in a new way which saves your customer time or money.
- Do something better or faster than the competition.
- Do the same thing but with better quality of service or more promises (‘or your money back!’)
- Do the same thing but cheaper…although top tip: you don’t want to compete on price.
*adapted from The Beermat Entrepreneur by Mike Southon & Chris West
So you want to create a news business? Awesome, you’ve arrived at just the right time.
One of the first lessons I learned was to make an important distinction early on – and I think it is the first question you should ask before you start your entrepreneurial adventure:
Are you creating a product or a service?
They are two different, but equally valid, types of business – both of which offer great opportunities for journalists. A product is something tangible – something you make and sell, which is distinct from you. A service on the other hand, is something you specifically offer yourself, in exchange for money.
The world of journalism has a limited (but growing) number of products. A newspaper is a product. So is a magazine. In fact, you’ll often get the more managerial types of journalists often talking about ‘the product’.
The types of products have grown a lot in the digital age, and with that so have the opportunities. A book is a product, as is an ebook. A podcast, vodcast, blog, online magazine, smartphone app are also products. A TV programme is a product. A hyperlocal website is a product, so is a DVD, event and photobook.
In short, it is something you create and then try to make money from. And the people who buy your product are customers, or readers, or viewers.
When we think of business and enterprise, products are probably the first things that come to mind. The Dyson, the Macbook, the Prius: they’re all products. But, according to journalist and entrepreneur Nick Saalfeld, the service sector accounts for more than 70% of the UK economy, and in terms of the work and opportunities around, it’s a lot more varied.
A service is a skill or craft you offer to someone, in exchange for money. Often, but not always, you charge for your time.
This is the most natural type of business for journalists, because essentially it is doing anything freelance: a copy writer, photojournalist, video journalist, blogger, infographic designer, SEO bod, sub-editor…they are all services.
You as the service provider are intricately bound to the success of the business. The people who pay for your service are clients.
Now you might say because of that, entrepreneurial journalism has been around for a long time. But it’s not quite like that. You see, only recently have people started to create full businesses out of their services – packaging their services into products.
For example, take this video production company in the US, called TVKevin. They are a service business: people hire them to make short films about their company or business etc. But take a look at their website, and you can see how they have packaged their service into products: they offer something called BizShorts, and something else called MyStory.
Scale it up, and throw in some hardcore journalism, and you have MediaStorm, one of the most successful multimedia production companies out there. They offer a service to clients: high quality multimedia documentaries; but they package their services into product type solutions: films, audio slideshows and infographics. MediaStorm also have a lot of by-products: training, DVDs, and even t-shirts.
So which should you do?
Before you start thinking of business ideas, or even if you already have one, you should work out whether you are offering a product or a service. Knowing this early on saves any confusion later on. And there’s nothing to say you can’t do both, or be clever and mix them up like TVKevin & MediaStorm.
More and more people are turning round to the idea that journalism alone is not enough, and that to make it in the uncertain world ahead you have to be entrepreneurial too.
Last week’s buy-out of the Huffington Post will add some hope to the mix too.
The criticism from those who are still skeptical or unsure is that the two must be incompatible.
‘How can you be good at giving a voice to the voiceless and also know how to rake in the cash?’ Or: ‘In business you have to be ruthless and money orientated. I’m a creative person not a business person.’
Both valid points. But at Kingston University we’ve launched a nationwide competition to prove that’s not the case. We want the next generation of journalists, currently studying at a UK university, to come up with their own idea for a news business that has the potential to be sustainable.
The winning team gets £1000 to turn it into reality, and the runners-up get £500. Pretty cool, right?
Free business training
So now’s the time to flex that entrepreneurial muscle. But if you’re still unsure, we’ve been putting together a great collection of free videos and guides to the basics of business. What makes a good business idea? What’s the difference between a product and a service? It’s featuring a raft of journos and entrepreneurs and will be updated regularly over the next few months.