Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Journalism posts: a summary

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 26, 2009

Here’s a summary of some of the practical journalism posts I’ve written this year.

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Multimedia journalism

Great free apps for multimedia journalists :: the most popular one by far, covering some online sites to aid journo production

Shooting multimedia-a lot to juggle :: the challenges of covering stories in multimedia in the field; in this case, Iraq.

Video Journalism

The ultimate budget film making kit :: a guide to how I kitted myself out for video journalism on a £500 budget

Broadcast Journalism

The radio emergency survival guide :: how radio newsrooms should prepare for major news events

Making the most of your network :: a good example of how to use other journalists in your group

Three ways to instantly improve your newswriting :: a quick guide to broadcast writing

Five even quicker ways to improve your newswriting :: more tips

Covering court cases-the questions you were afraid to ask :: everything from what to wear in court, and where to sit

How to avoid being THAT annoying PR person :: advice for those unfortunate PR professionals

9 questions for newsreaders :: a checklist for newsreaders

Multimedia shooting: more lessons learned

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2009

My post on the challenges of shooting multimedia during a visit to Iraq this month proved a popular one (thank you!). A week of furious editing in both radio studios and on my own video edit software later and I’ve learned a load more. Here are the highlights…


8 more lessons learned in shooting multimedia

01. different mediums, different audiences

I wrote on a previous post how a difficulty of shooting for different mediums was juggling all the kit. Well, since coming back I’ve really come to realise how you also have to juggle different audiences some times. I went out primarily for my local radio station; the brief: meet local soldiers, find out about their life on the front line, get some good home references (like supporting local football teams) and messages back home to loved ones. Your typical local young house-wifey type content.

In taking out a camera though, I gave myself  a second agenda – an audience on the web very different from my radio one. Now the challenge before me is to produce content for two different audiences with the same raw material. So something fun – like this; and something a bit more serious – like this.

02. different mediums – helpful sometimes

OK, so holding a mic and a camera ain’t easy but it can cover your back too. The external mic on my camera failed me on one interview, but luckily I had the same interview in mp3 from my Marantz recorder. A bit of tricky synch work and you’ve fixed the problem.

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

03. interviews

Self-shooting without a tripod made interviews a bit of a challenge. I had to be close enough to my subjects to pick up audio on my Marantz recorder, but far enough away to get a wide enough head shot. The result: most interviews were in extreme close up! Although close ups are often recommended for online video in its smaller 720×526 screens.

04. get to know your camera

I didn’t have enough time to really practice with my camera before I used it for the first time. I meant a lot of wasted tape as I tried to ride the iris or adjust the manual focus.

05. keep it manual

I don’t regret keeping all my settings – but namely white balance, focus and iris – completely manual.

Scribbles and notes

Scribbles and notes

06. log it

I logged everything as I shot, which has saved time in the edit. Also my logbook provided a great home for memes, sketches and ideas.

07. be prepared…

…for technical hitches. I was very positive about my budget film making kit earlier this year, but remember, pay peanuts and you get monkeys. Adobe Premiere Elements is great value for money, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it crashes every time I try to capture video. And the image recorded is shifted ever so slightly to the left. And when I recorded video with my external mic plugged in but not switched on I got a nice blast of Iraqi radio on the soundtrack instead.

08. oh and one bit of advice to anyone else who takes  recording equipment to a military theatre…

…don’t record anywhere near a military radio kit. Number of interviews lost: 2. Number of amazing pieces to camera on top of a moving vehicle lost: all of them

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

All the radio content has been broadcast this week on 96.9 Viking FM in the UK. Lots of content including interviews, audio slideshows and video is online – click here. I will put up all my audio shortly. And more video coming soon!

Shooting multimedia: a lot to juggle

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 9, 2009

They say multimedia journalism is the way forward; hell, it is the way forward. But sitting on a moving helicopter, flying over the rooftops of Baghdad, camera in hand trying to get a shot out the side, while also checking your audio recorder is working, with your seatbelt barely fastened….well it’s not easy.

That was the challenge I faced during my week with the First Batallion the Yorkshire Regiment in Iraq. On assignment for my employer – a radio station – I was also armed with a DV Camera and digital camera, hoping, desperately to come back with high quality video, audio and pictures.

Juggling kit

Photo: Corporal James Williams RLC

Now the obvious question, looking at the picture (right) is why didn’t I just use the audio from my video pictures? A good question, but I felt seeing as my primary reason for going out to Iraq was for radio, I needed to make good rich quality audio my priority. I just didn’t trust the quality from my DV Cam. I think though, in future projects, perhaps not just for radio, I will use onboard audio.

Juggling content

But juggling equipment isn’t the only problem for a multimedia shooter, I learned. The big challenge is juggling content.

It might be easy to say ‘just take a camera out and use the on board mic for sound and freezeframes for images’ but that ignores the fact that all three mediums – audio, video, pictures – have their own methods and priorities. Your video demands clean white balanced shots and considered visual sequences of something happening. Your audio demands to have clear sounds of that something happening. And your pictures want to be well framed and capture a split second, not a moving image.

Voice overs or pieces to camera have to be written differently for video than audio as they demand different styles. The former is written as a slave to pictures, while the latter must cope without any pictures at all.

So, in short, it’s a bit of a mindfuck.

But then if it’s not worth having, it’s not easy to get, right?

So how should the journalist approach multimedia stories?

01. with a good knowledge of each medium

02. with a plan of what the final products will be

03. with a variety of treatments: do some stories in just video, do others in just audio, rather than repeating the same content in different mediums

04. with a good bag which can carry all your equipment, and a notebook for logging everything and planning the final product

05. with a small digital camera- take a photo of everyone you interview in audio, for audio slide shows

06. smaller and lighter is better

07. when you arrive somewhere new, think over your video first of all, as getting the right shots is more complicated than getting the right audio or stills

08. and don’t just think in terms of audio, video or still images..what about interactive timelines, potted histories and discussion boards? If your final platform is online then all these are options  you can bear in mind.

All I will say is it was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated-if anyone has any other practical tips then please, add them below!

Twittersheep: shepherding your flock

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 21, 2009

Here’s a great way to get a snapshot of who your followers are on Twitter. It’s assembled from the most commonly used words Tweeple put into their bios.

Twitter Flock

For the serious twitterers it is a useful snapshot of the interests of their followers. I, for example, can see the majority of my followers are journalists, or at least work in the media. Many work in radio. I can now focus my tweets to make them more interesting and relevant.

Incidentally I rarely follow someone unless they put something substantial on the bio.  Click here to find out your twitter flock!

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It is time for commercial radio to embrace the web

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2009

Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.

Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.

The BBC has embraced it with much gusto across both TV and radio. From the groundbreaking (and bandwith-breaking) iPlayer to the Editors Blogs to Scott Mill’s daily podcast.

But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”

But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.

As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.

What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.

Local news

This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.

Presenter blogs

A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.

Newsroom blogstwitterscreenshot

The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments.  Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.

Presenter twitter

Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.

Playlist twitter

An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.

Podcasts!

The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.

webspecialscreenshotOnline specials and archive

Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.

Audio slideshows

I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.

Online video

For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.

Traffic mashups

trafficscreenshot

Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.

Web chats

A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue.  At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.

Online polls

Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.

A design overhaul

As I mentioned radio websites are “sooo web 1.0″ and aren’t designed to be platforms for large amounts of media and meta data. They need to be far more accessible and designed to operate in Mozilla and Google Chrome, not just Internet Explorer. A look at just some of the free WordPress templates floating around shows just how much there is to improve.

Turn listener communities into virtual communities

Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.

Facebook bonuses

The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.

Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.

A bit of radio news improv

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 16, 2009

When the music fails at the start of the news, sometimes there’s nothing for it, but to improvise

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The Radio Emergency Survival Guide

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 16, 2009

They almost always catch you unawares, put your and your newsroom under pressure…but as James Cridland blogged recently, emergency situations are when local radio comes into its own.

In July 2007, drying myself off from the floods, I remember telling myself to put together a guide to how to cope. But I never got round to it, and the next thing the city I was working in was evacuated after a major bomb scare; then there was a plane crash…and in the last few weeks Britain has seen the harshest winter in 18 years.

So how should radio news teams respond? Here’s some tips; journos – feel free to add your own.

floods-generic

Radio Emergency Survival Guide

Have emergency numbers close at hand

Don’t waste valuable time looking up the fire services press officer’s mobile number online. Have it in a book or on a sheet – with all the other emergency numbers you’ll need – for every district of your patch.

Make sure you have numbers for other reporters, presenters etc.

Rope in office staff

During the 2007 floods I couldn’t get out of the office to do my job for hours because so many listeners were calling in with, or asking for, information. If you’re drowning in calls, ask a senior office person to direct sales, admin and programming staff to take all the calls.

It helps if at some point during the year they’re briefed on what details to get from the public.

Use the “drive line”

The other busy phone line, especially in weather emergencies, is the drive-line or traffic line. Ask the on air presenter to save any calls they record. Cut these into a montage to lead your bulletins. It sounds real, edgy and gets listeners on the air (click here for a recent example).

Be prepared for school closures

You’ll also get lots of calls from schools telling you they’re closed or closing imminently. It’s one of local radio’s big jobs to pass on this information,  so make sure you keep an accurate list and pass it on to presenters. Each school should give you a unique DFES number to avoid hoaxers and, in some counties, a password.

Get a good information system going

In large scale weather emergencies/natural disasters it’s easy to drown in the sea of information coming in. So make sure you’re prepared to have a good system to record it all. Keep school closures on a board. Use a map to plot what areas are worst affected.

Use new media

At the very least someone should be putting school and road closures on the website, and any other important info. Have you thought about using Twitter to do it too? What about Google maps?

If possible, don’t network

When the shit hits the fan, now’s not the time to switch to networked programming from another city. Keep a presenter and journalist local to regularly insert information. Your listeners will thank you for it.

Book hotel

If transport is going to be a problem – such with flooding – someone should be booking hotel rooms for key staff. That’s usually the breakfast presenters, producers and newsreaders.

Use your resources

Small news teams, and hubbed news teams, covering a big, unprecedented event, is a stretch. It’s tempting to send reporters out into the patch, but be sensible. You need more people at base, making phone calls, check information and getting interviews to air quickly. While it’s important to get quality and colour audio on air, this really only massages ego in the battle with the competition. Bring in any local work experience people-now could be their time to shine.

Remember safety

If you’re out in a difficult situation remember your safety. Apparently the BBC advises reporters to keep away from flood water. Don’t cross police lines unless you have permission.

Get names and numbers

Anyone you interview while you’re out – get their name, get their phone number. You’ll want to go back to them in a week, a month, a year to follow their story.

Think big

Although resources are stretched and you’re all under pressure, now’s the time to think big. I’m talking two-ways, extended bulletins, ambitious packages, music montages – anything to show you’re listener this is a unique event and you’re pulling out all the stops. In the 2007 floods, Touch Radio ran extended programmes at 1 and 6. With just an hours notice I was asked to record a 2-way and cut a package from the waters edge. It was a race, but it sounded great.

Work as a team

Share information with presenters and visa versa. You’re all in it together.

Give 110%

In March 2008, an unexploded WW2 bomb was found right in the centre of Coventry. It was very close to our studios, which was initially great- I was the first radio reporter on the scene. But within minutes, police had set up a corden, and when it widened, our studios were closed.

The station – 96.2 Touch Radio – was put to network and special programming came from our sister station in Stratford. However it closed the region’s newshub – and news bulletins for all 6 stations in the group had to go on hold.

It left 4 journalists with not much to do. We could have all gone home; but we stayed, conducted interviews, filed live phone reports to the network. Late in the evening it appeared the cordon would remain overnight, and could even mean we wouldn’t be allowed back into the building in time to produce breakfast news bulletins.

We crashed at the closest home to the city centre, finally getting to sleep at about 1am. At 4am we got up and checked with the police – the cordon was finally being lifted. 2 of us headed back and joined 2 breakfast readers who’d just gotten in.  And somehow, with just 90 minutes and no preparation, we produced news bulletins for 6 radio stations, including a special report for the Coventry station.

For 3 of us, it worked out as a 30 hour day. There’s no room for slackers on days like these.

Have I missed anything? Covered a story like this yourself? The comments box is right down here…

Radio news – in rap

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 13, 2009

Clearly a quiet morning for the staff at IRN, ITN‘s soon-to-close local radio news service.

Well, quiet enough to write a piece of copy about Notorious B.I.G.  – in the style of a rap

The story of one of the world’s greatest rappers is in cinemas today.

Fans thought the Notorious B.I.G. would never go away.

But in 1997 he was shot in the head.

His legacy lives on, even though he’s dead.

The film was co-produced by his mother.

Voletta Wallace says even though he did some bad things – there could be no other.

[CLIP OF VOLETTA WALLACE]

Hat tip to my colleague Laurence Budd at Radio Aire for spotting it.

And to the journo who wrote it – well done!

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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 apology

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

After getting some extra views for directing people to the now world famous Christian Bale tape, it’s only fair to highlight his apology.

Apparently he called LA based station KROQ-FM today, after hearing on air skits about his behaviour.

He then gives a pretty coherent apology.

Click here to go to KROQ’s website and listen.

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When t’wireless met Twitter

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

It seems there’s no abating it’s popularity at the moment. Twitter is having it’s ‘moment’ in the UK, forcing its way into the public consciousness.

Here in Britain each week has at least one ‘twitter-gate’ incident, from Stephen Fry’s Liftgate to Phillip Schofield’s Thats-my-hedge!-gate.

This week we’ve become more aware of radio realising the potential of the micro-blogging service. In the last 2 weeks there’ve we’ve seen stations and presenters dip their toes into the Twitter-pool:

So what potential does Twitter hold for radio in the UK? Well, I think programmers have two choices. Do they have a ‘station’ twitter which updates listeners on station news, competitions and is used by everyone from presenters to journalists?

Or should each presenter create their own twitter profile and develop their own community around themselves?

Either way, Twitter offers some awesome opportunities to connect with listeners, and crucially interact with them. Presenters can reveal a little of their personality off-air (but they must be sure to respond to as many messages as possible), to build up the relationship.

During weather-events, as they like to be called, they offer a quicker way to update listeners on school closures than the website. They could even be used for traffic and travel updates and news headlines.

Unsurprisingly commercial radio is a step behind it’s BBC rivals, who seem to have realised the potential a little quicker. But the twitt-ability of the audience shouldn’t be underestimated.

The argument’s already been made “but how many of our listeners use twitter?” Well maybe not many right now. But the numbers are growing.

And you never lose points for getting in ahead of the curve.

Journalists: make the most of your network

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2009

Just wanted to share a cool story treatment we tried out at Viking FM last week – which shows the power of using your wider network.

Viking is part of the UK wide ‘Big City Network‘  with stations from Manchester to Liverpool to Sheffield. It gives us a formidable pool of excellent content when big stories break.

Last week it was our turn to share, as a small walkout in North-East Lincolnshire (in the southern half of our patch) became a national workers’ strike. I spent Thursday morning at the picket line between the police and the protesters.

I’ve covered many protests, but this one had a real anger to it. It was like something out of the “Winter of Discontent”.

The next day, as the strikes turned national, we were able to call on sister stations in Teeside and Edinburgh where construction workers were walking out.

The result was this ‘tour of the UK’ style package at 1 o’clock which took our listeners to different picket lines in just over a minute.

Click here to have a listen.

It was sent and broadcast to other stations across the UK too, and really shows the importance of a well used network.

Of course the internet these days provides journalists with an almost unlimited network of people to link up with.

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