Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How do we shape the future of journalism? Easy!

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 23, 2010

Image: I Can Read

Things are moving forward in journalism. Slowly, but we’re definitely seeing things happen in 2010, which were only words in 2009.

New companies, products, ideas; but there’s still a lot to do.

So it’s the time to ask yourself: do you want to play a part in the future of journalism, or just play the bystander? Do you want to be the one who produces something no-one has conceived before? The one who answers a problem we never thought could be answered?

The challenge is a big one – but  guess what, to shape the future of journalism you only have to do one thing: show up.

Showing up means launching the digital magazine you’ve been daydreaming about for months; it means actually buying the domain name for that new hyperlocal you’ve got your heart set on creating, and then learning how to put the website together; it means deciding you will go to South America and report on that issue you know is going unreported, and setting up a way to crowdsource the cash.

It doesn’t mean endless hours brainstorming, planning, scribbing, daydreaming. It means doing.  

Get excited

Three great articles floated my way this week which really sum up what I’m trying  to say. First video journalist Michael Rosenblum reminds us the innovators of history have rarely been those in the establishment already:

The ‘professional scientists and engineers’ of 18th century Britain did not invent the first steam pumps, the working steam engine or the railway engine.  That was left to the ‘amateurs’, who thankfully, did not need the permission of the ‘professionals’ to get access to the tools of experimentation.

They were drawn to their craft and their avocation, as well as their later vocation, by pure passion and interest. And they delivered a very good product.  A very good product.

In other words, you don’t have to have a BBC email address to play big in journalism. You don’t need the New York Times behind you. You just need passion, interest and a willingness to get your hands dirty.

Show up

Next, Nick Williams of Inspired Entrepreneur points out that what ever you want to get paid to do, the place to start is to show up – even if it means doing it for free at first.

I am a massive advocate of showing up and doing what you love for free to start with. The key is the showing up part – because the money can’t usually follow until you’ve shown up, you can’t get paid in theory for something you haven’t done in practice. I know I would not be where I am today had I not been willing to show up for free at the beginning of my career and at various points since.

In other words, once you start doing something, things start happening for you. You won’t make it as a multimedia journalist sitting on Twitter all day – it’ll only work out when you show up with a camera and the kit and start telling a story.

Let go

Thirdly, Mark McGuiness of Lateral Action has some great advice to make showing up even easier: ‘you can’t plan for magic’:

Plans are good for some things. Buildings. Savings. Exercise. Some bits of some businesses. But they have their limits when it comes to creativity. After all, if you’re only going to execute on a plan, you haven’t really created anything, have you?

Preparation is fine. Research is fine. Practice is fine. Rehearsal is fine. Learning your craft is fine. But there comes a point when it’s time to face the stage, the page, the canvas or the blank screen.

In other words don’t wait for your whole plan to make sense before you start. Does your online magazine need a solid business plan before you write the first page? No! Do you need to have funding guaranteed to make an audio slideshow about a cracking story? Hell no!

You can sit around forever waiting for the business plan to realise or the money to appear, and all the while the future of journalism is moving on without you.

So get excited, show up and let go. And it’s yours.

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. RickWaghorn said, on March 24, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Adam,

    A very good call to arms…

    Time for a little creative destruction, I suspect.

    http://rickwaghorn.co.uk/2009/05/24/at-what-point-in-schumpeter-time-does-newmarks-original-heresy-become-network-orthodoxy-in-the-bureaucrats-boardroom/

    best etc

  2. adamwestbrook said, on March 24, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Here here!

    It think it was Einstein who said “from difficulty comes opportunity”: it’s time to make some of that opportunity happen!

  3. Tari Akpodiete said, on March 29, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    It’s all very nice talking about working for free, but I urge some caution in that area. It’s one thing to want to build your portfolio, but it’s quite another thing to value your work. People can and will take advantage of you. One must be VERY careful about this not getting paid. There are people who will NEVER pay you. I know this from experience. I am quite familiar with one successful magazine publisher who has not paid a single writer in 25 years. Look at all the people over building CNN’s business by uploading video to their iReport site. Sure some of it not so good, but some of it is excellent reporting. All of it uncompensated. Just saying. What grandma told us about someone not buying the cow when they could get the milk for free wasn’t just about sex.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: