Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Journalism =

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 4, 2010

Journalism = ?

We’re at a stage where we’re fortunate enough to be able redefine what journalism is. Earlier this year I interviewed an entrepreneur and coach Nick Williams (who has absolutely nothing to do with journalism) for my new e-book (details here).

He suggested journalists need to redefine what they do and be prepared to be flexible with how we define the trade; he makes his living selling information & inspiration…why can’t journalists do the same?

Journalism = access

Last week I had the pleasure of spending the day mentoring MA journalism students at Birmingham City University on Video & Photo Journalism. We talked about visual storytelling, developing a narrative arc, and the potential of video and audio slideshows as tools for journalism.

One of the things we watched was a film, first posted by Cliff Etzel, called Last Minutes with Oden. (Warning: distressing scenes if you don’t like animals being upset, or, err, dead.)

If we choose we can marvel at the technical elements, the beautiful shots taken on a Canon 7D; but more importantly we can dig into what is a fantastically well told story. The narrative arc here is spellbinding, and masterfully handled.

But most of all this is about the access.

This is a personal, intimate story – one man in grief, and he has agreed to let the film makers join him and share it with the rest of us. That is what journalism–no matter what platform–is: we as journalists must have access to something the rest of the world does not have access too, whether that’s a person, facts or media; and we must have the storytelling nouse not to blow that access on a crap narrative.

  • Business journalism is in profit because journalists have access to financial/market data the rest of us can’t get.
  • Sport journalism will always be strong because journalists can speak to Alex Ferguson every week, when the rest of us can’t.
  • Celebrity news will always have value because the journalists have access to the premieres, press pools and parties the rest of us don’t get to go to.
  • Breaking news is value-less because once something goes online we can all share it.

What do you have access too?

7 Responses

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  1. Mary Hamilton said, on May 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I’m surprised by how much I disagree with this post. Access is privilege, it’s not journalism. Journalists are the representatives of the public – their eyes and ears, to borrow a judicial quote – not a de facto privileged class. And having access to the inner workings of the Tory party, for instance, doesn’t transform a spin doctor into a journalist any more than not having access transforms a political analytical journalist into anything else. If a man is telling his story, it’s not the access that transforms that act into journalism – it’s tech, audience/user base, broadcast capability, storytelling capacity and so on. Access is a component of variable value, not the whole story.

    Arguing that journalism = access seems to me to put membership of an established journalistic organisation ahead of journalistic practice itself. It seems dangerously close to saying that without the clout (contacts, cash, audience, credentials, power) necessary to speak to Alex Ferguson you can’t be a “real” sports journalist. Sure, access is important and useful and sometimes vital, but it doesn’t lead to journalism by way of a neat equals sign. Is there a nuance here I’m missing?

  2. chrisg said, on May 5, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Yes, but the reason why journalists are not making much profit is simple. They need to sell products and services via building an email list. It’s simple, all you need is to offer info that’s FREE, then get them to sign up to a list. Why can’t this model work for journalism?

    I’ve written it on my blog many a time….

    here’s what I’m talking about….http://www.chris-gaynor.com

  3. adamwestbrook said, on May 5, 2010 at 7:23 am

    @Mary I’m not saying journalism is for an elite privileged class in any way. Last Minutes With Oden did not require exclusive access to a club or party or event, just a guy willing to share intimate moments with a film crew. Anyone could get that access, citizen or professional; indeed that’s what’s made new media so interesting, seeing smaller/solo/citizen-Js usurp the mainstream by getting access to something in unique way.

    As I say in the post it’s only one element: from there it’s about telling the story properly, which is the hard part.

    @chrisg I hear you on that one Chris; the concept of mailing list businesses, used by a lot of professional bloggers is still quite a new concept outside of internet entrepreneurship. But having said that, that is separate to the journalism.

  4. Stijn Debrouwere said, on May 5, 2010 at 11:11 am

    @Mary: “Arguing that journalism = access seems to me to put membership of an established journalistic organisation ahead of journalistic practice itself.” — I interpreted things the other way around: the fact that so many people have access to so many things that only they have access to (unique knowledge, unique experience, unique contacts, as Adam says) changes how we should think of journalism. It means everybody not just could, but should try to add to the news ecosystem, instead of leaving everything to journalists.

    Interesting stuff, Adam, got me thinking.

  5. […] 3 – Is journalism about access?  In some ways it seems that the only journalism making any money these days (business, sports, entertainment) is about access.  Adam Westbrook takes this debate up with a piece on his blog. […]

  6. […] …and why I think it’s also about access (to the story) […]

  7. […] producers Phos Pictures. They’re the people behind Last Minutes With Oden which we raved about earlier this […]


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