Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Four reasons you need to pursue the future of journalism NOW

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on July 21, 2010

If you’re aged between 21 and, say, 40 and you’re in journalism (or want to get into journalism) you need to read this post.

It’s an optimistic one – but it carries a warning…and a call to action.

Yesterday I blogged how Jon Snow and Andrew Marr are excited by the possibilities the internet holds for journalism in the future. So ahead of us that’s two of the most established and traditionalist of British journalists getting excited about what we could all make happen.

Now look behind you

Because here’s the warning. If you’re going to do something about the future of journalism, you haven’t got long.

Right behind us, there’s an army – a whole generation – who already get it and are already better at it than you. Here are four examples.

Jamie Keiles

Jamie Keiles is 18 and a high school senior from Pennsylvania. This year she gave herself a project: to live according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine for a whole month. She collected the experiences together on a blog, and created the Seventeen Magazine Project. Her articles include text and photographs and now she’s wrapping it up with a crowdsourcing project called ‘Dear Mainstream Media’ which has had scores of entries.

Yes, an 18 year old who’s already created her own (albeit temporary) magazine, and built an impressive following. It caught the eye of Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog this month too.

Oh, and she has her own website, facebook and twitter profile too. How’s yours coming along?

Rebecca Younge

Rebecca Younge is 14 and from Ealing in West London. As part of a school science project she made a three-minute film about pollution and recycling, which she shot on a FlipCam and edited on iMovie on her dad’s laptop. She put it on Youtube and it caught the eye of Video Journalism pioneer Michael Rosenblum, who admits it’s raggedy, but says

She’s never had a day of formal filming or editing tuition, she just worked it out for herself….There is a whole generation coming up who have no fear of video. In fact, they think of it as second nature.

You might think you’re going to do multimedia one day. You might get that it’s the future. But have you picked up your camera and filmed much yet? Is it as second nature to you as it is to Rebecca?


Rahayu is (I think) 20, and from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I’m not sure who she is, or what she does, because she doesn’t write much about herself. But what she does do is run a Tumblr Blog called On a High Note. Now, this is nothing to do with journalism, I’m going to be honest with you. In fact, it’s just a collection of quirky photographs, retro truisms and quotes which she collects and shares. But: she’s built up a community of nearly 90,000 followers all addicted to her way of seeing the world. 20,000 of them are in the US alone. Each photo she posts gets retweeted and reblogged more than 500 times.

And I won’t lie to you – it’s one of my own favourite things in my Google Reader every day. A perfect, inspirational break from the usual stuff.

Image: Wikipedia

Alex Day

Alex Day is 21 and from Essex in the UK. As a teenager in 2006 he started video blogging on Youtube. He used the internet to launch several bands and has just started fronting a major Channel 4 campaign called Battlefront about young people changing the world.  His youtube channel Nerimon has got 202,000 subscribers and has had more than 3,000,000 views.

So, we have two people who are shooting and editing video on their own without batting an eyelid, one person who has run their own online magazine, and one who has created a community of nearly 100,ooo people from all over the world.

None of them are over 21. But they’re already digital natives. This is all second nature to them. As soon as they hit the big wide world they’re going to take this and make some serious money out of it. And if we’re not careful, they’ll leave the rest of us chewing their dust.

So here’s the rub

The future of journalism is amazing, exciting and out there to be had right now. But you’ve got to go out there and get it yourself. There’s no guidebook on how to do this, there is no step-by-step guide. There’s no-one to take you by the hand and guarantee your idea will make money one day.

Thing is, there are plenty of people out there willing to sit back and be consumers in this world, instead of creators. There’s no shortage of people like that. And so there’s no value in them.

People who are willing to take the lead, to beat a path for others to follow, to make mistakes…now they’re scarce. And as we all know, where there’s scarcity, there’s value.


15 Responses

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  1. freshconveniencemagazine said, on July 21, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Great post.

    You’ve highlighted projects and people that I would otherwise never have heard of.

    It’s scary how adept they are already in the use of new technology to tell their stories.

  2. ChrisG said, on July 21, 2010 at 8:53 am

    As John Prescott would say: “Stop complaining, and start campaigning….” That applies to those old school hacks who just dont want to change, or are too scared to embrace new technology…

  3. Jailhouselawyer said, on July 21, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Ageism! “21 and, say, 40” Snow and Marr are older and so am I…

  4. Anatoliy - make money easy said, on July 21, 2010 at 3:08 pm

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  5. Jason said, on July 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Well, duh.

    That’s all I could think about when reading this. Maybe it’s because I’m 26 but for anyone under 30, no one of this should be shocking, especially if you’re a journalist. Facebook has been around for at least five years, so has YouTube. If you aren’t going to adopt these technologies, please leave the industry so the rest of us, who took the time to adapt, can get a job.

  6. Sharon said, on July 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Ah, another missive based on the premise that young people all get it and the old folks better get with the program.

    For the record, Tim Berners-Lee — you know, the guy who invented the World Wide Web — is 55. Does he not get it as well as the entire under-21 crowd? Or is he an exception? How about Jay Rosen, one of the more influential journalists on Twitter? He, too, is over 50.

    Yes, one of the best video guys at my company is just a couple of years out of college, but several others have decades of experience.

    Question: How many exceptions would you need before considering the idea that assuming older people are by definition inferior in new-media skills to the younger generation en masse is an insulting stereotype?

    Thirty years ago, it was “girls can’t do math.” Now it’s “old people just don’t get new media.” You’ll have to excuse me if I like to think I’m not a freak of nature because I’m a woman over 40 who believes I can do both.

    Yes, I’m over 40. I shoot, edit and post video, both for work and for fun. I’ve been editing and posting photos on the Web for more than a decade (I got my first digital camera in the late ’90s).

    Oh, I created my first Web site in 1996; I’ve had a non-work-related blog since 2004.

    I created one of the first online services for a newspaper where readers could leave electronic feedback back in the ’80s. Nope, there wasn’t a manual. I got myself a computer, a modem and some software, spent a few days in a dark, windowless room and emerged with a computer bulletin board. At home, I ran my own electronic bulletin board system over ham radio waves, not wired Internet (TCP/IP over amateur radio) for awhile in the ’90s.

    And now, yes, I use Facebook. I use Twitter. And Delicious. And StumbleUpon.

    I also code — most recently in Ruby on Rails (a community calendar project I coded as a learning exercise is still being used in my town), PHP, Perl and AppleScript.

    You don’t need to be a digital native in order to flourish in a digital world, any more than you need to be a native English speaker in order to be able to write well in English.

    I will agree that there are *some* older journalists who don’t get new media. I absolutely agree that I can learn from younger people (and I do).

    In return, would you agree that your assumption that *all* older journalists need to be warned about the need for new media skills because we’re all inferior to an entire generation could have been rephrased?

  7. Adam Westbrook said, on July 22, 2010 at 8:34 am

    @sharon I think you’ve missed the point of this post. It isn’t addressed to ‘older’ journalists, and it certainly isn’t dismissing their experience; it’s addressed to the younger ones (see the first line) – the ones who ought to be making this work but aren’t yet.

    In this post from earlier this week I pointed out that actually some of our most experienced journalists including Andrew Marr and Jon Snow *do* get it.

  8. Paul said, on July 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    …just wondering which one of these projects is earning the author enough to feed a family and pay off a mortgage. Because if it’s not, then it’s not professional journalism, it’s just a hobby. (which may well be the real future of journalism…)

  9. ahmad said, on August 1, 2010 at 11:10 am

    …just wondering which one of these projects is earning the author enough to feed a family and pay off a mortgage. Because if it’s not, then it’s not professional journalism, it’s just a hobby. i agree with that…. nice………

  10. Interload said, on August 10, 2010 at 11:14 am

    hallo my friend’s.. you have a nice post..
    let’s take some ideas about indonesian
    news on my web.. have a nice day..!!! 11:14

  11. inisip said, on August 12, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Nice info, thank’s for share

  12. David Dix said, on August 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I get it. It’s called dumbing down.
    Marr and Snow are just pretending to.. ahem.. ‘get it’. They’re like the trendy vicar at the youth club ingratiating himself with the young people by playing Beatles records and snapping his fingers on the ‘on’ beat, like a typical ungroovy white person.
    bah humbug. bring back bakelite and valves say I.

    Sent from my cat’s whisker crystal set

  13. Cal said, on August 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Great short on a view of things to come which I have myself seen but felt quite the consumer about, the young may be unable to work in a conventional proffessional sense but this is their forte

  14. […] There are kids coming up behind you who get millions of views on Youtube without breaking a sweat (see this article for examples) – hell, there are probably a few in your classroom right […]

  15. trrho1974 said, on December 9, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Call them RIGHT NOW and tell them, about
    the incoming deposit in about 3 days from now:


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