Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

On revolution.

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2011

Image Credit: monasosh on Flickr; taken Jan 29th, Egypt

Tonight, Egypt’s 30-year-old regime fell.

The hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square showed the rest of the world what persistent, peaceful protest can really achieve – in a short space of time. If I were a despot in another part of the world, I’d be nervous, to say the least.

The revolution in Egypt follows (but is not necessarily connected to) a series of major revolutions affecting the world this century. Most immediately the similar political ones in Tunisia and Yemen; but more importantly the revolutions in society, careers, technology – and yes, journalism, which are reforging the way the world works.

The fact is unavoidable: we live in revolutionary times.

These aren’t the thoughts of a lone conspiracy theorist crackpot. I’m not the only, and certainly not the first person to write this. In fact, one of the smartest people on the planet – Sir Ken Robinson – has been saying it for ages. In this speech at the Aspen Institute he defines what revolution really is:

…we are living in times of revolution. And I believe this is literally true; I don’t mean it figuratively, like ‘it’s a bit like a revolution’, or what we think of as a revolution, or what we’ve come to call a revolution. It is a revolution.

A revolution is a time when things you think are obvious turn out not to be. Things you take for granted turn out to be untrue. Things you do habitually turn out to be ineffective. And I believe that’s where we are now, and the pace of this is picking up.

If you work in journalism, hopefully that last paragraph rings true.

If you’re under 30, I think revolution will be the gift, and perhaps also the burden, of your generation. It certainly sets us apart from the baby-boomer generation before us. It is not for us to choose this burden, but it is in our power – and our responsibility – to live up to it.

Before you close this tab and dismiss me as an anarchist, I am not calling for the masses to take up arms and head to the streets. Revolution is rarely about violence (the social-media revolution is the opposite of violence, right?) In fact, all you have to do this: accept it; relish it; embrace it. Revolution is messy, so be prepared to get your hands dirty and your feet wet. You’ll have to accept the conventional wisdom is wrong, and the things you might have taken for granted are untrue.

But whatever you do, don’t resist it. Don’t linger in the past, don’t yearn for things to be the way they were. In a revolution, the Mubaraks always lose. And the only person who suffers when you do that is you.

For the last seven years, this blog has been about a very specific revolution: the revolution in journalism; and about a very specific way of dealing with it: seeing opportunities where other people see threats; being entrepreneurial and creating your own luck…in other words embracing it. The revolution is why I quit my conventional job 18 months ago – and it’s been a wild ride since.

I genuinely think there are unique and extraordinary opportunities to reshape our craft (for the better) that our predecessors never had, if only we go for them. Imagine living in The Matrix – but only temporarily. For as long as the revolution lasts, it is possible to bend spoons if you believe it can be done. But to do so you need to take risks, make your ideas happen, create change, lead other people and start movements…but do it now, because it won’t last forever.

So seriously, jump in – the water’s lovely.


12 Responses

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  1. Dean Webb said, on February 11, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    The problem I see with jumping in and embracing revolution is that one never knows which way it will turn – or if it will turn on its own. Danton found out his own creations could be used to destroy him, after all.

    Mubarak’s release of power simply leaves the Egyptian Army to pick up his mess. He found a separate option: when one chooses not to embrace revolution, evade the revolution. He’s lucky that he’ll be able to escape Egypt and won’t go down like Ceausescu.

    As for journalism, I agree. The problem is how much energy that used to be devoted to journalism now goes toward elaborate product-placement ads that pass for the news. Moreover, this revolution has a second edge: the power of free, online media can be used to obfuscate the truth as much as it can uncover it.

  2. M.B. said, on February 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Beautiful post. I agree with you–these are exciting and revolutionary times. Underneath the crust of apathy and distraction against which so many of us are pushing, there’s this great wave of progress pulling us forward. It feels exciting, bewildering, invigorating. And I think you’re right: far from being a “dying” profession, journalism (especially independent and citizen-led) is on the absolute vanguard of this wave.

    It’s not just the under-30’s though–one of the things that needs to fall is the false notion that only young people want change, or should have the freedom to fight for it. All ages have the RESPONSIBILITY to fight for it. To divide those over and under thirty is a false idea of the old media, playing on the echoes of the Baby Boomers in the 60’s. After all, what happened to their movement when they all turned 30 and became “the establishment”? The corollary of the notion that idealism is for the young, is that it must be abandoned at a certain point in one’s life. And that’s how social progress stalls out–when large generations grow up and buy into the belief that now they have to “get serious”. That watershed age should be abandoned.

    Everyone is affected by the wave of change that you speak of. It will fall heavily on younger people; as in my opinion the next few years, the time of their majority, will bring accelerated progress. But it does not belong to young people exclusively. All those older folks who paved the way, and who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, own the movement too. One could even make the argument that to do so for an older person requires even more courage, as they traditionally have more to lose, and are going against social norms for their age group.

    I know it’s a small point, in an otherwise spot-on post. But I think one of the things that hinders human progress is all the artificial divisions created between us. As we can see in every successful revolution, one of the deciding factors is whether people of all ages, occupations, and stations in life can be convinced to take part. Dividing people into groups might make things easier to analyze in hindsight, but it’s the very messiness and inclusive energy of these revolutions that give them their power.

    Thanks for your blog. It’s great, and obviously really makes people think about these issues! 🙂

    • Adam Westbrook said, on February 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

      A very good point M.B.! I can get a bit stuck in the ‘generation argument’ sometimes, but I agree the future is not about young people pushing older generations aside but, as you say, working together. Will Hutton made the point really well in an Observer column 6 months or so ago.

      Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

      • chris peters said, on February 13, 2011 at 10:29 pm

        I thought people under 30 were called “Gen X-ers”? I have also seen the term “entitlement generation” used for people born after 1982, simply because these people were raised at a time of the most wealth ever seen in our countries. I ask this most sincerely because altho I am over 40 and a struggling photojournalist, I have a son who is over 25 who epitomizes this concept, along with many of the under 30 journalists I work with.

        also, have you shared any thoughts about Arianna Huffington being bought by AOL who owns the fastest growing hyper-local news in the US, called Patch? I was so hoping to get your 2 cents on this issue….

  3. Roger Fogg said, on February 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks Adam.

    Somehow along the same line of thought I would like to add something else that may be interesting for those that are making extra efforts to open their eyes for our circumambient reality, both the visible and the invisible.

    Egypt’s “revolution” is merely a modern large-scale event of a permanent consciousness metamorphose that began sometime around 1897. This invisibly operating world-changing impulse is also responsible for all today’s vanishing traditions, like for example arcaic family architecture plans, sex-dogmatisms, and ideologies of any kind, including of course quickly emptying churches everywhere in the world (it is only a matter of time until islamic mosques and any other kind of temple will also be made useless).

    More and more the planet itself is becoming the new “temple” and the much needed soul-feeding “cult” (something that is yet childishly displayed and played in political landscapes or decadent esotherical brotherhoods) now takes place wherever people simply get interested in each other and involved in common humanistic aims.

    The most important thing from this Egyptian happening, and something that will be remembered as a permanently working social reality, will be the intimate destiny liaisons that were created among people and will last forever, inspiring a new way to deal with civilization and with our own self-consciousness, self-development and awareness of the dignity and unique identity of others.

    It is practically a new world-embracing religion (sorry for using this bloody term; forget what our dying brain cells suggest when hearing it) that has no books and no names; it is made alone of increasingly intensified human intercourse.

    Be ready for more earthquaking Egypts in the future, also when they do not appear on the TV or internet.

  4. prime said, on February 14, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Hi Adam:

    I like this: “For the last seven years, this blog has been about a very specific revolution: the revolution in journalism; and about a very specific way of dealing with it: seeing opportunities where other people see threats; being entrepreneurial and creating your own luck…in other words embracing it.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post as usual. I also don’t subscribe to the generationm agreement too. What I find frustrating though is that some colleagues (and this include both the Gen X and Gen Y people) refused to acknowledge this “revolution in journalism”. They cling to old notions that to be a successful journo, you MUST need to be in a traditional media (big newspapers, major network), get a masters in journ, win prestigious awards, get a gig lecturing in the university and just write/produce news. They don’t believe in marketing and entrepreneurship believing it’s only for hacks. And writing blogs may be a lovely way to spend one’s free time but it’s not for those who want to forge a career in serious journalism (or it’s not the way forward for those who want to have a career in journalism, period). This even if times are changing and it’s imperative for journos to be more creative and entrepreneurial.

    But then that’s their loss and my gain as I know how tov work hard and be more entrepreneurial as a journalist

    I may still be holding a conventional journo job at the monent (editor for a newswire). But im gradually preparing for more entrepreneurial, revolutionary stuff.

  5. prime said, on February 14, 2011 at 6:47 am

    @chris peters : hi chris, people in the thirty-to forty something age group (basically those who were born in the ’70s) belong to “generation x.” So you and I are Gen Xers :). Those who were born in the 80s, the 20-something like Adam are often referred as “Gen Y”

    • chris peters said, on February 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      LOL, thanks for the clarification. knowing my son, I still like ‘entitlement generation’ 🙂 (no offense to Adam et al)!

  6. […] This article was originally published on Adam Westbrook’s blog […]

  7. chris peters said, on February 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    also, have you shared any thoughts about Arianna Huffington being bought by AOL who owns the fastest growing hyper-local news in the US, called Patch? I was so hoping to get your 2 cents on this issue….

    ***Adam – any thoughts about Patch?

  8. […] On revolution – This one got picked up by BBC News Online the night Mubarak fell. […]

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