Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Some awesome photographic panoramas

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 6, 2009

Here’s a couple of innovative photographic panoramas which have caught my eye over the weekend.

Nairobi by Steve Bloom

The first, which has been tweeted healthily, is a huge panorama of a Nairobi street. It’s author, Steve Bloom, thinks it may be the longest photographic panorama in the world; sure enough it takes more than six minutes to explore it all in video form:

Kroo Bay by Anna Kari & Guilhem Alandry (for Save The Children)

Thanks to Tewfic El-Sawy over at The Travel Photographer for highlighting this multimedia beauty. Using video and audio slideshows to tell the stories of the people living in this Sierra Leone slum isn’t particularly new of course; but each story is presented within quite remarkable interactive 360 degree panoramas.

Kroo Bay for Save the children

The images are of exceptional quality and I was taken aback by how effectively it brought me into their world. The use of natural sound in the background (such a powerful tool, please use it lots!) sucks you straight in. I could almost smell the sewers again.

In particular check out Scene 3, a colourful portrait of Kroo Bay’s most popular musicians. Not every slum story has to be about diarrhoea, malaria and poverty. You can donate to Save The Children clicking here.

What makes these two work? Exceptional photographs, great use of sound, and the authors do not intrude in the storytelling. More please!

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Journalism & the environment

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on October 15, 2009

On the weekend dozens of climate change protesters climbed onto the roof of parliament in the latest stunt to get public attention for the cause. They used ropes and ladders to scale perimeter fencing before climbing up onto the roof of Westminster Hall.

The purpose: to ask MPs to sign a climate manifesto on Monday morning.

I write about journalism and multimedia for most of the time, but because it’s Blog Action Day today, I’ve been thinking about where the two meet. And the answer, it seems, is not in many places.

Let’s think about how the mainstream media cover the issue of climate change. It is of course well documented in broadcast news, with reports every few weeks (for example, from the BBC’s David Shukman). Big newspapers like the Guardian and Times have their own ‘environment’ sections online, featuring the calls of action of Bibi Van Der Zee among others.

And of course there have been landmark cinema releases including Al Gore’s glorified powerpoint presentation, Inconvenient Truth and Franny Armstrong’s Age of Stupid.

As for new media, when I checked 63,000 climate change related websites had been bookmarked by delicious. 69,000 videos are on Youtube with the similar tags.

Are we more informed as a result?

It’s an important question because there is little argument climate change is the most significant and global threat facing us today, and tomorrow. And for the next century.

It deserves more than 90 seconds in the 6 o’clock news every few weeks, and a feature in the G2.

The mainstream media, I think, have missed a massive opportunity to really inform the public on a regular basis. It affects us all, there is an appetite for news, analysis, advice on climate change. Yet it has no regular and protected space on our TV screens, supplements or radios (with the exception of One Planet on the BBC World Service).

PlanetDoes it not deserve a regular, accessible, digestible and regular form of coverage?

I would love to see a weekly magazine show, dedicated entirely to the environment. It would have the usual magazine-format mix of the latest news, interviews with important people in the fight against global warming, reviews of the latest green cars or gadgets, and practical advice on cutting your own carbon emissions.

The closest we ever came to that last item in the UK was Newsnight’s failed Green Man experiment.

Importantly this new video-magazine would not be preachy, it would accept the realities and practicalities of modern living, but show us solutions to those problems.

Perhaps we could all become united around this weekly offering, which shows us how to work together and take small steps as individuals to limit the effects of climate change, and make those dramatic Westminster protests unnecessary.

Just a thought. I suspect though it will be for new & social media to fill the gap.

“At the edge of the world 150 million people live at the mercy of nature”

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 1, 2009

We are just weeks away from one of the most important meetings – arguably – in the history of man kind.

The COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December is, if you believe the people who made the excellent Age of Stupid, our last chance to get a universal deal to cut carbon emissions.

Or we’re stuffed.

And it seems multimedia reporting is going to play an important part in showing us how our lifestyles affect those around us, and the politicians why half measures and compromises are not enough. Video & Photo Journalists have already proved adept at getting into difficult places and shedding light on climate change catastrophy not deemed catastrophic enough to warrant 2 minutes on the evening news.

Just think of China’s Growing Sands, Powering a Nation, and Waterlife for examples.

Expect some important reporting before and after Copenhagen. British multimedia producers David White and Ben Chesterton at Duckrabbit have just returned from a month trip to Bangladesh. And today the Bombay Flying Club have unveiled a trailer for a web documentary to be released in November. It too tells the story of Bangladesh, a place “at the edge of the world where 150 million people live at the mercy of nature.

The trailer is stylish and emotive as you’d expect from the BFC, but perhaps a little slow paced. But I’ll be back to watch it.

Good storytelling is now becoming as important as it’s ever been. Apart from anything else, the mass migration of  150 million people is not something I want to be around to see.

G20: multimedia experiments

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on April 1, 2009

Protests are always a magnet for the media. Scuffles make great pictures for TV, chants make great sound for radio; the mass of people suggesting some great social movement.

Why should multimedia be any different?

It was no surprise all the big news organisations were employing blogs, twitter, online audio and video for today’s G20 protests. They’ve used them on news stories several times over the past few months.

What I think makes today different is this is the first time newsrooms have had significant warning of a news event, to flex their multimedia muscle and see what it’s capable of.

They had time to think ideas, get creative and explore. So, how’d they do? Here are some UK media examples:

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News : Interactive map

Immediately popular was BBC News’ interactive map which appeared mid morning.

The movable image covered central London, and as reports from the ground were filed, they appeared on the map.

The stories were multimedia; everything from text, audio, video and images.

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: Audioboo uploads

The Guardian were out in force at the protests, with journalists employing all sorts of technology to help them in their quest.

One of the favourites was the new audio sharing site Audioboo, unique from places like  Soundcloud and Mixcloud in that it only really works if you have an iPhone.

So excited were Guardian journalists by this new technology it seemed they were happy to upload all and every interview they conducted, including the one pictured, with Rory O’Driscoll.

“Sorry, were you expecting some a little more, err, involved?” he told the reporter, clearly not at all bothered about what was going on.

Guardian: twitter reporters

Guardian: twitter reporters

The Guardian’s Twitter army

Someone (on Twitter in fact) commented, on seeing this image, that there must have been more journalists on the streets than protestors.

What these provide though, were unfiltered, immediate dispatches from the scene.

Stuck in an office, those of us in Web 1.0 world were forced to watch Dermot Murgnahan and the rest of the Sky News reporters stumble their way through the protest.

“Oh look, a policeman’s fallen over” was just one remark, along with a car-crash interview with Russell Brand, the comedian who’d clearly taken the wrong turning on his way out to get some milk.

These Guardian dispatches though – raw, mispelt, abbreviated into 140 characters, gave you the very latest – and of course they’ve not been through an editor.

Who said any story couldn’t be told in 140 characters or less?

BBC News: live updates

The BBC had a similar live update system with similar benefits.

This one though included chosen comments from viewers/listeners as well as BBC correspondents (and in some cases media students) on the ground. It looked good, and continued until 2100…but I’d wager cost a lot more than any other news organisation would manage.

BBC News: live updates

So lots going on, and it felt – for once – there was more to be seen online than on TV. Has this set a precedent? I hope so. Throughout today, no-one was tweeting/blogging about the G20 coverage they heard on the radio or seen on TV. They were sharing links to sites like the above ones.

The key benefits: immediacy, raw information, and interactivity.

But for that, do I feel the coverage of the protests was any better than the old media? Hmmm, that’s not so clear cut.

My TV manifesto

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2008

I’ve been working in broadcast news for two years now, and I’ve been following it, I guess for five. And well, I think I’m just a bit tired with it all. With the formats, with the delivery, with the writing, with the style, with the editorial choices.

Surely there must be something different?

Here’s thing: I don’t think there is. We all know radio is in a state, and as for TV? Well I could write a long diatribe, but it’s been done already, far more succintly and wittily, and then put on television by Charlie Brooker:

Watch part one here:

Then part two here

And part three here:

Whether you like it or not, or whether you think it’s the way it’s always going to be or not, I am convinced there is room for something different.

Something aimed at a younger audience; with a journalistic transparency, a complete fluid harmony with digital and web technology, delivered differently, cheaply, eco-friendily, telling different stories, off the agenda, breaking the rules, offering something new.

To avoid sounding like the Alistair Darling when he gave his speech about how to fix the economy the other week (and didn’t actually announce anything), here is – for what its worth – my own TV news manifesto. Just some ideas; debate them, slate them!

a new news manifesto

This is my own idea for an online based alternative news platform. At its heart is a daily studio news programme, uploaded to the website and to Youtube. It is of no fixed length – only dictated by the content.

Content

Ignore the stories of the mainstream media. That means crime stories are out. Court stories with no lasting impact are out. Surveys, unless by major bodies are out, so is the sort of PR pollster rubbish that fills the airwaves. If people want that they have no end of sources. This will be different.

Solution journalism?

Rather than just reporting on a problem and ending with the cliche “whether this problem will be solved is yet to be seen” there’s a good argument for solution journalism. Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick suggest it as part of their own ideas on Peace Journalism (could it be adapted to non-conflict reporting?)  Reports which examine how a problem might be solved rather than just reminding us there’s a problem.

A younger audience; a digital existence

A programme for the ‘web 2.0 generation’. That’s the people who blog, use facebook and myspace and exist in a digital online world. It’ll be up front and direct, but not patronising like Newsbeat‘s “something bad has happened in a place called abroad” style. VJ pieces will be created for web use not to mimic TV styles.

Video Journalism

At its heart will be the ethos of video journalism. David Dunkley-Gyimah laid out his own manifesto on this here. As well as staffing young creative VJs for firefighting stories and assignments, this brand would tap from a huge source of international freelance sources as well as other existing solutions like Demotix and Vimeo. Stylistically it would take its cues from already successful projects like Current TV. Packages are edited fast and with attitude -they know the rules of conventional film, but aren’t afraid to break them.

Focus

It would have an international focus, remembering the unreported stories. It believes the phrase “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. It would focus on unreported issues and people with the story tellers getting right into the story. Creativity is the norm, and the packages do not try to emulate TV news in content or form.

But what about the main agenda?

This wouldn’t be ignored – but would be wrapped in each show in a “newsbelt” form – “the stories the other shows are talking about” It would need to feel connected to the national agenda but not neccessarily following it.

Transparent

A key element to this type of journalism would be transparency in reporting and editing. Packages would be VJ produced – from the root to the fruit – and VJ led. In other words the viewer follows the VJ as they investigate and tell the story. If it’s from a press release the audience deserves to know that. There would also be an openness in editing with misleading cutaways, noddies and GVs removed, and edits to interviews clearly signposted (for example through a flash wipe). Agency footage labelled as such so viewers know it’s not inhouse. Images of reporters can appear on screen as they cover the story.

Delivery

The platform is digital – through an accessible, well designed fluid website. Viewers can watch whole shows or individual reports. Each show would have no time requirements as broadcasters do. It would need to host an online community of viewers who watch, comment, submit and review. They are reflected in the content. The people at 4iP lay it out quite nicely right here.

Attitude

The journalism would have attitude, and would be not afraid to take risks. At its heart is good story telling and brilliant writing. Creative treatments would set the standard mainstream broadcasters will adopt months later.

Cheap and green

The video journalism model is cheap and green. One man bands on assignment, sourcing, shooting and cutting themselves. No need for live satellite link ups or expensive foreign trips housing 5 people in big hotels (what’s wrong with a hostel?) The central programme itself would be studio based but avoiding the “absurdist cathedrals of light” preferred by the mainstream. Solar powered lighting? Light cameras on light peds?

Presentation

The central programme is relaxed, young and doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. The team have the mind set of the Daily Buzz and create great moments even when they’re not trying too. Stylistically the presentation takes its cues from a more fluid version of C4 News in the UK, with almost constant (but not distracting) camera movements.

This news platform doesn’t need to report the mainstream stores – because there is a plethora of media to do that already. It avoids the distorting pressures of the other networks, like the need for live pictures from the scene, uninformed 2-ways and time pressures. It focusses on bringing something new, but allowing analysis too. It’s VJ packages are well produced – but do not try to emulate the style of TV news.

That’s pretty much all I got. As i mentioned I strongly feel there is a demand for a new way of doing things-we just don’t know what that is yet.

And just a quick disclaimer: I’m just a young broadcast journalist with only 2 years under my belt. I certainly don’t suggest this any good a solution, or that I should have anything to do with it. But for what it’s worth I thought it was worth jotting down.

You might agree, or you might disagree…stick your thoughts in the comments box!

The (other) big election

Posted in International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 28, 2008

Thanks to E.K. Bensah for reminding me of another big vote taking place before Christmas.

Yes, with seven days to go all eyes are on the upcoming US elections. But I’ll also be following Ghana’s vote in December.

Unlike the yanks, Ghana has no less than 8 candidates for president ranging from Prof. John Atta Mills to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

And whatever you might think of elections on the African continent, the website of Ghana’s electoral commission suggests this is a poll sat firmly in the 21st century.

From my own experience covering a tiny by-election there way back in 2003, people take politics really seriously!

Still it’ll be sad to see the back of John Kufour, possibly the world leader with the deepest voice!

A fresh lick of paint…

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 6, 2008
A fresh lick of paint

A fresh lick of paint

So this blog has been running now for just over two years in its current form and I decided it’s high time for a redesign.

I’ve chosen a new look (aptly named The Journalist) although I’m not entirely sure of it yet. I’ve also reorganised my articles, the older ones of which were first written before tagging. I’ve deleted all the categories which had run into the hundreds, and replaced them with four simple ones for easy searching:

Adam: for any posts about me (thankfully few and far between)

Broadcasting and Media: for any news/comment about the broadcasting and news industry

International Development: for anything on Africa, foreign affairs, human rights and poverty

News and that: for those spur of the moment posts which happen when I find a funny video on Youtube.

So, two years and this site has been looked at just over 28,000 times which is nice.  The most popular article is still one of the earliest, a random comment on Ghana’s homosexuality laws which clearly shows up on google searches for dating sites! Also inexplicably, a post about coverage of the French general election in 2007 is the second most popular.

And in terms of what I’m churning out, “Broadcast Journalism”, “Journalism” and “The World” are the biggest tags (see right over here –>)

My student blog Adam Meets World still exists (thanks to Warwick Uni for keeping it up)-that dates back to 2004. I’ve also started a new blog to track my attempts to go green – it’s called One Man’s Battle With His Own Apathy.

Is anyone reading it? Who cares, I like writing it.

Human Rights: 60 years on

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 21, 2008

This year marks 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was first penned.

The Observer’s Review supplement’s put together an excellent special today on how the rights have ultimately been ignored over the last six decades.

What’s struck me recently is how little any of us know about our human rights. I’m an educated sort of bloke, good upbringing an all that. But ask me any details on what are the fundamental protectors of my free existence, and I can’t answer much.

I know there’s something about freedom of religion, and freedom of expression and freedom from torture. And that Eleanor Roosevelt and World War Two had something to do with it.

But scarily, that’s it.

How, I wonder, are we all supposed to ensure our Human Rights are protected, when we don’t even know what they are?

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The people who refuse to get screwed by the system

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 14, 2008

For anyone who doesn’t know I recently moved ‘up north’ to start a new job, working in Hull. So far, so good, and already it’s proving eventful and interesting. Two experiences in the last week have got me thinking about the state of modern Britain, and what appears to be our rapidly deminishing rights and freedoms.

In the dog house

On Monday, I was sent a report from a freelance court reporter in Hull about a case which had just been thrown out of the courts. 57 year old John Hirst, from Hull, an ex-prisoner,  prison reform lawyer – and well known blogger – had been hauled before the judges after his dog was accused of biting a park warden.

When John appeared in court, the prosecution were able to offer no evidence and the judge duly threw out the case.

But not before John had been arrested and questioned. And not before it cost the taxpayer a rather large amount of money (John told me he reckons it’s about £20,000).

Speaking to John on the phone he was “livid” about what had happened and how the case had been allowed to have gotten so far. If it had gone as far as a trial, then it would have cost even more. But there are some other things that worry me about the story.

First up is the supposedly heavy handed response from the authorities. John told me six police officers came to his house after the complaint was made, handcuffed him and took him to a police station. His dog, Rocky, was separated from him and kept at the police station. What defence does any citizen have when this kind of thing happens?

Luckily the justice system came through, but there’s another worry too.

John called me again later in the week, concerned there had been no response from the authorities. True, Hull City Council had refused to comment, saying the police led the prosecution. So I want to find out what the police files on this say, but doing a bit of reading up this weekend it’s not looking promising.

Heather Brooke, the well known journalist and freedom of information campaigner, says Britain’s supposedly “open” legal system is the opposite. Trying to get access to what should be public files is near impossible. Still I won’t let that stop me trying. Let’s see if the FOI Act can uncover more…

Your invite’s in the post

Less than 24 hours later I found myself in Hedon, a small village outside Hull. Today though it was hosting some big(ish) political names. Namely the Environment Secretary Hillary Benn, and local MPs Graham Stuart and David Davis.

Mr Benn had been invited up to talk flooding, and specifically why the EA wants to flood acres of farmland instead of paying for flood defences. We, the assembled media, were there too, hoping to get a soundbite off the Minister.

Waiting outside Hedon’s small town hall, I was approached by a man called Simon Taylor. He lives on a small piece of reclaimed land called Sunk Island. He, along with 800 others were probably going to loose their homes to the Humber River within the next 20 years. That almost certainty meant they couldn’t sell their homes, and are going to have to stay to watch it happen.

A charming and polite man, tall with a bristly moustache, Simon was angry because he was standing outside the meeting, and not in it. The hour long coflab, involved the three politicians, local councillors and a select group of farmers. But the ordinary people hadn’t been invited along. “I’m going to lose my home, and I haven’t got a voice,” he told me.

I chatted to Simon and interviewed him about his worries. But later on he did something which few people would bother to do, or be brave enough to do.

Sure enough, Hillary Benn emerged to give a brief statement to the press before speeding off to his next gig. That left Stuart and Davis left to show off about how they’d got a government bigwig to come all the way up to Hull. But their words were interrupted when to my left, a voice raised above theirs and said “excuse me, why wasn’t anyone invited. We’re going to lose our homes – I think we would have liked to have had a word with the minister.” Like the fiercest of political reporters Simon pressed the question and wouldn’t let it go.

Flustered, Graham Stuart admitted it was a problem of space rather than anything else, and promised a public meeting was going to be held next month. But will Hillary Benn be there? Who knows.

But Simon’s stand is important: denied a voice by modern democracy he persisted and fought to get an explanation. Without him there, the politicians and the media would have skimmed over Sunk Island, and the 800 people would certainly have lost their voice.

Two people then, screwed by the system, and who fought it – and arguably won. In the space of two days. In one city. How many more cases like this are there? And how many don’t get heard?

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Accra Aid conference: “priorities need to change”

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 7, 2008
Can we halve poverty by 2015?

Can we halve poverty by 2015?

I haven’t written about development issues for ages – but last week’s Aid Effectiveness conference in Ghana is a good place to wade briefly back in.

Held in Accra, it was designed to find ways of making aid from developed countries have more impact in the countries they’re supposed to be helping.

Three years after the Paris Conference – where 100 countries agreed to do more to sort this out – it is still a huge problem.

Countries like the UK, France, Italy and America all promised to donate more cash – but shamefully they’re not making good on their promises.

“In simple terms” says Professer Jeffrey Sachs in an interview on Hardtalk, “the limiting factor holding back our progress towards the [Millennium Developement] Goals is the richest countries coming up with the money they have promised.

“We live in an age of cynicism and resistance, but we are not asking goverments to do anything they have not already promised. Some countries are delivering on their promises made in  2005 but where are France, Germany and Italy? If these countries are lagging then by far the biggest lagger is the US where we are committing only 0.17% of our income to development assistance.”

There’s only seven years left until we’re supposed to have reaced the Millennium Development Goals. At this rate that won’t happen.

Meanwhile blogger par excellence in Accra EK Benah was at the conference in Accra last week – check out his posts here.

Countdown to Beijing

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on August 5, 2008

So it’s less than three days until the Olympics launch in Beijing.

And with little sports gossip, journalists are asking whether the Chinese government has lived up to its promises on human rights.

And of course the evidence widely suggests they haven’t.

Now if there was any justice in the world, human rights would matter more than money: and the IOC would swiftly pull the plug on the whole games.

What’s more important? Athletics or human rights?

But of course the games will go ahead, protests will be silenced, and the world will again will stand aside in the face of massive injustice.

If you don’t want to watch that happen, I recommend watching something else instead: perhaps this excellent report from Sky News producer Holly Williams and the BBC’s most recent Panorama programme.

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Current TV: Crisis in Kenya

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 17, 2008

Occasionally I get enough time to watch some Current TV.

It’s almost always worthwhile.