Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Who do you think you’re not?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 26, 2010

Image credit: Dano on Flickr

“So, what do you do?”

It’s the question I dread at parties, bars and any social gathering.

“I’m a journalist” I say.

“And who do you write for?” is almost always the first response. The fact that I don’t write for many people (I make films or do training and consulting) plus the fact those I do write for are online publications immediately makes it all too difficult to explain.

“Oh, no-one you’ve heard of” ends up being my stock response, which makes me sound either unsuccessful or like a dick.

My problem is I haven’t really worked out what I do.  My first year in the freelance jungle and I’ve pretty much done everything that’s come my way: speaking, lecturing, films, audio slideshows, articles, copy writing, blog posts, consulting, writing books, photography; it’s difficult to tie that all into one job.

It’s not what you do – it’s what you don’t do.

It’s a similar headache when starting a new enterprise or freelance career. You think of all the things you love doing, and come up with markets to sell your markets or products to. And you end up with a list of several strings to your bow.

It’s hard when trying to establish yourself as a journalist, freelance or otherwise, to really understand what you’re about. That’s bad because it makes it almost impossible to market yourself properly. Take a look at my portfolio website for an example. What the hell am I? A film maker? A multimedia storyteller? An online video consultant?

I’m sure most people who see my site leave dazed and confused.

How to nail down what you do

Here’s a really effective way to hammer down to what you’re about: do the opposite. Write down all the things you don’t do.

You don’t make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That’s a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls.

Quoted in Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (affiliate link)

Instead of thinking of all the people you could work for, identify the people you don’t work for. For example, you might be photojournalist and you want to specialise in doing shoots for high end lifestyle magazines. That means you don’t do shoots for companies, charities or local newspapers. It means you are not a paparazzi or a hard news photographer – so don’t pursue work in these fields.

Having fewer products or offerings means you can specialise in making them great.

If you do audio slideshows, then you don’t do video. Just focus on the slideshows and make them the best slideshows around. Become known for how good your slideshows are, so people identify you and your work with excellence and quality.

Apple know what they do, but they also know what they don’t do: you won’t get customisable, cheap and cheerful computers from them. RyanAir know they don’t do luxury flights, so they don’t even try in that market.

It’s not so black and white of course. If you can do video and you get offered a great commission then don’t stubbornly turn it down. And when you’re young or just starting out, it’s hard to know who you are, let alone who you aren’t. By all means play the field a little bit.

But working out what you don’t do is sometimes the best way to figuring out what you do do.


Multimedia workshops in Siberia

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Next Generation Journalist, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on November 22, 2010

Charles Maynes (US) and Ksenia (Russia) work on audio slideshows

I’ve spent the last week working with young radio & print journalists from all over Russia. We’d all converged in the city of Abakan, which if you check it out on Google Maps sits somewhere in the heart of Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border, in a landscape surrounded by vast mountains and dark icy rivers.

It was part of a festival organised by the Eurasia Foundation, and I’d been invited to speak about Next Generation Journalism, new business models for journalism and help out with a multimedia workshop.

It was great to speak with journalists with different perspectives about the future of news. Although ad revenues are down and the internet is fragmenting audiences, the impression I gathered was that job losses haven’t been as severe as in the UK and the US.

A freelance-free country?

In introducing my book Next Generation Journalist, and the concept of a portfolio career to audiences in Abakan, I got an interesting reaction. It turns out that in Russia, freelancing just isn’t an established way of earning a living.

There are all sorts of valid economical and historical reasons for this but it left many asking me how they’d actually start life as a freelancer. How do you pitch work? Do companies come to you, or the other way around?

What is similar though is the commitment to using multimedia to tell stories online. Home to mail.ru, one of the most valuable companies on the stock exchange right now, Russia is no internet backwater. Journalists there are experimenting with video and audio slideshows and working out how to incorporate it with their more traditional practice.

One group of young radio reporters from the Urals were able to turn around a wonderful slideshow, combining text, audio and music with photography to tell a powerful story about a tram accident. They used free software to make the whole thing work. (Reaper for audio editing – a new one on me; and Windows Movie Maker to assemble the photo sequence.)

But the big question of the week was: how do we juggle all these different mediums and still report accurately what is happening? As I wrote, after my own work in Iraq last year, the answer is ‘with great difficulty…but it gets easier with practice.’

And it sounds like these talented Russian journalists, not always working in the safest or easiest of conditions, are committed to practicing their new skills as much as possible.

Editing with Final Cut Pro and Reaper

Stuck on what to do? Here’s a simple solution

Posted in Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 12, 2010

Image: Matt Jones

Last month I blogged about the importance of being prolific in order to get good at anything.

If you want to be a successful print journalist you need to write prolifically; if radio is your bag, you must be podcasting and audiobooing like a mutha. No excuses.

I still think it’s worth emphasising because I know as a busy journalist myself, a former student, and now a lecturer in journalism, that motivating yourself to invest in getting better at something is really hard.

If you’re a full time journalist or freelancer, you’re probably tired, poor, or can’t justify the time spent on going out and shooting some photographs without the commission. If you’re a student, you’re probably hungover.

But it isn’t any of these.

What you’re actually lacking is a project: some kind of framework, an organised challenge, bounded in time. It doesn’t have to be a big project, with a deadline years down the line – in fact, aim for the opposite: something you can achieve quickly and regularly.

They can take many forms. Documentary film maker Gail Mooney describes in a recent blog post how ‘passion projects‘ help her get films made. She’s just launched a new one, and is raising money for it on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

…as my career took hold and I became busier with work, I didn’t have time for sharing or personal projects.  But for someone like me who is a dreamer, I was starting to burn out.

There have been other passion projects since these first two and my head is usually full of ideas that are rumbling around, just waiting for the right time to surface.

Author Gretchen Rubin, currently undergoing a year-long and inspiring Happiness Project, calls it a Creativity Boot-camp. She wrote a novel in a month (it was terrible, she admits, but improved her writing massively); and there’s even a cool website which encourages people to draw a comic book in just 24 hours. No planning, no thinking, just drawing.

You lower your standards. If you’re producing a page a week, or one blog post a week, or one sketch a week, you expect it to be pretty darned good, and you fret about quality. Often, however, folks achieve their best work from grinding out the product.

When I’m having trouble getting work done on a big project, my impulse sometimes is to take smaller, easier steps. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes it helps more to take bigger, more ambitious steps instead. By doing more instead of less, I get a boost of energy and focus.

And author and career coach John Williams describes how a Play Project can get you out of rut and let you practice doing the work you really love, without having to get paid for it.

The process feels completely counter-intuitive at first because it requires that you stop fretting about your ideal work or how you could ever get paid – and start doing something. If you are stuck on that very first question “What would I enjoy?” you will benefit hugely from this. At a later stage, you can create further play projects to move you towards getting paid.

If you’re a journalist, young or old, you should be taking note of this. The shift in the industry has created a unique opportunity: to do the journalism we love, and get paid for it. There is a (slowly closing) window of opportunity to turn your journalism into something which provides income and makes you happy. You can’t just leap into it – you need to work out what your passion really is first.

My projects

I first hit on the idea of “projects” over Christmas 2009, when I read a blog post of good new years resolutions. One clever guy suggested writing an ebook in a weekend as a quick hit project. Inspired, I sat down on the first weekend of 2010, and wrote Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Journalists. I started on Saturday morning, and stopped on Sunday evening. A week or so later, I put the book on sale, and people started buying it.

It never made much money, and looking back, was full of spelling mistakes – but it was a finished project. And it gave me the confidence to write Next Generation Journalist a few months later, which has been infinitely more successful.

Now I’m looking for a new passion project to keep me occupied before Christmas. It’ll be a multimedia film project of some kind – and will get me making films every single week.

Have you got a project? Or an idea for one? Share it down in the comments!


The “Pr” approach to being a freelance journalist

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on October 21, 2010

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

What are the qualities of a successful freelance journalist in the 21st century?

Of course, there are all the obvious ones (curiosity, good writing skills, tech knowledge etc) which have been laid out many times by far more experienced and talented hacks than me. But I want to introduce four new qualities, perhaps four you would never have thought of before.

And in this brave new world where the opportunities for the enterprising young journalist are limitless, it’s important to approach it in the right way. So I’ve come up with this ‘Pr’ list of qualities which every journalist should aim for – and they’re one’s every journalist can.

Four ‘Pr’ qualities for freelance journalists

.01 Prolific

First of all, to be good at any form of journalism (writing, blogging, filming, podcasting, info-graphics) you must be prolific. You must create content at a rate of knots, and share it with the world. There’s only one way you get good at something: and that’s practice. Practice = proliferation.

Mark McGuinness (a must read if you want to make money doing something creative) makes this point very eloquently. He points out how one of the great creative geniuses of history, Bach, was prolific beyond belief. We only associate a few extraordinary pieces of work to his name, and assume he was of such unrepeatable talent that the rare tunes he touched turned to gold. But it was not so.

Bach spent his career as an employee, composing music to order on a punishing schedule. One such appointment was as Cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, a prestigious but demanding role, where he produced a cantata (a musical setting for sacred texts) every week of the year and extra ones for holidays — a total of 60 every year. He held that position for five years.

Most of Bach’s music was mediocre and disappeared into history. But the very fact his was prolific meant he got so extraordinarily good at his craft he became an unforgettable name in history.

Image: Marxchivist on Flickr

When I read Mark’s article I looked elsewhere in history for a pattern. It didn’t take me long. Let’s take perhaps the most exalted band of the 20th Century, The Beatles. A quick check at their discography proves their success could be down to sheer proliferation: between 1963 and 1969 they produced two albums every yeara total of 307 songs before they split.

Coldplay, by comparison have produced four albums in 13 years, and just a third of the songs. Sure, who can name all 307 Beatles tracks? And sure, many of them are mediocre – but they needed to produce all the mediocre in order to get good.

So if you’re set on being a kick-ass video journalist, you won’t get good sitting around reading video journalism blogs and polishing the lens of your DSLR. Get off your arse, and make a film. Every week. Week in, week out.

. 02 Productive

Being productive is vital for your success as a freelance journalist. In some cases, when you’re being paid a day-rate, that is literally so. But even if not, your time is money, so you have to start using it properly.

This goes beyond just opening the laptop at 9 and closing it at 5pm sharp. It’s about elimating the stuff in your day that doesn’t contribute to your income. It’s also about understanding your own personal productivity: what time of the day are you most productive? What’s the point of starting work at 9, when you’re at your best between 6pm and midnight?

A lot of people use the 80/20 rule too, so it’s worth thinking about. It goes like this: 20% of your time spent, generates 80% of your revenue and visa versa. So you need to identify the 20% of work that actually brings in the cash (that includes sales/pitching) and make sure you do it without fail. And know what the 80% of non-revenue generating stuff is (tweaking your website, filing tax returns, coming up with ideas) and don’t let it overrun your schedule.

If you’re going to be prolific and profitable you need to be productive with your time. So ring fence certain times of your day, compartmentalise and use something like Google Calendar to control it all.

. 03 Profound

Thing is, there are plenty of other voices out there in the digital landscape – maybe too many. And there are plenty more journalists vying for attention. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your blog more clickable than the next?

Seth Godin

The answer lies in being profound: having something to say that matters to other people. A lot of blogs – hell, a lot of journalists – rely on rehashing other people’s content, aggregating it, just blindly reporting what is being said or done.

But in the fragmented, digital, niche world, that is not enough. If you want to stand out within your area of specialty then you need to be profound. We turn to the most popular bloggers in journalism, for example, because they say profound things. Jeff Jarvis tells us the business models are all wrong and suggests alternatives; Mark Luckie shows us how to use awesome technology in new ways; Tracy Boyer shows us how great multimedia can be; and almost everything Seth Godin says is profound…and they are all leaders.

In this scary new world, people don’t just want consumers, aggregators or reporters, they want leaders. Are you willing to step up to the plate? By being profound, you almost instantly place yourself at a higher level above the rest of the pack.

. 04 Provocative

And finally be provactive too. Stir things up. Cause an argument.

Someone who does that very well are British multimedia producers Duckrabbit, who, if you read their blog (and you should)* it appears they’re always getting into arguments with the photojournalism establishment (for example, this spat with the organiser of an international photography festival).

But Duckrabbit aren’t being argumentative for the sake of it. They have established a strong, authentic, moral, position – on the side of exploited people in developing countries, and photographers exploited by the industry they work for. This forms Duckrabbit’s story, and we, as the audience (and their potential customers) understand where they’re coming from.

And because they stand up for exploited photographers wherever they can, the audience respect them for it. It makes their presence go beyond that of another multimedia company.

It’s a risky strategy perhaps, but there are a lot of multimedia production companies out there now – what will make yours stand out? Stand up for something, believe it it, and mean something. If you’re authentic then it’s all good.

*disclaimer: I occasionally write for Duckrabbit

So – prolific, productive, profound and provocative: four easy to remember words, which if you use them as a guide, they’ll help elevate you beyond all the others in this ever crowded field. Have I missed any off? I could add ‘profitable’ but that’s for another time…

A year of freelancing & the benefits of a portfolio career

Posted in Adam, Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 19, 2010

Photo credit: Theresa Thompson on Flickr

It’s a bit of a red-letter day for me.

This month marks exactly one year since I quit my full-time job in radio, moved down to the big city to make a break of it. In an attempt to measure success & failure, I’ve just been looking back through all the different things I’ve been paid to do in the last year, from making films to writing books.

The big question: has this whole thing been worthwhile, or did I make a massive mistake? Should I have just stayed where I was, kept my head down and hoped for a pay-rise?

The measure I gave myself when I quit was this: ‘just aim to make as much (or more) than you would have done if you’d kept your full time job’. The good news is I made more than I would have done staying put (phewf!)

A portfolio income

What looking back over the last year has really highlighted for me has been the benefits of having what some people are now calling a Portfolio Career:  several revenue streams all contributing to a net income. To make that point, and hopefully to encourage more journalists to think about this as a valid career option, I’ve decided to publish my first year finances to the world…

…well sort of.

Here’s a pie-chart showing the rough percentages of everything I’ve earned since going freelance. Naturally, I’m not going to tell you what the percentages financially add up too! 😉

As you can see teaching & academic research makes up the most significant chunk, but documentary work, broadcasting and print contribute roughly a third. This pie chart shows 9 of the different things I’ve been doing this year, although there have probably been around a dozen.

Sales of Next Generation Journalist and Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Websites have been healthy too, as have things like training, everywhere from Madrid to Glasgow.

Why have lots of jobs?

I guess the point is this: I love doing every single one of these things: the writing, the teaching, the filming, the directing, the radio…but none of them would I want to do every single day. I’ve learned that having this sort of portfolio income gives me a really exciting variety, and also protects me against the loss of a single revenue stream.

I really think more journalists, writers, presenters, and film makers should consider this way of doing work. And it’s more suited to the 21st century work environment too, with growing numbers becoming self-employed and working from home. The internet is slowly making the office (and maybe even the dreaded commute) more and more redundant.

And even though it’s been a success, I still catch myself thinking, sometimes, even if it had failed – even if I had gone bust and had to go and live with my mum or something – I would still look back at this year and be glad I did it. I have had more adventures, opportunities and excitement than even a top reporter gig on a big radio station could give me, and that’s what matters.

So here’s to year two!

The Next Generation Journalist and entrepreneurship

Posted in Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on July 5, 2010

I was recently interviewed by journalist Andy Bull on my Next Generation Journalist ebook and the idea of entrepreneurial journalism.

Andy knows what I’m talking about-an entrepreneurial journalist himself, with a portfolio career, and an actual proper book to his name (on paper an everything). It’s called Multimedia Journalism: a Practical Guide (Amazon affiliate link) and alongside Mark Luckie’s Digital Journalist Handbook is probably the most up-to-date and relevant book for journalists trying to grapple with the new media age out there.

I’m working my way through it and I’ll do a full review for you in the next week or so. In the meantime, here’s a few clips from our interview. The full collection can be found on the website which accompanies Andy’s book.

What is a Next Generation Journalist?

How do you build a portfolio career?

Can anyone be an entrepreneur?

Video Journalism: are two heads better than one?

Posted in Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 8, 2010

Video Journalism has become intrinsically connected with terms like Solo VJ, One Man Band and Backpack Journalist. A video journalist, as we understand, works alone, exploiting the benefits of being light on the feet: a small, nimble unit.

With more photojournalists experimenting with video, this idea of the VJ as a solo-worker is being accentuated.

But what if this isn’t the best way?

A cinematographer friend of mine got me thinking about this last week. We were talking about the merits of the new range of small digital SLRs, shooting HD video – the Canon 5D, 550D and Nikon D5000.

“My only worry” he said, “is you become more preoccupied with the video and not the journalism. When you look back on your day do you say: ‘I’ve spent most of my time thinking about the journalism’, or ‘have I spent most of it thinking about depth-of-field?'”

Now don’t get me wrong, I usually prefer solo working, and I have long been a proponent of the solo video journalist being far more efficient, fast and value-for-money than larger crews. I don’t think the journalism suffers necessarily with a One Man Band (well, it depends on the journalist of course); but…could it be better if there are two people on a story?

Lois & Clark

Let’s imagine for a second a Lane/Kent type scenario. Instead of working alone finding, researching, treating, shooting and editing stories, the solo video journalist finds a talented partner.

Perhaps a print journalist with some but not much experience in video, they are good at the researching, the phone bashing, the setting up and asking the tough questions. That leaves the video journalist to focus on the shooting & editing and together they work to craft an engaging visual narrative.

This is how some newspapers already work with video – pairing a reporter with a video producer, and papers like the New York Times and the Guardian have produced some of their best results this way. What if independent freelance video journalists teamed up on a regular basis to work like this?

Two heads of course reduce the chances of mistakes, factual errors and clouded judgement.

But it’s all about the pairing. As a veteran of long backpacking tours gone horribly sour when two ill matched travelers inevitably fall out, it often isn’t pretty. The pairs would need similar interests, similar backgrounds maybe, and similar ambitions. They would both need the determination and the resolve to carry on through the hard times.

The duo could go beyond and market themselves together as a brand – you work with one, you get the other.

I’ve talked a lot this year about collaboration, and I have the privilege of working with quite a few talented producers, reporters and presenters already. The idea of a talented pair of multimedia journalists seems to me to be very tempting; what you do you think?

What can the next generation of journalists learn from the Eels?

Posted in Adam, Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 18, 2010

My current bit of non-journalism reading is the autobiography of one of my favourite musicians, the dark, eccentric Mark Oliver Everett, better known as E or The Eels.

It’s a classic coming of age story: before he landed the big time with Beautiful Freak in1996, he spent years and years scratching by as a nobody, making music in his cupboard.

So it is for most artists, musicians, authors….and now journalists. The digital revolution has all but ended the guarantee of a good job after college and a long career ascending gently from cub reporter to editor.

Instead: an unpredictable length of time trying to make it. Making stuff you like as often (and as cheaply) as possible, and showing it to whoever will listen. Then rejection, after rejection after rejection from an industry which d0esn’t really give a fuck about you, no matter how much you spent on J-school.

In the spirit of Les Paul’s lessons for journalists last year, and on the release of The Eel’s latest album End Times today, here’s some snippets from the Eels journey, starting just after Mark was dropped by his first ever record label in the early 90s. It starts on a downer:

I finally had a purpose in life and it was being taken away from me. I could still make my tapes like always, but I wasn’t going to be able to have people hear them now and I wasn’t going to be able to devote all my time to them…I had to keep fighting the urge to take a left off the cliff and into the ocean.

We all know the road to making it as a journalist is full of potholes, as are the roads for many worthwhile jobs. Chances are you’ll have a ‘cliff’ moment; they are inevitable, but it’s how you deal with them which counts. Drive off, or keep going?

I pressed on writing and recording songs in my cold tiny basement. I didn’t know what else to do…I just kept going, blindly.

This is really important. Despite having no audience, no money and little hope, Everett kept on producing. Don’t let unemployment end your productivity. Don’t even let a part-time, or temp job do that either. Sure it means late nights, early mornings and lost weekends, but the important thing is you’re always telling stories, doing interviews, writing blogs. Next:

Then one day during this bleak period in my life, I was driving down the road and heard the English group Portishead on the radio for the first time and it stopped me cold…I was immediately inspired to get back into my old sound-collage world – but apply it to my new songwriting world. The new technology had given the world of sound collage so many new possiblities.

You’ve had this moment right? For me, it was when I realised there were these things called audio slideshows about a year ago. And maybe even again when I learn some more web/data visualisation skills. Create something different by combining two completely different crafts.

I called friends and asked if they had any friends who did music on computers and got a few phone numbers…meanwhile I did about seventy more songs on my own in my basement.

The word is collaboration. Don’t go it alone. Hunt down talented, passionate people. Meet them for a beer, and see if you can work together. Every time I meet a great photographer, VJ, journalist, web jedi, or presenter I jot down a mental note to hook up with them on a project in the future.

Meanwhile,  E is still making more music than he’ll ever need on his own. 68 of those 70 songs were probably crap, but all worth it for the 2 nuggets of awesomeness. Then:

It was an exciting new world world that meant all sorts of limitless possibilities…I started to learn more and develop ideas about production. I stopped using cheesy reverb so much.

With his eyes open for new possibilities, E is finally excited about his work again. When you hit this lovely zone, you can hardly be kept from working. Make sure you make time in your schedule to make the most of this – even if it means taking a day or two off from your boring day job.

Secondly, he’s mastering the technical skills he needs to learn. There’s this principle, which states that things must become complex before they become profound. In other words, you’ve got to get lots of stuff wrong before you get amazing at it. Malcolm Gladwell calls it the ‘10,000 hours rule’. Constantly learning new skills and hacking away at them, without fear of failure, is the only way to get good. Next:

…my friend Jon Brion came over to my house one night…he suggested, as an exercise, that he would go upstairs for thirty minutes to write a song while I went downstairs for thirty minutes to write a song. He was always coming up with ideas like this. “Write a song about something on this table…” and so forth.

This is an amazing example of the power of giving yourself productivity challenges – see my weekend audio slideshow challenge for a journalistic one. Create games and challenges which force you to make something in a limited time frame. That way you focus on getting it done, rather than getting it perfect. Not everything will be great, but you’ll be making a lot more stuff.

And after that, you just got to keep going.

It’s easy to give up, and it was easy for Mark Oliver Everett to give up. The only reason we have such great albums as Beautiful Freak, Daisies of the Galaxy and Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is he didn’t.

Thanks to Holly for the book.

Audio slideshow: from killer to legal campaigner

Posted in Adam, Freelance by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2009

I’ve finally gotten round to posting up a short audio slideshow I started producing when still working as a journalist in Hull.

It tells the story of John Hirst, a fascinating man who is almost single-handedly leading the (controversial) call for UK prisoners to be given the right to vote.  After voraciously studying law books while in prison, John knows his stuff and is confident the law is on his side.

And prisoners could get the vote before May’s election.

I originally shot several hours of video, intending to make a series of short films, but for various technical reasons that never happened. In my final weeks in Hull I decided one good quality audio slideshow would be better than video. Thanks, in particular, to Duckrabbit and Ciara Leeming for their honest feedback which shaped the piece.

You can read more about John and his campaign on his blog.

What Simon Cowell can teach you about the future of news

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 26, 2009

Wanna big life? A big successful career? Wanna create something that makes a difference in the world? Maybe reinvent news?

The answer, we’re all told, is to think big.

“Your vision of who or where you want to be is your greatest asset” wrote Paul Arden, himself a successful advertising guru. For proof, look no further than two sheets of paper published by the Guardian newspaper today.

Named “the scribbled note that changed TV“, it is the result of a meeting between three people in 2001: TV executive Alan Boyd, and two music producers, Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller. Over an hour they discussed an idea for a new TV show, initially called Your Idol.

Image & Graphic from GNMIt’s a fascinating document for those of us who’ve followed Your Idol, into what became Pop Idol, American Idol, and now X-Factor. But it’s more interesting because it teaches us something about the power of thinking big.

Look at some of their notes:

“Gone With The Wind…never before have 50,000 people been auditioned”

“Arena, big space…multi camera”

“Nation’s No. 1 show”

These guys could have just pitched another reality show to be made in the style of Come Dine With Me or Celebrity Masterchef; and it would have had all the cultural resonance of those forgettable formats.

But they had an ambitious dream to create a product so big, it rivaled Gone With The Wind.

Their success shows the power of having an almost overwhelming dream to change the world. I once sat in on a talk with Alan Boyd in 2006 at City University: he claimed American Idol had introduced the concept of text messaging to the entire US, who until then just phoned each other.

When you have goals and a positive outlook, you have something to aim for. Having goals which get your heart racing is key to building momentum – because then you can’t imagine not achieving it…and you’ll do whatever it takes to get there. Cowell & Fuller had not met Boyd before this session, but somehow they got themselves in front of him.

So, as much as I’m loathed to hand something to him, take a leaf out of Simon Cowell’s book. Think big.

With the future of news & journalism still uncertain, this attitude is so vital in making sure we create an exciting future for it. I like to think someone reading this blog might have just the idea which will blaze the trail for the next 50-100 years: if that’s you, don’t settle for second best. Aim high!

Taking the plunge…

Posted in Adam, Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 11, 2009

I’ve been writing about it for weeks, thinking about it for months: and now I am very happy to announce at the end of September I will be going freelance.

Yes that’s right I’m jumping: I’ve quit a great, steady job….in the middle of a recession.

Madness you might say.

But while commentators everywhere see decline, cutbacks, redundancies, dropping standards and the end of journalism as we know it Jim…I see opportunity. Everywhere.

And it’s opportunity to be grasped with both hands.

I’ve written plenty about what I think the journalist of the future will be like, and what skills they’ll need: now I’m on a mission to find out if I’m right. I’m moving back down to London, where I’ll hopefully be contributing to a range of outlets in a range of media.

So there’ll be some changes round here in the next week or so, as I get my branding & portfolio sorted out.

In the meantime there’s a job going in arguably one of the best independent radio newsrooms around.

Image: Max Haibane

Image: Max Haibane