Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Journalism posts: a summary IV

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 31, 2010

It’s the end of the first quarter – here’s a wrap of all the highlights you might have missed on the blog so far in 2010..

Future of Journalism

10 resolutions to make you a better journalist in 2010

On snow and innovation

The one question journalists need to start asking

The newspaper doing multimedia journalism…in the 1950s

Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why)

Ideas for the Future of News: 006 – geo tagging

Ideas for the Future of News: 007 – the revolutionary search engine

Fresh Eyes: what can journalists learn from a musician?

Fresh Eyes: what can journalists learn from a web coder?

Fresh Eyes: what can journalists learn from a branding expert?

Why the BBC cuts are a call to action for Next Generation Journalists

Multimedia Journalism

My new ebook for hyperlocal websites is published

Book review: The Digital Journalist’s Handbook by Mark S Luckie

Five myths about shooting video

The TV news package is ripped to pieces…and how you can make it better

Five quick tricks to add spice to your storytelling

Three amazing films – shot on a DSLR camera

…and why the DSLR is changing video journalism

The digital magazine pushing the boundaries of online storytelling

Previous summaries from 2009 are right here!


Fresh Eyes: what can journalists learn from a branding expert?

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 3, 2010

What happens when you ask a film maker or a musician about the future of journalism? What skills can the next generation journalist learn from a coder? As part of Fresh Eyes experts in non-journalism fields cast their eye over the digital revolution and offer their wisdom.

Jon Moss, Marketing Consultant

After nearly a decade working for a FTSE100 company, Jon decided working for other people sucked and now runs his own marketing consultancy, theappleofmyi. He specialises in branding, online marketing and social media, and is the founder of the Hull Digital group, a meetup of tech lovers in East Yorkshire, UK.  Check out the HD website, for some great talks from the likes of Audioboo, TechCrunch UK and the BBC.

Would you choose your brand?

“Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO.

Except when you are talking about a journalist, blogger, freelancer or anyone for that matter, it’s not the company, it’s you. That’s the big question.

What are you doing?

Brands have an incredibly powerful, emotive and frequent part to play in virtually every buying decision we make. Day in, day out, we are making decisions based on our current or historical perception of a brand, or a brand experience. It can be a good experience, a bad one, or a mediocre one. They all play their part. Whether using a Mac or PC, which toothpaste you choose, what pair of trainers, and what car you drive. Brands.

Brands used to be tied, or rather cemented to TV advertising and perhaps big billboards. Of course with the onslaught (and make no mistake, it is an onslaught) of digital communication and the rise of the connected online world, brand experiences have changed forever.

You probably haven’t considered TV advertising, but you almost certainly use the web. Which means that you compete with the big boys, the multi-million dollar companies. The internet is a great equaliser, nearly everyone uses it, and it is not going away in a hurry.

The way you answer the phone, your answerphone message. Your business card, your website, your blog, your email signature. You name it, it is all part of your personal brand

65% of consumers report having had a digital experience that either positively or negatively changed their opinion about a brand. Of that group, a nearly unanimous 97% say that their digital experience influenced whether or not they eventually purchased a product or service from that brand. Digital is not only a place to build a brand: it can also make or break it. (Source – 2009 Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Study).

So, we’ve set the scene on brands and digital brands. You are starting to understand that brands and brand experiences are not just for Apple, Coca Cola and Nike.

Your brand matters. It matters a lot, and, critically can help in your marketing flow. Marketing is simple. 5 words simple: know, like, trust, use, recommend.

So having a good brand can most certainly help with getting known, getting liked, gaining trust and being used. The web can exponentially accelerate it.

Your personal brand is something you should be considering, building and adding to on a daily basis, and it is not only online. Remember that your personal brand encompasses every single touch point that a client, friend, colleague, prospect or family member could have with you, or something that represents you. The way you answer the phone, your answerphone message. Your business card, your website, your blog, your email signature. You name it, it is all part of your personal brand.

Nine questions to ask yourself

How people perceive you, your service, your business is all part of your brand. There are a few questions you may like to ask yourself to see how your brand measures up…

  • Q. Can people find you easily online?
  • Q. Have you got an interesting and extensive web presence?
  • Q. If they can, is it professional?
  • Q. Are you valuable to people?
  • Q. Do you influence or are easily influenced?
  • Q. Do people remember you for the right reasons?
  • Q. Do you have an opinion?
  • Q. Do you contribute and participate?
  • Q. Do you listen and learn?

You must socialise with your peers, clients and prospects. It cannot just be push. You need to join in, contribute and have something to say, an opinion or view. People want to work with people who are doing something, that have ideas, that are joining in. It’s important to be practicing what you preach.

Ten things to do in 2010 to improve your brand

If you only do a few things in 2010, this is what you should consider as a minimum:

1. Own your name online (you do own your own domain name, don’t you?)
2. Make it easy for people to get in touch with you
3. Be memorable, and not for bad things
4. Contribute and engage
5. Do something different
6. Decide what you stand for, what makes you special and different
7. Start something
8. Meet people and volunteer your time
9. Be polite and enthused – ask, because if you don’t, you won’t get
10. Treat others as you would like to be treated

P.S. Have some fun 🙂

Jon Moss is a marketing and branding consultant based in East Yorkshire, UK. He runs and founded the popular Hull Digital meetup group.

Fresh eyes: what can journalists learn from a web coder?

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 2, 2010

What happens when you ask a film maker or a musician about the future of journalism? What skills can the next generation journalist learn from a branding expert? As part of Fresh Eyes experts in non-journalism fields cast their eye over the digital revolution and offer their wisdom.

Michelle Minkoff, journalist and web coder

Studying at Northwestern University’s School of Journalism, Michelle is on a mission to see how data and technology can come together to help the public. She has recently programmed her first app on Django; on her blog she unravels the mysteries of Computer Assisted Reporting and Data Visualisation, two of the most under valued parts of next-generation journalism. You can check out her portfolio here. Michelle’s ‘data-driven philosophy’ spells out what she’s all about.

Data & journalism: reporting, presenting and collaborating

Photo: Stewf on Flickr

As journalists, we spend our lives pursuing “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media,” how Merriam-Webster defines journalism.

Another way to put that is “the collection of information that matters.” While there are many concerns about the changing nature of journalism, the Web helps us spread these collections faster than ever, and in more robust and interesting ways.
I’m about to complete my graduate work from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and I consider all the information we collect a form of data. I call myself a data journalist.

That’s not because I work with numbers a lot (although I do), but because I see the field as the craft of telling stories by organizing information in interesting ways.

Three facets to data journalism

I propose that there are three facets to more thoroughly integrating data journalism: via reporting, presentation and collaboration. Here are some tips on how we might be able to head in the right direction.


  • When working our beats, just as we are taught to end each interview asking “Is there anyone else you know of that I should speak with? we should be asking the same of interesting data sources we should “interview.” Who knows if a city clerk will tell you about some report everyone else has overlooked, or a secretary can point you to a section of a Web site you haven’t yet seen?
  • Once you get a set of numbers, even from a press release, question whether you should take them at face value. We corroborate people’s quotes, we should corroborate numbers. That means double check their accuracy when possible, but also juxtapose data with per capita values, when appropriate. Sure, one college may graduate the most people, but it may actually be a much lower percentage than a smaller school graduating half as many, but 98 percent of their total class. I would argue omitting such information is tantamount to a fact error.
  • Compare past to present. Finding information across multiple years can often help you find a whole new story angle. Numbers usually go up or down, have some peaks and valleys. That trend probably isn’t your story in itself, but it can give you avenues for exploration.
  • Integrate data into your workflow. Don’t think of a certain group of reporters, or a certain beat, as being good for data. The New York Times’ Derek Willis put it this way on Twitter:”All news could benefit from knowing/considering CAR [computer-assisted reporting], but not all stories demand it be part of the end product.”
  • Use visualizations to help you understand information. Looking at millions of spreadsheet cells can be tiring. Using pictures of the data for analysis uses a different part of your brain, and can help you “get” the information. If you’re comfortable making the data public, try uploading the data and examining it with Many Eyes in your browser. Or, if you prefer, keep the data on your computer, and try out the newly-released Tableau Public.


Now you have your story that incorporates data — whether it’s a statistic you’ve integrated into a breaking news brief or a year-long investigation with millions of records. Either way, you can make that information comprehensible to the public in a variety of pretty simple ways.

  • Remember that ManyEyes visualization you made in the last step? Embed it on your news site, and now users can play with it.
  • Use the Google Visualization API to make quick interactive graphs of all sorts. This uses Javascript, just put the appropriate code in the <head> and <body> sections of your HTML file. Not a coder? It can be as simple as copying and pasting the code Google provides (here’s one for a bar chart), and adjusting the data points. With this technology, tooltips that display the exact values of each node are generated automatically. If it works with your content management system, this is a technology that makes Web 2.0 almost simpler than generating an Excel graph.
  • If you have Web developers working at your newsroom, try to include them early on in the project planning process. Programming and journalism have a lot in common in that they require creativity, and attract people drawn to the pursuit of knowledge. Bringing both perspectives to brainstorming sessions will result in better projects. Web applications don’t have ledes or nut grafs, literally, but they give the user a starting point and the flexibility to pursue the story that matters most to him or her.
  • Encourage your audience to connect with your news organization. Present information in a visualization or a table, and make yourself available for users to present questions they have. Then, we serve the democratic function of a free press, improve community relations, and you’ve got some new story ideas! Involve your community and those with different backgrounds may see patterns you hadn’t considered.


  • Every fact you take in is a piece of data. But after your story, where does it go? What happens after you leave your news organization? How does the community maintain its connection to that information? It’s a valuable source, and cries out to be maintained.
  • If you’re willing to go public with your info, try creating a wiki at to collaborate with your colleagues. Also, community members can benefit from your information, and contribute to it, thus enhancing your repository of sources and information.
  • Prefer to keep the facts internal? Create a series of folders on your local network with folders for different beats.
  • Use a table or spreadsheet structure to label all the people you talk to, with information in separate cells: first name, last name, sure, but also cities lived in, occupations held, as much divisible information as you can find. Then, when anyone in the newsroom needs to talk to someone at x company, that source you used for a different story might be able to help you, or find someone who can.

How are you using data in your newsroom now? What obstacles are there to making it a more central concern? I’d love to hear your questions, thoughts, comments and suggestions — let’s chat in the comments, or you can find me at

Tomorrow: what can journalists learn from marketing and branding gurus?

Fresh eyes: what can journalists learn from musicians?

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 1, 2010

What happens when you ask a film maker or a musician about the future of journalism? What skills can the next generation journalist learn from a branding expert? As part of Fresh Eyes experts in non-journalism fields cast their eye over the digital revolution and offer their wisdom.

Christopher Ave, musician

Christopher runs the excellent Music for Media blog where he profiles great examples of music being used in multimedia pieces and shares advice on how to do it. A life long musician himself, Christopher is also a journalist with the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Music and Journalism

Many if not most of us journalists who create content for the web came from a print background. Naturally, we are most concerned with quotes and images — things we can see.

Things we can hear? Not so much.

So when I talk about using music in a journalistic multimedia project, I often get blank stares — or outright opposition:

Music? That’s…. manipulative! How dare we FORCE viewers to feel something!

It’s not surprising that so many journalists fear using music in multimedia storytelling – a reluctance expressed here by legendary writing coach Roy Peter Clark and again here by Poynter’s Regina McCombs. Many journalists who come from newspaper backgrounds are by nature suspicious of new storytelling tools — especially those used by radio or — gasp! — television.

But the very attraction of multimedia is that it can engage all the senses.Think about the great documentarians like Ken Burns, who used original music so effectively to help tell the story of the Civil War. Does anyone feel they were manipulated by the lovely, plaintive “Ashokan Farewell”?

In an increasingly fractured media world where we find ourselves competing for eardrums as well as eyeballs, I would argue that we ban such a powerful tool at our own peril.

Still, can’t overwrought music manipulate listeners’ emotions? Can’t jarring music detract from the story narrative? Of course – just as badly chosen words or images can distract viewers.

It’s just as manipulative to lard a narrative with mournful adjectives, or to quote sources from only one point of view, as it is to use music badly.

So the real issue, in my view, is this: We should use such tools properly.

Five tips on using music for journalists

But how can a journalist without significant musical skills do that? Here are some suggestions:

01.First, this is not about the music. It’s about the story you’re trying to tell. The music MUST fit within the tone established for the story (unlike, say, a music video, where the images serve the music).

02. Don’t imply that the music you’re adding is part of the scene you’re documenting (unless of course, it is). That’s like using Photoshop to add something to a news photo. This can be a fine line, and might seem to conflict with No. 1. If you’re in doubt as to whether you’re misleading the audience by choosing a piece of music, always leave it out. Go with something else. Risking your credibility isn’t worth it.

03. Don’t steal someone else’s music. This seems obvious, but in the cut-and-paste age, the temptation is there. Don’t yield to it. Do some research – know the law when it comes to fair use, trademarks and the like.

04. So where do you find just the right music for your project? There are scads of people selling pre-recorded music online (search “royalty-free music” for an idea.) If you’re looking for something in particular, find someone who can create it for you. MySpace, despite what you’ve read, is STILL full of bands and composers who are looking to distribute or license their music; perhaps you can find the creator of some music you like who will allow you to use it for free, in exchange for the exposure. Just make sure you get the agreement in writing. Or…..

05. Can’t find precisely the right music? Try creating your own. With tools like Garage Band and Acid, plus the plethora of free and low-cost loops out there, this might be easier than you think, especially if you have some time and the inclination to play around.

Here’s some music composition advice from Jon Patrick Fobes, a picture editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a talented musician who often creates original music for the newspaper’s website:

Have a beginning, middle and end. Vary the instrument voices. Don’t be afraid to change gears. And don’t be afraid to go minimal. Let the music serve the visuals, not overpower them. Don’t be afraid of silence! Put in some drama.

And here’s some excellent advice from MediaStorm’s Eric Maierson, one of the most thoughtful users of music in the multimedia world.

Finally, there are many, many examples of the skillful, effective and ethical use of music in nonfiction multimedia projects. Watch, listen and study.

So yes, be careful when using music in any nonfiction project. But I believe we journalists should embrace music – that is, music used with skill and restraint. As we fight tooth and nail for viewers and readers,  I believe it’s a tool we can’t afford to do without.

Christopher Ave, who directs political and government coverage for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/, is a lifelong musician and career journalist. He blogs at and creates music for a variety of uses at

Tomorrow: what can journalists learn from a coding expert?

Putting some Fresh Eyes on journalism

Posted in Fresh eyes series by Adam Westbrook on February 25, 2010

What happens if you ask a cinematographer, a musician, a branding expert, a designer and a programmer about the future of news?

Might sound odd, but the idea of colliding disparate disciplines has a history of sparking innovation. Johannes Gutenberg, for example, wanted to come up with something which combined the power of the wine press, with the flexibility of the coin punch..and came up with the printing press. Mercedes-Benz brought in someone completely random – the watch maker Swatch – and together they came up with the Smart Car.

Getting an outsider’s approach sheds new light on old problems, and reveals tips, tricks and viewpoints those of us inside the bubble will ever think of.

So all next week I’ll be getting those very experts to cast their eyes over the future of news. What can us hacks learn from a film maker, or a branding guru? You’ll find out right here on Monday.