Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How to make great stories come to you

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 23, 2010

Finding & telling a great story is what drives many journalists in what they do.

We put lots of effort into figuring out how to tell the stories, but not enough is ever written, or taught, about where these mystical narrative apparitions appear from. Most stories fall flat, not because of the telling, or the media, or the equipment used – but because the story isn’t good enough.

So, where the hell can we find these stories?

Well, the Brighton Future of News Group, run by Sarah Booker, have come up with a great little scheme to find great stories…by getting them to come to you!

How does it work?

Last week, #bfong held an open ’empty shop’ day in Shoreham-on-Sea, a small seaside town on Britain’s south coast. Anyone could pop in with old photographs, artifacts or just stories of their lives and the town. And on hand were a group of journalists, armed with cameras, laptops and audio recording equipment.

Handily, the press-pack included Judith Townend, Adam Tinworth, Adam Oxford and Sarah Booker, some of the most sharp-eyed Next Generation Journalists around.

The team used a live Tumblr blog as their platform for stories they produced – and collected dozens throughout the day. People wandered in, perhaps attracted or made curious by the sign outside. The team also hit the streets too.

Adam Oxford interviews a resident

Sarah Booker interviews a resident

It seems like a wonderful experiment in doing journalism a little bit differently. If the hacks on the local paper were as enterprising, they’d have gathered enough material to fill an edition. Instead, they were left covering the event as an outsider.

What’s exciting is this approach can be easily mimicked in any community. Pick a day, gather some journalists, find a free public space and open up shop! Judith plans to bring the open-shop approach to the refugee community in London and my mind is spinning with ideas for other settings too.

The irony of this age is there are more stories out there than there ever have been; but too many journalists have paralysed themselves with arguments about who will pay for it.

We just need to get out there, take the #bfong open-shop approach and tell some stories. That’s the future.

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What are people really buying online?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 14, 2010

What do you think people are buying on the internet?

Here’s a cool infographic by Permuto, showing us what gets people (in the US at least) to click “buy now” online. The hatched areas give us an idea of what percentage of certain products are purchased online instead of in a physical store.

What’s interesting for journalists is that people are buying more books, magazines, clothes and electronic items online than offline. These are the sort of sales which can support an independent news offering. I recently blogged for TNTJ that people won’t pay for news, rather we have to find other ways to fund it. This neat infographic shows us some good avenues to explore. Selling books and information products online should, for journalists, be second nature.

And if your niche is health journalism, you ought to be seeing a massive business opportunity in this image…

Future of News bootcamp: make money in travel journalism

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 29, 2010

It’s a journalists dream: getting paid good money to travel the world or live abroad. Travel Journalism still remains one of the more glamorous genres inside the trade and with good reason. But it’s been hit hard by the changes as much as anywhere else; is there still a good business in it?

The answer from the seven journalists who attended the second Future of News Business Bootcamp this week was a wholehearted ‘yes!…but you have to be clever about it.’

If you’re not familiar with how the bootcamps work then check out the explanation here; but essentially they work on the premise that smaller numbers, an informal location and some bottles of wine equals good ideas and creativity.

Joining the bootcamp this week were Sarah Warwick, Rosamund Hutt, Will Peach, Patrick Smith, Lexi Mills, Tony Fernandes and James Carr; all of them have done the travel journalism thing and want to keep doing it. So how did we do?

The right questions

We frame the bootcamps by asking a series of business orientated questions, applying them to a specific area of journalism.

What’s the value? The team suggested things like inspiration & escape as well as basic language and currency information. Patrick Smith made the very good point that the real financial value in travel journalism is the fact it is actionable: people will buy holidays, for example, off the back of an article.

What are the target markets? We broke into two groups to come up with creative and unusual niche markets for travel journalism. Very popular was the expat market inside a given country (a model proved successful for hard news reporting by MexicoReporter.com); business travellers; the PAs of business travellers; the children of diplomats and even servicemen & women looking for things to do in their various locations.

Where’s the pain? This final question is the basis for many of the most successful businesses of the last century. What pain can you solve with your idea? For us, we’re looking for pains which can be solved by a travel journalist’s information, writing or multimedia. Some great ideas emerged, including products for old people who want to do adventure holidays, a way to help people avoid getting ripped off at the airport and even for people who are ‘bored & abroad’.

It’s not the journalism, stupid

I think the greatest realisation at the end of the evening though was agreeing on what makes money on a website or mobile device. Now, this might seem shocking or controversial to some of you; I suspect others realised this long ago. But collectively we pretty much agreed that on any “news” product, the journalism itself doesn’t make any money. It never will. It never has. It never should.

Instead it facilities a wide variety of other products which do make money; a subscription service, a shop, a sponsored mailing list, events etc. They cannot make money without the journalism, but the journalism cannot exist without them making money.

It’s an interesting symbiotic relationship which I think would form the base of any future news business in the online world. What do you think?

Either way, most of our bootcampers left with new ideas and optimism, so that’s mission complete! We’ll be doing one more in August, before the public meetups return in September.

Thanks very much to Patrick, Lexi, Tony, James, Sarah, Will and Rosamund for taking part in the experiment!

Future of News Bootcamp: a market for traditional reportage?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 23, 2010

The first ever Future of News Business Bootcamp took place in London last night – 7 journalists, several bottles of wine and one problem: how to make money in journalism.

Each bootcamp will focus on a different area of journalism, and this inaugural event had possibly the biggest challenge of all – how to create a business around human rights & development reportingthat vitally important, but until now, expensive and unprofitable part of journalism.

In the room were half a dozen journalists, pretty much all of whom were interested in being able to travel to different parts of the world and uncover human rights abuses and report on development issues – and get paid to do it. And we were going to do something which has never really been tried in this way before – to take an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to business, and transplant it onto journalism.

Not many journalists dare to stray into this territory, more often than not, simply because they don’t have much entrepreneurial nouse (or don’t think they do). Not us! We bravely strolled into this area to see what sticks.

Product or Service?

Almost all businesses can be divided into two categories – those which provide a product, and those which provide a service. A product is an item you can ship and sell; a service is selling your own time, expertise or knowledge. We looked at both options. Under service, we came up with ideas such as a business which chases every penny of UK development money around the world to check it’s being spent properly; we also looked at providing a reporting service for businesses with Corporate Social Responsibility policies and half a dozen other ideas.

The idea of a product got the group more excited. Is there a gap for a decent human rights reportage magazine? The room felt there was, but it would need to be a massive departure from what little there is out there already. Costs would be another problem; the annual cost estimates for a small business, with maybe six journalists travelling and reporting, ranged from £500,000 ($1m) to £3m ($6m) a year. A lot, yes, but the Times and the Guardian loose hundreds of thousands a day – something new would have a massive advantage…

A market?

A key part of starting any business is thinking ‘who is my customer?’. We spent a fair bit of time coming up with crazy different ideas for who might want this type of journalism in the modern world…NGOs? Students & universities? Schools? The military? Traditional media appeared too, although we all agreed getting money from them was becoming harder and harder.

Packaging?

We made some good headway with the idea of how to package the product. Settling on an idea for an online (and possibly print-on-demand) magazine, we looked at all the other news outlets thriving online: the Financial Times, NPR & Propublica, Techcrunch & Mashable, the BusinessDesk.com, MediaStorm – and looked at what ways of packaging our product we could steal from them: everything from exploiting a sponsored mailing list to running events, to bootstrapping, to branding. A combination of these feeding into multiple revenue streams seemed like an attractive idea.

With all the wine gone and the two hours up, we had a lot of ideas, but nothing hugely concrete. But that’s OK! It was pretty much as much as we could have hoped for. More importantly I think it sewed some seeds in all our minds about what might work and what wouldn’t….that’ll stew in our minds for a while – and I think maybe someone in the room will suddenly get the spark of inspiration not far into the future.

Thanks very much to Deborah, Donnacha, Kat, Rebecca, Adam and Phil for bravely taking part in the experiment! If you like the idea of the bootcamps and would like to come to the next one make sure you’re signed up to the Future of News Meetup Group (it’s free!).

Let’s tackle the journalism business model head-on

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 7, 2010

The Future of News Meetup Groups I founded in London in November last year are still going strong, with more than 300 members and five spin off groups around the UK & Ireland.

They’ve become a really exciting environment for people to get together and debate the future of news – and crucially: discover the new concepts, business models and startups which will see journalism out of the quagmire.

To that end I’ve tweaked the standard meetup format this month and launched the Future of News Business Bootcamp. The first one is happening on the 22nd June and will explore ways of making money reporting the stories that matter – developing world and human rights journalism.

The bootcamp is totally different to any other conference or meetup because:

  • it will be free
  • there’ll be just 6 people attending – the ideal number for productive brainstorming
  • there will be no speakers or debates or Q&A
  • it will be just hardcore idea generation around a very specific problem
  • it’s happening in my flat!

If you’re in London on the 22nd of June and would like to take part here’s what you do:

  1. Join the London Future of News Meetup Group (it’s free)
  2. Email me through the website, explaining who you are and why you’d like to be there
  3. Include one idea of how the problem could be solved (it doesn’t have to be a good one)
  4. Do it by Friday 11th June

I’ll select the six most relevant people to attend and they’ll receive all the details. The bootcamps have been featured on Journalism.co.uk over the weekend – here’s me quoted in the article:

“The meet-ups have been running for about six months now and the group has more than 300 members so it’s been going really well. When I set it up I wanted it to be a forum for actual new ideas to emerge, rather than more talk about the future of journalism. The individual meet-ups have been great but I got the sense they’d reverted back to the speaker/Q&A format we see at all the other conferences. I thought of ways I could bring them back to the main mission of the group and realised smaller groups are often better for brainstorming and ideas. They’re going to be really focused sessions, diving straight into what the business models could be and how to package them into profitable products. Fingers crossed one of the bootcamps will bring up a gem,”

It’s not content – it’s ‘experience’ (and red shoes)

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 19, 2010

How do journalists become entrepreneurial?

That was the big question at last night’s Future of News meetup in Central London. Around 50 journalists, students, academics and other entrepreneurs came to hear first hand how to set up a news business from those who’ve done it themselves.

(Update #1: Journalist Patrick Smith has written a far more comprehensive review of the event for journalism.co.uk – you can read it by clicking here.)

(Update #2: The West Midlands Future of News Meetup is hosting a similar event tomorrow night as part of JEEECampall the details are here!)

Emi Gal, the founder of Brainient a website which helps people make money from online video, spoke first. At the age of 24 he is already a serial entrepreneur having set up three businesses so far.

He was followed by Tony Heywood and Nick Saalfield, who run Yoodoo.biz a free service for anyone who dreams of setting up their own business but doesn’t know where to start. As a journalist himself Nick was sure journalists can set up their own businesses and make it work.

It’s not content, it’s experience

One of the big sticking points of the night was the seeming void between doing the sort of journalism that matters (human rights, for example) and serving a market who’ll pay for that content.

Deborah Burnello, founder of mexicoreporter.com (and now thevideoreporter.com) spoke of her ambition to set up a news website, but couldn’t see who would pay for important, worthy news stories.

Nick was clear: content does not make money. “The days of being paid by the word a dead” he told the room. Instead, journalists must create an experience for their audience – a really enjoyable experience which they’ll come back for, and pay for.

We don’t all go crazy for Apple products because they’re technically better than Windows – but because the whole user experience is so much better.

How do we make the experience better online? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Don’t wait – go!

Brainient founder Emi Gal’s big advice is not to hang around. “Don’t wait for your product to be perfect” he says – you can’t get it right until it’s out there.

Photo Credit: Jon Slattery

Emi also reiterated the importance of collaborating with others. If you’re not good at sales (as many journalists won’t be) find a partner who is. If you want to create a web platform but don’t know the first thing about Ruby or HTML, find someone who does.

Emi, who funded Brainient through winning Seedcamp‘s startup competition, says venture capital (VC) is a good way to get cash – if you can find a good investor. Nick and Tony though reckon ‘Angel investors’ – individuals with spare cash and up for an adventure – are the way to go, and less likely to end up in disaster.

…oh, and the shoes

Emi, Tony and Nick agreed on one thing: get good shoes. Or some item of clothing that makes you stand out – people (potential investors, collaborators) are more likely to remember you that way.

If you want to know more about entrepreneurship and journalism, you don’t have to wait long – Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism goes on sale tomorrow!

In London? Get to the Future of News meetups!

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on May 5, 2010

As you may remember, last year I founded the Future of News meetup group; a monthly gathering of journalists, entrepreneurs, students, academics and web geeks to thrash out solutions to journalism’s problems.

The rules of the meetup are simple:

  • it’s free
  • anyone can rock up
  • negativity of any kind is banned
  • as are phrases like “news is dead” and “that’s a crap idea”

Four meetups later and the group is going strong with nearly 300 members, and three local spin off groups in Brighton, Birmingham and Cardiff.

After the UK general election is out of the way on Thursday, we’re having no fewer than two meetup events this month – if you are in or near London please come along!

01. what can we learn from social media & the general election?

Thursday 13th May – details here.

This election is the first where a fully developed social media landscape has been present. How has that affected the campaign, the outcome and how people voted?

More importantly, what can journalists learn from how social media was used during the election campaign? What can we apply to new business ideas and big events in the future?

We’ll be hearing some as yet unpublished figures from UK startup UltraKnowledge who are monitoring social media activity as we speak. The information, including data on what days, parties, events were most popular, won’t have been seen before, so it’s worth heading along to get your eyes on that alone.

Afterwards we’ll be asking how journalists can apply social media for more profitable ways in the future. It’ll be one of our regular big ideas sessions, so if you want to come along, click here to sign up.

02. the entrepreneurship special

Tuesday 18th May – details here

Lots of commentators including Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis have been saying the future of journalism is entrepreneurial for some time. But becoming one is easier said than done. What makes a good idea for a news business and how do you even go about starting one up?

We’ve got three speakers lined up who can answer all those questions, including the CEO of a TechCrunch rated startup.

If you would like to launch your own news business (an online magazine, sharing site, social media platform etc.) but don’t know where to start then this event is a must. Spaces are already filling up fast. Click here to sign up & get a place.

There’ll be more future of news meetups over the summer, so make sure you register to get all the information.

Journalism posts: a summary IV

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

Idea 007: breathing new life into old content

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2010

In Ideas for the Future of News I’m collecting positive, tangible, practical examples of business models, products and content which could pave the future.

To catch up on previous ideas, head to the Ideas for the Future of News page.

Idea 007: The Independent’s News Wall

By: UltraKnowledge, The Independent

Headlining today’s Digital Storytelling Conference in London is Andrew Lyons from UK company UltraKnowledge. He’s introducing the company to more than a hundred journalists and showing them the work they’ve been doing with the Independent newspaper.

I met up with Andrew earlier this month, and it seems while many journalists have been worrying about the future, Andrew and his team of coders have been coming up with solutions. They’ve got a very forward thinking mindset, and what they’re doing could breathe new life into old content.

So, introducing the Independent’s new “News Wall.”

It’s accessible by going to http://search.independent.co.uk and is essentially a visual representation of the Independent’s big news stories on a given day.

Rolling your mouse over any of the thumbnails, puts it into the larger window on the right hand side and gives you a preview. It is, in its most simple terms, a visual way of searching the days top stories, and gives the user a much more interactive experience.

A real boon for subs, reporters and editors everywhere, this software does not require any manual SEO or tagging work. It’s all done automatically.

It goes beyond this though.

Firstly, you are able to search for words, people, events using the box at the top. And when you do, you are presented with a visual representation of your search results, which is nice too. What makes this approach clever is the search results page generated automatically becomes a permanent static page on the Independent’s website.

The result? Without any extra work by journalists, the Independent’s website has grown exponentially – this search I did this week pulls up more than 100,000 new pages since News Wall’s launch a month ago. These pages have been created by visitors to the site using the News Wall.

Thirdly, the News Wall is also searchable by date. You’ll eventually be able to type in any date since the Independent launched and get a graphical search result. And what does that mean? Thousands of articles, currently consigned to history, will have new life breathed into them. New sponsorship, new ad revenue.

Imagine if this was done with historical archives.

The people at UltraKnowledge are busy doing some other awesome work which I’m able to mention yet. But keep an eye on them: they’re a great example of how anyone can play a role in the future of news, and unless journalists change their mindset, it won’t be them.

A call to action for Next Generation Journalists

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 2, 2010

The last seven days has seen two big announcements from two of the world’s largest broadcasters.

Last week, American TV Network ABC announced a huge swathe of cuts in their newsrooms: more than 300 jobs in total. They’re cutting their technical staff back by using their control room suites more effectively…and bringing in multimedia journalists:

“In production, we will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs, while recognizing that we will continue to rely upon our ENG crews and editors for most of our work”.

David Westin, memo to ABC staff

As Micheal Rosenblum rightly says:  “Welcome, ABC News, to 1990”.

And this morning, the BBC in the UK have confirmed what some within the corporation had been suspecting for months, and fearing since Friday: a £600m series of cuts, which will halve the number of websites, and close two digital radio stations: 6music and the Asian Network.

“The reality for the BBC is that it faces increasingly difficult choices. Failure to make such choices would lead to limitless expansion, increasing demands for funding and corresponding impact on the wider market. That prospect is not one the Trust can accept.”

Sir Michael Lyons, BBC Chairman

There’s lots of concern and a fair bit of understandable anger about both cuts. Thing is, they’re both valid decisions in the financial and ever-changing digital climate.  Two sad victims of the seismic shift we’re undergoing.

Chess piece or chess player?

It’s time for the broadcasters, journalists and creatives of the future to pick up the pieces. These cut backs are tragic, but they create new opportunities for us to exploit. For example, BBC 6music served a young niche audience extremely well with alternative music, documentaries and even radio plays. Who’d have thought that would work?

When it closes all those people will need a new home. Who will they go to?

According to the last UK census, 2% of the British population are Asian. Where will their news, music and community come from on a national level when the Asian Network is taken off air?

Radio futurologist James Cridland, speaking at February’s Future of News Meetup, just hours before the BBC cuts were first leaked, showed us how radio stations in Canada schedule 30 minute documentaries in the middle of their breakfast shows and make it work; how NPR in the US are combining pictures with their audio to reach audiences in new ways. There is still a huge amount of innovation to be done.

With these sad changes, new markets open up. It is now cheaper, faster and easier to become a publisher and broadcaster online than it ever has been. Will you exploit this new opportunity or pass it by? Your call.

Idea 006: using geo-data during elections

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on February 12, 2010

Apologies for the break in compiling Ideas for the Future of News. The hiatus is over! Over the next week, I’ll report on several other innovative, practical new concepts which could move journalism forward. To see previous ideas, check out the Ideas For The Future Of News page.

Idea 006: the MP candidate tracker

By: Jo Wadsworth, Steve Bustin, Sarah Marshall and others; Brighton Argus Newspaper

This idea, I am very happy to say, emerged at one of the new Future of News Meetup events which have sprung up across the UK since the first London event back in December.

The idea is pretty much as it says on the tin,  allowing web users to report and track the locations and activities of the various parliamenary candidates in the run up to the fiercely contested UK General Election in Spring 2010. According to Journalism.co.uk:

“The map allows Google account users to mark where they have seen candidates for the Brighton Pavilion constituency – Green Party candidate Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Nancy Platts and the Conservative’s Charlotte Vere – and upload additional information about what they said.

“The MP candidate tracker page also displays tweets sent out by each candidate.”

This is a great example of new technology and lateral thinking being applied to really provide the public service journalism is all about. Although the project is in its infancy, you can imagine it having some influence, if voters are able to see which candidates have been sitting on their backsides during the campaign.

It is also a good example of the potential of crowdsourcing, and involving the public in newsgathering. Are there some issues around privacy and the accuracy of the information provided though?

The concept isn’t entirely new either. Radio stations have been using map mashups to plot traffic delays for at least 18 months; Viking FM in Hull used a map mashup to add colour to coverage of the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence in 2009.

A business model?

This idea’s real value is in its public service; enough hits and perhaps there are some advertising or sponsorship possibilities for the Brighton Argus, just as radio news has sponsors for its sport or weather bulletins.

And perhaps there’s a model to outsource this idea too. A company, perhaps, who specialise in geo-tagging and data mashups, who could then sell innovative packages to newspapers, magazines and other websites?

The General Election should really fuel innovative new ideas like this, as we saw in the US during the 2008 election campaign. Will journalists, broadcasters and papers live up to this challenge?

What do you think? And if you’ve got an innovative idea for the Future of News yourself, drop me a line!

More UK Future of News talk

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 9, 2010

The Future of News Meetup Group continues to grow from strength to strength this week, with the first local branch meetings held in Birmingham and Brighton.

To Brighton first, where the group (hashtag #bfong), organised by Journalism.co.uk‘s Judith Townend included talks from Jo Wadsworth from the Brighton Argus and Simon Willison from the Guardian.

They both spoke about some awesome innovations in journalism, including the Guardian’s successful crowd-sourcing experiment during the MPs expenses scandal.

Laura Oliver provides excellent coverage of both speakers which you can read here and here.

To Birmingham where the group (hashtag #fonwm) heard from Andrew Brightwell from hyperlocal blog Grounds and debated some exciting new business models; hyperlocal star Philip John provides a good write-up here, and student Alex Gamela shares his thoughts too.

Meanwhile the first Welsh event in Cardiff is being planned and there’s plans afoot to set one up in Scotland too.

And back in London, there are still a few places left for February’s event featuring, among others, radio futurologist James Cridland – click here to find out more!