Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Review: “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook” by Mark S. Luckie

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 29, 2010
Digital Journalist Handbook by Mark S Luckie

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook on Amazon 

It’s no secret we all need to tool up. And it’s no secret the thought of doing video or podcasts or data visualisations is pretty terrifying for anyone who’s just had a single discipline for much of their journalism career.

Enter The Digital Journalist Handbook, written by multimedia journalist and prominent digital journalist and blogger Mark S Luckie.

Mark’s the sort of guy with the right attitude: laid off from his staff job in the US last year, (which he says “devasted” him) he set about making the most of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution. He turned his blog (10000words.net) into a must read for any journalist – and then wrote this book.

“I was hungry and flat broke, but the book gave me something else to focus on and channel my energy into.”

Beats sitting at home watching Rikki Lake in your pants, right?

The very basics

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is, I think, aimed at the complete novice in a range of disciplines. It gently introduces you into video, audio, flash, data visualisation, writing for the web, blogging and audio slideshows, assuming you had never heard of the terms before you picked up the book.

If you’re familiar with any of these disciplines you might find The Digital Journalist’s Handbook a tad frustrating.  But for the nervous novice, it’s a God send. For example, I didn’t get much from the chapters on blogging, video or audio, but as soon as I reached the dedicated chapters on Flash and Data Visualisation the learning began in earnest.

Mark introduces you to each medium, telling you how it’s used and what for and then offers practical advice on using the actual equipment involved. You’ll get introduced to Final Cut Pro, Audacity, Soundslides and Flash; just enough to get you started, but I think you’ll need the kit on your computer to really get the most out of it.

Support

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is backed by a healthy dose of supporting materials. Clear diagrams and photographs adorn the pages, from a valuable visualisation of a video editing interface, to arguably over the top diagrams of a USB lead. But, then not everyone know’s what a USB lead is right?

And not content with a book alone, Mark has also created an excellent supporting website, referred to regularly within the pages, packed with extra goodies for readers, including extra tutorials and recommended software.

The ever changing  industry…

There’s a danger with publishing a physical tome for such a rapidly changing industry could put this book out of date too quickly, but after a thorough read through I think Mark S Luckie’s work will stand the test of time. Sure the industry will change around us, but for the forseeable future video, audio, slideshows, flash and data visualisation are permanent parts of the multimedia journalists tool kit.

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is all about the practical skills, and doesn’t really touch on the all important mindset for the next generation journalist. It is a book written for journalists who want to make money the old way, on news desks or as a freelancer.

For more and more graduating students that isn’t a practical option any more.

However, even what I call Next Generation Journalists, looking for new work opportunities, would be foolish to pass over the skills contained in the Digital Journalist’s Handbook. Whatever path you choose, you’ll need the same skills.

Self-publishing

In true new journalist style, Mark has also shared how he made the book, a guide perfect for anyone thinking of self publishing:

“I decided to self-publish The Handbook to prove to myself and to others that it was no longer necessary to go through traditional channels to successfully publish and distribute a book.”

It wasn’t long before Mark was offered a staff job again, but he still keeps his hand in the blogging scene, and his posts are always worth checking out. Reflecting, Mark says he feels lucky to have lost his job when he did.

I think we should feel grateful too – without Mark losing his job, we’d probably be without this valuable (and currently unique) training handbook.

Have you read it? What do you think? Stick ’em in the comments below.

Click here to read The Digital Journalist’s Handbook

Introducing: the journalist of the future

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 23, 2009

There’s been enough talk about the cancer spreading through modern journalism. The cutting of jobs and money, the shedding of audiences and advertising, the invasion of PR guff and the medium’s failure to reject it; and vitally, the disappearance of time for journalists to do some proper journalism.

I’m tired of talking about the past and want to know what’s coming next. Here’s my picture of a future journalist, based on books, blogs, a couple of talks I’ve given recently and all the noise on Twitter. As always, it’s by no means comprehensive – so let me know what’s right and wrong in the comments box!

Typewriter

 

Introducing: the journalist of the future

This combines the technical skills the new journalist will need (plus the old ones), new ways of collaborating with audiences and journalists across the globe; and most importantly an entrepreneurial edge to create an army of “creative entrepreneurs”.

The Jack of All Trades

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: the journalist of the future is a reporter, a video journalist, a photo-journalist, audio journalist and interactive designer, all-in-one. They shoot and edit films, audio slideshows, podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, and longer articles.  They may have one specialism out of those, but can go somewhere and cover a story in a multitude of platforms.

They may start off hiring the kit, but eventually will become a one-person news operation, with their own cameras, audio recorders and editing equipment.

They don’t just do it because it potentially means more revenue; they do it because they love telling stories in different ways. And let’s get another thing straight: they still live and breathe the key qualities of journalism: curiosity, accuracy and a desire to root out good stories and tell the truth.

The Web Designer

It goes without saying the journalist of the future should know several languages, two of which should be XHTML and CSS (and the more spoken ones the better). Their ability to design interactive online experiences will give them an advantage over competitors and a chance to charge more for their work.

They have an amazing portfolio website which shows off their wares.

They understand audio and video for the web does not follow the rules of radio and TV. They know what works online and what doesn’t. They can use social media to drum up interest and audiences in what they do, and are members of LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Twitter to name just a few.

And it also goes without saying the journalist of the future has been a blogger for a long time.

The collaborator

The journalist of the future doesn’t belong to the world of “fortress journalism“. They don’t sit at their desk in a newsroom all day – in fact, they work from home.

They use Noded Working techniques to find collaborators for different digital projects; picking the most talented people from around the world. There are no office politics or long meetings. They market their work well enough to get chosen to take part in other projects.

And the journalist of the future aspires to the ideals of Networked Journalism set out by Charlie Beckett. They are not a closed book obsessed by the final product. Their journalism is as much about the process as the final product and they use social media technologies to get reaction to stories, find contributors, experts and even money. To top it off, they share their final product under the ethos of creative commons so others can build on it.

The Specialist

The internet has shown we’re just not prepared to pay for general news, especially when someone else is giving it away for free. The decline in newsrooms killed off many correspondents and specialists, but the journalist of the future knows there’s more money and more audiences in a niche. So they become more of a specialist in some areas, or use a current specialism to build an audience around what they do.

Science journalist Angela Saini, for example, uses her qualifications in the subject to get her work with a whole host of TV and radio science programmes.

Business, showbiz and sports news I think have a paid-for future – but so do other specialisms.

The Flexible Adapter

The journalist of the future will be born out of this recession and the death of traditional journalism. They’ll succeed now because they adapted, re-trained and were prepared to change their ways. And that is what will help them survive the next downturn too, and the next media revolution. They are flexible, creative and not stuck in their ways.

Mark Luckie, writing over at 10,000 Words says this ability to reinvent is really important:

…being a Jack of all trades is only the starting point. Journalism and its associated technologies are changing at a rapid pace and to learn one skill set is to be left in the dust. Sadly some of the technologies…will be obsolete in just a few years time. To survive in this industry means continuously evolving along with it.

They embrace new technologies, rather than view them as a threat. When a new social media tool or technology comes along, they ask themselves how can I use this?

And they are prepared to live light for a bit. They can live cheap, which means they can charge less and get more business. As David Westphal writes, describing journalist Jason Motlagh:

He lives modestly and accepts that there may be periods in his work where he’ll have to do something besides journalism to pay the bills.

The Entrepreneur

The journalist of the future is a Creative Entrepreneur. Their business is their talent, creativity and knowledge. They are a freelancer, yes, but not a slave to the odd newsroom shift or rubbish PR story; instead they are in command of their destiny by creating content people will pay for. They discover stories and generate new ideas and sell them.

Back to Charlie Beckett in Networked Journalism:

“Entrepreneurship must be part of the process because every journalist will have to be more “business creative”…Journalism and business schools should work more closely together as information becomes more important to the economy…”

Their multiple skills means they can pitch countless ideas in several formats, for a wide variety of clients. They run their new start-ups in the get-rich-slow mentality described by Time Magazine as Li-Lo business:

It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

And they think outside the small journo bubble: their clients aren’t just Cosmo or Radio 4, but B2B publications, charities, NGOs. They get grants from journalism funds to pursue important and under-reported stories.

Evidence has shown several sacked newspaper journalists have made a new career by remembering newsrooms aren’t the only people who pay for content. Brian Storm, from MediaStorm, quoted in PDN Online says:

“NGOs and corporations are just now starting to see the power of multimedia stories…A pr message has no authenticity. It won’t go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that.”

The Storyteller

And most importantly they do the thing all journalists have ever done: tell stories. But they do it better than traditional journalists because they are not so constrained by time or house styles or formulas. They understand what makes a good story and aren’t afraid to break some rules.

And they have the time to tell the stories properly: truthfully, accurately and responsibly.

I think these make up an exciting future for journalism, but also for the people who try this form of journalism out. Is there anything more exciting than being such a creative entrepreneur?

There’s never been a better time, I tell students, to be a journalistic entrepreneur — to invent your own job, to become part of the generation that figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet. The young journalists who are striking out on their own today, experimenting with techniques and business models, will invent what’s coming.

Most experiments will fail. That’s not a bug in the system, but a feature. It’s how we get better.

Dan Gilmore, Centre for Citizen Media