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.

Greenslade is right: I *am* saying what ought to happen

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 18, 2010

Thanks to all of you who left so many interesting and diverse comments on ‘Hold the Front Page, I haven’t got a clue‘. It’s had more than a thousand page views in 24 hours which is awesome.

British journalism commentator Roy Greenslade has also stepped into the debate, in support of Ed Caeser’s article, and dismissing myself, Adam Tinworth and Claire Wardle who disagreed with it (you can read Adam’s response here and Claire’s here).

Roy Greenslade’s criticism comes down to this:

…the difference between them and Caesar (and me) is between “is” and “ought.”

Caesar and his interviewees are telling like it is. His critics are saying what ought to happen.

And he gets it spot on: I am saying what ought to happen. I really believe journalism needs to change and should change for the benefit of everyone.

That’s why I quit my nice job in the mainstream media eight months ago. That’s why I’ve written three ebooks to help people to do things differently and better. That’s why I write thousands of words a week about it on this blog, at Duckrabbit and on journalism.co.uk. That’s why I set up the Future of News Meetups, so journalists who want to create the future can meet and come up with new ideas.

What’s the point in saying it how it is? Or fantasizing about how it was? Surely the most productive thing is to fantasize about how it could be…and then make it happen.

Greenslade ends by quoting one of his students at City University*, dismayed at the prospect of having to be entrepreneurial online. “That’s all very well” she tells him, “but I came here to get on to a newspaper.” A valid point – we must remember alternative ways of doing things aren’t for everyone (although Greenslade neglects to mention her ambitions may be because that’s what the City University brochure promised her before she paid £7,900 to do the course).

Of course, many young journalist will still want to work on a national. Thousands of them will want nothing more than to be presenting the BBC 10 bulletin in 20 years time. That was my dream when I trained.

There’s nothing wrong with holding on to that dream. The future of news still has the BBC, Sky, CNN, The Guardian, the New York Times and the Sun in it. Still doing what they do. Still hiring.

But there is this other opportunity that exists now right now that we would be plain stupid to pass up. An opportunity to diversify the news ecosystem, let new species emerge. To do something more than make coffee and rewrite press releases for five years. To not only do sort of journalism you love and get paid for it, but to go down as a pioneer and an innovator.

Oh, and there’s plenty o’ money to be made too if that’s what motivates you. The Video Journalism pioneer Michael Rosenblum says it best in a comment on this very blog:

There is an absolute fortune to be made in the journalism business today and for the next decade. The whole apple cart of our industry has been turned upside-down and that means we are undergoing a massive reorganization of our industry…there are several billion pounds laying on the table just waiting to be scooped up by any aggressive enough to go after them. And the path to that is most certainly not taking a job as a reporter at a newspaper.

Of course money isn’t everything  (although it’s what motivated the newspaper pioneers of the 19th century).

I’m going to end there, because these blogger debates tend to eventually descend into ‘you misinterpreted the tense of what I said’ pedantry. But it’s important we thrash out these issues now because, in some sense, the future of the industry relies on it.

If we let the naysayers, the doom-mongers and the sceptics win out, we risk paralysing the young innovators upon whose shoulders it falls to reinvent journalism.

They need ideas, encouragement, support and motivation – something they certainly won’t get from the Sunday Times or the Media Guardian.

A quick timeline in case you need to catch up:

  • Ed Caeser writes this
  • Claire Wardle tweets this
  • Adam Tinworth blogs this
  • I blog this
  • Roy Greenslade blogs this

*I also trained, and had Greenslade lectures, at City University in 2006-7