Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Ideas 003: event based reporting

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on December 4, 2009

I’ve opened up a new category on the blog. It’s called Ideas for the future of news and here I’m  collating good, tangible, positive, innovative ideas on how journalism can move forward.

Previous articles:

Ideas 002: students as investigators

Ideas 001: the news aggregator

Idea: The Berlin Project

By: Alex Wood, Sheena Rossiter, Marcus Gilroy-Ware, Dominique Van Heerden, Marco Woldt

The five people behind the Berlin Project are the perfect example of young journalists refusing to be battered by economic storms, or waiting for journalism to sort itself out. When many recent graduates would have been preparing themselves for another 3-week unpaid internship at some dodgy music mag, or scouring the papers for PR jobs, these guys decided to go do some journalism instead.

It takes a fair bit of chutzpah to fly yourself out to Germany to cover the Berlin Wall anniversary with no real audience and not much financial backing. But they did, and you can see the results on their website.

Under the banner “journalism like you never thought possible” they went into Berlin under the radar covering the unofficial story. The site is a real multimedia mash too with audio, video packages, mobile video and photographs rolled into one.

Something lots of the big boys talk about all the time, but rarely produce themselves.

This aside, I’ve labelled the Berlin Project as an example of event-based reporting, a different angle on journalism, and one perhaps with commercial possibilities?

The Berlin Project was about one event, and offering in-depth coverage of that time defined moment. It is nothing new of course, we’re all used to ‘special coverage’ of the Olympics, elections, and remembrance services in the mainstream media.

But until now, they’ve been an extension of larger broadcasters or papers.

I think the advantage of the Berlin Project is its size (small, nimble) and therefore flexibility. They were also able to work cheaply, getting footage on iPhones and editing it quickly with iMovie. All told, a valuable alternative to mainstream coverage.

And I wonder for a second whether there’s a business model here too? Imagine being commissioned to cover all sorts of awesome events, because its what you do really well. It’s not a traditional niche, but hey- a niche is a niche right?

The Berlin Project team were able to get backing from Reuters  and do some business with smaller sites and Alex reckons they’ll break even, all told. Not bad for a pilot project. And there could be plans for more events coverage in 2010.

And even if you don’t like the idea, these guys have shown what’s possible when you just get off your ass and do something.

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Great free apps for multimedia journalists

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 8, 2009

The great thing about multimedia journalism is that it provides so much choice for treating stories. Do I write a straight article? Upload an mp3 interview? Produce a video package? An audio slideshow? An interactive map? Even a timeline?

I’ve been experimenting with most of the above for both work and in my own time, and discovered there are more and more free web based applications which let you do many of these without too much technical know-how.

Here then is a list of great free resources for multimedia journo’s hoping to get things done on the cheap. It’s by no means comprehensive…if you know of a better one, then stick it in the comments box!

Great apps for multimedia journalists

AUDIO

Soundcloud cockayne-screen-grab

Soundcloud is what’s been inexplicably missing for a long time: an audio version of Youtube. Quick uploads allow you to embed a very attractive audio player into any webpage. Best of all, the player is customisable, and means, for example, my radio station Viking FM can embed it in branded colours. The people at Soundcloud are very helpful too.

Cost: free (or paid subscription)

Downsides: the free subscription only allows 5 uploads a month.

Audioboo

Lots of noise about this 4iP funded startup, which allows you to upload audio from your iPhone direct to the Audioboo server and thus any website you chose. Has the benefits for a multimedia journalist in that you can upload audio from location, as Guardian journalists did during the G20 protests.

Cost: free (registration required)

Downsides: no iPhone, no boo.

Mixcloud

Still in beta, this is yet to be available to everyone, but looks like a more speech orientated alternative to Soundcloud.

Cost: free

Downsides: not yet in operation

Jamendo

Jamendo was a very happy find for me: a copyright free music site – where the music is actually quality! Record producers should be hunting Jamendo’s ripe jungle for new talent: it’s all unsigned artists (mostly electronic, and mostly French) who put up their music for free use under the Creative Commons Licence.

Cost: free (registration required)

Downside: it’ll take some time to find the perfect soundtrack to your piece.

VIDEO/PICTURES

Vimeo

This is the film makers Youtube. It allows HD uploading, has a smart player and quick streaming. A big benefit is an excellent web 2.0 set up and talented community. Your video might get more passing views on Youtube, but it’ll get less “fuk dis shit innit rofl lol” comments. In fact, almost all the comments I have had have been useful, constructive criticism of the technicalities of the piece.

Cost: basic registration is free. You have to pay for Vimeo Plus HD uploads.

Downsides: smaller audience, but as a video host to embed, it’s fine.

Al Jazeera

Already leading the charge from traditional media, Al-Jazeera has broken new ground by putting stock footage available for download under the creative commons licence. It’s so called ‘repository’ currently holds plentiful (and harrowing) footage of December’s conflict in Gaza. A useful practice tool, if anything, in the art of knowing what distressing images to include and what to leave out.

Cost: free, with CC restrictions, although it does allow it’s content to be used for commercial purposes (see comments, below)

Downsides: until Al-Jazeera expand the repository it just contains Gaza content.

Multicolr

Here’s a little gem: a flickr library, searchable by colour. You choose up to 10 colours from a palette and it automatically brings up all photos containing those colours. multicolr-screengrab

It’s fantastic for finding generic images to match the design of your website (you’ll see a few on this site). All images are released under creative commons.

Cost: free to use

Downsides: you can’t search for the subject of images; frustrating when you want a black and white image of that something.



SLIDESHOWS

Soundslide

Soundslide seems to be the market leader in creating professional audio slide shows at a low cost. It allows greater control and manipulation of images, captioning and music/narration control. On the other hand though, it doesn’t finish in an easy flash window for you to embed. Oh and it’s not free.

Cost: $69.95 (~£50.00)

Downsides: The finished slideshow is turned into several files which you then need to upload to your own webspace. A bit cumbersome.

TIMELINES

Xtimeline

This is one I’ve been getting to know a little recently, in an overly ambitious attempt to create an interactive timeline of every Hull FC v Hull KR match since 1899. Sadly the sheer number matches put paid to that. And that’s a difficulty with X-timeline. You can input events individually if there aren’t many. Or you can use an excel spreadsheet, and upload it as a .csv file. Despite this it is still the most user friendly way to create and embed timelines I’ve found yet.

Cost: free

Downsides: the timeline design is un modifiable. No matter the design of your site, you’re stuck with an odd camouflage green colour.

xtimeline-screengrab

MAPS

Gunnmap

I’m yet to use this, but from the outset it appears to be a pretty easy to use platform, with a slick final product. You can create global maps on any subject and highlight stats by colour.

Cost: Free

Downside: limited to world maps.

SOURCING/DATA

Twitter

There’s nothing to say about Twitter which hasn’t already been said in 140 characters or less. Except to say it’s a great free tool for both finding contacts and stories and publicising your own work, and building a community of followers.

Facebook

Ditto.

Guardian Data store

Responding to the rise in homemade mashups and APIs, the Guardian recently opened a site publishing statistical data on various subjects. The rather nice idea being they put the leg work in and give you the stats for free. Great to plug into applications of all kinds. Such as…

Yahoo! Pipes

A very clever way of collecting information from all sorts of sources and publishing it in allsorts of ways. The cleverest thing has to be the user interface, which has you dragging a coloured pipe from one thing to another like a digital playdo set. With a bit of practice, this could be a great way to present detailed information, or even several newsfeeds through one aggregated embed.

Links to all these sites, and others not featured here, have now appeared in the Multimedia Tools links section to the right hand side of this site. If you have any better suggestions, suggest them!

G20: multimedia experiments

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on April 1, 2009

Protests are always a magnet for the media. Scuffles make great pictures for TV, chants make great sound for radio; the mass of people suggesting some great social movement.

Why should multimedia be any different?

It was no surprise all the big news organisations were employing blogs, twitter, online audio and video for today’s G20 protests. They’ve used them on news stories several times over the past few months.

What I think makes today different is this is the first time newsrooms have had significant warning of a news event, to flex their multimedia muscle and see what it’s capable of.

They had time to think ideas, get creative and explore. So, how’d they do? Here are some UK media examples:

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News : Interactive map

Immediately popular was BBC News’ interactive map which appeared mid morning.

The movable image covered central London, and as reports from the ground were filed, they appeared on the map.

The stories were multimedia; everything from text, audio, video and images.

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: Audioboo uploads

The Guardian were out in force at the protests, with journalists employing all sorts of technology to help them in their quest.

One of the favourites was the new audio sharing site Audioboo, unique from places like  Soundcloud and Mixcloud in that it only really works if you have an iPhone.

So excited were Guardian journalists by this new technology it seemed they were happy to upload all and every interview they conducted, including the one pictured, with Rory O’Driscoll.

“Sorry, were you expecting some a little more, err, involved?” he told the reporter, clearly not at all bothered about what was going on.

Guardian: twitter reporters

Guardian: twitter reporters

The Guardian’s Twitter army

Someone (on Twitter in fact) commented, on seeing this image, that there must have been more journalists on the streets than protestors.

What these provide though, were unfiltered, immediate dispatches from the scene.

Stuck in an office, those of us in Web 1.0 world were forced to watch Dermot Murgnahan and the rest of the Sky News reporters stumble their way through the protest.

“Oh look, a policeman’s fallen over” was just one remark, along with a car-crash interview with Russell Brand, the comedian who’d clearly taken the wrong turning on his way out to get some milk.

These Guardian dispatches though – raw, mispelt, abbreviated into 140 characters, gave you the very latest – and of course they’ve not been through an editor.

Who said any story couldn’t be told in 140 characters or less?

BBC News: live updates

The BBC had a similar live update system with similar benefits.

This one though included chosen comments from viewers/listeners as well as BBC correspondents (and in some cases media students) on the ground. It looked good, and continued until 2100…but I’d wager cost a lot more than any other news organisation would manage.

BBC News: live updates

So lots going on, and it felt – for once – there was more to be seen online than on TV. Has this set a precedent? I hope so. Throughout today, no-one was tweeting/blogging about the G20 coverage they heard on the radio or seen on TV. They were sharing links to sites like the above ones.

The key benefits: immediacy, raw information, and interactivity.

But for that, do I feel the coverage of the protests was any better than the old media? Hmmm, that’s not so clear cut.