Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

One Week in Iraq

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 19, 2009

One Week in Iraq

After quite a few weeks of work (and a trip to Iraq) my first ever multimedia project went online last week. It’s called One Week In Iraq and I hope it’s a vibrant snapshot of what life is like for the final British soldiers to serve in Iraq, many of whom are starting to come home.

At it’s centre is an interactive collage I created on the website Vuvox.com which was a joy to use; I’m very happy with the final result.

The rest is made up of short self-shoot films, including a piece about the work the soldiers are doing and a look at whether Iraq’s got what it takes to be a big tourist destination.

Following on from earlier articles about kitting out on the cheap, One Week In Iraq follows the same vein, with the only cost being the domain name and hosting. Everything else has been free!

I guest-blogged about it for Innovative Interactivity‘s Behind the Scenes series, and it’s had an interesting write up over at Wire and Lights too. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Iraq: the first draft

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 15, 2009

The first draft video report I shot in Iraq is on Current TV’s UK website this week.

I’ve uploaded a draft to see how their target audience respond to it, whether they like it, hate it or don’t bother watching it, it will be interesting to see.

Sadly the quality of both the audio and the video have taken a battering in the upload, but the gist is there. It was shot on my Panasonic NVDX100, and cut on Adobe Premiere Elements. The music and non-video images are all published under the Creative Commons Licence, and found using some of the sources I described here.

It’s the latest step in my plans to build a multimedia website on my assignment with British troops in Iraq, before they finally withdraw in June. More on that soon! In  the meantime, whether you’re a regular visitor, a media professional, or a passer-by, I’d love to hear your feedback on the film too – the good, the bad, the ugly…

bloodtreasure-screenshot2WordPress doesn’t let me embed Current videos, so click on the image to visit the video.

To find out when and why I was in Iraq, check out this previous blog post.

Multimedia shooting: more lessons learned

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2009

My post on the challenges of shooting multimedia during a visit to Iraq this month proved a popular one (thank you!). A week of furious editing in both radio studios and on my own video edit software later and I’ve learned a load more. Here are the highlights…


8 more lessons learned in shooting multimedia

01. different mediums, different audiences

I wrote on a previous post how a difficulty of shooting for different mediums was juggling all the kit. Well, since coming back I’ve really come to realise how you also have to juggle different audiences some times. I went out primarily for my local radio station; the brief: meet local soldiers, find out about their life on the front line, get some good home references (like supporting local football teams) and messages back home to loved ones. Your typical local young house-wifey type content.

In taking out a camera though, I gave myself  a second agenda – an audience on the web very different from my radio one. Now the challenge before me is to produce content for two different audiences with the same raw material. So something fun – like this; and something a bit more serious – like this.

02. different mediums – helpful sometimes

OK, so holding a mic and a camera ain’t easy but it can cover your back too. The external mic on my camera failed me on one interview, but luckily I had the same interview in mp3 from my Marantz recorder. A bit of tricky synch work and you’ve fixed the problem.

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

03. interviews

Self-shooting without a tripod made interviews a bit of a challenge. I had to be close enough to my subjects to pick up audio on my Marantz recorder, but far enough away to get a wide enough head shot. The result: most interviews were in extreme close up! Although close ups are often recommended for online video in its smaller 720×526 screens.

04. get to know your camera

I didn’t have enough time to really practice with my camera before I used it for the first time. I meant a lot of wasted tape as I tried to ride the iris or adjust the manual focus.

05. keep it manual

I don’t regret keeping all my settings – but namely white balance, focus and iris – completely manual.

Scribbles and notes

Scribbles and notes

06. log it

I logged everything as I shot, which has saved time in the edit. Also my logbook provided a great home for memes, sketches and ideas.

07. be prepared…

…for technical hitches. I was very positive about my budget film making kit earlier this year, but remember, pay peanuts and you get monkeys. Adobe Premiere Elements is great value for money, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it crashes every time I try to capture video. And the image recorded is shifted ever so slightly to the left. And when I recorded video with my external mic plugged in but not switched on I got a nice blast of Iraqi radio on the soundtrack instead.

08. oh and one bit of advice to anyone else who takes  recording equipment to a military theatre…

…don’t record anywhere near a military radio kit. Number of interviews lost: 2. Number of amazing pieces to camera on top of a moving vehicle lost: all of them

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

All the radio content has been broadcast this week on 96.9 Viking FM in the UK. Lots of content including interviews, audio slideshows and video is online – click here. I will put up all my audio shortly. And more video coming soon!

Virginia Tech coverage: enough now

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 19, 2007

Four days after a troubled student gunned down more than thirty of his fellow students and colleagues and it’s still all out war as far as the networks are concerned. Here in Britain it has cooled off a little bit, but stateside there’s little other news.

And it is with great reluctance that I use the word “overkill” to describe the coverage, not least because of the terrible pun. But there’s not many other words to describe it.

VJ David Dunkley Gyimah had the point nailed on his blog as early as Tuesday, but his concerns have proved even more correct. Cho Seung Hui has gone from a depressed student to a “madman” overnight. In what seems utterly remarkable to me, CNN actually has a jimmy-jib rigged up on the V.T. campus to get sweeping shots from high and low. And it was compounded this morning with the delivery and broadcast of letters, pictures and videos from the killer himself: creepy and haunting, Cho’s seriousness is undermined slightly by his vocal resemblance to Keano Reeves.

Journalists are used to increasing “news management” from press officers and the good ones battle against it. Now, we’ve all fallen for news management by a mass killer.

On CNN International this morning, the script towards the end of an hour of programming went – with no irony whatsoever – like this:

“Your emails have been pouring into us here at CNN. Dan in the Netherlands says: ‘The killer’s video adds nothing to the police enquiry and adds only to the suffering of the families. It worries me that it might inspire another teenager to do something similar like Cho was inspired by Columbine. The networks have gone too far and should stop showing the video constantly.’

Don’t forget to keep sending your emails…meanwhile continuous coverage of the massacres in Virginia continue after the break….”

Audiences on both sides of the Atlantic are clearly both tiring of the coverage and seeing through the hyperbole and journalese that the writers have flung our way. Several times already I’ve heard and seen some of the golden rules of news writing and reporting broken in the race for the biggest yank to the heart strings.

In comparison to the hundred or so people who lost their lives in Iraq yesterday it doesn’t make sense. Will they get each of their names and photos slowly faded onto screen? Will they get their stories read out to the world? Nope.

“No one disputes that this was a major story, and one needing sensitive handling. But as usual you and the other media went over the top in the reporting of it” reads one comment on the BBC News website.

“Seriously, can’t we do better?” says someone else on the NBC blog (via Adrian Monck), “Isn’t it time for news to be news, not endless, repetitive wallpaper that at once offends and numbs?”

The toughest degree there is

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on February 25, 2007

Students like to moan a fair bit. The course is too expensive, the work’s too hard, the lectures are too boring, the exams are badly organised…it goes on.

But imagine trying to study in Baghdad.

Having been a student since the Iraq conflict began I’m ashamed I haven’t even considered what it’s like to study in one of the most dangerous country’s on earth. Perhaps it’s because I just assumed education has been cancelled amid the daily carnage of market bombings and kidnappings.

But it goes on. And for Iraqi students this week is the start of their mid term exams.

According to Correspondent Sahar, writing for the fascinating Inside Iraq blog, the scariest part of the exams for the students is not the pressure of the exams, the last minute revision or the panic of a topic overlooked…it’s the fact that the exams have to have a fixed timetable.

That means they’re effectively “sitting ducks” for the next ten days.

Usually, lecturers are forced to adopt a random timetable that’s never the same for more than a week, to avoid the kidnappers, the snipers and the bombers.

As Sahar says, it’s something the students are sadly used to as an unimaginable addition to the stress of study:

Snipers pick inhabitants and students walking from college to hospital or back. One car stops in front of the entrance, lets out one handcuffed young man, waits for him to take a few steps away … and then he is shot, bait, it turned out. Naïve students run to his aid only to be shot at by snipers on a rooftop of a high building in Haifa Street.