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!

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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!

Twitter as a research tool?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 24, 2009

“Weird and aimless”: that was David Mitchell’s summation of Twitter in his extremely witty must-read column in last Sunday’s Observer.

His brief description went as follows:

‘It’s a website where you express what you’re currently doing in 140 characters or fewer and that gets sent to all your “followers”; similarly, the “tweets” of those you “follow” are relayed to you – and you can do it on your phone, laptop, BlackBerry, iThermos or rape alarm.’

Pretty much sums it up. But the great thing about it, is it keeps coming up with new uses. For example, I discovered this week it provides an excellent living, breathing research tool for journalists.

How? Well, later this week I am flying out to Iraq to spend some time reporting on the work of  British troops in the closing days of Operation Telic; the advent of control being handed to Iraqi troops. Now I’ve only been given short notice of the visit – well 5 days to be precise – and that’s hardly enough time to dig through A. Leo Oppenheim’s Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilisation.

I need the facts and I need them fast. But as well as reading up on the basics of the Iraq occupation, I need to be following the latest news and developments before I head out. That’s where Twitter comes in. With Tweetdeck installed, I have had constant updates on all the chatter involving “iraq” and “basra” for the last 3 days. I know who’s talking about it, and when big news stories happen they appear as news feeds.

Best of all it’s live, it’s fresh.

For those that would come back saying Twitter is not a reliable source – well, actually if the sites it links to like the BBC and CNN are reliable then what’s the problem?

And on that whole “reliability” issue, well let’s go back to David Mitchell – he sums it up perfectly:

‘…readers should always question the veracity of what they read and the motives of whoever wrote it, and in the internet age more than ever. People who allow themselves to be made credulous by stylish typesetting and a serif font are screwed. And if Wikipedia, while being very informative in most cases, teaches a few lessons about questioning sources, then that’s all to the good.’

Let’s not forget Twitter as a good tool for collecting information, as well as publishing it.

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I’m leaving very shortly; in the likely absence of any internet connection in Iraq this will be the last blog for a week or so…