Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Noded working – a new way to do journalism?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 18, 2009

As the BBC’s  top journalists wrote in a newly published “Future of Journalism” document [PDF], the age of closed cup journalism is over. “…the fortresses are crumbling and courtly jousts with fellow journalists are no longer impressing the crowds” writes Director of BBC World Service Peter Horrocks.

People like Charlie Beckett have been promoting the idea of Networked Journalism for some time now, encouraging an openness throughout the entire journalism process.

Well, I was introduced recently to the idea of Noded working, by marketing consultant Jon Moss. It’s  about connecting and working with people across the world, and it’s becoming more popular among other digital creatives,  so I wondered – what could journalists do with it?

What is Noded working?

Here’s how Noded‘s creators Andreas Carlsson and Jaan Orvet describe it:

Noded is a new and better way of working. It is based on logical and natural ways of interacting with people, nurturing ideas, and simply doing a better job without the constraints of everything that comes with traditional ‘business life’. The Noded philosophy is also about flexibility and efficiency in collaboration, especially among people who are geographically far apart.

It runs off the idea that working in offices (or newsrooms) is rubbish. We’re tied to our desks, forced into ways of working which suit management, and forced to work with people we don’t like. We’ve all heard of “office politics” – now imagine a world without that.

The main characteristic of us Noded type professionals is our desire to set our own goals, and build businesses based on our own values.

So you start-up a new project – say, you’ve got funding to report on the increase in electrical waste in sub-saharan Africa. You’ve been given a grant to go out and film there, but you need a researcher. So you look around and find a good one, in New Zealand.

In a Noded network each member is an individual professional, running his or her own business. We come together to work on projects, as and when a project calls for it. Sometimes we all work together, some times only a few of us. It’s up to who ever brings the project in to choose who, and when, someone contributes.

And our only obligation is to ourselves; if we don’t want to participate in a project we don’t have to. No hard feelings.

Then you need a web designer, and know a good one in India. Noded working lets the three of you collaborate no matter where you are.

The project a success, you then return to your freelance ways…until another journalist approaches you: they’re in America, but need a good shooter to help them on a documentary project. Great! Noded working would let you get involved – this time, not as the project leader, but as an assistant:

This way of working ensures that we can take on different roles in different projects. From Project Manager in one project, to developer in another, to Account Manager in a third.

It’s about what skills match what project. There’s no newsroom politics (“oh, she got to go to Afghanistan last time”) – in fact no newsroom. And that’s the thing Noded can’t help with-established newsrooms. Carlsson and Orvet admit themselves:

In traditional employment this is not an option; company policies dictate how and when employees can further their careers and what if any impact they can have on the companies direction.

But for the burgeoning new brand of ‘creative freelancers’ emerging from the decline of traditional journalism, this presents a really exciting new way of working on stories. Why be limited to people in your own newsroom?

And the forms of Video Journalism startups eschewed by Michael Rosenblum et al, are in a way, already doing this.

I haven’t tried this out yet, but would be interested to hear from anyone (journalist, or otherwise) who has.

And some links for you:

An interview with Jaan and Andreas on Social Media Club

37Signals: a site with tools for noded workers

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Some wise words

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on August 5, 2007

This articles six weeks old but I think it’s good enough to share around some more.

BBC training guru Vin Ray writes about how he re-discovered an old email from Alan Johnston the then virtually unheard of Middle East correspondent, and now one of the most recognisable faces of BBC News.

In it Alan gives some advice on what makes a good radio reporter. As someone just a few months into their first radio journo job I think it’s brilliant advice:

I normally never tell war stories “… when I was in Jalalabad with the mortars coming down … blah, blah, blah.” But, on this one occasion, there is something I can remember from Grozny that illustrates the point. I was with a journalist, not a BBC bloke, who very much liked being in a war zone, and during the battle for the city, we were in an abandoned block of flats. We went into an apartment where a shell had come through the living-room wall. And I remember hearing this guy immediately start talking about whether it had been a bazooka shell or a rocket-propelled grenade that had done the damage, and where the soldier who fired it must have been standing on the street outside.

But if you looked around the room for a minute, you could see the life that used to go on in it. You could see the books that the family used to read, and the sort of pictures that they liked to hang on the walls, and, from photographs, you could see that they had three kids and that the oldest girl had graduated from university. Of course, their story, what had happened to them – what they were, and what they had lost – was what the war was all about. It did not really matter whether it was a bazooka or a rocket that had turned their world upside down.

So much of the job is about trying to find the imagination within yourself to try to see, to really see, the world through the eyes of the people in the story. Not just through the eyes of the Palestinian who has just had his home smashed. But also through the eyes of the three young Israelis in a tank who smashed it. Why did they see that as a reasonable thing to do? What was going through their minds as their tank went through the house? If you can come close to answering questions like that, then you’ll be giving the whole picture, which is what the BBC must do.

Click here to read the full article by Vin Ray.

And Vin has written one of the best books for aspiring journos there is:  The Television News Handbook.

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“Why don’t we promote the positive?”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on May 6, 2007

Here’s a really interesting statistic, you probably didn’t know: 60% of all the people who access the BBC News Africa page via their mobile phones…do so from Nigeria.

Frontline logoIt’s just one of a whole host of interesting points to come out of a debate on how the media cover Africa at London’s Frontline Club this week.

And the big question that came out of it was: “why don’t we promote the positive?

Here’s another fact that proves the point: Zimbabwe has the continent’s worst economy. Inflation was at 1600% last time we all checked. And it get’s argubly the most coverage in the western media, alongside the conflicts in Somalia and Sudan.

And the country with the continent’s best economy? Angola – it’s growing massively. But when was the last time you saw an article on Angola in the western media? Well I’ll help you out a bit: June 16th 2006 was last time a specific article was published in the New York Times.  When was the last time you saw it on a TV news bulletin?

The debate was handed to an audience of journalists working from Africa and they raised some interesting points – here’s a summary:

  • Western media has a “soft touch” with Africa, born out of colonial guilt.
  • Most African newspapers are now online, so there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.
  • Is there an Africa fatigue?
  • Western editors follow the news agenda like a flock of sheep – courageous editors and reporters are needed to break away and cover the uncovered.
  • We are failing because we’re not making African stories interesting to western audiences.
  • Is it time to help normal people in Africa tell their own stories?
  • And the most worrying point: “Nobody cares – editors don’t care.”

And the one thing I’d add to that myself is money. A problem in the eyes of coin counting editors is that it just costs too much to report on Africa. Maybe the answer might come from enterprising young multiskilled journalists going out with cheap kit and reporting it at a lower price? Who knows.
So is all news out of Africa bad news? For the most part yes – but then most news out of anywhere tends to be bad news. I definitely agree with the point that we’re not making it interesting enough and we’re not connecting stories from Africa to our own lives.

And with hundreds of western corporations investing in Africa, we are most definitely having an impact on the shaping of the continent. And not always for good.

There are many journalists and bloggers freelancing in Africa at the moment – I’d be interested to see what they think…

Alan Johnston: one month on

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on April 11, 2007

Alan JohnstonSo BBC Middle East correspondent Alan Johnston’s now been ‘in capitivity’ in Gaza for a month. The in capitivity part’s in quote marks because no-one knows for sure he’s actually being held hostage. We’ve heard nothing from any kidnappers or terrorist groups. No-one’s demanding money or the release of prisoners.

This is of course horribly concerning for Alan’s family and his employer the BBC, not to mention every other journalist working in the middle east or elsewhere.

Morbid statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists show that already this year eight journalists have been killed in the line of their work.

The lastest was the terrible case of Ajmal Nakshbandi, an Afghan translator working with an Italian journalist. They were both captured along with a driver by the Taliban. The Italian was freed three weeks ago; on Sunday Amjal was beheaded. Footage on the wires today shows the driver was literally held to the ground and killed with a small machete.

Journalists have been the victim of kidnappings and intimidation for a long time. Usually though it seems to be domestic journalists that are most at risk, such as Russian journalist Anna Politokskaya killed in Moscow last autumn.

The worrying new post 9/11 trend is the foreign reporter being seen as a viable target.

On Thursday the BBC are holding a press conference to highlight Alan’s month still missing. In an unusual sign of solidarity, they’re producing a programme in conjunction with Sky News and Al-Jazeera on the dangers facing journalists today. We also filmed an insert for it at CNN this afternoon.

Johnston’s low appearance rate on domestic programmes has stopped his disappearance raising the eyebrows it should here in the UK. Hopefully tomorrow will help boost the profile.

People need to realise the risks others take to bring them news that chances are they don’t even take notice of anyway.

  • Click here to sign and read the petition calling for Alan’s release.
  • Click here for details of Thursday’s events

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