Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: how to structure your stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 23, 2012

There are just four days to go until Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best goes out to the world, in a bid to raise as much cash for charity as possible.

And today I’m psyched to reveal what the front cover of the ebook will look like, thanks to the brilliant people on the Inside The Story Facebook page. Last week I threw up three front page design ideas and over the weekend, they’ve all been voting on which one they like best. And here’s the winner!

Front cover of Inside the Story

It features a mesmerising image taken by visual journalist and contributor to the book Jonah Kessel.

On Friday, I let you have a peek at what advice the book has about how to prepare your stories. Today I’ll show you what the best digital storytellers in the world have to say about how to structure a story properly.

How to structure your stories like a pro

When it comes to creating a narrative in the most effective way, no-one knows more than the contributors to the book, who all have scores of stories under their belt. Amy O’Leary is one of them: she’s a reporter on the New York Times and has been a producer of This American Life.

For Amy, it’s all about the start.

“Don’t be afraid to confuse your audience; suck them in with one gorgeous moment and use the rest of your piece to explain what the heck it was they just saw.”

I’ve written before about those vital 10 seconds at the start of every piece – something Amy echoes on her page in the book. She’s got some great advice on other ways to hook your audience right off the bat and reel them in. Many digital stories I see suffer from a boring, irrelevant opens so it’s important to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Amy, Poul and Claudio's pages from Inside the Story

So you’ve hooked them in. Now what? Poul Madsen is the founder of the Bombay Flying Club, a multimedia collective based in Denmark, but usually found in all corners of the globe. For him, it’s vital every moment of a film, article or multimedia story has drive.

“From the very first frame, everything in your story – audio and/or visual elements – must point in some direction that makes sense to your viewers. Usually this means forward!”

How to you achieve forward drive in digital storytelling? Poul goes into the details in the book. And once you’ve propelled your viewer through your story it’s time to wrap it up, and according to director Claudio Von Planta that is where resolution comes in. Claudio’s been making films for 20 years, including the hugely popular documentary The Long Way Round which followed Ewan McGregor biking through Africa. Claudio’s page is crammed with nuggets like this:

“It’s always wise to develop a human-interest angle as a secondary focus where you explore how the characters in your story deal with adversity. This approach can offer an exit if you miss the primary goal.”

Claudio also offers advice for storytellers developing investigative films, and longer feature films – all of which require a strong resolution.

There’ll be another preview tomorrow, and in the meantime get on board the Facebook page and the mailing list!

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Inside the Story and where are you?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 26, 2012

A few weeks after announcing it, I’m excited to reveal more about the storytelling book project I’m working on at the moment.

It now has a title: Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – and a website. It’s been tested in most browsers (and will look a bit different in some) so do let me know if you spot any problems.

UPDATE: there’s now a Facebook page for you to get involved in too – click here to take a look

Some of the best multimedia storytellers out there are currently working hard on their contributions for the book, and we’re going to begin layout next week.

So far, I can promise you will learn about how to structure and pace stories from award winning film makers Claudio Von Planta and the Bombay Flying Club, how to make people engage with complex issues from Catherine Orr, who helped create Coal: A Love Story, and practical advice on coming up with innovative ideas from Andrew DeVigal, Multimedia Editor at the New York Times and photojournalist Jonah Kessel.

And that’s the just the beginning! Every day I work on the book the more convinced I am it’s going to be a really useful resource for anyone who wants to be better at storytelling on the web. And all the money goes towards Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

If you’re even in the slightest bit excited by the book, please put your name in the email box at the bottom of the preview page. No spam, I promise, but a note in advance of the book being launched. And most importantly please share it with everyone who could benefit from it!

In a mission to learn as much along the way as possible I’ve designed the web site myself in HTML5 and I’ll post some lessons I’ve learned as a novice web designer in a future post.

So that link again: Inside The Story.

Over to you

I write a lot on here about the need for more starters, initiators, entrepreneurs and storytellers who are committed to quality over quantity. And I know there are lots of you out there, I just don’t know who you are.

Quite often I get offers of work which for one reason or another I am unable to take up, and my list of people to recommend is actually quite short.

So I want to build a database, if you like, of excellent multimedia producers, filmmakers, directors, photographers, web designers, who I might potentially collaborate with on an exciting online project or be able to recommend to clients. I might also be able to hook you up with other collaborators.

No guarantees on either of those, of course, but if you’re interested in collaborating with others then please drop me an email with a line or two about yourself and a link to your best work.

I should stress I’m only interested in working with people committed to investing time in ambitious, high quality work. If you’re about quick hits and talking heads, that’s fine, but not what I’m looking for. The email address is adam [at] adamwestbrook.co.uk.

In the UK or Europe (for direct collaboration)

  • Film makers
  • Photographers
  • Researchers

And anywhere in the world (where we could collaborate remotely)

  • web designers
  • graphic designers
  • interactive designers
  • motion graphics animators
  • infographic and data journalists

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Do multimedia journalism…and get paid!

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 10, 2010

Here’s a great way to build a business telling powerful human stories for people who really need them.

01. make multimedia for non-profits and NGOs

The first featured career path for the Next Generation Journalist is not so new, but it is yet to reach it’s full potential. What it’s looking for is journalists with the innovation and vision to do something different. What’s this one all about? It’s about applying your research, storytelling, writing and multimedia production skills to produce powerful content for the third sector.

In the US and Europe a fresh crop of companies are making this work. In North America, companies like MediaStorm, Weyo and Story4 (which I have featured in articles like this one) are independent companies producing content for NGOs and non-profits as well as editorial clients. In Europe, the competition is smaller, with just a handful of businesses starting to establish themselves, including Duckrabbit, Not On The Wires, and the Bombay Flying Club.

This is a sector with huge potential and it’s a great opportunity for forward thinking journalists.

If you get it right, the money is there. Brian Storm, who founded MediaStorm, says 2009 was their best year ever – but when I spoke to him in February 2010 they had already booked in 65% of that for 2010. MediaStorm actually turn down 70% of work because they’re so busy! At this year’s Digital Storytelling Conference, Duckrabbit revealed they are making money too. Do you want a piece of that pie?

Setting up a multimedia production company…

  • gives you the chance to focus on telling compelling stories, often about unreported issues
  • lets you build a solid business and brand with a well defined market
  • markets to a sector with a lot of money, and minimal expertise in journalism

And it’s not too expensive or risky to do either. A website costs $50 and a weekend’s work to get looking great with a WordPress theme. The kit, if you don’t have it already, can be yours for around $1000 (see my articles here and here). Then you need the cracking content: building a portfolio of remarkable work, by offering to produce things for free.

Find out more…

Best of the blogs: 2009

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 18, 2009

My Google Reader probably trebled in size in 2009. It’s where I get at least 50% of information, gossip, inspiration and ideas on multimedia,  journalism and the future of news. As a Christmas treat, I thought I’d share some of the best blogs of 2009 with you….

Digital Journalism

10,000 words: Mark Luckie’s site is a goldmine of beautifully presented practical advice for digital journalists. His posts have become less frequent since he became re-employed, but each one is still as valuable.

Journalism 2.0: Mark Briggs is bringing out a new book for digital journalists in 2010 – expect it to become a core text on all journalism course reading lists.

Video Journalism

Advancing the Story: Deborah Potter’s blog on video journalism serves the local American market best of all, but it still has useful advice on shooting video and interviews.

Rosenblum TV: Michael Rosenblum’s blog isn’t your standard VJ fare. As the father of the medium, he is determined to see it revolutionised, and is a vocal herald of the death of traditional TV news. He has pitched for funding on an ambitious plan to give out 1,000 Flipcams in New Jersey, and launches a new video academy in New York in 2010.

The Outernet: David Dunkley-Gyimah’s single handedly pioneered the space between video journalism and cinema; his work resembles multi-million dollar Hollywood flicks. As artist-in-residence at the South Bank Centre in London, expect more news/art mashups in 2010.

Video Journalist: Glen Canning’s site offers some great practical tips for video journalists.

Bob Kaplitz: Bob Kaplitz’s blog is a must for anyone trying to get to grips with the basics of video journalism. He’s done what no-one’s really thought to do up until now – use video to teach video journalism. Clever, huh?

Radio

David Stone: a young news editor by anyone’s standards, David’s posts on practical radio journalism are useful for any radio journalist, especially in the UK.

NewsLeader: Justin King has used Twitter very effectively this year to share advice and tips for radio journalists in the UK and elsewhere. There’s more good stuff on his blog.

James Cridland: just returned from a round-the-world tour of radio, Radio Futurologist James has posted from Canada and the US, where he’s been meeting radio producers everywhere and sharing the future of radio with the rest of us.

Photojournalism

RESOLVE, Livebooks: not just a blog, RESOLVE, managed by Miki Johnson, is also a community of photojournalists all seeking the future for their craft. The After Staff series from summer 2009 is a superb library for anyone who’s been laid off and wants to make it in the scary new freelance world.

The Travel Photographer: Tewfic El- Sawy niftily picks up the best photojournalism from around the world and showcases it. A forward thinking blog, the Travel Photographer also presents new multimedia from photogs.

Lens Blog: The New York Times’ home for photojournalism is a beautiful resource of the best images from the around the world, plus occasional advice from the experts. Great for inspiration.

Writing, Blogging & Thinking

CopyBlogger: possibly the most famous blogger in the world, Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is vital for anyone who wants to understand how to build an audience and avoid boring them with dull words.

Steven Pressfield: a recent discovery for me, Steven’s Wednesday Writing tips not only cover the art of storytelling, but also shares advice on dealing with your own mental resistance and the limiting mind.

Freelance Switch: the ultimate resource for freelancers in all disciplines,  this site has regular articles on writing, getting and keeping clients.

Lateral Action: I have referred to Mark McGuinness’ work several times in the last year, not least because it’s so damn inspiring. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, and want help staying motivated, managing your time or pushing creative boundaries head to Mark. Lateral Action is particularly special because he’s teamed up with Brian Clark from Copyblogger (above) – a dynamic duo if ever there was one.

Career Renegade: also high up on the inspiration chart is Jonathan Fields site Career Renegade. If you’re a journalist thinking of launching your own startup, and creating your own “renegade career”, for Gods sake, read his book first.

The News Business & entrepreneurship

Directors Blog: since setting up POLIS at the London School of Economics, Charlie Beckett has held conferences and given countless conferences on the future of journalism. He has also influenced the future with his ideas of “networked journalism”; his blog today provides academic insight into journalism in the brave new world.

Headlines and Deadlines: blogging from the frontline of regional press in the UK Alison Gow’s blog has insight surrounded by lots of good links.

Killer Startups: every day 15 new internet startups are posted and critiqued. You won’t find any news ones on here, at least not yet, but it’s a fantastic inspiring resource for anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial.

News Innovation: with the banner “new business models for news” you know this blog is asking the right questions; follow it and you might get the answer. In the meantime, its posted some excellent videos of Jeff Jarvis (see below) explaining why the future of news is entrepreneurship.

BuzzMachine: Jeff Jarvis has emerged as the key proponent of “entrepreneurial journalism” and is leading the way in the classroom with his work at CUNY. His blog explains with passion why the future of news is entrepreneurship. Expect more pioneering ideas from Jeff in 2010.

Online Journalism Blog: one of the best sites for analysis on all things digital, Paul Bradshaw’s blog leans towards the often ignored arena of uncovering, analysing and producing data.

Paul Balcerak: from the US, Paul Balcerak sees the future, and then writes about. He shared some of the most creative uses of video journalism earlier this year, and expertly slams down anyone who is stupid enough to resist the future.

Mashable: in the TechCrunch v Mashable war, I am (after trialling both) firmly with the latter. Techcrunchers slate Mashable for just sharing funny Youtube videos, but it covers the revolution in journalism far better and with a much more positive outlook.

The Media Business: Richard G Picard’s blogs are more like essays, but their insight into business models for journalism is profound, and should be on the reading list of anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial. His articles  in 2009 have been shared on countless blogs.

Design

Design Reviver: unless you’re solely a radio journalist you should really exploit the internet’s fantastic resources for visual inspiration. Design Reviver is one of them, featuring among other things, great wordpress themes and photoshop tutorials.

ISO50: Scott Hansen is not only a talented musician but an exceptional graphic designer who shares his own work and those that inspire him. His retro colours and collages are perfect inspiration, and his taste in music is on the ball.

FFFFound: a must for visual journalists of any kind seeking inspiration. A warning though – you’ll struggle to click through the 100+ marvelous designs and photographs from around the world which will filter into your reader.

Multimedia

4iP: it’s always worth following the latest developments from 4iP towers; they are one of the major funders of public service startups in the UK, and their blog provides a good idea of what the latest developments are – and what they fund.

Duckrabbit’s Blog: Ben Chesterton and David White have shown the rest of us how to do multimedia, especially for non-profit clients. When not producing powerful stories for those without a voice, Ben and David passionately blog about the good, the bad and the ugly of multimedia journalism.

Bombay Flying Club: meanwhile in warmer climes, the three talents of Poul Madsen, Henrik Kastenskov and Brent Foster are producing equally gorgeous content for non-profits all over the world. Their blog acts as a showcase of their beautiful work, and is a great inspiration for anyone.

Innovative Interactivity: Tracy Boyer’s seriously on the ball when it comes to using multimedia and interactivity to tell news stories. Subscribe to her blog and you’ll get thoughtful critiques of some quite amazing work which is paving the way towards the future.

A daily dose of all these blogs have filled my mind with things I never thought possible, and work of superb quality. And there’s already room for more…what blogs do you recommend?

“At the edge of the world 150 million people live at the mercy of nature”

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 1, 2009

We are just weeks away from one of the most important meetings – arguably – in the history of man kind.

The COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December is, if you believe the people who made the excellent Age of Stupid, our last chance to get a universal deal to cut carbon emissions.

Or we’re stuffed.

And it seems multimedia reporting is going to play an important part in showing us how our lifestyles affect those around us, and the politicians why half measures and compromises are not enough. Video & Photo Journalists have already proved adept at getting into difficult places and shedding light on climate change catastrophy not deemed catastrophic enough to warrant 2 minutes on the evening news.

Just think of China’s Growing Sands, Powering a Nation, and Waterlife for examples.

Expect some important reporting before and after Copenhagen. British multimedia producers David White and Ben Chesterton at Duckrabbit have just returned from a month trip to Bangladesh. And today the Bombay Flying Club have unveiled a trailer for a web documentary to be released in November. It too tells the story of Bangladesh, a place “at the edge of the world where 150 million people live at the mercy of nature.

The trailer is stylish and emotive as you’d expect from the BFC, but perhaps a little slow paced. But I’ll be back to watch it.

Good storytelling is now becoming as important as it’s ever been. Apart from anything else, the mass migration of  150 million people is not something I want to be around to see.

“for people to act, they must truly believe”: the charity message debate

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 14, 2009

How should charities, non-profits and NGOs get their message across?

It’s a question which has been passionately debated today, after Ben and David at the excellent DuckRabbit blog invited Pete Masters from Medecins Sans Frontiers UK web team to share the thinking behind a cinema ad, which to describe as hard-hitting, doesn’t even come close.

First, you have to see the ad:

See what I mean?

It is a short, simple and stungun method of storytelling: it sucks you in, and spits you out. Great. But does it actually get the MSF message out there? After all, where is this happening and why? You’ll no doubt have opinions on this, so make sure you share them with Duckrabbit.

They are just the small questions though, because Duckrabbit and MSF have inspired a far more significant debate: should charities be forking out for PR spin when they have real stories to tell?

You can argue after all, spending tens of thousands on a glossy ad is the media equivalent of paying “charity muggers” £10 an hour to harangue people in the  street.

I think the future lies in the aftermath of the revolution in journalism. It is already shedding jobs…and leaving scores of creative freelance journalists (many with multimedia skills) passionate about storytelling and passionate about social justice and fighting poverty.

Don’t think it’ll work? Lets look at some examples of journalists working for NGOs.

Weyo

Launched by two photojournalists in Virginia, Weyo brands itself as “storytellers to the non-profit world”. They’ve worked with the Edmarc Childrens Foundation and Physicians for Peace.  Founder Chris Tyree told the Resolve blog this week: “Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls.”

WeyoPDN Online reckon this kind of work pays: “Weyo just finished one job that paid $10,000 for a 7-minute video and a Web site with “20-some” linked pages. Another recent job for a women’s shelter paid $15,000 for similar work.”

Chris Tyree: “for people to act, they must truly believe”.

Story 4

Born out of job losses at the Mercury News, Story 4 makes multimedia for non-profits from its base on the West Coast of the US. On their website they say: “We specialise in constructing vibrant visual stories. We partner with organisations to create rich multimedia content and collaborate to bring the clients mission and acheivements to life.”

David Walker in PDN Online says: “So far, Story4 has landed its present work and other projects by word of mouth. The company is currently finishing up post-production on a multimedia project for the Women’s Foundation of California.”

Duckrabbit

They sparked this debate today but they have also produced some stunning multimedia for charities, including Internews andthis piece on Sri Lanka:

There are others too, like Media Storm and the Bombay Flying Club.

At the heart of this lies the important question of how charities choose to spread their word. The public generally are now far less trusting of spin and PR. We want true stories, and we want them as gritty as the real world is. But we also want balance – and we recognise a third-world-cliche when we see it.

So to the non-profits of the world: who do you want to tell your story? A marketing firm, or a journalist?

The “do” economy (or: why I’m glad Murdoch’s charging for content)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 10, 2009

So Rupert Murdoch’s announced he’s going to start charging for content for the Times newspapers in the UK. This guy thinks it’ll work. This guy doesn’t.

For me, it doesn’t really matter either way, I’m just glad he’s doing it.

Do I support pay walls? No.

Do I think it’ll work? No.

But it’s good because someone, somewhere is doing something.


I’ve used this illustration a couple of times when I’ve given presentations about the future of journalism. It sums up the fact as an industry we’re at a crossroads. Lots of different directions ahead, and the only road we know we can’t take is the one we’ve all just walked up.

But all we’re doing is standing in the middle like a huge flock of sheep arguing about which road to take. And going nowhere.

Murdoch’s announcement marks a positive step forward: someone is walking down one of the roads. Will it work? Who knows. The important thing is he’s trying – and only by actually doing something – something different to what we did before – will change happen.

Lindsey Agness at The Change Corporation sums it up:

“The important thing [is to take] action – sometimes it felt like two steps forward and one step back, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving ahead.”

Richard Branson built his empire on the “screw it, let’s do it” mindset

“If something is what you really want to do, just do it. Whatever your goal is you will never succeed unless you let you of your fears and fly.”

And now really is the time.  Multimedia journalist Henkrik Kastenskov over at the Bombay Flying Club summed up the crossroads perfectly this weekend:

“No such thing as the aftermath of an Extinction Level Event to fertilise the ground for new things to come. And the global economic recession was exactly that: an extinction level event.

“The impact of an almost overnight disappearing commercial print market in traditional media have had some profound consequences for the evolution of online media as the great meteor impact on the Yucatan Peninsula had on the off’ing of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, preparing the ground for the rise of mammals.

“…nobody gets ahead by following in the footsteps of others! That…new thing is still lingering somewhere off stage. And right now is the defining moment for that new set of rules to be written. It’s Year Zero, it’s come to Jesus time, and you guys out there are the authors of the new manifest. And frankly: at this point, anything goes.”

Sure, somethings will fail. But what have we got to lose? Anything goes. Just do it differently.
In fact, just do it.