Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: designing good stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 24, 2012

Are you excited yet? There are less than 48 hours until Inside the Story goes on sale!

I’m personally psyched about the whole thing for a few reasons: firstly because it’s the culmination of three months of work, hundreds of emails all over the world, lots of planning, writing and designing, and I can’t wait to have something to show for it. Secondly because now I see the finished product I reckon it’s going to be incredibly useful for hundreds of journalists, film makers, publishers and producers who are flirting at the edges of remarkable, but aren’t quite there yet (I include myself in that).

The third reason is the most important. I want Inside The Story to do more than help digital storytellers: I also figured it could make a real difference to people all over the planet. That’s why 100% of all the money from each sale will be donated to Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

Kiva are a real innovative non-profit: they crowd-fund loans which are given to people wanting to start their own business in countries like Kenya, the Philippines and Indonesia. The money lets these entrepreneurs invest in equipment, supplies and anything they need to get started, but would never be able to afford on their own. Incredibly, in the last six years 760,000 people have been given help starting a business with more than $3million in loans – and 98% of those loans actually get paid back!

It’s a simply brilliant way to help people help themselves and master their own destiny. Inside the Story is going the extra mile though: every penny will be given to Kiva as a donation, rather than a loan; Kiva estimate every dollar donated generates $10 in loans – so if we make $3000 through selling Inside the Story, that could create $30,000 in loans. Epic.

That’s why this book will help up your career, and the career of someone else. Remember it goes on sale Thursday morning at 0800 BST. 

Story design like a pro

All this week I’m giving teasing glimpses at the great knowledge and advice you’ll find in Inside the Story – written by some of the finest digital storytellers in the world. So far, we’ve had a look at how to prepare stories like a pro, and how to structure them in the most engaging way. But the book isn’t just for film makers. There’s advice too for web designers, photographers and interactive designers too.

What does it take to capture people on the page and engage them with your story? For Monica Ulmanu, interactive designer at the Boston Globe, it’s all about focus. Monica creates amazing multimedia interactives for the Boston Globe’s website – there are some must-see examples in the book. So what is the secret to good design?

“Focus your user’s attention on one element at any given time. Carefully craft your design so that particular element stands out. Constantly ask yourself: What do I need to show right now to make the message clear, the story easy to follow and uncluttered?”

Another peek inside Inside the Story

Monica follows this up with some great graphic-design tips on how to direct a viewers’ eye through the page. It’s advice echoed by web designer Sergio Acosta, co-founder of Designing Stories. He says web design needs to move away from making templates and instead use design to give the visitor an experience – in essence a narrative.

“Storytelling design is the experience a web designer creates out of a narrative. So, look for the visual cues and the key words that will set the design apart.”

And when it comes to creating immersive experiences, the New York Times is up there with the best. In Inside the Story you’ll get to hear from the NYT’s Multimedia Editor Andrew DeVigal, who leads the team responsible for some real innovations in multimedia storytelling, including a story which was commended in this year’s World Press Photo Awards.

…great journalists ask those questions in which the answers provide insights and pushes us to think in entirely new ways. In asking these questions, curiosity often leads to innovation and in providing new angles to a story or situation.

Andrew gives examples of how his team solved problems and created a new way of experiencing stories on the web  – you can find out what they did on Thursday.

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Are you waiting for approval?

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on June 28, 2010

Image credit: SleepyNeko on Flickr

A very insightful post from Deborah Bonello at VideoReporter.com today which poses a really important question any next generation journalist should ask themselves.

Comparing the life of an artist with that of a journalist, she makes a salient point about approval – and how it seems we’re all only as good as the establishment say we are.

The seal of approval

Widely speaking, as an artist, you’re as good as the gallery who puts on your show or the client who buys and gushes about your work. Otherwise, you’re an unknown, and your talent is questionable as it has yet to be given the mark of approval of a major art gallery or culture brand. There are of course exceptions to this, but bear with me.

As journalists, we all want to have been published by major media brands that are respected globally, whether as staffers or as freelance contributors. It is the BBC, and major newspapers and broadcasters who give us, as journalists, that stamp that says we have talent, that we’re good, that we can be trusted and should be listened to as reporters and storytellers. In fact, it isn’t until some have that seal of approval that they have the confidence to go off and start freelance careers.

And that’s an interesting point isn’t it? For as much as independent journalists talk about ‘doing something different’ many still crave that job in a big newsroom. They still need that ‘seal of approval’.

Why is that? Why do we need an editor at the BBC to tell us we’re any good? Why does our name have to be a byline in the Boston Globe or LA Times before we’re deemed ‘good enough’? What makes them so important? One thing’s for sure: if they do give your work the ‘seal of approval’ by publishing it, they won’t pay much for it these days.

Who is stopping you?

But as Deborah points out, things are changing: ‘The internet offers you the opportunity to build your very own journalism brand, around yourself’ she says. Right on.

You can create and publish journalism that doesn’t need a seal of approval from a mid-ranking editor and build a formidable reputation around your own skills – around a shit hot news product which provides good content to a target audience who needs it. Seems tough? It is – your content will need to be great (which is why I’m not worried about standards). You’re up to that right?

I really think if  more journalists were willing to work to please themselves and not a distant editor, we would get somewhere. If more didn’t view their talent as questionable but as extraordinary and unique.

Deborah didn’t wait to be deemed worthy by a London newspaper before flying to Mexico and starting MexicoReporter.com – she did it anyway, and became, almost single-handedly, an important media player in the region. The mainstream media then came to her.

So next time you’re on the verge of doing something epic, something exciting – but you think you can’t or shouldn’t do, remember a bit of the great Ayn Rand: the question isn’t ‘who is going to let me?’.

It’s ‘who is going to stop me?’

History alive!

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 21, 2009

The world shared a very important anniversary this week: 40 years since man landed on the moon.

Some call it the biggest single moment of the 2oth century; they all call it a day history was made.

But what does history have to show for it? It is a subject in decline, both academically and in the mainstream. That, however, could be changing and the moon landing anniversary has spawned a project which I think symobilises history’s rebirth as a popular subject.

Wechoosemoon1

We Choose The Moon began a week ago, and lets its visitors follow the Apollo 11 mission in real time. At it’s centre: a beautiful 3d animation showing key sequences including the Apollo launch (above). Original audio recordings from mission control and the lunar module let you relive the event. At certain stages you can click around an interactive multimedia display to look at video, pictures and audio.

You can follow history in real time, in not one – but 3 different twitter accounts.

It is a fantastic – and rare – example of multimedia being used creatively and with innovation, not to tell news stories, but the news stories of the past. And I really think there’s a future in this.

Wechoosemoon2

There is another one I’ve found, albeit on a newspaper site. Ted Kennedy: A Life In Politics, set in the same iconic era as We Choose The Moon is a multimedia biography of the brother of the man who uttered that immortal space-race phrase.

Less innovative than the moon landing story, it is still packed with beautiful images and video. What I really like is the carousel at the bottom of each chapter, giving you access to original documents from the past.

TedKennedy1

Could this be the start of a much needed retelling of history? I think history is a fantastic subject for multimedia storytelling to embrace. History is already leaving the dull theoretical debates behind for the academics; for the average punter I think an exciting new fascination awaits: focused on using video, original archive material and interactivity to tell amazing stories. It’s a heady mix of surprising facts, gripping narratives and great personalities. There might even be money in it.

Who’s with me?