Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: quality counts

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 25, 2012

The countdown is on! There are less than 24 hours to go until Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best is released upon the world. You’ll be able to buy a copy from 0800 BST tomorrow, Thursday 26th April 2012.

The English version will be live from tomorrow and German, Spanish and Catalan editions will be available in the next few weeks.

But how much is Inside the Story going to cost? Good question. We’ve thought really hard about pricing and we want this book to be affordable and make lots of money for Kiva – who we’re raising money for.

So I’m thrilled to announce the book will be yours for a ridiculous $5.00!  It’ll be on sale in US dollars, which will be converted to your local currency when you buy (but it’s roughly €4.50 or £3.75) – an absolute bargain.

It means we’ll need to shift lots of copies to raise all the money we want for Kiva though – so in exchange for getting in cheap you must promise to share it with as many people as possible! But there’s a catch: Inside the Story will only be available for a matter of weeks (so don’t hang around).

How to tell quality stories like a pro

You’ve had a week of sneak previews and there’s space for just a few more. In the last week, I’ve previewed advice from the book about how to plan stories like a pro, structure them properly and use design to your advantage. And that still covers a mere third of what’s in the book!

If Inside the Story is about one thing, it’s quality: it is aimed directly at producers, film makers, video journalists, photographers and designers who are in hot pursuit of creating remarkable stories for the web – stories that really impact people. For most of us, we fall short a lot of the time. So what are the secrets of achieving quality?

A great person to ask is Richard Koci Hernandez: a pioneer of multimedia storytelling – for which he’s even won an Emmy. In a great chapter which rounds off the book, Koci shares six tips for anyone who wants to aim high.

“Spend time everyday consciously shooting pictures, recording sound etc. Work deliberately on improving a multimedia skill, because practicing your craft is one of the biggest productivity payoffs around.”

Richard Koci Hernandez, Brian Storm and John Pavlus in Inside the Story

If you thought there was an easy way round getting good at storytelling you were wrong! Koci is backed up by another multi award winning producer, Brian Storm, Executive Producer at MediaStorm, again nominated for a prestigious Webby Award earlier this month. For Brian there is one sure-fire path to achieving good quality.

“We look for projects that have deep reporting, especially a commitment to coverage over a long period of time. Then we spend as much time as necessary in post production to pull the best possible story from the coverage.”

Brian explains more about the secret ingredient of quality storytelling and how to apply it to your projects. And perhaps counterintuitively, a final word from yet another award winner: John Pavlus, who’s produced multimedia for NPR, the New York Times and the Atavist among others. For him, the secret of achieving quality is something else entirely.

“Make it suck”.

Trust me, it makes perfect sense when you read his full article – and there’s only one way to do that! Sign up to the Facebook page, join the mailing list, and make sure you’re on this website tomorrow morning.

Inside the Story will be on sale for a limited time only – a matter of weeks, so don’t hang around!

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Inside the Story: a video update

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 16, 2012

For the last few months I’ve been working on an exciting project which is almost ready to launch. It’s called Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – an ebook, to raise money for Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

The last few weeks has been a flurry of layout, web design and conversations with some of the best film makers, digital producers and  journalists out there, and the book is almost ready to go live.

What’s going to be in the book? Here’s a quick video update on the project – and a sneak preview of some of the pages. Later this week, I’ll be publishing snippets from the book so you can see some more and announcing the publication date.

If you’re not a fan of the Facebook page yet, why not? 

Announcement: a new storytelling project

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 5, 2012

I don’t really do video blogs, but there are lots of cool projects I’ve started this year I want to keep you in touch about.

One I’m really excited about is this one here – you’re going to love it. It’s a new book which is unlike any other on digital storytelling out there and it’s going to help change lives around the world.

Curious? All is revealed in the video!

If you’re receiving this post in your inbox, click on the link at the top to view the video.

So there you go: a book which will help journalists, producers, students, directors, film makers and more tell better stories plus raise money for Kiva, a brilliant charity, who empower entrepreneurs the world over.

A brief warning: you’ll hear me bang on about this book loads over the next couple of months – apologies in advance!

Oh and you can follow my other works-in-progress over on my Tumblr blog – I’m trying to post something new there every day.

I’m also still looking for a good name for the book: if you’ve got any ideas, then please email me.

10 tips for recording a better interview

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on December 1, 2011

The most exciting power of great multimedia storytelling is the potential to give a voice to those who would otherwise go ignored.

I’m deep into teaching undergraduate students on Kingston University’s journalism program the basics of producing good video stories. They recently finished their first film, portraits of fellow students and how they feel about their job prospects in light of high youth unemployment. A dry-ish topic, and so their challenge was to tease good stories from their subjects, find specific angles and get to the nub of the issue.

The key to doing this is the interview: in most great online video stories & portraits it forms the spine of the narrative. Everything else in the story hangs off the interview.

Watching their first attempts at film making, it was clear conducting good interviews is an issue. So I put together a presentation with 10 tips for recording a better interview – I thought I’d share it here. Lots of this advice has been won through hard experience in my last 8 years of interviewing everyone from genocide survivors to David Cameron; but I’m also grateful to multimedia maestros like Ben Chesterton of Duckrabbit and Brian Storm of MediaStorm for a couple of the specific tips.

Again, there are bound to be things I’ve missed off: let me know in the comments!

10 tips for recording a better video (or audio) interview

NOTE: I’ve published the presentation under a Creative Commons Licence (attribution) – feel free to reuse and share, but please credit.

The journalists winning the race – to the bottom

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 4, 2011

The problem with a race to the bottom is that you might win.

Seth Godin

I.

Seth Godin’s words (buried in this blog post from just a few days ago) must seem painfully apt for any one of the journalists on newsdesks at The Guardian, Sky News, the Sun and the Daily Mail today.

I was in the pub celebrating a friend’s birthday on Monday night when my flatmate checked the Guardian app on his phone just before 9pm. “Amanda Knox has lost her appeal” he said, “bloody hell”.

Guardian app on my flatmate's iPhone

For several minutes we talked about how terrible that must be for her, and how dodgy the police case was – until, that is, I checked Twitter. At which point it got confusing.

“People on Twitter are saying she’s been freed” I said, counting the dozen or so independent tweets from journalists, friends and colleagues.

“Are you sure..?” my flatmate said, reaching for his iPhone.

II.

And so the sorry affair of the obtuse judge, the slow translater and the trigger-happy hacks unfolded.

In this mess lies a really important lesson for online publishers of all creeds, entrepreneurs and young journalists. The race to be faster than your competitors is the same as the race to be cheaper than them: it’s a race to the bottom. There is only one loser in this race and it’s usually you.

I remember an entrepreneur giving me advice last year when I launched my online video production studio: “you don’t want to compete on price – ever.”

So if you run, or want to run, your own publication or business, heed this advice: aim to be the be best: the most accurate, the most accessible, the best produced, the most beautiful – not the fastest and not the cheapest.

Your work should be the Coutts of journalism. Last night the Daily Mail et al joined the ranks of Wonga.com.

Don’t get me wrong, these were one-off mistakes, made by otherwise talented, experienced and honest journalists. But they are mistakes which are only made in a newsroom where the overriding attitude is to be faster. The ethos created the haste, not the journalists themselves.

In a newsroom where quality is king, the hands would have stayed.

III.

I’m convinced if you’re to succeed as an entrepreneurial journalist (or whatever we want to call it), the only way to get ahead of the pack is by betting on quality. Sure, successful new businesses like the Huffington Post and Mashable gamble on quantity but to succeed here you need legacy, or lots of money.

Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm, made the quality point really well on a recent visit to London. He makes sure everything MediaStorm publishes is as good as it can be – even if it means going several months between each new piece. As he put it: “why be part of the noise?”

The mainstream media (especially those who make speed their tagline) are trapped in this race and can’t reinvent themselves. But that leaves a nice space for the next generation of journalists with a remit of quality.

Whatever kind of journalism you do, aim to produce the best. That is a race to the top: a race worth winning.

Introducing: the journalist of the future

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 23, 2009

There’s been enough talk about the cancer spreading through modern journalism. The cutting of jobs and money, the shedding of audiences and advertising, the invasion of PR guff and the medium’s failure to reject it; and vitally, the disappearance of time for journalists to do some proper journalism.

I’m tired of talking about the past and want to know what’s coming next. Here’s my picture of a future journalist, based on books, blogs, a couple of talks I’ve given recently and all the noise on Twitter. As always, it’s by no means comprehensive – so let me know what’s right and wrong in the comments box!

Typewriter

 

Introducing: the journalist of the future

This combines the technical skills the new journalist will need (plus the old ones), new ways of collaborating with audiences and journalists across the globe; and most importantly an entrepreneurial edge to create an army of “creative entrepreneurs”.

The Jack of All Trades

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: the journalist of the future is a reporter, a video journalist, a photo-journalist, audio journalist and interactive designer, all-in-one. They shoot and edit films, audio slideshows, podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, and longer articles.  They may have one specialism out of those, but can go somewhere and cover a story in a multitude of platforms.

They may start off hiring the kit, but eventually will become a one-person news operation, with their own cameras, audio recorders and editing equipment.

They don’t just do it because it potentially means more revenue; they do it because they love telling stories in different ways. And let’s get another thing straight: they still live and breathe the key qualities of journalism: curiosity, accuracy and a desire to root out good stories and tell the truth.

The Web Designer

It goes without saying the journalist of the future should know several languages, two of which should be XHTML and CSS (and the more spoken ones the better). Their ability to design interactive online experiences will give them an advantage over competitors and a chance to charge more for their work.

They have an amazing portfolio website which shows off their wares.

They understand audio and video for the web does not follow the rules of radio and TV. They know what works online and what doesn’t. They can use social media to drum up interest and audiences in what they do, and are members of LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Twitter to name just a few.

And it also goes without saying the journalist of the future has been a blogger for a long time.

The collaborator

The journalist of the future doesn’t belong to the world of “fortress journalism“. They don’t sit at their desk in a newsroom all day – in fact, they work from home.

They use Noded Working techniques to find collaborators for different digital projects; picking the most talented people from around the world. There are no office politics or long meetings. They market their work well enough to get chosen to take part in other projects.

And the journalist of the future aspires to the ideals of Networked Journalism set out by Charlie Beckett. They are not a closed book obsessed by the final product. Their journalism is as much about the process as the final product and they use social media technologies to get reaction to stories, find contributors, experts and even money. To top it off, they share their final product under the ethos of creative commons so others can build on it.

The Specialist

The internet has shown we’re just not prepared to pay for general news, especially when someone else is giving it away for free. The decline in newsrooms killed off many correspondents and specialists, but the journalist of the future knows there’s more money and more audiences in a niche. So they become more of a specialist in some areas, or use a current specialism to build an audience around what they do.

Science journalist Angela Saini, for example, uses her qualifications in the subject to get her work with a whole host of TV and radio science programmes.

Business, showbiz and sports news I think have a paid-for future – but so do other specialisms.

The Flexible Adapter

The journalist of the future will be born out of this recession and the death of traditional journalism. They’ll succeed now because they adapted, re-trained and were prepared to change their ways. And that is what will help them survive the next downturn too, and the next media revolution. They are flexible, creative and not stuck in their ways.

Mark Luckie, writing over at 10,000 Words says this ability to reinvent is really important:

…being a Jack of all trades is only the starting point. Journalism and its associated technologies are changing at a rapid pace and to learn one skill set is to be left in the dust. Sadly some of the technologies…will be obsolete in just a few years time. To survive in this industry means continuously evolving along with it.

They embrace new technologies, rather than view them as a threat. When a new social media tool or technology comes along, they ask themselves how can I use this?

And they are prepared to live light for a bit. They can live cheap, which means they can charge less and get more business. As David Westphal writes, describing journalist Jason Motlagh:

He lives modestly and accepts that there may be periods in his work where he’ll have to do something besides journalism to pay the bills.

The Entrepreneur

The journalist of the future is a Creative Entrepreneur. Their business is their talent, creativity and knowledge. They are a freelancer, yes, but not a slave to the odd newsroom shift or rubbish PR story; instead they are in command of their destiny by creating content people will pay for. They discover stories and generate new ideas and sell them.

Back to Charlie Beckett in Networked Journalism:

“Entrepreneurship must be part of the process because every journalist will have to be more “business creative”…Journalism and business schools should work more closely together as information becomes more important to the economy…”

Their multiple skills means they can pitch countless ideas in several formats, for a wide variety of clients. They run their new start-ups in the get-rich-slow mentality described by Time Magazine as Li-Lo business:

It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

And they think outside the small journo bubble: their clients aren’t just Cosmo or Radio 4, but B2B publications, charities, NGOs. They get grants from journalism funds to pursue important and under-reported stories.

Evidence has shown several sacked newspaper journalists have made a new career by remembering newsrooms aren’t the only people who pay for content. Brian Storm, from MediaStorm, quoted in PDN Online says:

“NGOs and corporations are just now starting to see the power of multimedia stories…A pr message has no authenticity. It won’t go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that.”

The Storyteller

And most importantly they do the thing all journalists have ever done: tell stories. But they do it better than traditional journalists because they are not so constrained by time or house styles or formulas. They understand what makes a good story and aren’t afraid to break some rules.

And they have the time to tell the stories properly: truthfully, accurately and responsibly.

I think these make up an exciting future for journalism, but also for the people who try this form of journalism out. Is there anything more exciting than being such a creative entrepreneur?

There’s never been a better time, I tell students, to be a journalistic entrepreneur — to invent your own job, to become part of the generation that figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet. The young journalists who are striking out on their own today, experimenting with techniques and business models, will invent what’s coming.

Most experiments will fail. That’s not a bug in the system, but a feature. It’s how we get better.

Dan Gilmore, Centre for Citizen Media