Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on June 17, 2009

Hello, operator?

"Hello, operator?"

With the sort of hype only the media can generate when talking about itself, Lord Carter’s long awaited Digital Britain report has been published. It’s supposed to be the blueprint for Britain’s place in the digital world. But is it putting us in a good place?

It comes as journalism’s plight grows even greater; ITV news, Channel 4, countless struggling radio groups and newspaper holdings will all be sifting to see if it contains their saviour…or their downfall.

01. Broadband

The Promise: 2Mbps broadband for everyone (and “action separately to address the issue of next generation broadband”)

Result?: epic fail. While broadband for everyone is great, 2Mbps […buffering…] broadband is inadequate for […buffering…] the growing needs of digital journalism including […buffering…] the huge demand for […buffering…] video on demand. Separate action to […buffering…] investigate faster broadband looks like […buffering…] the buck being well and truly passed.

Meanwhile, in South Korea: “1Gbps Downloading by 2012

Will it help journalism? Not really. If online video and multimedia is going to start picking up the cash from traditional media it needs to be reliable and fast.

02. Radio

The Promise: All national radio stations to be on DAB only by 2015 ending use of analogue. Spare FM frequencies for “new tier” of community radio. More local news.

Result: fail. DAB is soo last decade, and while the radio sets look quite pretty, by the time this is rolled out, we’ll all be listening to radio on our iPhones. Over the internet. The folks at MixCloud rightly pointed out last night the real investment needs to be in online radio, and making sure the network can cope with it. It also says nothing about the plight of local commercial radio stations, caused by the filthy binge on new licences by Ofcom.

Creating a “new tier” of hyper local community stations is a nice idea – provided they don’t have to be commercially viable. And more local news? Who Lord Carter expects to pay for that (when newsrooms across the land are cutting staff) is a mystery.

Will it help journalism? An emphasis on localness might fool some Whitehall bureaucrats into investing more in local journalism. But don’t hold your breath.

03. Regional TV news

The Promise: 3.5% of BBC’s licence fee (~£130m) to be available to help regional TV news on ITV

Result: good news for ITV. It has been long argued on all sides, the BBC needs strong competition in regional news to keep its standards up. And while that is the case £130m is a lot to spend investing in the  “a local lady has turned 100” fluff which ITV regions currently put on air.

Will it help journalism? In the short term ITV local news does need the cash, and this might even save some jobs. But once again Lord Carter has missed the trick. What we need is a new way of doing television news, for example Michael Rosenblum‘s VJ newsroom model. Meanwhile, no word about the BBC’s real competition: Channel 4 News.

04. Hyperlocal news

The Promise: No promises here, just a recognition that grassroots online projects are good for democracy

Result: fail. Lord Carter says he likes the growing number of hyper-local community sites, but says there can’t be a gap between what these start ups offer, and what the traditional big boys offer. So he’s investing in making sure newspaper groups and the BBC can offer better online, including, bizarrely, an idea to let newspapers use BBC video content. Considering the row over BBC Local in 2007, that’s pretty hilarious.

Will it help journalism: well there’s no promises here, so it’s up to the people to forge the way.

05. Childrens’ Programmes

The Promise: Money to help Channel 4 develop services for that most difficult of audiences: 10-18 year olds

Result: good news. Channel 4 are best placed to understand this market, and embarrassing dad-dancing attempts by the BBC have shown they’re not really “down with the kids”. It won’t solve Channel 4’s funding crisis though.

Will it help journalism: any investment in actually creating content is a good thing.

All government reports, like Christmas presents from your grandparents, are always a little disappointing;  sadly yesterday’s report fails to really grasp or embrace the mouth watering potential of the future.

Lord Carter: as us bluggers and twotters and myface yoof types say: “epic fail”.


Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 6, 2007

Now I try and keep an eye out for these sort of things, and I haven’t found a genuinely surprising and stereotype-overturning piece about anywhere or anything in Africa since the excellent Inside Africa films I blogged about ages ago.

In fact the only people out there fighting Africa’s corner are the armies of bloggers like E.K. Bensah and Sociolingo – if you read their blogs (and I strongly urge you to do so) you’ll see a different side to the continent; a far cry to the famine, disease and war western newspapers and broadcasters would often have us believe.

Which is why it’s such a great surprise to see “Kenya’s Mobile Revolution” coming up next week on Newsnight on BBC 2 in the UK.

As part of BBC Newsnight’s Geek Week 2.0, they’re showing a film made by their tech reporter Paul Mason. He travelled to Kenya to see how mobile phones are literally changing every aspect of people’s lives.

Mobile Phone in KenyaTwo mobile phone companies have created an 80% network coverage of the country – which I’m sure is better than in the UK! – and even the Maasai nomads in the Rift Valley are texting each other. Even more, mobile operators are pioneering services yet to appear in Europe, like being able to send someone else cash with your mobile.

More and more people are getting them and Paul Mason reckons the mobile could be a democratising tool in a country where the ruling elite’s rife with corruption.

It’s beautifully shot, insightful, and crucially Mason answers the big question for us: “so what?”

When I was last in Ghana back in 2003, I noticed people were using mobiles; hawkers sold mobile phone covers on every street corner. Ironically, I refused to take a mobile phone out there, but if I had, I would have had constant coverage.
So if you’re in on Monday night, watch it. If you’re not, Sky + it. But being the techno-savvy lot you are, I’m sure you’ll watch the online preview now available. It’s 18 minutes long but well worth it.

Click here to watch the online preview

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Local TV on the way?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 20, 2006

Interesting article in the Press Gazette this week: the Newspaper Society’s apparently criticised a report saying that the BBC’s Local TV project won’t damage the local press industry.

The BBC’s Laughton Report investigated the impact of the BBC’s uber-local TV project, piloted in the West Midlands about a year ago, a daily 10 minute programme of news focussing on small areas. It concluded there was:

“no statistically significant impact on newspaper circulation figures in the region” and that “Daily recorded 7-10 minute bulletins and on-demand news items and features are unlikely to have a significant impact on other players in local markets.”

BBC Local TV imageAs a result, the BBC is apparently planning a full roll out of 66 Local TV strands across the UK pending a Board of Governers’ decision. The Newspaper Society doesn’t agree though and is inherently threatened by the BBC’s plans.  

As indeed all newspaper hacks seem inherently threatened by anything that doesn’t use endless reams of paper and utilises that magic substance they call ‘electricity’.

As a wannabe VJ at Uni in Warwick, near Coventry, I near soiled myself when the pilot began in my area. It was for the most part successful (i.e. interesting) and was a mixed bag of crime, council news and silly stories. The production quality was at times questionable, but overall good.

I hope it rolls out next year, and I don’t think it’ll threaten local papers, just offer them stiff competition. Most local papers have a regularly updated website anyway.

But Joe, a colleague on my BJ course here at City, made quite a good point about the Local TV idea. It would seem there’s an inherent contradiction within the scheme. On the one hand, it makes news as local as it can get – daily 10 minute chunks of stuff at the end of your road; the people who tend to dig this sort of stuff are in their autumn years, and wary of new technology.

BBC Local TVOn the other hand, Local TV is the most hi-tech form of BBC journalism: a mix of online and “press the red button now”, not to mention it’s use of Video Journalism.  Who digs this? Young people. But they hate local news.

So there’s a dodgy contradiction here, which might stop the scheme creating a successful identity for itself.  But it’s a natural, inevitable conclusion in the hi-tech newsworld, and ought to please people who feel their half-hourly dose of regional TV is as local as Newsnight.

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Yoogle Tube

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 11, 2006

Quick one tonight: with so much coverage of Google’s acquisition of You Tube, it’d be a shame not to pass brief comment.

First off, if you haven’t already, check out “A Message from Chad and Steve”, the founders of You Tube giving a post-deal piece to camera.


First off, I’m amazed anyone called Chad could make over a billion dollars, let alone get out of bed. Secondly, this great comment came from an unimpressed viewer:

Perhaps with 1.65 Billion dollars they will be able to afford a directional microphone for their camera or noise reduction software for their editing system.

Well said Charlie.

And a final piece of brilliance. For anyone who didn’t get today’s Metro (yes I read all the coolest papers), check out the video CV of Aleksey Vayner. The Yale graduate sent this video along with an 11 page CV (!!) for a job at financial firm UBS. The film’s called “Impossible is Nothing” and includes great mantras such as

‘As a world-level athlete in several sports, I have developed an insatiable appetite for peak performance and continuous learning. My trainer and world martial arts champion often said, “Impossible is just someone’s opinion.” I live by those words.’

Vayner gives us his philosophy over footage of him lifting weights, playing tennis and smashing bricks. Unsurprisingly, someone at UBS found this so pant-wettingly funny it made its way onto You Tube.

Aleksey says “Ignore the losers”…so don’t feel obligated to watch.


Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 28, 2006

Time for a much needed media-whore blog.

Old wrinkly manIt’s been quiet here the past couple of weeks but I’ve been busy; I’ve moved to the big smoke, moved into a new flat and started my new course – Broadcast Journalism at City University in London. It’s all awesome, and it’s got me thinking futures big time. Because the industry I’m finally on the verge of going into, is going to look unreckognisably different by the time I leave it as an old wrinkly man.

In fact it’s faster than that….the world of broadcast and media and even journalism is going to change within 5 years. We are, as Prof Roy Greenslade said in a lecture this week, in the midst of a digital revolution.

So I’ve been pondering the future..what will it be like to work in radio/tv news in 10 years time? Will radio and TV even exist?

The paper bin of history…

Well the first thing to say is that if you’re a newspaper journalist, you’re fucked. No not really, but it seems big change is on the horizon for the old hacks. UK paper circulation is declining big time; one doomsayers predicted something like 2043 as the year the last newspaper closes down.

Of course it won’t be that bad, but newspapers in their traditional form – i.e. on paper – seems a dying concept. All the major papers (with the exception of the Indie) are moving to online content and eventually we may all get our newspaper news online.

The big change this has brought has been the move to multimedia, eschewed neatly by the Daily Telegraph. A conservative piece of piffle here in the UK, the Telegraph is now on the forefront of the digital revolution. Soon all its journalists will be producing audio and video content as well as writing for the papers.

This, I reckon, is the future for the newspaper journalist. There’s a good site run by a lecturer at another journalism course at Westminster- David Dunkley Gyimah – who’s seen the same future.

Broadbandcast Journalism?

Video JournalismAnd it’ll be the same for the traditional BJ as well. Multiskilling’s the way forward and soon we’ll all be expected to shoot, record, edit and write the news ourselves. In many cases this is already happening.

But the bigger future for broadcast journalism is video journalism. This is where the traditional 2/3 person TV crew is replaced by an all singing all dancing journalist who writes, researches, shoots and edits reports all by themselves. 

VJ’s are in place all over the world but are used in conjunction with traditional crews. The future, I think, is the VJ-only newsroom, nicely described by it’s “guru” Michael Rosenblum and it works a bit like this: 

  • A daily 30 minute programme could be supplied by a team of 20-30 independent VJs.
  • Working like a traditional newspaper journalist they take on individual stories themselves seeing them through to transmission.
  • This gives each VJ a greater satisfaction in their work, and encourages more original journalism, moving away from the daily diary.
  • With 30 VJs and only 10 reports per programme, each journalist would only be expected to produce 2/3 reports a week rather than churning out 1 a day. Again, more considered, thorough journalism.
  • And as much as I hate to talk about money, it’d also be cheaper than hiring editors, camera crews etc.

It has it’s downsides of course. VJs as yet can’t report live via satellite and some news events require teams of producers behind the scenes. Some also moan about the quality of video journalism but excellent journalists like Inigo Gilmore and even these Inside Africa pieces prove those people wrong.

Finally, delivery will change too. Video News on Demand (VNOD) is in its early stages, with the marvellous CurrentTV leading the trend. Before long, TVs will be connected to broadband and we literally choose what news we want to watch. Good? Scary? I’m not sure yet.

So it’s all change. Changes are even causing ripples outside Europe and the US…check out Emmanuel’s blog on an E-media conference in Accra.

It’s all very exciting and a bit scary too..will there be jobs for journalists in the future? Emmanuel reckons so – he quite rightly reminded me that all these exciting technologies are tools for journalists and not substitutes.

Whatever the technology does there’ll always be a need for a cynical alcoholic to tell us the facts….I hope.