Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The figure of 8: simplify your storytelling

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 20, 2009

Teaching my class on Video & Photo Journalism at Kingston University last week, I introduced my students to the concept of the Figure of Eight.

It’s a handy storytelling tool I was taught when I trained to be a journalist, and I’ve always kept it in mind when I need to put a story together in a rush. It is a tool for broadcast journalists, but applies to newspaper journalists working with video too.

The Print Way

Newspaper journalists are usually told to arrange their facts in the paradigm of the inverted pyramid, still regarded as the best way to display text information. You put all the important information right at the top and work your way down from there.

It was invented around the time of the telegraph message, when you had limited space to get lots of information down.

Many newspaper journalists make the mistake of trying to fit this way of sorting information into their video and audio. It doesn’t work. Why? Because multimedia exists differently.

The ‘Broadcast’ Way

Television & Radio – and now video & audio are temporal media. They exist in time. We don’t talk about TV news reports in terms of word counts. We talk about them in terms of time. Time is a tricky dimension because it means all your information has to be laid out in a linear fashion, and usually your audience has only one chance to watch your piece.

Compare that to newspapers, where the reader can skip ahead, or re-read bits they didn’t understand.

Because of it’s unique time-governed nature, broadcast journalists developed a new framework for organising their facts: introducing the Figure of Eight.

The Figure of Eight

figureof8

Broken down it simply means this:

  1. Start your multimedia piece in the present: what’s just happened? What’s the latest?
  2. Then take them backwards and tell them the past: what’s the context? How did we get here? What’s already happened?
  3. Then, finally, loop back over and tell them the future: what’s going to happen next?

This method ticks all the boxes for getting your facts out: it gives them the who-what-where-when-why, fills in the context, and gives us an idea of what it all means by suggesting what will happen next.

A Classic Example

Say you’re producing a video piece about a court case, for which the verdict has just been announced. You start your piece by saying what’s just happened:

Joe Bloggs has been found guilty of killing his wife in a domestic row. After a trial which has gripped the country, the father of three walked into the dock just an hour ago to hear his fate…etc…

Then you tell us the background – take us back to the history of the story.

This tragic case started a year ago when police were called to the Bloggs family home in London.  They found Jane Bloggs dead with a knife in her chest. After a man hunt lasting three months, her husband Joe was arrested in April…etc…

Then to finish off – a quick line on what’ll happen next.

Bloggs will return to the Old Bailey tomorrow where he’ll be sentenced. The Judge has warned him to expect a long jail term…etc.

That way, we’ve covered the bones of the story, in a logical fashion.

It’s a great technique for two reasons: it organises the information for you so you don’t have to; and it is perfect for a temporal medium like video.

…wait! There’s more!

If you found my 6×6 series for multimedia journalists useful, from Monday you’ll be able to download it all in one handy (free) ebook. More details on the way!

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6×6: video

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 19, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The second in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

video

Video has by far and away become the most popular medium for the multimedia journalist – to the extent it almost seems many won’t consider it a truly multimedia project unless its got a bit of video in it. The thing is, video is a tricky medium and must be treated differently in the world of online journalism.

01. video doesn’t need to be expensive

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t do video just because you haven’t  got any cash. Sure, if you want to go right to the top range, say a Sony EX3, Final Cut Pro and After Effects yes, it’s going to set you back about £3,000 ($5,000). But high quality can be achieved on lower budgets.

Check out my article on how I put together an entire film making kit for £500 ($800).

02. shoot for the edit

If there’s one piece of advice for multimedia journalists making films – it comes from Harris Watts, in a book he published 20 years ago. In Directing on Camera he describes exactly what shooting footage is:

“Shooting is collecting pictures and sound for editing…so when you shoot, shoot for editing. Take your shots in a way that keeps your options open”

Filming with the final piece firmly in mind will keep your shooting focussed and short. So when you start filming, start looking for close ups and sequences. The latter is the hardest: an action which tells your story, told over 2 or more shots.

Sequences are vital to storytelling and must be thought through.

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

03. master depth of field

In online video, close ups matter. The most effective way to hold close ups – especially of a person – is to master depth of field. Put simply the depth of field how much of your shot in front of and behind your subject is kept in focus. It is controlled by the aperture on your camera – so you’ll need a camera with a manual iris setting.

Your aim – especially with closeups – is to have your subject in clear focus, and everything behind them blurred: Alexandra Garcia does it very well in her Washington Post In-Scene series. (HT: Innovative Interactivity)

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Here’s a quick guide to getting to grips with depth of field:

  1. you need a good distance between the camera and subject
  2. a good distance between the subject and the background
  3. and a low f-stop on your iris – around f2.8, depending on how much light there is in your scene. A short focal length does this too.
  4. You may need to zoom in on your subject from a distance

04. never wallpaper

If there was ever an example of the phrase “easier said than done” this would be it. It’s a simple tip on first read: make sure every shot in your film is there for a reason. But with pressures of time or bad planning you can often find yourself “wallpapering” shots just to fill a gap.

In his excellent book The Television News Handbook Vin Ray says following this rule will help you out no end:

“One simple rule will dramatically improve your television packaging: never use a shot – any shot – as ‘wallpaper’. Never just write across pictures as though they weren’t there, leaving the viewer wondering what they’re looking at. Never ever.”

05. look for the detail and the telling shot

Broadcast Journalists are taught to look for the “telling shot”, and more often than not make it the first image. If your story is about a fire at a school, the first thing the audience need to see is the school on fire. If it’s about a woman with cancer, we must see her in shot immediately.

But the telling shot extends further: you can enhance your storytelling by looking for little details which really bring your story to life.

Vin Ray says looking for the little details are what set great camera operators apart from the rest:

“Small details make a big difference. Nervous hands; pictures on a mantelpiece; someone whispering into an ear; a hand clutching a toy; details of a life.”

I’m midway through shooting a short documentary about a former prisoner turned lawyer. One of the first things I noticed when I met him was a copy of the Shawshank Redemption on his coffee table – a great little vignette to help understand the character.

06. break the rules

The worst thing a multimedia journalist can do when producing video for the web is to replicate television – unless that’s your commission of course. TV is full of rules and formulas, all designed to hide edits, look good to the eye, and sometimes decieve. Fact is, online video journalism provides the chance to escape all that.

Sure it must look good, but be prepared to experiment – you’ll be amazed what people will put up with online:

  • Cutaways are often used to cover over edits in interviews; why not be honest and use a simple flash-dissolve instead. Your audience deserve to know where you’ve edited right?
  • TV packages can’t operate without being leaden with voice over, but your online films don’t need to be
  • Piece to cameras don’t need to be woodenly delivered with the camera on a tripod

The final word…

Here’s VJ pioneer David Dunkley-Gyimah speaking at this year’s SxSW event in the US:

““When it comes to the net, there is no code yet as I believe that is set in stone….we’ve all been taking TV’s language and applying that and it hasn’t quite worked. Video journalism needs a more cinematic- hightened visual base.”

Next: storytelling for multimedia journalists!

Journalism posts: a summary

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 26, 2009

Here’s a summary of some of the practical journalism posts I’ve written this year.

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Multimedia journalism

Great free apps for multimedia journalists :: the most popular one by far, covering some online sites to aid journo production

Shooting multimedia-a lot to juggle :: the challenges of covering stories in multimedia in the field; in this case, Iraq.

Video Journalism

The ultimate budget film making kit :: a guide to how I kitted myself out for video journalism on a £500 budget

Broadcast Journalism

The radio emergency survival guide :: how radio newsrooms should prepare for major news events

Making the most of your network :: a good example of how to use other journalists in your group

Three ways to instantly improve your newswriting :: a quick guide to broadcast writing

Five even quicker ways to improve your newswriting :: more tips

Covering court cases-the questions you were afraid to ask :: everything from what to wear in court, and where to sit

How to avoid being THAT annoying PR person :: advice for those unfortunate PR professionals

9 questions for newsreaders :: a checklist for newsreaders

The Radio Emergency Survival Guide

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 16, 2009

They almost always catch you unawares, put your and your newsroom under pressure…but as James Cridland blogged recently, emergency situations are when local radio comes into its own.

In July 2007, drying myself off from the floods, I remember telling myself to put together a guide to how to cope. But I never got round to it, and the next thing the city I was working in was evacuated after a major bomb scare; then there was a plane crash…and in the last few weeks Britain has seen the harshest winter in 18 years.

So how should radio news teams respond? Here’s some tips; journos – feel free to add your own.

floods-generic

Radio Emergency Survival Guide

Have emergency numbers close at hand

Don’t waste valuable time looking up the fire services press officer’s mobile number online. Have it in a book or on a sheet – with all the other emergency numbers you’ll need – for every district of your patch.

Make sure you have numbers for other reporters, presenters etc.

Rope in office staff

During the 2007 floods I couldn’t get out of the office to do my job for hours because so many listeners were calling in with, or asking for, information. If you’re drowning in calls, ask a senior office person to direct sales, admin and programming staff to take all the calls.

It helps if at some point during the year they’re briefed on what details to get from the public.

Use the “drive line”

The other busy phone line, especially in weather emergencies, is the drive-line or traffic line. Ask the on air presenter to save any calls they record. Cut these into a montage to lead your bulletins. It sounds real, edgy and gets listeners on the air (click here for a recent example).

Be prepared for school closures

You’ll also get lots of calls from schools telling you they’re closed or closing imminently. It’s one of local radio’s big jobs to pass on this information,  so make sure you keep an accurate list and pass it on to presenters. Each school should give you a unique DFES number to avoid hoaxers and, in some counties, a password.

Get a good information system going

In large scale weather emergencies/natural disasters it’s easy to drown in the sea of information coming in. So make sure you’re prepared to have a good system to record it all. Keep school closures on a board. Use a map to plot what areas are worst affected.

Use new media

At the very least someone should be putting school and road closures on the website, and any other important info. Have you thought about using Twitter to do it too? What about Google maps?

If possible, don’t network

When the shit hits the fan, now’s not the time to switch to networked programming from another city. Keep a presenter and journalist local to regularly insert information. Your listeners will thank you for it.

Book hotel

If transport is going to be a problem – such with flooding – someone should be booking hotel rooms for key staff. That’s usually the breakfast presenters, producers and newsreaders.

Use your resources

Small news teams, and hubbed news teams, covering a big, unprecedented event, is a stretch. It’s tempting to send reporters out into the patch, but be sensible. You need more people at base, making phone calls, check information and getting interviews to air quickly. While it’s important to get quality and colour audio on air, this really only massages ego in the battle with the competition. Bring in any local work experience people-now could be their time to shine.

Remember safety

If you’re out in a difficult situation remember your safety. Apparently the BBC advises reporters to keep away from flood water. Don’t cross police lines unless you have permission.

Get names and numbers

Anyone you interview while you’re out – get their name, get their phone number. You’ll want to go back to them in a week, a month, a year to follow their story.

Think big

Although resources are stretched and you’re all under pressure, now’s the time to think big. I’m talking two-ways, extended bulletins, ambitious packages, music montages – anything to show you’re listener this is a unique event and you’re pulling out all the stops. In the 2007 floods, Touch Radio ran extended programmes at 1 and 6. With just an hours notice I was asked to record a 2-way and cut a package from the waters edge. It was a race, but it sounded great.

Work as a team

Share information with presenters and visa versa. You’re all in it together.

Give 110%

In March 2008, an unexploded WW2 bomb was found right in the centre of Coventry. It was very close to our studios, which was initially great- I was the first radio reporter on the scene. But within minutes, police had set up a corden, and when it widened, our studios were closed.

The station – 96.2 Touch Radio – was put to network and special programming came from our sister station in Stratford. However it closed the region’s newshub – and news bulletins for all 6 stations in the group had to go on hold.

It left 4 journalists with not much to do. We could have all gone home; but we stayed, conducted interviews, filed live phone reports to the network. Late in the evening it appeared the cordon would remain overnight, and could even mean we wouldn’t be allowed back into the building in time to produce breakfast news bulletins.

We crashed at the closest home to the city centre, finally getting to sleep at about 1am. At 4am we got up and checked with the police – the cordon was finally being lifted. 2 of us headed back and joined 2 breakfast readers who’d just gotten in.  And somehow, with just 90 minutes and no preparation, we produced news bulletins for 6 radio stations, including a special report for the Coventry station.

For 3 of us, it worked out as a 30 hour day. There’s no room for slackers on days like these.

Have I missed anything? Covered a story like this yourself? The comments box is right down here…

Journalists: make the most of your network

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2009

Just wanted to share a cool story treatment we tried out at Viking FM last week – which shows the power of using your wider network.

Viking is part of the UK wide ‘Big City Network‘  with stations from Manchester to Liverpool to Sheffield. It gives us a formidable pool of excellent content when big stories break.

Last week it was our turn to share, as a small walkout in North-East Lincolnshire (in the southern half of our patch) became a national workers’ strike. I spent Thursday morning at the picket line between the police and the protesters.

I’ve covered many protests, but this one had a real anger to it. It was like something out of the “Winter of Discontent”.

The next day, as the strikes turned national, we were able to call on sister stations in Teeside and Edinburgh where construction workers were walking out.

The result was this ‘tour of the UK’ style package at 1 o’clock which took our listeners to different picket lines in just over a minute.

Click here to have a listen.

It was sent and broadcast to other stations across the UK too, and really shows the importance of a well used network.

Of course the internet these days provides journalists with an almost unlimited network of people to link up with.

Covering court cases: the questions you were afraid to ask

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 26, 2009

Journalists undergoing training get excellent tuition these days on media law. The difference between libel and slander, section 39, contempt of court, jigsaw ID, all that.

The idea: to leave the course with an instinctive knowledge of when a story isn’t legally sound. Some alarm should go off in your mind.

All well and good, but just 2 weeks after finishing my training, in June 2007, I found my way to court for the first time, on my own,  covering the sentencing of a woman who’d been convicted for dumping her stillborn baby on the banks of a river.

It hit me then: I knew the law – but I sure as hell didn’t have a clue how to cover a court case.  The practicalities. So everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned on the job, covering trials for murder, rape, fraud, armed robbery you name it for nearly two years.

The questions you were afraid to ask (or never got told)

How do I find out about court cases?

To find out if a case is due to appear in a given court, on a given day, the online source Courtserve is a good first stop. You can browse cases by court, although the next day listings won’t appear until mid-afternoon the day before.

Every Crown and Magistrates Court has a listings department; it’s good practice to call them to confirm the appearance as often changes are made at the last minute.

Finally there is no substitute for maintaining a thorough court diary (court jester) on your newsdesk. Every time a crime hits the headlines, note the arrest and follow up subsequent appearances.

What is the legal process?

Keeping it (very) simple: once someone has been charged they will appear at their local Magistrates court, and depending on the seriousness of the crime, it will be sent to Crown Court. There is often at least one Preliminary Hearing where details like the defendant’s name and address are confirmed.

Then comes the Plea and Case Management Hearing (or PCMH) this is where the defendant will plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” If it’s the former it goes straight to sentencing, if it’s the latter, a date will be set for trial – and a window for that trial to take place.

The trial itself will take place: the jury sworn in, then opening statements, before the prosecution and defense have full blow at all the evidence with witnesses galore. Both sides sum up, before the judge sends out the jury. After deliberation lasting hours to days, they return a verdict. At which point the judge adjourns the case while he decides a sentence. He may also ask for psychiatric reports to be prepared which can delay the process.

The sentence is given, and case closed.

justice

What should I wear in court?

I would always recommend wearing something vaguely smart, but I’ve never been kicked out for wearing trainers and jeans. It’s no worse than the relatives of those appearing will turn up in.

What can I take into court?

Into the courtroom itself you can take your bag,  a pen and notebook. Phones are allowed but for the love of God, turn it to silent (be paranoid about this!).

Broadcasters: you will have to surrender your mics, cameras to the security desk. I recommend approaching them with eye contact and a smile and the line “I need to hand this over to you” If you leave it for them to find it in your bag, then it gives them a major lecture-licence which we could all do without.

Where am I supposed to sit?

Every courtroom has a press gallery, usually in the ‘pit’ of the courtroom. There’s also the public gallery, but press is preferable because you can swap notes with other reporters.

What happens if I arrive late or need to leave early?

People are allowed to come and go from a courtroom, but it is customary to turn and give the judge a respectful nod as you leave or enter. At some stages, arriving or leaving will be banned.

How do court rooms work?

When you arrive you’ll go through a security check, often with a metal detector. A frisking isn’t unusual. Broadcasters, handover your recording equipment.

Then there’s a lobby, with access to all the court rooms. You’ll see all sorts in here:

  • A group of people looking scruffy: normally the family/friends of the defendant, and not unusually the defendant themselves.
  • People dressed smart, looking nervous or crying: often witnesses about to spill all.
  • Smart looking people sitting next to them: the detective on the case, hoping the witness says the right thing.
  • Very smart people in a gown: the clerk of the court: They’ll call in witnesses and announce the start of proceedings in a certain courtroom.
  • And the people you’ll probably want to ID the fastest: other journalists. Make friends-you’ll need to share notes and know you’re in on the right case!

I’m in the court building but I don’t know what room I’m supposed to be in, what do I do?

Navigate your way round with the flatscreen monitors dotted around. There’s at least one in the lobby, listing all the cases due that day (by defendant’s name, case number, case stage, place and time).

Each courtroom usually has a room specific monitor outside it.

Still you’ll need to keep your wits about you – there’s nothing worse than realising you’ve gone and sat in on the wrong case.

How do I find out if there are any reporting restrictions?

Normally there’s a note on the press bench. Again, this where it’s useful to make friends with other hacks – especially PA or the local paper. They’ll tell you if there’s anything you should know about.

Who can I talk to for help?

Your afformentioned journo friends. Also you can usually approach the court clerk at an appropriate moment, or one of the council. Every court also has at least one attached freelance court reporter who files copy for organisations who can’t be there. Living in the building they’ll tell you everything and anything – but be warned, they earn their living on passing on court copy, and a reporter present = one less sale.

Will I be upset?

You may be. On a murder or sexual assault case the details are graphic and unrelenting. Be prepared for sex assualt cases in particular, when the charges are often listed by each individual ‘penetration’ (which is then described). And you’ll hear bad language all over the shop, including from barristers and the judge (when reading out witness statements).

Am I allowed to approach anyone?

On a big case, you might want to interview the police on the case or the family of the victim. There’s no problem with this, but use your common sense and tact. Courts are very distressing places for some people.

What are good questions to ask?

If you’re looking for that extra scoop or new angle, try and speak to the officer who tried the case after verdict (they’ll be at court). Were there any previous convictions you can now report? By arrangement the families may give a statement or take questions outside court. This is usually done with arrangement with the police press office.

What happens if I get any grief?

I’ve never gotten grief from someone involved in a specific case. The only resistance you’re likely to encounter is – bizarrely – from the people who work in courts. For some reason, no-one’s ever told them the important role journalists play in justice and democracy, and you’re seen as a nosey parker.

The answer: remember Lady Justice with her two scales. Justice is to be done and seen to be done. If you need to give a (minor) court official a reminder on this, all the better.

A new era

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on January 20, 2009

So it was as powerful and emotional and historic as November 4th, and more.

Billions, they reckon, watched Barack Obama’s inauguration; 4 million made the pilgrimage to Washington DC to see it for themselves.

From a journalist’s perspective days like this are always fascinating and exciting. I thought some mind find it useful to see how the local radio station I work for covered it today.

Local v national

Generally, local media have 2 choices when it comes to big national/international stories:

  1. You are a local station, you cover local stories primarily
  2. You are an outlet in tune with your local audience and the wider world.

In radio certainly – many managers consider local news a major facet of their “localness” requirements – and will often inforce ‘Lead on Local’ policies.

Even without, local journalists sometimes feel guilty at covering non-local stories.

Where I work, we take option 2. There is a wider world out there, and often things happen nationally/internationally which affect our listeners lives.

When people turn on the radio, they expect to be briefed on all the big stories – and what’s happening NOW.

We decided editorially last week it would be THE story today, despite another strong local story which has been developing for a week vying for lead.

So we put lots of effort in advance of today getting local reaction to the historic inauguration. In our main lunchtime bulletin we ran an in-house report looking back at Bush’s legacy. We also tracked down American’s living in our area, as well as academics and politicians.

Mixed with audio from our national news wire service we had comprehensive coverage.

Perhaps overambitiously we tried to take a live feed from Washington at 1700 to catch the opening words of Obama’s oath. A nice idea, thrown out of whack when the ceremony was delayed (for the first time in 200 years!).

In terms of writing, a day like to day is a journalists dream, with all sorts of options for epic and creative copy.

Compare that to our local rival (who I won’t name); at 5pm, as Obama was about to step up to take the job of President of the United States, they led with a local crime story.

The inauguration came last “and finally…”

As a listener/viewer/reader would you feel in touch with the world?

Comments Off on A new era

How to avoid being “that annoying PR person”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 17, 2009

The phone rings – London number.

“Newsdesk, Adam speaking.”

[Excitedly] “Hello Adam, it’s Christabelle here calling from Markettowers PR*, how are you?”

Markettowers. Bollocks.

[Tersely] “I’m OK thanks.”

“Great, that’s great. Hey look, I’ve got a great story which I think you’ll really like – with some great local stats.”

“…go on”

“Well we’ve done some research into when people fill in their tax returns, and discovered that 18% of people in your area leave it until the last day.”

“Right.”

“And we’ve got David Nobody from Tesco.com available for interview tomorrow morning to talk about why we should get them in sooner – can I book you in for a slot?”

“Send a press release and we’ll take a look delete it immediately.”

And so another London PR agency calls with another lame story. It’s one of the minor annoyances of local journalism, albeit a neccessary one, as once in every 15 calls, they bring you a story with some tickle factor that you know will make a light mid-bulletin filler.

It wasn’t until I saw a job ad in the Guardian that I realised what the game really was: it advertised a position at a marketing agency – and the job was to “sell” (their word) stories to radio stations.

Essentially it’s a glorified call centre job. And when I also spotted they get paid £10k more than me, my patience for PR hacks fell through the floor.

So if you work in PR, if – heaven forbid – it is your job to ‘sell’ stories to busy journalists, please read the following advice – it might stop your press release entering the recycle bin.

Don’t call anywhere near the top of the hour

Radio journalists in particular read the news at the top of every hour. Calling anytime after 00:40 will most likely result in a brisk “sod off”. It’s different for newspaper and TV journos of course.

Pitch in 10 seconds or less

It’s a skill journalists are trained to do, so you should too. If you can’t explain your story in less than 10 seconds, don’t bother.

Do your research

I have actually had calls offering me “great local stats” for the wrong county. The phone was hung up pretty soon after. Also, for many local media, regional stats are not local stats.

Do your research

I’ve had calls offering stories about where to invest your money-when most of my target audience shop at Iceland. Sell it to Classic FM, not me.

Do your research

Local commercial radio does bulletins of no longer than 3 minutes. They never do longer interviews unless its with someone off X-Factor. So don’t pitch long 2 ways. Journalists need short clips.

Don’t keep calling

Newdesks fully realise the more times you call, the more desperate you are, ergo the fewer other outlets have used your story, ergo your story blows. Call to pitch, and don’t call back. If a journalist likes the story they’ll make the call – we’re quite clever, you know.

And know your client will very rarely get a name check

You may pitch them as ‘David Nobody from Tesco.com” but 9 times out of 10 they’ll be referenced on air as ‘Money expert David Nobody”. We’re not interested that it’s Tesco, sorry.

*not a real company

Journalism’s “fame academy” gets blogging

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2009

It’s good to see a whole raft of postgraduate journalism students at City University now with their own blogs.

City – or the “fame academy of journalism” as it was once described – is  recognised as Britain’s leading school of journalism, a nudge ahead of  Cardiff, Westminster and Leeds Trinity All Saints.

It’s got top names, like Adrian Monck, Stewart Purvis and Roy Greenslade on its books, and more household names in its alumni than you can mention here.

But when I was there just two years ago, there was just one student blogging: me.  In fact the internet – although recognised as a valuable research tool – was somewhat sidelined in the curriculum.

city-uni

Instead we focussed on getting the skills and the art of traditional TV and radio nailed.

But over the road at Westminster, almost every student was blogging, and under the tuition of David Dunkley-Gyimah producing TV and radio content online. Learning how to produce a single story three ways, not to mention the valuable art of Video Journalism.

Now I don’t think any students in my year suffered from that, but you couldn’t help but feel City might suddenly find itself out of date.

However, the numbers of student blogs of this years intake, including:  Shona Ghosh, Ali Plumb, Beth Mellor (all of whom I’ve met in various places), Abigail Edge, Claire Dickinson, James Bray, Lara King, Tommy Stubbington…suggests the internet has moved up the agenda in EC1. And rightly so.

I’d be interested to know what any of the above, or any other current City hacks think about the courses online credentials: get in touch!

Three ways to instantly improve your newswriting

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2009

Writing for broadcast news, writing for radio, writing to pictures: they’re all an art unto themselves, and personally for me, one of the great pleasures of my job.

But on a busy newsdesk you often come  across bland, unimaginative cues, written by the  ‘churnalists’ at IRN or Sky, or BBC’s GNS (General News Service)

You shouldn’t be in the business of putting to air/online rubbish copy, but with the top of the hour looming it’s not always that easy.  So…

LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

3 ways to instantly spice up your copy

01. Put it in the now

I often end up changing copy with phrases like “Captain America saved the day today”; Problem: it’s in the past tense. News is about the now. So the topline MUST be in the present tense: “Captain America’s saving the day” or “Captain America’s been saving the day” if it’s nearing the end. A simple grammatical change makes a big difference.

02. Make it personal

Broadcast news scripts are written to be spoken – so make sure it sounds like you’d say it. And that can just involve changing some words:  “to improve the nation’s health” –> “to make us all feel better”. Adding ‘you’ or ‘us’ adds a quick personal touch.

03.  Ban bad words

The following words should be removed immediately: councillors, council, local authority, multi-agency partnership, initiative, funding, finance…the list goes on (add your own below)

There you go – if you need a tight fresh script, but are short on time, these three steps should cut out the crap.

9 questions for newsreaders

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2009

Aaah, reading the news. Some people wait years to get to do it. Some people have to fight, and beg, and slog it out to get a chance.

And if you work in radio – particularly local radio – you could find yourself behind the mic weeks out of college.

Many big media groups offer on the job training and voice coaching. But what else must the newsreader know?

Adam Westbrook

Image: Adam Westbrook

Here are 9 questions for a newsreader to ask themselves after every bulletin:

01. it legally sound and accurate?

Possibly the most important one. Have you remembered your ‘allegedlys’ your ‘he denies the charges’ and your Section 39?

02. Did you treat stories in a responsible way?

Sometimes it’s easy to exaggerate the stories, especially if you’re trying to make it a lead, or even in the pursuit of creativity.

03. Were they appropriate for a family audience?

Dogs die in hot cars, and kids cry in hot cars when the radio’s talking about graphic violence and sex.

04. Would the listener trust you? Have you left any questions unanswered?

It’s vital you are straight with your listener. Keep your scripts simple, and for the love of God, don’t include phrases, terms or explanations when even you don’t know what they mean. This is even more important during the recession. When you tell your audience a local company has gone into receivership, what does that mean? Getting it wrong, or skimming over it doesn’t help anyone understand these difficult times.

05. Have you been creative, but not confusing?

Being creative with your audio and your writing is what makes you stand out in a competitive market. That’s split clips (sometimes called turbos), creative voxes, asking questions, even being poetic. But don’t confuse your listener or distort the story in the pursuit of creativity.

06. Did you involve the listener?

Radio was creating virtual communties long before social networking. How can you involve your listener? Can they text or email their thoughts? Do you have an answerphone line they can call? A montage of listener calls on the hot topic of the day is always a winner.

07. Did you help increase web traffic?

Use every opportunity to throw listeners to your website. But be wary of reading out a web address after every story. The website is very useful if there’s an important story, like the Middle East, which is just too dry. Give it two lines, and then tell your listener to go online if they want more.

08. Did you speak directly to your listener?

That means phrases like “as we told you earlier” “you might remember we told you about” “you’ve been getting in touch with us about…”. The old adage of radio remains: you’re talking to a single listener not a million. It is a personal medium. Talk to them, not at them.

09. Did the stories you chose reflect what your listeners are talking about?

It’s difficult to know what the talking point is when you’re stuck on a newdesk. Use your reporters. Watch the news channels. But don’t be pressured into a lead, just because your rivals are.

Taken from a selection of questions Bauer Radio journalists are often asked to ask themselves.

My TV manifesto

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2008

I’ve been working in broadcast news for two years now, and I’ve been following it, I guess for five. And well, I think I’m just a bit tired with it all. With the formats, with the delivery, with the writing, with the style, with the editorial choices.

Surely there must be something different?

Here’s thing: I don’t think there is. We all know radio is in a state, and as for TV? Well I could write a long diatribe, but it’s been done already, far more succintly and wittily, and then put on television by Charlie Brooker:

Watch part one here:

Then part two here

And part three here:

Whether you like it or not, or whether you think it’s the way it’s always going to be or not, I am convinced there is room for something different.

Something aimed at a younger audience; with a journalistic transparency, a complete fluid harmony with digital and web technology, delivered differently, cheaply, eco-friendily, telling different stories, off the agenda, breaking the rules, offering something new.

To avoid sounding like the Alistair Darling when he gave his speech about how to fix the economy the other week (and didn’t actually announce anything), here is – for what its worth – my own TV news manifesto. Just some ideas; debate them, slate them!

a new news manifesto

This is my own idea for an online based alternative news platform. At its heart is a daily studio news programme, uploaded to the website and to Youtube. It is of no fixed length – only dictated by the content.

Content

Ignore the stories of the mainstream media. That means crime stories are out. Court stories with no lasting impact are out. Surveys, unless by major bodies are out, so is the sort of PR pollster rubbish that fills the airwaves. If people want that they have no end of sources. This will be different.

Solution journalism?

Rather than just reporting on a problem and ending with the cliche “whether this problem will be solved is yet to be seen” there’s a good argument for solution journalism. Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick suggest it as part of their own ideas on Peace Journalism (could it be adapted to non-conflict reporting?)  Reports which examine how a problem might be solved rather than just reminding us there’s a problem.

A younger audience; a digital existence

A programme for the ‘web 2.0 generation’. That’s the people who blog, use facebook and myspace and exist in a digital online world. It’ll be up front and direct, but not patronising like Newsbeat‘s “something bad has happened in a place called abroad” style. VJ pieces will be created for web use not to mimic TV styles.

Video Journalism

At its heart will be the ethos of video journalism. David Dunkley-Gyimah laid out his own manifesto on this here. As well as staffing young creative VJs for firefighting stories and assignments, this brand would tap from a huge source of international freelance sources as well as other existing solutions like Demotix and Vimeo. Stylistically it would take its cues from already successful projects like Current TV. Packages are edited fast and with attitude -they know the rules of conventional film, but aren’t afraid to break them.

Focus

It would have an international focus, remembering the unreported stories. It believes the phrase “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. It would focus on unreported issues and people with the story tellers getting right into the story. Creativity is the norm, and the packages do not try to emulate TV news in content or form.

But what about the main agenda?

This wouldn’t be ignored – but would be wrapped in each show in a “newsbelt” form – “the stories the other shows are talking about” It would need to feel connected to the national agenda but not neccessarily following it.

Transparent

A key element to this type of journalism would be transparency in reporting and editing. Packages would be VJ produced – from the root to the fruit – and VJ led. In other words the viewer follows the VJ as they investigate and tell the story. If it’s from a press release the audience deserves to know that. There would also be an openness in editing with misleading cutaways, noddies and GVs removed, and edits to interviews clearly signposted (for example through a flash wipe). Agency footage labelled as such so viewers know it’s not inhouse. Images of reporters can appear on screen as they cover the story.

Delivery

The platform is digital – through an accessible, well designed fluid website. Viewers can watch whole shows or individual reports. Each show would have no time requirements as broadcasters do. It would need to host an online community of viewers who watch, comment, submit and review. They are reflected in the content. The people at 4iP lay it out quite nicely right here.

Attitude

The journalism would have attitude, and would be not afraid to take risks. At its heart is good story telling and brilliant writing. Creative treatments would set the standard mainstream broadcasters will adopt months later.

Cheap and green

The video journalism model is cheap and green. One man bands on assignment, sourcing, shooting and cutting themselves. No need for live satellite link ups or expensive foreign trips housing 5 people in big hotels (what’s wrong with a hostel?) The central programme itself would be studio based but avoiding the “absurdist cathedrals of light” preferred by the mainstream. Solar powered lighting? Light cameras on light peds?

Presentation

The central programme is relaxed, young and doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. The team have the mind set of the Daily Buzz and create great moments even when they’re not trying too. Stylistically the presentation takes its cues from a more fluid version of C4 News in the UK, with almost constant (but not distracting) camera movements.

This news platform doesn’t need to report the mainstream stores – because there is a plethora of media to do that already. It avoids the distorting pressures of the other networks, like the need for live pictures from the scene, uninformed 2-ways and time pressures. It focusses on bringing something new, but allowing analysis too. It’s VJ packages are well produced – but do not try to emulate the style of TV news.

That’s pretty much all I got. As i mentioned I strongly feel there is a demand for a new way of doing things-we just don’t know what that is yet.

And just a quick disclaimer: I’m just a young broadcast journalist with only 2 years under my belt. I certainly don’t suggest this any good a solution, or that I should have anything to do with it. But for what it’s worth I thought it was worth jotting down.

You might agree, or you might disagree…stick your thoughts in the comments box!