Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

It’s time to change how we think about “news”

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 14, 2010

While narrative prose will always play a central role in human communication, the future of public service journalism does not reside with “the story.”

There’s a very smart new blog on the scene, called The Future of Context. It’s run by Matt Thompson of Newsless, with input from Jay Rosen, Tristan Harris and Staci Kramer. The aim of the blog is a noble one: “…we wanted to bring some context to the question of context.”

Read any journalism manual, and it’ll tell you the importance of giving your reader or viewer the context to the story, putting it in its place. But in the rush to learn new technologies, multiskill and bootstrap, are we forgetting that?

In a post over the weekend, Howard Weaver summed up one of the big shifts in journalism pretty damn well:

In my salad days journalists relied on one tool to handle it all – the constantly changing river of news as well as the intricate web of process and relationships. Our tool was the story, a finite prose narrative anchored to one spot in time – all the news we could gather and report by midnight, more or less. Compared to the alternatives of the day, it was a rich and powerful source of information.

Compared to the alternatives today, it’s not.

He goes on to pose Jeff Jarvis‘ view that news, instead will be made up of ‘the topic, meaning a blog or site “that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering.”’

The paradigm shift

So, is the news story dead? How does that affect us as journalists? One thing you can’t deny is that things are changing. Fast. Irrevocably. And completely. Matt Thompson sums it up very well, and journalists should take note:

“I think we’re on the verge of an epochal advancement in journalism. We’ve spoken for years about the radical evolution that must take place, but I think our ideas are only now matching our ambitions. In recent years, our craft has gotten quicker and glitzier and slightly more in touch, but all our progress has been incremental. Now, the paradigm shift is finally at hand …”

A wealth of journalism inspiration from New York

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 11, 2009

I’m sure most readers of this blog also follow US new media giant Jeff Jarvis’ blog over at Buzz Machine.

Jeff was telling us the future of journalism is entrepreneurial before anyone had really considered it and Buzz Machine is a hive of interesting writing. Today Jeff posted the results of an Entrepreneurial Journalism class where his CUNY students have been pitching their own business ideas.

For obvious reasons he’s not giving much away, but what he did reveal about the pitches that won some development cash (and those that didn’t) offers some excellent inspiration and ideas to the rest of us:

The four ideas that won some money from the McCormick Foundation are (emphasis mine)

  • a platform for news assignments
  • a mobile sports application
  • a creative, algorithmic answer to filter failure
  • and ClosetTour a new media site dedicated to fashion

And those that didn’t:

  • a specialised womens travel service
  • a specialised local real estate (property) service
  • a cool food idea
  • 2 business-to-business ideas
  • a hyperlocal idea
  • a service for NGOs
  • a commercial service for NGOs

What’s great is the huge variety of ideas – covering news, fashion, food, sport. What’s more as Jeff notes:

A few were built around the need not just to create content but to curate it. Most are highly targeted. Some saw the potential in specialised local services. Some saw the need to go mobile to service the public. Some are international. Some are multimedia. A few saw the need to make news fun, others to make news useful.

And Jeff stressed the need for every business to cut a profit in order to survive. We must be capitalist about it now.

Anyone outside of CUNY or the US should read this and take inspiration. Although Jeff’s descriptions are necessarily vague, use them to fuel your own ideas and thoughts for entrepreneurial models. Think about the importance of serving a market, having a niche, finding a gap in the market – and being able to sum up your business in an elevator pitch.

Earlier today a friend showed me plans for an exciting news business in the North of  England, which I can’t  say anything about at the moment. But all this adds strength to my conviction that, if 2009 was the year of “great media collapse” then 2010 will be the year it rises from the ashes.