Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The beauty of beta mode

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2012

Everyone should have the word ‘beta’ after their name. In fact, I’m thinking of putting it on my website when I give it a redesign.

It’s a reference you’ll probably recognise to new websites and businesses which often first go public in ‘beta mode’. It denotes that fact that they are still in a  a process of testing, experimenting, failing and debugging. Gmail was famously in beta mode for more than five years.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn says the startup approach can be applied to real people: their lives and careers ought to be in ‘permanent beta’. “We are all works in progress” he says.

Thing is, many people try to get out of the beta version of their lives as soon as possible, and into ‘finished’ mode: the complete career, the complete marriage, the complete house.

And us creative types: online publishers, designers, film makers and journalists do the same thing when we make something new. We rush to get it into perfect mode as swiftly as possible.

The problem with this approach to anything is it is extremely limiting.

Firstly, it limits ideation and iteration: two important parts of any creative process. If you aim for a perfect first shoot, it means your first idea has to be the best. Therefore you ignore all other ideas. You’re also less open to changing from that idea when something better comes along.

Quick tip#1: your first idea is never the best one.

Some say a good approach is a 10:3:1 ratio. You come up with at least 10 ideas, whittle down to the top three, and then pick the best. I used a similar idea with the Future of News mini-meetups in 2010, where I got people to brainstorm a large number of ideas around a problem, aiming for quantity over quality.

Secondly, and with more serious consequences, aiming for perfect limits your mindset. Rushing out of beta mode into finished mode makes you do dangerous things:

  • avoid taking big risks
  • avoid starting projects you don’t know for certain will work
  • discard projects you don’t think will make any money
  • delay or discard big dreams and plans for the future
  • settle

What if you were always in beta?

Imagine how your life would be if, instead of aiming to get out of beta-mode, you relished being in it.

Imagine relishing experimentation, failure, uncertainty, being scared and unprepared. Think of the things it would make you do. The projects you would start for the hell-of-it, and the serendipity that would create. The places you would travel to just to see what it was like, the events you would go to just because.

We would be more bold and more varied in our careers. Young people wouldn’t feel pressured into a specific career early on, or feel like they couldn’t move on to something completely different. More risky innovative projects would get started and finished, which in turn would affect and inspire more people. People wouldn’t wait for permission or the ‘right time’ to get going with something.

Quick tip #2: you don’t need anyone’s permission and the ‘right time’ never comes.

More people would get their hands dirty. We would stop trying to plan and prepare for things we can’t control. And if things don’t work out it’s not a deal-breaking catastrophe, just an opportunity to take stock, change-up and pivot to something new.

That’s what good startups do when they’re in beta mode, because it’s the best way to deal with the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. Isn’t it time we accepted our lives & careers today are filled with just the same uncertainty? 

A message to journalism students in 2010

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 14, 2010

Earlier this week I was invited to Sunderland University in the north-east of England to talk to journalism students.

And I had one message: when you graduate you need to think differently about your career, and find different ways of making a living from journalism.

Why? Because, as I have pointed out before, there are more journalism students graduating this summer than there are jobs for them to fill. They face huge competition for the shrinking number of places.

Some of these alternative ways of income I have outlined in a new book available for download from the 2oth of May. I shared some of the pathways and lots of extra supporting advice in a short presentation – here are some of the highlights:

You can read what some of the students thought of the presentation too:

10 new ways to make money in journalism

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 7, 2010

The problem: there aren’t enough jobs for journalists

4,000 journalism jobs were lost in the UK last year; 20,000+ in the US. Meanwhile the number of young people applying for journalism courses went up, in the UK by nearly 16%.

The solution: journalists need to think differently about their career and come up with new ways to make a living

I’m very happy to announce details of a project I’ve been working on for several months now, which is almost ready to go live.

In all the blog posts I have written, Future of News meetups I have hosted, lectures and training sessions I have given since quitting my full-time job seven months ago one thing has become clear: journalists in the future need to think differently if they’re going to survive.

The maths just don’t add up for a start.

There are too many journalists and not enough jobs. How do we navigate that?

Emerging from this is the Next Generation Journalist: someone who isn’t threatened by talk of the supposed declining value of news, the slashing of budgets or lack of jobs. Instead of threats or problems, they see opportunities.

It might seem we live in the toughest of times as journalists, but in fact we are hugely privileged to live when we do. The internet has shaken journalism to the core, but it has also created three fantastic opportunities we can’t ignore:

  • the opportunity to create high quality content at a fraction of the price
  • the opportunity to publish that content for free
  • the opportunity to create new audiences, communities for that content, and then monetise it

The Next Generation Journalist seizes on these opportunities and does journalism in new and exciting ways – and makes money.

10 new ways to make money in journalism

I want more people to seize these opportunities and exploit the digital economy. It’s not easy though, and requires not just creativity, and a bit of business know-how…but guts and persistence, the drive to swim against the tide and do epic shit no-one has done before.

So I’ve spent the last few months working on a new e-book which I hope will help people along the way. It’s called the Next Generation Journalist and will be available to download on May 20th.

In the book I’ve compiled 10 new business ideas for journalists to pursue. It shows you what they are, but also how it’s done; and features interviews with people who’ve actually done it.

It’s got its own website and everything, and there’ll be discounts for anyone who signs up early – just click here to do that.

What are the 10 new ways?

The good news is you don’t have to buy the book to find out what the 10 new ways to make money are!

Every day from Monday I’ll be revealing a new career opportunity contained within the book, so you can see whether it fits you before parting with any cash.

You’ll get more info too, including exclusive video and audio interviews, if you get yourself on the mailing list…click here!