Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What’s your “news eco-system”?

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2008

The BBC have carried out some research into how the modern homo-sapien consumes its news. They asked a load of people to keep a diary noting everytime they checked up on the news, and how they did it.

Steve Hermann writes about the results here.

Interestingly, their researchers described each person as having their own “news eco-system”: ‘where an individual might read several papers, hear news on the radio, look at various websites and/or TV channels for news’.

Well I hope that pattern isn’t news to the BBC.

But that’s an interesting term, and got me wondering what my news-ecosystem might look like….

0630: BBC 5 LIVE – DAB radio, in bed – to find out the headlines and who’s saying what

0800: Viking FM – DAB radio, in bed – to see what stories I’ll be sent out to cover that day

0830: Radio 1 – radio, in car – to get an idea of how Newsbeat are tailoring the news for their audience.

0900: Scan through the local papers, plus Mail, Mirror and Sun – to get an idea of what our listeners are reading.

Mid morning – a catch up with the big stories online. I also check Media Guardian, BBC News Online, NY Times. I also get email alerts from various sources.

All day – brief glances at Sky News in the office. I’m also drip fed news via IRN’s wire service.

1330 – BBC Look North – to see what the opposition are up to; inevitable plug of Peter Levy’s show.

Evening – check up on social news: Facebook, Google Reader/blogs and Twitter all tell me what people I’m interested in are up to.

1900 – Channel 4 News – but these days for just a few minutes. On Friday’s I love Unreported World.

Evening – alternative news sources if I have time: Current TV

There you go – I count 17 different sources (20 if you breakdown all the local papers, 50 if you add each blog). Each one consumed for no more than 5-10 minutes, and each one I select, chew and spit out as I please.

So what could be a useful conclusion for the future of news? It can be alternative. And it needs to be short.

What’s your eco system? Post below, and maybe we can give David Attenborough a ring!

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This is a barrel

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 9, 2008

Take a look at this barrel:

Imagine if you will, Mr and Mrs John D Taxpayer bent over this barrell. With their pants hoicked around their angles, getting a right old bumming from every high street bank, many local councils, and now it seems even some police forces.

In these turbulent times, the “age of Robert Peston“, what else could I be talking about, other than yours and my favourite cereal, the Credit Crunch.

Or rather, the discovery that while the times were good, and the credit was only starting to crunch (and snap and crackle and pop) banks and public bodies were willfully investing our cash in all sorts of bollocks.

Now I don’t know what it was about the Icelandic. Maybe the Chief Constable of Humberside Police really has a thing for Bjork and local councillors go crazy for Sigur Ros, but they’ve all invested a lot of cash. Our cash. And they’ve probably lost it.

This isn’t the best thing to realise the day after we all forked out £50bn for the banks.

So it’s pretty grim. But I’m not going to write about why it’s grim and all that.  Instead:covering the story today some things surprised me. First off, the lack of outrage from the public. We went out and voxed some shoppers in Grimsby today, who ranged from nonchalent to mildly peeved.

But what’s got me most cross is the behaviour of these public bodies. My job is to cover events in the Humberside area, and both North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council it turned out had investments totalling £12m in Landsbanki.

North Lincolnshire offered a statement totalling a few lines, but I was told the people I needed to speak to “were in meetings all day”. Very convenient for them. North-east Lincolnshire found one spokesperson.

I caught the end of Channel 4 News today, as Jon Snow said “We’ve tried contacting every high street bank involved in the bailout, but no-one was available for interview.”

I’m sorry?!

For £50bn I expect the bosses of each high street bank to be available to skip naked through an apiary covered in maple syrup. (Ahh, the things you wish you could say to press officers).

The fact is, not only have banks been spending customers money wildly, so have the public bodies with a responsiblity to the people who pay their wages. Yet they show little or no desire to engage the people whose money they’ve spent and who are bailing them out. That’s called rude in my book.

I hope from this whole mess, at least one thing emerges: a watchdog like attitude among the general public. If we don’t watch these cretins more closely, we’ll be over that barrel again.

Bridgend Suicides: more media soul searching

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 20, 2008

It’s becoming an increasing trend for the media to self criticise an analyse these days.

In the last few weeks there’s been some tough soul searching: first over the ‘hounding’ of Britney Spears; and more recently over our impact on the ever continuing suicides in Bridgend in South Wales.

The 17th victim – 16 year old Jenna Parry- was found hanged yesterday.

So the big questions are being asked: are the front page splashes and TV/Radio pieces encouraging others to seek their fame posthumously? Should there be a voluntary ban on reporting suicides?

I’m not sure where I sit on this. As far as I am aware it is already against PCC/Ofcom policy to include lurid details on suicides to avoid copy cats.

There are some errors in reporting though. A lot of papers suggest the “town” of Bridgend is under the grip of the suicide horror – in fact Bridgend is a county borough and the deaths are spread across it.

A new trend?

It never seemed to happen much before, except maybe when Princess Diana died and we all wondered whether the paparazzi had driven her into the tunnel wall.

Last year, in the fever of the Ipswich Murders (the verdict of which is expected imminently), no-one slammed the outrageous behaviour of the BBC and Sky who fought a tooth and nail battle to get exclusives.

The BBC famously broadcast an off-the-record interview with a suspect-something any journalist should never do. The papers published pictures of his MySpace site and called him an internet weirdo.

He was later released without charge.

But let this soul searching continue! In the absence of a solid fifth estate, the more self monitoring the better.

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“That’s what we do”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 20, 2007

“It’s our job to make television that people want to watch, that’s what we do” I heard a CNN producer say today in a heated debate in the gallery about whether the world’s had enough of Virginia Tech.

That certainly has an element of truth to it; whether you agree with the idea or not.

Whatever you think of the on-screen coverage of Monday’s shootings, Sue Turton from Channel 4 News in the UK has some pretty revealing insights into the media’s behaviour off-screen:

Compared to my ultra efficient but ever polite producer, Sarah Corp, her US equivalent were under immense pressure to deliver the student or parent with the most heart-wrenching story as soon as physically possible.

Sadly this manifested itself in abrupt and sometimes aggressive approaches to people who had already been through so much.

It does not make pretty reading.

Tout-mange

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 16, 2007

EscargotWith still a week to go until the French go to the polls and the networks’ attempts to bring the election to life has already grown tres thin; never before has there been such a thin selection of ideas – and parading of such gross stereotypes.

You see, for many top correspondents assigned to cover the elections, the truly unpredictable battle between right and left, Sego and Sarky, just months after riots in Paris…. is actually a chance for a leisurely promenade through the delights of rural France in the spring.

Robin Oakley, CNNAs Charles De Gaulle once said,” ponders CNN’s European Political Editor and Harry Enfield’s dad Robin Oakley at the top of a package today, “‘How can you govern a country which has 243 different types of cheese?‘”

That’s right: for the top hacks in Paris this week, it’s all about the food.

Every report I’ve seen about the upcoming vote, and the social debates behind it has been set in a food factory.

So the BBC’s Jon Sopel started off News 24’s coverage last week sitting in a cafe in Dijion. For no apparent reason it seems, other than it was sunny and nice looking. And to begin us on our journey through racial tensions and mass unemployment, let’s go visit a mustard factory. Jees.

Meanwhile back with CNN’s Robin Oakley who took us for a grand Keith Floyd style meander through the vinyards of Bordeaux on Friday, and thought to mention the elections at least once or twice.

And after what was clearly a tough weekend of eating food, he was back today reporting from….a patisserie.

Expect great insight throughout the week from Jon Snow, petite pain in hand and Peter Snow illustrating the split of the parliament on the side of a wheel of Brie.

Sacre bleu!

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The trend’s already begun

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 5, 2007

Last month I wrote what has to be the most pessimistic of predictions for the future of Channel 4 News, probably Britain’s best quality domestic news product.

A report in the Media Guardian today seems to provide evidence the path to this future has already begun. The amount of “serious factual” programming on the channel appears to have fallen by 25% according to Ofcom.

On the up, unsurprisingly: crap like Supernannies and Big Brother.

But it’s not just Channel 4. The BBC’s flagship 10 o’clock news is potentially facing budget cuts in light of the lower-than-expected licence fee agreement in January.

And as Adrian Monck’s been writing recently, ITV’s news service is tightening it’s belt, with what I only feel able to describe as a piss take new deal.

And that deal’s due to expire…..in 2012, when analogue broadcasting (with it’s requirement for public service news programming) is due to be switched off. It’s not looking healthy.

Incidentally, I’m about to write an essay on news as a commodity…it looks like I’m going to have a lot to talk about!

So the hint is, don’t work in British TV news. Work for the Americans instead. I’m doing an internship at CNN International at the moment which is very interesting and suffering much less from a lack of the greens.

Note: Apologies for the lack of writing recently. The end of term project took most of my energy and my contract at CNN has taken most of my ability to write about what goes on there! Nevertheless I’ll try and bash something out shortly.

A future for Channel 4 News?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on March 18, 2007

Channel 4 NewsroomChannel 4 chief Andy Duncan’s been making some worrying noises about one of the channel’s greatest assets: Channel 4 News.

As Michael Grade’s been trying to secure future funding for ITV News in the digital era, Duncan’s told a select committee of MPs that Channel 4 News won’t survive in it’s current form.

According to the Press Gazette:

Andy Duncan, Chief Executive of Channel 4, told the cross-party media select committee that Channel 4 News was unlikely to survive in its present form without public subsidy.

He said: “Whilst Channel 4 News is a flagship public service programme on the Channel, it is expensive to make and has limited potential for revenue raising.

“As such it is unlikely to survive in its present form – a one hour peak time programme, containing 40 per cent international news – in a purely commercial environment.”

The reason is simple: broadcasting on an analogue signal, all of the terrestrial channels have a certain public service remit. They’re all using large amounts of airwaves which belong to the public and in return they’re expected to provide us all with some news.

And because of this, and it’s unique public service remit, Channel 4 gets some cash for news.

But hark, on the horizon, the looming spectre of the digital switchover. We know now it’s going to start in Whitehaven on October 17th and will be complete by 2012. By then, all homes will be expected to have a digi-box and analogue transmissions will be turned off.

Broadcasting in naughts and ones is nice and compact. You can fit more channels and and not take up as much public airwaves. And because of this, broadcasters are loosing government cash (except the Beeb, of course.)

And – more worryingly – a channel’s news remit (again, except the BBC), will expire too.  Some channels – likely ITV and Five – may well say “screw news – why should I waste my money on that?”

And it looks like Channel 4 News, in spite of it’s scores of awards and cult following, could be forced to change in the next five years.  Let’s hope it doesn’t ditch it all together.

Sky News announced it was taking itself off the Freeview platform last month. Fellow journo Doidge rightly says the loss of competition in broadcast news can only be bad. Imagine that on a massive scale – and the redundancy consequences.

News is a bizarre commodity- like war, it costs loads to do with little or no financial returns. Not one to pitch to Dragons Den.

Keep it simple!

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2007

Training to be a broadcast journalist is a bit like being taught a new language. When it comes to writing, you have to ignore all those rules you learned at school and university and the result is something between C++ and poetry.

One of the golden rules hammered into us is to keep things simple. And keep. Your sentences. Short.  Listeners and viewers can only take in a news report once. Even in the impending “on-demand” world, they’ll only want to take it in once.

So if you turn on the TV and radio you usually hear short sharp conversational sentences with all the fluff removed.

Usually.

Admittedly, Channel 4 News tries to be different. It aims to be a bit more creative, but from what I gathered from chief writer Felicity Spector when she came into City a few weeks ago, it still has to be concise.

So, what on earth is this all about?

It’s a report on the Chinese president’s visit to Africa this week, by the usually excellent Faisal Islam: ex City student and Channel 4 News‘ business correspondent. It’s an interesting piece, but check out Faisal’s first line (watch it here):

“The Chinese presidents twelve day tour takes in eight nations including Sudan the most controversial of the host countries where Chinas unconditional aid policy has angered western governments many of whom say Beijing should use its economic weight to end hostilities in Darfur.”

Say what?

It’s 43 words long. That’s nearly twice the recommended length of any sentence for broadcast.  It could be broken down into no less than four separate sentences:

“It’s a breakneck tour for China’s president: eight countries in a dozen days.

But Hu Jintao’s been criticised for visiting Sudan.

Western leaders want Beijing to use its economic muscle to end violence in Darfur.

Instead in its eagerness for ties with Africa China’s giving aid freely.”

Admittedly that’s not great either. But I think it’s easier to understand, and a bit more conversational.

But it goes to show that even with the best journos working for the best stations, the basic rules sometimes still get broken.

I’m not denying climate change, but…

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2007

So another big report’s been released today confirming the effect of our fossil fueled gluttony.

More than 2,500 scientists from 130 countries have gotten together to say, in one voice, we’re destroying the planet.

I’m totally behind this report, hopefully – as Channel 4 News suggested today – a final nail in the coffin of the climate change deniers. But there’s a simple fact that the media at least is getting wrong:

Climate change isn’t destroying the planet…it’s destroying our ability to live on the planet.

Let’s not forget: this planet is billions of billions of years old. Humanity is but a blip on earth’s endless graph, but a spot on its back, a scrawny pube on its left testicle.

Climate change is bad news for us human beings. But to suggest our disgusting love affair with cars, chimneys and coal is damaging this massive lump of rock is not true.

A six degree rise in temperature over by 2100 will be fatal for us lot. It’ll be a slow nasty painful death, like drowning in boiling maple syrup. For earth, it’ll be a mild passing sunstroke.

The sooner we realise our pathetically tiny scratch on the earth’s surface the better…that way we might actually stand a chance of sorting the climate mess.

 

Planet Earth

And once more back to Somalia

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 11, 2007

It seems my prediction that Somalia would become a big story in 2007 has proved true..albeit earlier and in a more bizarre fashion than expected. On Monday the US military revealed that they had spent a relaxing Sunday bombing the shit out of suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

Interestingly the news came from the US and not from the ground itself; southern Somalia being so remote no reporters in the country new much about it at first.

And it’s interesting on another level because it marks the first American intervention in Somalia since the imfamous ‘Black Hawk’ incident in the early nineties, which until Monday, caused an utter withdrawal from Africa and (some might say) let the Rwandan genocide continue unheeded.

And up one level more, it hits the interesting mark as the interim government, until two weeks ago holed up in a tiny town miles outside the capital, have supported the foreign intervention.

One Somali in Mogadishu told the BBC on Monday:

“I see that the warplanes that were used in the bombing were chasing terrorists and we Somalis have to support the efforts of the transitional federal goverment”

The interim government are taking a dangerous move in embracing foreign intervention from both the Americans and the Ethiopians, especially when that intervention comes loaded and ready to fire.

Most worryingly it’ll do nothing to salve the divide growing inside the country: interim government, US and Ethiopia on one side, Islamists and Eritrea on the other, each vowing to wipe the other off the map.

As usual with the US War on Terror (c) (TM), the two outcomes were the same:

  1. They didn’t actually kill who they wanted too.
  2. And – according to the excellent Nima Elgabir on site for Channel 4 News – they killed dozens of civilians including a wedding party.

More soon.

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No news at Christmas?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 26, 2006

Apparently it’s hard work putting together a news programme over Christmas. The misery of working Christmas Eve/Day and perhaps sipping a bit too much sherry aside, the problem facing journos over the festive period seems to be the lack of news.

“It can be quite tricky putting together a news programme on Christmas Eve… when there’s no news” writes Channel 4 News’ Emily Wilson on Christmas Eve, “surely in the last 24 hours, something other than Mark Ramprakash winning Strictly Come Dancing merits some television coverage.”

But this to me seems extraordinary. No news? If any editor tried looking outside the UK they’d see one of the most important stories of this and the coming year playing out in front of their eyes.

I’ve been writing quite a bit over the past few months about the burgeoning conflict in Somalia.  In August the United Islamic Courts, a fundamentalist Islam group, took control of Mogadishu, ending over a decade of warlord induced chaos. The legitimate government holed up in Baidoa protested, but there were initial talks and a prospect of peace.

But then the two neighbouring countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea got involved. Ethiopia’s a big supporter of the interim government, as its essentially Christian. Muslim Eritrea meanwhile’s behind the UIC.

We’ve all known since September that Ethiopia’s had troops massing inside the country. But on Christmas Eve they finally admitted the fact, and launched several military attacks against the Islamists. As it stands now, the UIC are in a retreat, and Ethiopian troops are about 70 km from the capital.

Why is this important? First off, under the UIC, Somalia became a worry to the west especially as an Al-Qaeda training ground. Whether this is true or not we don’t know. Secondly the real danger emerging is of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea fought in Somalia – something that could have tragic consequences for ordinary Somalians. This is afterall a country that hasn’t seen stability since 1991.

And that’s before you consider Somalia’s proximity to other hot spots, notably the DR Congo and Sudan.

So a massive conflict on the brink. I think we’ll here a lot more about Somalia next year.

So far, Al-Jazeera English is the only network leading with that story. At the same time I know african conflict isn’t really in the remit christmas domestic bulletins in the UK . But if journalists are so desperate for news, isn’t a burgeoning conflict with immense humanitarian consequences more significant than an indepth report on Leona’s X-factor win?

And as I write, there are devastating floods in Indonesia, four hundred dead in a pipeline explosion in Lagos…oh and a 1 metre tidal wave heading for Taiwan and the Phillipines (2 years to the day after “The Tsunami”.)

No news at Christmas? Yeah right.  

A long day at Gray’s Inn

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2006

Yesterday seven of us from City University’s Broadcast Journalism course had an “operational visit” to ITN‘s headquarters at Gray’s Inn Road in central London. For those who are unfamiliar, ITN produces daily television news for ITV and Channel 4 in the UK, and – as IRN – radio for hundreds of commercial stations across the country.

ITN HeadquartersIt’s paid for as part of our course, and it was an absolute highlight of the year so far. The seven of us turned up bleary eyed at 8am and were met by Richard, a senior producer and our guide for the day.

We got to sit in on the daily planning meeting where all the senior editors get together to bash out the days news. No surprise what was on the agenda yesterday, with Alexander Litvinenko’s death the obvious lead.*

The rest of the day was split between watching ITV News in action, sitting in the gallery during the Lunchtime and Evening news programmes, and getting our hands dirty with some journalistic exercises.

Richard had us debating the running order and writing copy for short “ulays” (short pieces of footage you see on screen while a presenter talks, usually during a ‘news in brief’ segment). With access to ITN’s huge archive of source material and their editing software we wrote and edited a short package on the Australian fires, which Richard then critiqued.

He was an excellent teacher and I learned loads about writing to picture and how to use your pictures creatively.

ITV News studioIt was great seeing ITV News in action as well; with Michael Stone storming Stormont (the alliteration rolls of the tongue) less than an hour before the Lunchtime News went on air, it was chaos in the gallery but the team pulled it together without anyone at home noticing.

I’ve always kind of ignored ITV News in the past, dismissing it as popularist and tabloid. If yesterday showed me anything its that ITV News writes better and uses pictures more creatively than its rivals.

*Bizarre story of the day: three weeks ago, a talk was held at City Uni about the tragic death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Due to talk was her friend, Alexander Litvinenko, but he pulled out at the last minute – due to illness.