Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Roundup: UK Future of News Meetup 2

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 25, 2010

Filming has kept me from putting together a write up of the first proper Future of News Meetup in London, which we held last week…but better late than never!

Since I opened the group in November, numbers have swelled to more than 200, and around 50 made it to the London School of Economics on Wednesday where we were kindly put up by the politics and society thinktank POLIS.

We were lucky to have two excellent speakers, both of whom are leading the way on the ground; two people who you won’t see at any conference.

From Data Visualisation…

First up, Cynthia O’Murchu from the Financial Times opened many peoples’ eyes to the power and potential of data visualisation. In the FT’s business of making complicated city statistics digestible, interactive graphics have played a big role.

She explained how they work with reporters across the FT, and how some took a while to understand the potential of data-viz. It’s an awesome branch of multimedia…but how many young journalists today are learning the design or coding skills needed to produce it?

Do they even need design and coding skills, or can it all be outsourced?

…to Berlin

Cynthia was followed by Alex Wood, a City University graduate who, along with four colleagues, is paving the way – simply by actually making stuff happen. He’s one of the names behind the superb Berlin Projectfeatured here in an earlier Ideas For the Future of News post. Although, that might be simplifying it a bit – Alex’s presentation revealed the technical, logistical and journalistic achievement of the  Project, and he revealed plans for a conference – which made the news right here.

We wrapped the evening up with some brainstorming to get everyone thinking of practical ideas for new news businesses – which is what the group is all about. I’m hoping we’ll fit in more of that in future meetups.

Future of News gets local…

And some fantastic news in the last few days, is the creation of not one, but three local off shoots to the London Future of News group. Judith Townend from Journalism.co.uk is working on a Brighton based group – check out the details from Sarah Booker here. Meanwhile in the West Midlands the venerable Philip John is planning a group, with others l0oking to take up the challenge in South Wales.

With four Future of News Groups now in action, the future is looking brighter indeed.

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A noble enterprise: proof network journalism is the future of news

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 24, 2009

Crowd Sourcing: people power (CC image)

One of my predictions for the next year is we’ll see an increase in journalism start-ups as the talk of journalist-cum-entrepreneur starts to come to fruition.

Many will fail, some will make it work, and a few might even shine a light on how to fund journalism.

And I think one thing is for sure: the secret to success is in the big c-word: collaboration.

Charlie Beckett named it Networked Journalism in SuperMedia in 2006: “it is about the journalist becoming the facilitator rather than the gatekeeper” he says.

I think a news start-up which begins without this in mind is doomed to failure.

The triumvirate of UK media scandals in the last 10 days (Trafigura, Jan Moir & Question Time) have proved the importance of people power. Does the future of journalism lie in collaborating, facilitating, and nourishing this power?

Le Post

One newspaper investing in this future is France’s Le Monde. It’s set up a subsidiary site called LePost.fr – built entirely from collaborative journalism. In an interview with Forum4Editors, the editor Benoit Raphael explains:

“[the journalist] checks first what has been said and published in other media. He aggregates the best content from different sources, including blogs, Twitter, Youtube, etc. and traditional media. Then, on some of them, he brings complementary information, new elements, adds value and checks facts…The information is a permanent conversation that is built step by step by the community and the journalists…He understands that information is a conversation.”

Benoit explained the journalists routine is more like that of a blogger.

Mother Jones

Over the Atlantic, US magazine Mother Jones is also seeing what the benefits of networked journalism can bring.

In December, editors are joining forces with editors of other magazines & broadcasters to launch a news product focusing on Climate Change. Its aim is to crowd source journalism using professional journalists.

Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffrey told Dumenco’s Media People:

And I don’t want to underplay how important folks see this as being journalistically. First, on the topic at hand, there was no need to convince anybody how important it is, how media coverage has been fractured and inadequate and not compelling enough. Secondly, everybody is really eager to use this as a way to test-drive collaborations, which everybody sees as a vital part of the emerging media landscape. On that front, we’ll likely learn as much from what doesn’t work as what does.

Journalists can no longer ignore the power of thousands or even millions of social media savvy people. Tapping into this power  will have huge potential: finding stories, processing data, building communities.

And the professional journalist fits in there somewhere, filtering, processing, analysis and contextualizing…there could be value in this old game after all.

Introducing: the journalist of the future

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 23, 2009

There’s been enough talk about the cancer spreading through modern journalism. The cutting of jobs and money, the shedding of audiences and advertising, the invasion of PR guff and the medium’s failure to reject it; and vitally, the disappearance of time for journalists to do some proper journalism.

I’m tired of talking about the past and want to know what’s coming next. Here’s my picture of a future journalist, based on books, blogs, a couple of talks I’ve given recently and all the noise on Twitter. As always, it’s by no means comprehensive – so let me know what’s right and wrong in the comments box!

Typewriter

 

Introducing: the journalist of the future

This combines the technical skills the new journalist will need (plus the old ones), new ways of collaborating with audiences and journalists across the globe; and most importantly an entrepreneurial edge to create an army of “creative entrepreneurs”.

The Jack of All Trades

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: the journalist of the future is a reporter, a video journalist, a photo-journalist, audio journalist and interactive designer, all-in-one. They shoot and edit films, audio slideshows, podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, and longer articles.  They may have one specialism out of those, but can go somewhere and cover a story in a multitude of platforms.

They may start off hiring the kit, but eventually will become a one-person news operation, with their own cameras, audio recorders and editing equipment.

They don’t just do it because it potentially means more revenue; they do it because they love telling stories in different ways. And let’s get another thing straight: they still live and breathe the key qualities of journalism: curiosity, accuracy and a desire to root out good stories and tell the truth.

The Web Designer

It goes without saying the journalist of the future should know several languages, two of which should be XHTML and CSS (and the more spoken ones the better). Their ability to design interactive online experiences will give them an advantage over competitors and a chance to charge more for their work.

They have an amazing portfolio website which shows off their wares.

They understand audio and video for the web does not follow the rules of radio and TV. They know what works online and what doesn’t. They can use social media to drum up interest and audiences in what they do, and are members of LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Twitter to name just a few.

And it also goes without saying the journalist of the future has been a blogger for a long time.

The collaborator

The journalist of the future doesn’t belong to the world of “fortress journalism“. They don’t sit at their desk in a newsroom all day – in fact, they work from home.

They use Noded Working techniques to find collaborators for different digital projects; picking the most talented people from around the world. There are no office politics or long meetings. They market their work well enough to get chosen to take part in other projects.

And the journalist of the future aspires to the ideals of Networked Journalism set out by Charlie Beckett. They are not a closed book obsessed by the final product. Their journalism is as much about the process as the final product and they use social media technologies to get reaction to stories, find contributors, experts and even money. To top it off, they share their final product under the ethos of creative commons so others can build on it.

The Specialist

The internet has shown we’re just not prepared to pay for general news, especially when someone else is giving it away for free. The decline in newsrooms killed off many correspondents and specialists, but the journalist of the future knows there’s more money and more audiences in a niche. So they become more of a specialist in some areas, or use a current specialism to build an audience around what they do.

Science journalist Angela Saini, for example, uses her qualifications in the subject to get her work with a whole host of TV and radio science programmes.

Business, showbiz and sports news I think have a paid-for future – but so do other specialisms.

The Flexible Adapter

The journalist of the future will be born out of this recession and the death of traditional journalism. They’ll succeed now because they adapted, re-trained and were prepared to change their ways. And that is what will help them survive the next downturn too, and the next media revolution. They are flexible, creative and not stuck in their ways.

Mark Luckie, writing over at 10,000 Words says this ability to reinvent is really important:

…being a Jack of all trades is only the starting point. Journalism and its associated technologies are changing at a rapid pace and to learn one skill set is to be left in the dust. Sadly some of the technologies…will be obsolete in just a few years time. To survive in this industry means continuously evolving along with it.

They embrace new technologies, rather than view them as a threat. When a new social media tool or technology comes along, they ask themselves how can I use this?

And they are prepared to live light for a bit. They can live cheap, which means they can charge less and get more business. As David Westphal writes, describing journalist Jason Motlagh:

He lives modestly and accepts that there may be periods in his work where he’ll have to do something besides journalism to pay the bills.

The Entrepreneur

The journalist of the future is a Creative Entrepreneur. Their business is their talent, creativity and knowledge. They are a freelancer, yes, but not a slave to the odd newsroom shift or rubbish PR story; instead they are in command of their destiny by creating content people will pay for. They discover stories and generate new ideas and sell them.

Back to Charlie Beckett in Networked Journalism:

“Entrepreneurship must be part of the process because every journalist will have to be more “business creative”…Journalism and business schools should work more closely together as information becomes more important to the economy…”

Their multiple skills means they can pitch countless ideas in several formats, for a wide variety of clients. They run their new start-ups in the get-rich-slow mentality described by Time Magazine as Li-Lo business:

It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

And they think outside the small journo bubble: their clients aren’t just Cosmo or Radio 4, but B2B publications, charities, NGOs. They get grants from journalism funds to pursue important and under-reported stories.

Evidence has shown several sacked newspaper journalists have made a new career by remembering newsrooms aren’t the only people who pay for content. Brian Storm, from MediaStorm, quoted in PDN Online says:

“NGOs and corporations are just now starting to see the power of multimedia stories…A pr message has no authenticity. It won’t go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that.”

The Storyteller

And most importantly they do the thing all journalists have ever done: tell stories. But they do it better than traditional journalists because they are not so constrained by time or house styles or formulas. They understand what makes a good story and aren’t afraid to break some rules.

And they have the time to tell the stories properly: truthfully, accurately and responsibly.

I think these make up an exciting future for journalism, but also for the people who try this form of journalism out. Is there anything more exciting than being such a creative entrepreneur?

There’s never been a better time, I tell students, to be a journalistic entrepreneur — to invent your own job, to become part of the generation that figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet. The young journalists who are striking out on their own today, experimenting with techniques and business models, will invent what’s coming.

Most experiments will fail. That’s not a bug in the system, but a feature. It’s how we get better.

Dan Gilmore, Centre for Citizen Media

Noded working – a new way to do journalism?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 18, 2009

As the BBC’s  top journalists wrote in a newly published “Future of Journalism” document [PDF], the age of closed cup journalism is over. “…the fortresses are crumbling and courtly jousts with fellow journalists are no longer impressing the crowds” writes Director of BBC World Service Peter Horrocks.

People like Charlie Beckett have been promoting the idea of Networked Journalism for some time now, encouraging an openness throughout the entire journalism process.

Well, I was introduced recently to the idea of Noded working, by marketing consultant Jon Moss. It’s  about connecting and working with people across the world, and it’s becoming more popular among other digital creatives,  so I wondered – what could journalists do with it?

What is Noded working?

Here’s how Noded‘s creators Andreas Carlsson and Jaan Orvet describe it:

Noded is a new and better way of working. It is based on logical and natural ways of interacting with people, nurturing ideas, and simply doing a better job without the constraints of everything that comes with traditional ‘business life’. The Noded philosophy is also about flexibility and efficiency in collaboration, especially among people who are geographically far apart.

It runs off the idea that working in offices (or newsrooms) is rubbish. We’re tied to our desks, forced into ways of working which suit management, and forced to work with people we don’t like. We’ve all heard of “office politics” – now imagine a world without that.

The main characteristic of us Noded type professionals is our desire to set our own goals, and build businesses based on our own values.

So you start-up a new project – say, you’ve got funding to report on the increase in electrical waste in sub-saharan Africa. You’ve been given a grant to go out and film there, but you need a researcher. So you look around and find a good one, in New Zealand.

In a Noded network each member is an individual professional, running his or her own business. We come together to work on projects, as and when a project calls for it. Sometimes we all work together, some times only a few of us. It’s up to who ever brings the project in to choose who, and when, someone contributes.

And our only obligation is to ourselves; if we don’t want to participate in a project we don’t have to. No hard feelings.

Then you need a web designer, and know a good one in India. Noded working lets the three of you collaborate no matter where you are.

The project a success, you then return to your freelance ways…until another journalist approaches you: they’re in America, but need a good shooter to help them on a documentary project. Great! Noded working would let you get involved – this time, not as the project leader, but as an assistant:

This way of working ensures that we can take on different roles in different projects. From Project Manager in one project, to developer in another, to Account Manager in a third.

It’s about what skills match what project. There’s no newsroom politics (“oh, she got to go to Afghanistan last time”) – in fact no newsroom. And that’s the thing Noded can’t help with-established newsrooms. Carlsson and Orvet admit themselves:

In traditional employment this is not an option; company policies dictate how and when employees can further their careers and what if any impact they can have on the companies direction.

But for the burgeoning new brand of ‘creative freelancers’ emerging from the decline of traditional journalism, this presents a really exciting new way of working on stories. Why be limited to people in your own newsroom?

And the forms of Video Journalism startups eschewed by Michael Rosenblum et al, are in a way, already doing this.

I haven’t tried this out yet, but would be interested to hear from anyone (journalist, or otherwise) who has.

And some links for you:

An interview with Jaan and Andreas on Social Media Club

37Signals: a site with tools for noded workers

Future of Journalism presentation

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 15, 2009

I was very kindly asked recently by marketing consulant Jon Moss (@jonmoss) to give a presentation at the increasingly popular Hull Digital event in Hull. The subject: the intimidating title “The Future of Journalism”.

I dusted off my Open Office and Powerpoint skills and put together a presentation back in June. Off the back of that, I was asked to give the same presentation at HumberMUD, a multimedia meetup, also in Hull.

It is now online for you to enjoy, critique and add too.

As I was talking mainly to non journalists I wanted to break the complicated (and ever changing) story right down.  It is also not comprehensive; if I had room I would like to have talked more about Networked Journalism and Hyper-local websites.

Hull and the Humber area has a growing and very talented digital community – if you are in the area I strongly recommend getting involved either at Hull Digital or HumberMUD.

And later this year the inaugural Hull Digital Live event’s taking place -with the just confirmed key note speaker Rory Cellan-Jones. Awesome!

Update: you can now watch my original presentation on the Hull Digital website – or part one here:

Apocalypse soon

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 14, 2008

I wrote a while back about whether the UK media industry would weather the [insert “economic storm” metaphor here].

I reckoned it would be changed significantly at least.

But according to Charlie Beckett writing about a Polis speech by the Guardian‘s Emily Bell, that was a bit of an understatement…!

“We are on the brink of two years of carnage for Western media. In the UK five nationals could go out of business and we could be left with no UK owned broadcaster outside of the BBC. We are facing complete market failure in local papers and regional radio. This is sytematic collapse not just a cyclical downturn.”

Never get out of the boat...

Never get out of the boat...

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