Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How journalists can get ahead of the game in 2011

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 17, 2011

One of the best reads ahead of the New Year was JWT’s Intelligence Report into the big trends of 2011. Analysts named 100 things which are likely to be of note in the 12 months ahead.

Unlike my predictions for 2011, they’re not written with journalists in mind – however, there are little nuggets of intelligence of use to the Next Generation Journalist.

You can read all 100 of the agency’s predictions after the break, but first I have picked out 12 key ones for multimedia content creators of all kinds to be aware of.

#02 Africa’s middle class

From South Africa to Ghana, the intelligence report says Africa’s growing middle class will be significant in 2011: “McKinsey predicts a 35% increase in African consumer spending power by 2015.”

Takeaway: This means countless stories that are ripe to be told. From the ambitious modernisation of Kigali, to broadband reaching the east coast; if foreign news is your bag, you’ll find plenty of ideas around this mega-story.

Image credlt: suicine on Flickr (cc)

#19 Coming clean with green

There’s no hiding the fact 2010 was a pretty atrocious year for climate change. Protesters were jailed, Copenhagen was a washout, and the earth got more unpleasant reminders that things are changing than we care to remember. JWT’s intelligence predicts that consumer green will be big in 2011.

Takeaway: what information is there for consumers who want to go green? Not much, and the stuff that is, is wrapped in preachy-guilt hyperbole; I think there’s a gap in the market. If you’re interested in environmental reporting, this might be the year to make it happen.

#29 East London’s Tech City

JWT analysts predict development in East London in the run up to the Olympics. The UK’s startup community is coming to life, and it’s growing around the ‘silicon roundabout’ (or Old Street tube station, if you know the area).

Takeaway: This is the year to have confidence in British startups, and if you care to, to meet and join the innovative people and businesses making stuff happen there. For example, the TechHub has recently opened for business, a shared work space for startups right on the Silicon Roundabout.

#32 Entrepreneurial Journalism

Yes, great news for anyone starting their own news business in 2011, or anyone thinking about it. The report predicts “the next generation of journalists will  apply more hybrid skills in entrepreneurial ways…[watch out for] more professionals with varied skill sets who help transform content for the digital age.”

I’m firmly in support of this one, and as well as launching my own business, studio .fu, I am also carrying out in-depth research into Entrepreneurial Journalism in my role at Kingston University this year.

Takeaway: if you’ve got an idea for a news business, this is the year to do it! Aim to be one the pioneers who transform content. If you’re still a student at a UK university, you can get a £1,000 leg-up with the myNewsBiz competition.

#47 Long form content

Yet another journalistically relevant prediction for the year ahead. JWT analysts reckon “the novelty of long-form content will stand out” with sites like LongReads and Longform.org will find an audience this year.

Takeaway: if you’re a fan of creating and consuming long-form content, this is the year to start creating it prolifically. Seek it out as much as you write it – share it, and build the eyeballs. The experts believe the desire to read it is there!

Image credit: JeanbaptiseM on Flickr (cc)

#52 Mobile blogging

Yep, forget all these long WordPress posts. Blogging on the move is going to be big this year. The report says “mo-blogging” is going to spike, with photo intense posts via Tumblr and Posterous.

Takeaway: Journalism is still looking for ways to exploit geo-located content; how can you as an individual or your newsroom use mo-bloggers to your advantage? Could you turn your reporters into mo-bloggers?

#59 Next Generation Documentarians

The report says “access to cheap video cameras and software is fuelling an expansion in video storytelling and stylistic experimentation from a new generation of film-makers”. Storytelling is a big thing these days – do you know the basics of how it’s done?

Takeaway: Even non-journalists are picking up a camera and telling great stories. Stop worrying about how you’ll get funding: start making stories now, as cheap as possible: your idea has more strength as a physical film than as a pitch on paper.

#63 Odyssey Trackers

Sticking with the ge0graphical theme, social media and GPS are combining, says the report, to allow “extreme explorers [to] broadcast their adventures in real time”. It cites EpicTracker, an app in development, as an example.

Takeaway: A clear opportunity if you’re a travel journalist or foreign correspondent. At the same time, it’s an example of  great stories, great films and documentaries being taken from the open hands of journalists, by people who are prepared to get off their backside and make stuff happen. If you’re into travel journalism, this is a trend to exploit.

#75 Scanning everything

So augmented reality wasn’t quite the big thing I predicted last year but the analysts think QR-codes will have a part to play in 2011. They’re the square barcodes which send a device to a website or other location.

Takeaway: nice simple one here: create your own QR code here, and put it on your next pack of business cards, like I’ve done above.

Image credit: Stevecoutts on Flickr (cc)

#83 Storied products

“Consumers are increasingly looking for a personal connection to brands” the report says. Interesting for journalists in two ways: one- if you’re going entrepreneurial, get your story right (InnovativeInteractivity has some great advice on this here); two- story-telling is becoming more and more important.

Takeaway: Businesses need stories. Who’s good at telling stories? Yes, you guessed it. Helping small businesses, startups, charities and the like ‘tell their story’ could be a profitable sidearm to your journalism in 2011.

#93 Transmedia producers

The job-title ‘transmedia producer’ will be created in 2011, JWT analysts predict; more people (including journalists) will be expected to produce content across a range of platforms: in video, text, audio and interactives.

Takeaway: although multimedia producing is not news for journalists, if you’re still a one-platform guy or gal, make it your business to learn a new skill this year.

#100 Youtube the Broadcaster

The JWT report predicts Youtube will become a ‘broadcasting’ platform in its own right, with more live streaming and television-style coverage. Concerning for those of us who don’t want online video to turn into yet more bland television, but of use to journalists none-the-less.

Takeaway: think of Youtube as a channel more than a landfill for online video. Look at users like Fred (606 million views and counting!) who build massive audiences, not around individual videos, but around branded channels. Is there a channel for your expertise that needs building?

Those 100 predictions in full

Many of the other predictions have significance for journalists – as story ideas as well as clues and inspiration for big innovation. Here’s the report in full.

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Idea 004: the rise of the blogazine

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on December 7, 2009

In this series I’m compiling a list of creative, tangible, practical ideas for journalism which will emerge from the digital revolution. If you have any suggestions for future features, contact me. Previous entries include:

003: events based reporting

002: students as investigators

001: the news aggregator

Idea: Powering a Green Planet

By: Mark Z Jacobson, Mark A Delluci & Scientific American

An apt subject as the COP15 meeting gets underway in Copenhagen this week. Powering A Green Planet, featured in the Scientific American in November, explains a radical idea on how to stop global warming, put forward by two scientists.

They reckon if we embraced renewable energy head on, we could power the planet on 100% clean energy, in just 20 years. That’s a bit better than the current targets, right?

Powering a Green Planet, Scientific America

It’s an enjoyable, interesting and convincing read. But let’s get down to the future of journalism nitty-gritty.

The Scientific American utilised multimedia platform Flyp to produce the piece. It is arranged and designed as an attractive magazine, so you can literally turn the page, with lots of video, graphics and text moving on the screen.

It is beautifully designed, with lots of space on the page. Crucially, this piece never feels too cluttered: it always feels like there’s just enough information on the page…but not too much.

It’s interactive too, with lots of buttons to click on, video to watch and audio to hear. The complicated science bit is explained in colourful graphics.

This is challenging scientific information made digestible and accessible. And there is value for the consumer in this too, perhaps one they’d pay for.

The blogazine

The idea of the interactive magazine is still in the embryonic stages. It has a blog counterpart too, the blog-azine, a small but growing trend of bloggers who chose to make every single blog entry a unique design masterpiece, tailored to the particular subject of the blog.

For example, British web designer Gregory Wood designs each blog post individually, creating stunning pages like this:

gregorywood.co.uk: Top 5 reasons to learn to dive

In a recent feature, Smashing Magazine said blogazines were great because they stopped you:

“Slipping into the habit of typing up your thoughts and clicking “Post,” without thinking about the layout of each article… By taking a little extra time for the art of blogging, your creativity will increase with your efforts”

but also admitted:

“…building a custom layout requires some experience with CSS and HTML…style borrows many elements from print design, anyone who has worked only in Web design may find it difficult to change their way of thinking. Rules of typography and white space, for example, may throw you off. But practice makes perfect, and an endless supply of inspiration can be found in creative magazines.”

A business model?

This is a surprisingly new way of delivering content. It’s amazing isn’t it, that this far into the web 2.0 world, this far since the development of flash, CSS, J-Query and easy to deliver multimedia, 98% of online news is delivered just like this blog: there’s a title, some text, if you’re lucky- a picture or some video embedded. Which leads us to the big question: can making your content stand out make any money?

This has yet to be proved, but I really think it has potential….but its future lies in mobile. In the advent of the Kindle and other OLED readers these interactive experiences could really kick off, because they gain so much value from a touch screen. Imagine being able to sit on the subway with a newly downloaded copy of your favourite magazine, in exciting interactive form! You can flip the pages, click to watch video, audio and drag graphics around.

And if they’re produced as well as the Scientific American, your sleepy commuter eyes won’t skip over long drawn out paragraphs of text, because it would have been made so accessible.

In the meantime there could be room for an ambitious start-up willing to combine magazine design with innovative content. Again if it looks like nothing else on the internet it could soon grow an audience.

This technical sublime I firmly believe the consumer will pay for. But it relies on a visual sublime too – it has to look good. Style over substance? Maybe.

The sooner designers and journalists start talking to each other, the better.

Ideas 001: the news aggregator

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on November 4, 2009

I’ve opened up a new category on the blog today. It’s called Ideas for the future of news and here I’m going to start collating good, tangible, positive, innovative ideas on how journalism can move forward. With ‘entrepreneurial’ the hot-word of the week in #futureofnews circles, more people are starting to put some great ideas out there.

I’ll report on as many as I can. And here is number 001:

Idea: Climate Pulse, the news aggregator

By: Headshift & evectors

I was very excited earlier to read about a new venture, currently in alpha-testing, which promises to put theories on the clash between journalism, social media and user generated content into practice.

London based developers Headshift have teamed up with Italian company Evectors, and produced a new form of content management.

It’s best left to Headshift’s Robin Hamman to explain more:

…[it] basically monitors and aggregates blog posts, news websites, twitter tweets and a wide range of other sources we’ve configured in the backend. An editor can then curate this content and display it as they wish – for example letting the flow appear as a raw feed, tagging or geo-tagging content, featuring the best stuff, etc.

In other words, content is aggregated around a single topicbut then edited by a professional. They decide what is quality and what isn’t.

They’ve created a test site, called Climate Pulse, to try this out ahead of the COP Copenhagen meeting. Check out this diagram:

What’s particularly fantastic, is their method of sharing content, through 3rd party widgets:

we can easily build widgets of the flow from the page, and enable site owners interested in a particular issue, for example deforestation, to create a widget that displays, on their own site, that content. Social features could then be made available, meaning that the audience on third party sites could participate on the sites they choose to visit, rather than visiting Climate Pulse itself…

They see it as a move away from the journalist as moderator of UGC, to a curator.

Pros:

  • it uses the power of crowd sourcing around a topic
  • it shares the results through a widget
  • potential for multimedia, mashups, interactives
  • has potential to satisfy niche groups

Cons:

  • is it fulfilling for the ‘curating’ journalist?
  • if paywalls go up, mainstream news content may be limited
  • revenue generation not mentioned

I’d like these idea posts to be a place for constructive positive feedback on innovative new ideas. Many might not be completely thought out yet, but everyone gets top marks for actually putting new ideas out there. Stick your comments about Climate Pulse in the box below!

Journalism & the environment

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on October 15, 2009

On the weekend dozens of climate change protesters climbed onto the roof of parliament in the latest stunt to get public attention for the cause. They used ropes and ladders to scale perimeter fencing before climbing up onto the roof of Westminster Hall.

The purpose: to ask MPs to sign a climate manifesto on Monday morning.

I write about journalism and multimedia for most of the time, but because it’s Blog Action Day today, I’ve been thinking about where the two meet. And the answer, it seems, is not in many places.

Let’s think about how the mainstream media cover the issue of climate change. It is of course well documented in broadcast news, with reports every few weeks (for example, from the BBC’s David Shukman). Big newspapers like the Guardian and Times have their own ‘environment’ sections online, featuring the calls of action of Bibi Van Der Zee among others.

And of course there have been landmark cinema releases including Al Gore’s glorified powerpoint presentation, Inconvenient Truth and Franny Armstrong’s Age of Stupid.

As for new media, when I checked 63,000 climate change related websites had been bookmarked by delicious. 69,000 videos are on Youtube with the similar tags.

Are we more informed as a result?

It’s an important question because there is little argument climate change is the most significant and global threat facing us today, and tomorrow. And for the next century.

It deserves more than 90 seconds in the 6 o’clock news every few weeks, and a feature in the G2.

The mainstream media, I think, have missed a massive opportunity to really inform the public on a regular basis. It affects us all, there is an appetite for news, analysis, advice on climate change. Yet it has no regular and protected space on our TV screens, supplements or radios (with the exception of One Planet on the BBC World Service).

PlanetDoes it not deserve a regular, accessible, digestible and regular form of coverage?

I would love to see a weekly magazine show, dedicated entirely to the environment. It would have the usual magazine-format mix of the latest news, interviews with important people in the fight against global warming, reviews of the latest green cars or gadgets, and practical advice on cutting your own carbon emissions.

The closest we ever came to that last item in the UK was Newsnight’s failed Green Man experiment.

Importantly this new video-magazine would not be preachy, it would accept the realities and practicalities of modern living, but show us solutions to those problems.

Perhaps we could all become united around this weekly offering, which shows us how to work together and take small steps as individuals to limit the effects of climate change, and make those dramatic Westminster protests unnecessary.

Just a thought. I suspect though it will be for new & social media to fill the gap.

“At the edge of the world 150 million people live at the mercy of nature”

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 1, 2009

We are just weeks away from one of the most important meetings – arguably – in the history of man kind.

The COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December is, if you believe the people who made the excellent Age of Stupid, our last chance to get a universal deal to cut carbon emissions.

Or we’re stuffed.

And it seems multimedia reporting is going to play an important part in showing us how our lifestyles affect those around us, and the politicians why half measures and compromises are not enough. Video & Photo Journalists have already proved adept at getting into difficult places and shedding light on climate change catastrophy not deemed catastrophic enough to warrant 2 minutes on the evening news.

Just think of China’s Growing Sands, Powering a Nation, and Waterlife for examples.

Expect some important reporting before and after Copenhagen. British multimedia producers David White and Ben Chesterton at Duckrabbit have just returned from a month trip to Bangladesh. And today the Bombay Flying Club have unveiled a trailer for a web documentary to be released in November. It too tells the story of Bangladesh, a place “at the edge of the world where 150 million people live at the mercy of nature.

The trailer is stylish and emotive as you’d expect from the BFC, but perhaps a little slow paced. But I’ll be back to watch it.

Good storytelling is now becoming as important as it’s ever been. Apart from anything else, the mass migration of  150 million people is not something I want to be around to see.

G20: multimedia experiments

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on April 1, 2009

Protests are always a magnet for the media. Scuffles make great pictures for TV, chants make great sound for radio; the mass of people suggesting some great social movement.

Why should multimedia be any different?

It was no surprise all the big news organisations were employing blogs, twitter, online audio and video for today’s G20 protests. They’ve used them on news stories several times over the past few months.

What I think makes today different is this is the first time newsrooms have had significant warning of a news event, to flex their multimedia muscle and see what it’s capable of.

They had time to think ideas, get creative and explore. So, how’d they do? Here are some UK media examples:

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News : Interactive map

Immediately popular was BBC News’ interactive map which appeared mid morning.

The movable image covered central London, and as reports from the ground were filed, they appeared on the map.

The stories were multimedia; everything from text, audio, video and images.

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: Audioboo uploads

The Guardian were out in force at the protests, with journalists employing all sorts of technology to help them in their quest.

One of the favourites was the new audio sharing site Audioboo, unique from places like  Soundcloud and Mixcloud in that it only really works if you have an iPhone.

So excited were Guardian journalists by this new technology it seemed they were happy to upload all and every interview they conducted, including the one pictured, with Rory O’Driscoll.

“Sorry, were you expecting some a little more, err, involved?” he told the reporter, clearly not at all bothered about what was going on.

Guardian: twitter reporters

Guardian: twitter reporters

The Guardian’s Twitter army

Someone (on Twitter in fact) commented, on seeing this image, that there must have been more journalists on the streets than protestors.

What these provide though, were unfiltered, immediate dispatches from the scene.

Stuck in an office, those of us in Web 1.0 world were forced to watch Dermot Murgnahan and the rest of the Sky News reporters stumble their way through the protest.

“Oh look, a policeman’s fallen over” was just one remark, along with a car-crash interview with Russell Brand, the comedian who’d clearly taken the wrong turning on his way out to get some milk.

These Guardian dispatches though – raw, mispelt, abbreviated into 140 characters, gave you the very latest – and of course they’ve not been through an editor.

Who said any story couldn’t be told in 140 characters or less?

BBC News: live updates

The BBC had a similar live update system with similar benefits.

This one though included chosen comments from viewers/listeners as well as BBC correspondents (and in some cases media students) on the ground. It looked good, and continued until 2100…but I’d wager cost a lot more than any other news organisation would manage.

BBC News: live updates

So lots going on, and it felt – for once – there was more to be seen online than on TV. Has this set a precedent? I hope so. Throughout today, no-one was tweeting/blogging about the G20 coverage they heard on the radio or seen on TV. They were sharing links to sites like the above ones.

The key benefits: immediacy, raw information, and interactivity.

But for that, do I feel the coverage of the protests was any better than the old media? Hmmm, that’s not so clear cut.

Resolution One: Go Green

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 3, 2007

Yesterday’s climate change report was a timely reminder for me of my pledge last year to go green in 2007.

I’ve gotten off to a slow start mainly because of financial reasons, but luckily I came across a website that looks like it might make things a bit easier.
CoolMove.Org is a site dedicated to providing little tips on how we can reduce our carbon footprint. From energy saving lightbulbs to frugal flushing, they’re all things that someone renting a flat like me can do.

Here are some good ones I’m going to try and implement on the asap:

Tip #10 :: Take a shorter shower

Showering accounts for about 20 percent of the water used in the home and it takes a lot of energy to heat that water. Reducing your shower time by five minutes will save you from heating 15 to 30 gallons of water each time.

Tip #18 :: Unplug your cell phone charger when you’re not using it

Even when turned off, things like microwaves, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy.

Tip #21 :: Put a recycling bin next to your trash can

This is an easy and convenient way to remember to recycle more often.

Tip #32 :: Eat Local

According to some sources, food travels an average of 1,200 miles to get to your plate, and accounts for thirty percent of the goods transported by road. Try to find locally produced food to cut down on these unnecessary emissions.

Tip #44 :: Lunchtime

Pack your lunch in tupperware containers that can be reused each day
These are all things I don’t do, through laziness more than anything else. I reckon 2007’s going to be the year that we start to take this go-green thing seriously. If you’ve got any other eco tips, pass ’em on!

Planet Earth

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