Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

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.

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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!

“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.