Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Future of News Bootcamp: a market for traditional reportage?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 23, 2010

The first ever Future of News Business Bootcamp took place in London last night – 7 journalists, several bottles of wine and one problem: how to make money in journalism.

Each bootcamp will focus on a different area of journalism, and this inaugural event had possibly the biggest challenge of all – how to create a business around human rights & development reportingthat vitally important, but until now, expensive and unprofitable part of journalism.

In the room were half a dozen journalists, pretty much all of whom were interested in being able to travel to different parts of the world and uncover human rights abuses and report on development issues – and get paid to do it. And we were going to do something which has never really been tried in this way before – to take an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to business, and transplant it onto journalism.

Not many journalists dare to stray into this territory, more often than not, simply because they don’t have much entrepreneurial nouse (or don’t think they do). Not us! We bravely strolled into this area to see what sticks.

Product or Service?

Almost all businesses can be divided into two categories – those which provide a product, and those which provide a service. A product is an item you can ship and sell; a service is selling your own time, expertise or knowledge. We looked at both options. Under service, we came up with ideas such as a business which chases every penny of UK development money around the world to check it’s being spent properly; we also looked at providing a reporting service for businesses with Corporate Social Responsibility policies and half a dozen other ideas.

The idea of a product got the group more excited. Is there a gap for a decent human rights reportage magazine? The room felt there was, but it would need to be a massive departure from what little there is out there already. Costs would be another problem; the annual cost estimates for a small business, with maybe six journalists travelling and reporting, ranged from £500,000 ($1m) to £3m ($6m) a year. A lot, yes, but the Times and the Guardian loose hundreds of thousands a day – something new would have a massive advantage…

A market?

A key part of starting any business is thinking ‘who is my customer?’. We spent a fair bit of time coming up with crazy different ideas for who might want this type of journalism in the modern world…NGOs? Students & universities? Schools? The military? Traditional media appeared too, although we all agreed getting money from them was becoming harder and harder.

Packaging?

We made some good headway with the idea of how to package the product. Settling on an idea for an online (and possibly print-on-demand) magazine, we looked at all the other news outlets thriving online: the Financial Times, NPR & Propublica, Techcrunch & Mashable, the BusinessDesk.com, MediaStorm – and looked at what ways of packaging our product we could steal from them: everything from exploiting a sponsored mailing list to running events, to bootstrapping, to branding. A combination of these feeding into multiple revenue streams seemed like an attractive idea.

With all the wine gone and the two hours up, we had a lot of ideas, but nothing hugely concrete. But that’s OK! It was pretty much as much as we could have hoped for. More importantly I think it sewed some seeds in all our minds about what might work and what wouldn’t….that’ll stew in our minds for a while – and I think maybe someone in the room will suddenly get the spark of inspiration not far into the future.

Thanks very much to Deborah, Donnacha, Kat, Rebecca, Adam and Phil for bravely taking part in the experiment! If you like the idea of the bootcamps and would like to come to the next one make sure you’re signed up to the Future of News Meetup Group (it’s free!).

Accra Aid conference: “priorities need to change”

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 7, 2008
Can we halve poverty by 2015?

Can we halve poverty by 2015?

I haven’t written about development issues for ages – but last week’s Aid Effectiveness conference in Ghana is a good place to wade briefly back in.

Held in Accra, it was designed to find ways of making aid from developed countries have more impact in the countries they’re supposed to be helping.

Three years after the Paris Conference – where 100 countries agreed to do more to sort this out – it is still a huge problem.

Countries like the UK, France, Italy and America all promised to donate more cash – but shamefully they’re not making good on their promises.

“In simple terms” says Professer Jeffrey Sachs in an interview on Hardtalk, “the limiting factor holding back our progress towards the [Millennium Developement] Goals is the richest countries coming up with the money they have promised.

“We live in an age of cynicism and resistance, but we are not asking goverments to do anything they have not already promised. Some countries are delivering on their promises made in  2005 but where are France, Germany and Italy? If these countries are lagging then by far the biggest lagger is the US where we are committing only 0.17% of our income to development assistance.”

There’s only seven years left until we’re supposed to have reaced the Millennium Development Goals. At this rate that won’t happen.

Meanwhile blogger par excellence in Accra EK Benah was at the conference in Accra last week – check out his posts here.