Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Grantourismo: a business model for travel journalism?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 14, 2011

Alright for some. Image credit: Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr

[NOTE: Lara Dunston, mentioned below, has added some thoughts/corrections to this post & comments – click here to read]

Hold the plane! Someone might just have found a way to make travel journalism pay.

If so, it’s big news for wannabe travel writers the world over, pursuing that elusive dream: to travel the world and get paid to write about it. It’s an area of professional journalism that has declined in the digital age: cheap air travel combined with Flickr, blogs and Youtube, has removed the exclusivity (and therefore value) of being somewhere exotic. Meanwhile, struggling publications have found it harder to justify the flights, visas and travel costs for writers.

Last summer it certainly had a few of us stumped. I held a Future of News bootcamp on travel journalism back in July 2010, where we tried to come up with new approaches to the idea. We came close to something, I feel, focusing on creating a community around a location or travel niche, and selling ‘actionable’ products around our journalism.

But a couple from Australia have come up with another approach, which has been successful a lot more quickly.

The brainchild of writer and photographer duo Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, GranTourismo is a 12 month global journey around the world. According to the blurb on the official website:

They’ll be travelling slowly, living like locals, doing and learning things and giving something back at each destination they visit. Their mission is to explore more authentic ways of travelling and make travel more meaningful and more memorable.

How’s it being funded? Well, they’ve secured a ‘partnership’ with London based travel company HomeAway Holiday Rentals, who are paying for fees and expenses for the trip, and putting Lara and Terence up in their rental properties wherever they go. It’s probably one of the first times professional travel writers have been paid directly by a travel company.

Lara & Terence of GranTourismo

In an in-depth account on the tnooz blog, Lara describes how the idea came about:

Terence and I started developing Grantourismo a few years ago, as a personal travel experiment aimed at exploring more enriching ways to travel. The project grew out of frustrations with our work as travel writers, as much as with how we observed people travel, speeding through places ticking off sights…

…The question was which companies to approach to present our project. I was fine-tuning our proposal in July 2009 when I spotted HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ advertisement on TravMedia calling for a writer-photographer team to work on a similar but more ambitious marketing project. We responded and over the course of a few months persuaded HomeAway Holiday-Rentals to go with our project instead.

A few enterprising themes are revealed here: it’s a project that’s been developed for a long time, born out of a frustration (or pain) about something; and even once HomeAway Holiday-Rentals were approached, the deal took a few months to broker.

So far, so good. But what about editorial independence?

…from the outset we made it clear to HomeAway Holiday-Rentals that we had to have complete editorial control so that the content would not be construed as advertorial. If it was, then their credibility, as much as ours, would be on the line…This, we believed, was essential to establishing our readers’ trust and maintaining the integrity of the project.

A model for the future?

What’s quite promising about Lara and Terence’s model is that it is replicable: it can be used by journalists and photographers (and even film makers) in a near infinite number of ways, in an unlimited number of places. Lara says they’ve already been approached by wine producers who want to use their skills for a wine-specific campaign.

In an interview with Traveling Savage, Lara says it’s a growing trend:

Travel companies will increasingly be exploring direct partnerships with writers/bloggers in order to develop innovative, attention-grabbing projects and cut out the middle man (the editor) so the company knows what kind of coverage they’re going to get. Freelance writers will be increasingly seeking to work directly with companies as the industry becomes even more competitive, as will bloggers, because they’re always looking for ways to monetize their sites. These partnerships can be tricky things to negotiate, however, so writers/bloggers need to take care to ensure that they maintain their credibility, especially if they want to continue to work in the media: professionalism and ethics are everything.

It’s only one way to do it

On the flip-side however, it’s one that’s very dependent upon other people. If you can’t get a ‘partner’ to back you, you might as well put the passport back in the drawer. Lara says there’s no other advertising on the site, which takes away much growth potential if the audience grows.

It also means there’s little benefit for the pair in growing an active, vibrant community around their content. That was the breakthrough with our London bootcamp in 2010. We figured if you’re creating valuable content inside a specific niche within travel journalism (gay/children/eco-friendly are the first three which spring to mind) you can build up a small, but loyal base of readers. From there you can develop sponsored newsletters, sell products (photographs, ebooks etc) and wrangle affiliate deals with all sorts of travel firms. (See Lara’s comments for more on this.)

If you aim to become a thought-leader in your niche, rather than just ‘the water here’s lovely’ type writing then you can really make an impact, change lives and develop a sustainable brand.

That, of course, takes time; and if  there’s one thing to be said for the GranTourismo model, it got them travelling pretty quickly.

So what do you think? Is this a new way to do travel journalism in the digital age? Is it worth cutting out the middle-man? Or is it a lucky luxury the new media age just can’t support? Leave your comments below!

Hattip: Craig McGinty on Twitter


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Get your copy of 6×6: advice for multimedia journalists

Posted in 6x6 series by Adam Westbrook on October 26, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

My e-book 6×6: advice for multimedia journalists is now available for download.

I put it together after the popularity of the blog series of the same name back in August. It sums up the advice in that series and updates it. It’s also packed with bonus tips which you won’t find in the series itself, plus a page of resources and links to help you on your way.

The six chapters cover the technical skills, like video, audio & storytelling, plus the non-technical skills, like branding & business.

Best of all, this 32 page e-book is 100% free – you won’t need to register or anything – just click on the big download button below to get it!

And please hit me with feedback, good or bad. What did it miss out? What would you put in?

Click to download for free!

6×6: video

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 19, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The second in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

video

Video has by far and away become the most popular medium for the multimedia journalist – to the extent it almost seems many won’t consider it a truly multimedia project unless its got a bit of video in it. The thing is, video is a tricky medium and must be treated differently in the world of online journalism.

01. video doesn’t need to be expensive

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t do video just because you haven’t  got any cash. Sure, if you want to go right to the top range, say a Sony EX3, Final Cut Pro and After Effects yes, it’s going to set you back about £3,000 ($5,000). But high quality can be achieved on lower budgets.

Check out my article on how I put together an entire film making kit for £500 ($800).

02. shoot for the edit

If there’s one piece of advice for multimedia journalists making films – it comes from Harris Watts, in a book he published 20 years ago. In Directing on Camera he describes exactly what shooting footage is:

“Shooting is collecting pictures and sound for editing…so when you shoot, shoot for editing. Take your shots in a way that keeps your options open”

Filming with the final piece firmly in mind will keep your shooting focussed and short. So when you start filming, start looking for close ups and sequences. The latter is the hardest: an action which tells your story, told over 2 or more shots.

Sequences are vital to storytelling and must be thought through.

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

03. master depth of field

In online video, close ups matter. The most effective way to hold close ups – especially of a person – is to master depth of field. Put simply the depth of field how much of your shot in front of and behind your subject is kept in focus. It is controlled by the aperture on your camera – so you’ll need a camera with a manual iris setting.

Your aim – especially with closeups – is to have your subject in clear focus, and everything behind them blurred: Alexandra Garcia does it very well in her Washington Post In-Scene series. (HT: Innovative Interactivity)

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Here’s a quick guide to getting to grips with depth of field:

  1. you need a good distance between the camera and subject
  2. a good distance between the subject and the background
  3. and a low f-stop on your iris – around f2.8, depending on how much light there is in your scene. A short focal length does this too.
  4. You may need to zoom in on your subject from a distance

04. never wallpaper

If there was ever an example of the phrase “easier said than done” this would be it. It’s a simple tip on first read: make sure every shot in your film is there for a reason. But with pressures of time or bad planning you can often find yourself “wallpapering” shots just to fill a gap.

In his excellent book The Television News Handbook Vin Ray says following this rule will help you out no end:

“One simple rule will dramatically improve your television packaging: never use a shot – any shot – as ‘wallpaper’. Never just write across pictures as though they weren’t there, leaving the viewer wondering what they’re looking at. Never ever.”

05. look for the detail and the telling shot

Broadcast Journalists are taught to look for the “telling shot”, and more often than not make it the first image. If your story is about a fire at a school, the first thing the audience need to see is the school on fire. If it’s about a woman with cancer, we must see her in shot immediately.

But the telling shot extends further: you can enhance your storytelling by looking for little details which really bring your story to life.

Vin Ray says looking for the little details are what set great camera operators apart from the rest:

“Small details make a big difference. Nervous hands; pictures on a mantelpiece; someone whispering into an ear; a hand clutching a toy; details of a life.”

I’m midway through shooting a short documentary about a former prisoner turned lawyer. One of the first things I noticed when I met him was a copy of the Shawshank Redemption on his coffee table – a great little vignette to help understand the character.

06. break the rules

The worst thing a multimedia journalist can do when producing video for the web is to replicate television – unless that’s your commission of course. TV is full of rules and formulas, all designed to hide edits, look good to the eye, and sometimes decieve. Fact is, online video journalism provides the chance to escape all that.

Sure it must look good, but be prepared to experiment – you’ll be amazed what people will put up with online:

  • Cutaways are often used to cover over edits in interviews; why not be honest and use a simple flash-dissolve instead. Your audience deserve to know where you’ve edited right?
  • TV packages can’t operate without being leaden with voice over, but your online films don’t need to be
  • Piece to cameras don’t need to be woodenly delivered with the camera on a tripod

The final word…

Here’s VJ pioneer David Dunkley-Gyimah speaking at this year’s SxSW event in the US:

““When it comes to the net, there is no code yet as I believe that is set in stone….we’ve all been taking TV’s language and applying that and it hasn’t quite worked. Video journalism needs a more cinematic- hightened visual base.”

Next: storytelling for multimedia journalists!

6×6: starting next week

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 14, 2009

The walls of the debate are shifting. People don’t want to be reminded how bad the newspaper/journalism sector is right now; they don’t want to read more introductions to articles reeling off the various nails in the coffin.

In the last couple of months we’ve started to see more articles looking forward. And that’s a positive thing.

A piece I wrote last month on what the journalist of the future might look like sparked a lot of debate – and got me working on something which I’m launching on Monday:

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

Six articles, each with six tips for the journalist of the future. They’re going to be focused on the down to earth practical stuff, and cover six broad areas the next generation freelance journalist will need to be familiar with:

  1. Video
  2. Branding
  3. Storytelling
  4. Audio
  5. Business skills
  6. Making things happen

Some of them are new skills, which are just emerging; others are some of the oldest. And that last one isn’t a journalism skill, but I think it’s vital for freelancers if they’re not to end up sitting at home staring at their computer screen.

It starts on Monday with Branding – and as always, it’s never a complete list so feel free to add your advice in the comments!

Journalism posts: Summary II

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 3, 2009

It’s been a busy few months on here! Here’s a wrap up of the journalism related posts since my last summary back in April.

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

The future of journalism

This is why we’re entrepreneurs :: an inspiring video which makes any creative want to leap off their seat, start a production company. NOW!

Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay :: Richard G Picard’s article makes me realise the utter foundations of journalism have changed and are no longer economical

Life After Newspapers? :: the newspaper journalists who are reinventing themselves after being made redundant

Future of Journalism presentation :: in June and July I gave a couple of presentations outlining the crisis in journalism and it’s possible future. You can watch it here.

Noded working: a new way to do journalism? :: how noded working can help the new generation of freelance creative entrepreneurs

Introducing: the journalist of the future :: some of  you said it was great, others naiive, others optimistic; others said it was rubbish. Whatever you might think, if you haven’t read it yet, here’s my picture of the skills and abilities of the journalist of the future.

The Journalist of the future: your reaction :: a neat summary of what some of you guys said about that article

Multimedia Journalism

Learn From The Best :: multimedia producers Duckrabbit shows me the importance of a damned good photograph (they’re still doing it, here)

One Week In Iraq :: how I put together my small multimedia piece reporting from Iraq

History Alive! :: two brilliant examples of how multimedia can be used to bring history to life

Choose your multimedia, wisely :: a look at the individual strengths and weaknesses of video, audio, images and interactivity. Now choose it wisely!

Open Source for multimedia journalists :: a brief skit over popular open source software the multimedia journo should have in their armoury

What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism? :: why Lord Carter’s Digital Britain Report is a massive FAIL for journalism

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

Open source for multimedia journalists

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 13, 2009

I love the concept of open sourcing. It has many forms, but open source software is the most common use, when software developers make their code publicly available for all to explore and change.

It’s led to the creation of some amazing software very useful for journalists on a low budget; and of course, it’s free! Here are some highlights:

Web browsing

Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome have both revolutionised internet use – don’t get bogged down with Internet Explorer!

Writing

Open Office – is ropey in places, but otherwise a faithful and very useful alternative to Microsoft Office

Audio

Audacity is a highly reliable (if not very flexible) audio editor. And try Songbird for a free audio player.

Video

Miro is a very promising internet video player and video podcast player.

Images

With Photoshop being too expensive for many users, Gimp provides a free (and equally complicated alternative). Google’s Picasa is great for simple image edits.

3D graphics

Blender is the free tool for creating 3D animations and even whole films

Kurt Lancaster: an important voice

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 29, 2009

I just discovered the blog of documentary video journalist and lecturer Kurt Lancaster. And this guy’s right on the ball when it comes to knowing TV style film making is dead.

In Kurt’s own words:

No narration provided by a reporter. No heavy-handed production telling the audience how to think or feel.

By placing himself into the short documentary, Kristof thankfully eschews the tired style and omniscient voice of the broadcast journalist who typically stands with microphone in hand, almost pleading with an audience to emotionally engage their sensationalized, “must-see” story. “Look at me and what I have to say!”, seems to me the pervading style of the news broadcast journalist.

In an interview with doc filmmaker Ellen Spiro (Body of War 2007), she told me that a lot of broadcast news sets up the classic confrontation of one side versus another side. But she feels there are as many sides to a story as there are people experiencing or witnessing the event

Broadcast news tends to give us a snapshot of either a victim or an overly-cute feel-good subject, as seen on the outside looking in. Documentary filmmakers build trust and take us into a slice of life of their characters…And this is one of the core differences between broadcast news and documentary filmmaking — the building of that trust in order to get the subject to open up.

So…he’s a film maker, a documentary maker, a video journalist. But he hates opening GVs, he hates overwritten voice overs and pleading pieces to camera. In fact, all the things which make standard TV packages so repetitive and unimaginative.

Like I say, he’s right on the money. Click here to visit his website.

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The all digital newsroom: a vision

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 3, 2009

Here’s an interesting look into what a post-print digital newsroom might look like, from Steve Outing in the Editor & Publisher.

It’s crux is a reduced core of multi-media journalists, who – as well as writing, shooting, podcasting and blogging – create web 2.0 communities around their specialism.

Sounds great, for those left with the jobs, but involves huge job losses in circulation, print, middle management.

And he reckons it might not be so far off.

HT: Cyberjournalist.net

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