After six years, 520 posts and who knows how many words, this is the last thing I’m going to write on this blog.
It’s a decision I’ve been thinking about for almost a year and I’ve kept putting it off, partly because I still had things I wanted to figure out and share with you, and also because – believe it or not – this blog does make a bit of money!
But 2o12 has been a year of reflection and contemplation for me and ultimately of heading in new directions. Over the last few years my interests and passions have developed to the point where I now no longer think of myself as a journalist, but more of a producer and publisher. What I write about has gradually shifted from news to storytelling, to cinema to entrepreneurship, and I know that’s not what many of you come here for.
At the same time, how I think about creating stuff has changed and I want to focus my energy on building things that matter: films, magazines, books, businesses and more. Sadly a weekly blog post, and hours spent on Twitter don’t fit into that.
I’ve spent some time bringing together 20 of my favourite pieces from the last few years and written five brand new ones, and put them all into a one-off collection. If you’re here for the first time and want the highlights this is for you, or if you want an intensive burst of ideas and inspiration in one sitting then I recommend it too. It’s completely free: you can have the pdf right here, no email address or nuthin’.
In a few months I’ll be leaving my life in London behind and seeking some new adventures. I’ll be heading to Paris in January and then to wherever the wind takes me. There is no plan or strategy, just embracing uncertainty, putting faith in having no plan.
I’ve got some bold new projects I want to start, some experiments I want to try and I’ll generally be gettin’ busy gettin’ messy. I’m still insanely passionate about creating insightful, intelligent and thought-provoking factual stories so a lot of my projects will be trying to solve this problem.
I’m also crazy about storytelling structure and visual storytelling and still have loads of questions about it. The response to the Inside the Story project earlier this year was awesome, and I have plans to develop it in early 2013, most likely in magazine form. If you’ve downloaded a free copy of the ebook, then you’ll hear about it later this year. Click here to get a copy if you haven’t already.
I’ll be location independent so I’ll still be working with clients in the UK and elsewhere and I’ll continue to be available for film, motion graphics and writing commissions. Click here to contact me about that. I’m also still consulting and training, and there are still a few spaces left on the next video journalism workshop in November. At the same time, if you’re an organisation committed to creating great narrative experiences anywhere in the world then drop me a line too, maybe we could work together one day.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to say a huge thank you to you for reading all this over the years. You can double that thanks if you’ve ever left a comment after a post, triple it if you’ve retweeted, reblogged or shared a post, and quadruple it if you’ve ever bothered to send me an email. Knowing that something I’ve written has inspired another person, given them a new idea, or helped them do something awesome always puts a smile on my face.
After all this time blogging about journalism, what advice can I offer? Well, there’s a spot open for someone to share more new ideas about how journalism can be done better. If that appeals to you, then remember: be positive, not critical, share and inspire and above all be immensely generous.
Blogging is a great way to crystallise your own ideas and get feedback, not to mention a great way to learn, build a platform and a reputation. It worked for me and it was great fun, so go on, get busy writing. Here’s a series I wrote a couple of years back with advice on how to start your own blog.
I have honestly no idea what will happen next in my life but here are some ways you can keep up with whatever the hell does happen.
My Journal: I’ve slowly been building a personal online journal. Is it just another blog? Sort of, although it is really a blogazine, with each article individually designed, as a way for me to practice web design. It’s a 100% personal site, so if you’re interested in me as a person then take a look. Inspired by Robin Sloan’s brilliant tap essay I’m going to be making tributes to people, things, places and stuff that I really love.
My homepage: My main website is still there – it’s the best way to contact me.
Twitter: I’ll still be tweeting and tumblring, although a lot less frequently.
Hotpursuit.co: This is my new publishing venture..it’s just a top co right now, but will develop more in the future. Still you can sign up to the mailing list if you really want.
• • •
And lastly, I’m not stopping this blog because I have lost faith in the future of journalism or the industry. Quite the opposite. In the lifespan of this website we’ve seen journalism hit hard, and its foundations thoroughly shaken. But the last two years have brought an energetic burst of new ideas, platforms and experiments from ordinary people that I’m certain will propel us through to a remarkable new age, where stories are told, ideas are spread and the truth always challenged.
If you ever despair, remember: we are just at the beginning.
There’s an old analogy, which I can trace back to the 1990s, that says making a film is a lot like making a meal.
It goes like this:
“You choose your recipe (subject and angle), write out a shopping list (treatment and storyboard), get some money (you need more than you think) and go shopping for the raw materials (shoot the pictures and record the sound). Then you return to the kitchen (cutting room) and start cooking (editing). The meal is made in the kitchen; the film in the cutting room.”
Harris Watts, On Camera
I like this analogy a lot, but it’s worth unpacking for 21st century video storytellers.
Choose your recipe
The big point here is you must have an idea of what your film is going to look like when its finished. You must be able to picture the opening, the closing and perhaps some key sequences in the middle. You must be able to close your eyes and hear your potential interviewees talking, imagining what kind of things they’ll say. You should have a feel for the pace of the film – is it fast or slow? Upbeat or sad?
Ultimately your story should have a theme – a controlling idea of some kind – which you can summarise in a single sentence. You wouldn’t make a risotto for the first time without knowing what one looks like would you?
Write a shopping list
This always finds its way into my workflow, and I teach it to students and clients as well. Before I start filming I mind-map all the elements and use it to plan the shoot. I draw out the key ingredients: the interview, the sequences, the scenes, the other b-roll and anything else like music and graphics. Then from each of these segments I brainstorm ideas for how each one could play out.
So around the interview bit I come up with different ideas for where I could conduct my interviews; I think about what questions I’ll ask. It helps me anticipate any problems which might come up during the shoot. Your first idea is rarely the best, so try and come up with unique takes on each segment.
Get some money
The quote above was written for television in the 1990s with its big budgets. These days I’d say video can cost less than you think. Certainly the hurdles to creating and publishing video have fallen through the floor. If you’ve got an iPhone or a flipcam – or even a webcam – the power to tell visual stories is in your hand.
Shop for raw materials
Here’s the big thing: the shoot is like the shopping expedition. You are merely collecting items to edit later on. This isn’t to belittle the shoot and the hard work that goes into it (you can’t make a good meal with bad ingredients, after all). However, to get obsessed by equipment and spend ages on complex super-slick camera moves misses the point: the film is made in the edit. It is the combination and contrast of images that tell the story, rarely the images on their own.
The rules of a good shopping trip apply: have a shopping list, know your way around the supermarket and get in and out as quickly as possible. You want more than enough of each ingredient so you can choose the very best to include in your meal. That means shooting more b-roll than you think you need, and shooting a longer interview than you’ll use.
As I said the real flavours of your film won’t emerge until the edit. That’s the magic moment when you combine your ingredients to create something greater than the sum of its parts. In video we are talking about the combination of images to create an idea in the audiences’ mind. Why does that matter? Because then the story doesn’t happen on the screen, in happens in someone’s brain: they own a bit of it, and it draws them in.
Too often – especially in journalism – we take the inverted triangle approach and tell our audience everything, instead letting them figure it out for themselves.
Anyway, once you’ve stirred all your ingredients together, leave it to simmer for 20 mins and add salt to flavour. But not too much.
It’s a short post this week and it comes in two parts.
Firstly, get the book
Yes, as suggested a few weeks ago we have re-released Inside the Story, after lots of demand from people who didn’t manage to get a copy in the first run. Frankly, the advice in the book is too good to be kept away forever, and we want as many people to benefit from it as possible. So, not only is the book back – and permanently – it’s also free.
The first run raised a more than $4,000 for the developing world charity Kiva, which blew our socks off. It’s more than we could have hoped for and so now the book is yours to keep for free. There is, however, an option of a voluntary loan or donation should you want to support the charity.
And finally, thanks to the hard work of some talented journalists/translators, the book is now available in three new languages: German (translated by Dieter Hoogestraat); Spanish and Catalan (translated by Alba Falcó and David Domingo).
So if you haven’t got yourself a copy yet, now’s the time. Just head over to Inside the Story and follow the download instructions.
Secondly, take the quiz
If you’ve already read Inside the Story, I need your help. The response was better than we had expected and many of you got in touch to say how useful it was to you.
That’s awesome, and we want to make more stuff like this that you’ll find just as helpful and inspirational.
So what’s missing in your digital storytelling world?
We’ve designed a very short survey to find out what you would find most useful. It’s anonymous and quick – filling it in will help make sure our next big project is as useful to you as possible.
And a bonus tip!
If you’re interested in starting your own innovative publishing projects and building a business around it, I’m running a workshop with the General Assembly in London tomorrow night. Tickets are still available – click here to get one.
I’ve been looking forward to this one since January.
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of wiring $4339.99 to Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity. That’s the total sales raised from shifting nearly 1,000 copies of Inside the Story: A Masterclass in Digital Storytelling from the People who do it Best. It’s an astonishing amount of money for a brilliant charity.
If you’re wondering why the final figure isn’t a round number, remember Paypal and Google Checkout both take a fee per transaction. Each sale therefore raised between £3.12 and £3.15, depending on exchange rates.
The money is now with Kiva, who estimate that every dollar donated (as opposed to loaned) generates ten dollars in loans – so we could effectively have created more than $40,000 for a brilliant charity. If you haven’t caught up with what Kiva do, then check them out here.
I’m personally astonished by the final amount we’ve raised. I had tentatively hoped we would make about $2,000 or maybe $2,500 tops. But to hit nearly $4,500 is just mind-blowing, so thank you if you bought the book, and thank you again if you encouraged others to buy it by blogging or tweeting about it.
I’d also like to thank the 25 brilliant contributors who gave time and effort into making the book happen. The charitable fundraising aside, the response from readers has been fantastic; I’ve had emails from people all over the world who say its inspired them to up their storytelling game in a big way.
Some of you have asked why the book was only on sale for a temporary period. It’s a logistical thing, mainly: there isn’t a convenient way to set up transactions so the money goes to Kiva as soon as the book is bought, and so I have to look after sales and make a one-off donation. That, plus dealing with customer service emails takes up a lot of time, which I don’t have.
However, Inside the Story will return this summer, and will be permanently available, either for free, or with an optional donation. If you would like to know when that happens, then signup to the mailing list here.
On being generous
I’ve also been asked why I did the project in the first place. Why put so much effort into something like this, without any reward for me? This isn’t how entrepreneurial journalism is supposed to work, surely!
It also gave me the opportunity to get in touch with some of my favourite storytellers, journalists and film makers and collaborate with them.
But above all, it’s practicing a fundamental pillar of online publishing and enterprise: you must be generous. If you want to build an audience or a community around what you do and what you love you have to be willing to give away a huge amount, willingly, happily without want for immediate reward.
You have to be willing to share what you learn, give away your best secrets and skills, bring others along on the journey with you. That’s why I’ve spent several hours writing a new blog post every week for the last five years, which I give away for free, with no advertising and no fees attached. It’s why I always try to respond to emails from readers, give interviews and help with student dissertations.
As well as demonstrating you know what you’re talking about, it also builds trust and grows attention – two things in hot demand.
Note that generosity doesn’t include tossing off short lazy blog posts, or poor quality podcasts every so often. Real generosity is crafting something of exceptional quality, like Inside the Story, or even Everything Is A Remix, and then giving it away for free.
So, if you’re stuck about what to do next, and where to go from here, try being unashamedly generous. Give away free advice on Twitter, offer your filmmaking or writing skills for free for a day; hey, you could even publish an ebook.
Think about what you know, what you’re good at, and what you love spending your time doing, and then ask how that can be put to good use helping other people.
And we’re off! It’s taken months of work, several hundred emails all over the world and lots of late nights, but Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best is now on sale!
On the website you’ll find more about the book, more about Kiva, the charity receiving the proceeds from book sales, and the checkout button to get hold of a copy.
One small change of note: I announced yesterday the book would sell for US$5.00. After some more user testing, we’ve decided to sell the book in pound sterling instead, as it means sales are processed automatically and you won’t have to wait long for your copy to be available.
So it’s now priced at a sterling equivalent (give or take exchange rate fluctuations) of £3.50. You can buy with PayPal, your debit/credit card or Google Checkout.
And a final important note: Inside the Story is on sale for a limited time only: just four weeks. That’s when we’ll donate all the money to Kiva and the book will go off sale. If you want the book, it’s vital you get hold of it soon!
The countdown is on! There are less than 24 hours to go until Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best is released upon the world. You’ll be able to buy a copy from 0800 BST tomorrow, Thursday 26th April 2012.
The English version will be live from tomorrow and German, Spanish and Catalan editions will be available in the next few weeks.
But how much is Inside the Story going to cost? Good question. We’ve thought really hard about pricing and we want this book to be affordable and make lots of money for Kiva – who we’re raising money for.
So I’m thrilled to announce the book will be yours for a ridiculous $5.00! It’ll be on sale in US dollars, which will be converted to your local currency when you buy (but it’s roughly €4.50 or £3.75) – an absolute bargain.
It means we’ll need to shift lots of copies to raise all the money we want for Kiva though – so in exchange for getting in cheap you must promise to share it with as many people as possible! But there’s a catch: Inside the Story will only be available for a matter of weeks (so don’t hang around).
How to tell quality stories like a pro
You’ve had a week of sneak previews and there’s space for just a few more. In the last week, I’ve previewed advice from the book about how to plan stories like a pro, structure them properly and use design to your advantage. And that still covers a mere third of what’s in the book!
If Inside the Story is about one thing, it’s quality: it is aimed directly at producers, film makers, video journalists, photographers and designers who are in hot pursuit of creating remarkable stories for the web – stories that really impact people. For most of us, we fall short a lot of the time. So what are the secrets of achieving quality?
A great person to ask is Richard Koci Hernandez: a pioneer of multimedia storytelling – for which he’s even won an Emmy. In a great chapter which rounds off the book, Koci shares six tips for anyone who wants to aim high.
“Spend time everyday consciously shooting pictures, recording sound etc. Work deliberately on improving a multimedia skill, because practicing your craft is one of the biggest productivity payoffs around.”
If you thought there was an easy way round getting good at storytelling you were wrong! Koci is backed up by another multi award winning producer, Brian Storm, Executive Producer at MediaStorm, again nominated for a prestigious Webby Award earlier this month. For Brian there is one sure-fire path to achieving good quality.
“We look for projects that have deep reporting, especially a commitment to coverage over a long period of time. Then we spend as much time as necessary in post production to pull the best possible story from the coverage.”
Brian explains more about the secret ingredient of quality storytelling and how to apply it to your projects. And perhaps counterintuitively, a final word from yet another award winner: John Pavlus, who’s produced multimedia for NPR, the New York Times and the Atavist among others. For him, the secret of achieving quality is something else entirely.
“Make it suck”.
Trust me, it makes perfect sense when you read his full article – and there’s only one way to do that! Sign up to the Facebook page, join the mailing list, and make sure you’re on this website tomorrow morning.
Inside the Story will be on sale for a limited time only – a matter of weeks, so don’t hang around!
Are you excited yet? There are less than 48 hours until Inside the Story goes on sale!
I’m personally psyched about the whole thing for a few reasons: firstly because it’s the culmination of three months of work, hundreds of emails all over the world, lots of planning, writing and designing, and I can’t wait to have something to show for it. Secondly because now I see the finished product I reckon it’s going to be incredibly useful for hundreds of journalists, film makers, publishers and producers who are flirting at the edges of remarkable, but aren’t quite there yet (I include myself in that).
The third reason is the most important. I want Inside The Story to do more than help digital storytellers: I also figured it could make a real difference to people all over the planet. That’s why 100% of all the money from each sale will be donated to Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.
Kiva are a real innovative non-profit: they crowd-fund loans which are given to people wanting to start their own business in countries like Kenya, the Philippines and Indonesia. The money lets these entrepreneurs invest in equipment, supplies and anything they need to get started, but would never be able to afford on their own. Incredibly, in the last six years 760,000 people have been given help starting a business with more than $3million in loans – and 98% of those loans actually get paid back!
It’s a simply brilliant way to help people help themselves and master their own destiny. Inside the Story is going the extra mile though: every penny will be given to Kiva as a donation, rather than a loan; Kiva estimate every dollar donated generates $10 in loans – so if we make $3000 through selling Inside the Story, that could create $30,000 in loans. Epic.
That’s why this book will help up your career, and the career of someone else. Remember it goes on sale Thursday morning at 0800 BST.
Story design like a pro
All this week I’m giving teasing glimpses at the great knowledge and advice you’ll find in Inside the Story – written by some of the finest digital storytellers in the world. So far, we’ve had a look at how to prepare stories like a pro, and how to structure them in the most engaging way. But the book isn’t just for film makers. There’s advice too for web designers, photographers and interactive designers too.
What does it take to capture people on the page and engage them with your story? For Monica Ulmanu, interactive designer at the Boston Globe, it’s all about focus. Monica creates amazing multimedia interactives for the Boston Globe’s website – there are some must-see examples in the book. So what is the secret to good design?
“Focus your user’s attention on one element at any given time. Carefully craft your design so that particular element stands out. Constantly ask yourself: What do I need to show right now to make the message clear, the story easy to follow and uncluttered?”
Monica follows this up with some great graphic-design tips on how to direct a viewers’ eye through the page. It’s advice echoed by web designer Sergio Acosta, co-founder of Designing Stories. He says web design needs to move away from making templates and instead use design to give the visitor an experience – in essence a narrative.
“Storytelling design is the experience a web designer creates out of a narrative. So, look for the visual cues and the key words that will set the design apart.”
And when it comes to creating immersive experiences, the New York Times is up there with the best. In Inside the Story you’ll get to hear from the NYT’s Multimedia Editor Andrew DeVigal, who leads the team responsible for some real innovations in multimedia storytelling, including a story which was commended in this year’s World Press Photo Awards.
…great journalists ask those questions in which the answers provide insights and pushes us to think in entirely new ways. In asking these questions, curiosity often leads to innovation and in providing new angles to a story or situation.
Andrew gives examples of how his team solved problems and created a new way of experiencing stories on the web – you can find out what they did on Thursday.
For the last few months I’ve been working on an exciting project which is almost ready to launch. It’s called Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – an ebook, to raise money for Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.
The last few weeks has been a flurry of layout, web design and conversations with some of the best film makers, digital producers and journalists out there, and the book is almost ready to go live.
What’s going to be in the book? Here’s a quick video update on the project – and a sneak preview of some of the pages. Later this week, I’ll be publishing snippets from the book so you can see some more and announcing the publication date.
If you’re not a fan of the Facebook page yet, why not?
I don’t really do video blogs, but there are lots of cool projects I’ve started this year I want to keep you in touch about.
One I’m really excited about is this one here – you’re going to love it. It’s a new book which is unlike any other on digital storytelling out there and it’s going to help change lives around the world.
Curious? All is revealed in the video!
If you’re receiving this post in your inbox, click on the link at the top to view the video.
So there you go: a book which will help journalists, producers, students, directors, film makers and more tell better stories plus raise money for Kiva, a brilliant charity, who empower entrepreneurs the world over.
A brief warning: you’ll hear me bang on about this book loads over the next couple of months – apologies in advance!
Oh and you can follow my other works-in-progress over on my Tumblr blog – I’m trying to post something new there every day.
I’m also still looking for a good name for the book: if you’ve got any ideas, then please email me.
65 years ago today, Russian scouts entered the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau near Krakow in Poland, and one of the darkest chapters in human history came to an end.
These days the end of the Holocaust is remembered with events around the world; this year multimedia is playing a big role in reminding a new generation about what happened. The Media Guardian reports on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust‘s web 2.0 efforts, including a Facebook group and Twitter feed.
They’ve also commissioned a pretty extraordinary film. Anyone who’s met me in person may know about my personal pet project to reinvent how history is done for mass audiences. So much is dry and formulaic about the offerings of the mainstream TV networks I could be here all day talking about.
But telling stories from the past isn’t easy, which is why these cliches exist: depending on what period you’re talking about, many of your subjects will be dead; you are left with GVs, archive photographs and grainy footage…and at worst beardy talking head historians: the Times New Roman of interviewees.
I’m excited the internet & multimedia provide the potential for new styles, new stories and new audiences, and even more excited the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have invested in that with this film.
OK, it’s narrated by Harry Potter, and OK, it is 10 minutes long…but it is beautifully shot, elevated by strong characters, amazing stories and a haunting soundtrack. And just wait until you see what they’ve done in After Effects (you’ll know when you see it). It’s good to see history being illuminated with innovative storytelling.
At the time of writing, it’s only had 552 views in 5 months which is a crying shame; it’s something the people at Chocolate Films should be very proud of.