Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Journalism: what are you best at?

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 10, 2010

Every day until the 20th of May I’m featuring a creative new way for journalists to exploit the digital age to create new job & business opportunities for themselves. Full details are in Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism available for download on May 20th.

02. specialise in a single journalistic skill

The news production machine is a complicated beast with dozens of cogs needed to turn a story around; as well as reporters, subs, producers and editors, there’s increasing demand for data experts, infographic designers, fact checkers, and investigators.

For the Next Generation Journalist, this isn’t about becoming a cog in a bigger machine, but exploiting one of those cogs by becoming really good at it, and then using that as a basis for a business.

It’s not even a new idea if you consider how companies like Reuters and the Press Association have specialised in the gathering of information for more than a century; court reporters can be viewed in the same way, building a speciality in covering legal cases.

But the digital age has led to the creation of new skills, all of which can be turned into businesses for the forward thinking journalist.

Specialising in a particular journalism process…

  • allows you to focus in on your real passion in news & eliminate the things you’re less interested in
  • means you can build yourself a reputation as an expert in a profitable part of the news machine
  • lets you work as a self-employed freelancer for a range of clients, letting you be your own boss

There are plenty of business models you can build around this idea – from being a data miner (think Michelle Minkoff), or a data artist (think Drawnalism and NewsInfographics) to an expert in Freedom of Information requests (think HelpMeInvestigate) and investigations (think the Investigative Journalism Bureau).

Don Foley went freelance as a news graphic designer in the 1990s and is now sought by editorial and corporate clients for his work.

“The biggest benefit is freedom” he says, “I walk on the beach every day I ride my bike to my boat and fit my work into my life. I once too my family cruising on our boat for a year, working the whole time and many clients didn’t know unless I told them.”

The difficult part here is burrowing down to what really gets you going in journalism. Is it writing? Filming? Editing? Subbing? You need to know this about yourself before you continue.

Interested? Find out how to do it!

The future of journalism: IN vs OUT

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 5, 2009

The news production process has pretty much always been divided into two parts: input (newsgathering) and output (news production). In the debate about the future of news, is this being forgotton?

For example, my blog post Introducing: the Journalist of the Future focussed, unwittingly, entirely on news output – the way the content will be produced. It mentioned nothing of news gathering. It may be that in the future, these two sides of the coin will be completely separated.

And while the editors and managers engage in a bout of synchronized-head-scratching over how to get us to pay for the output side of news, the input side appears to be generating itself a nice bit of revenue potential.

It’s time to give that area some attention.

new media news gathering

These operations could succeed not because they offer the audience a pre-packaged, scripted and editorialised view of the world; quite the opposite. Their value is in allowing the audience easy access to the raw data. The police statistics, the council decisions, the official documents.

Of course, these are (or should be) accessible to the public anyway, but are often too time consuming to get hold of.  Another characteristic of these operations is they often (although not always) involve some form of crowdsourcing for their success

Three (potentially) successful new-media newsgathering operations

01. Everyblock

Everyblock (in the US only) currently covers a dozen or so cities. It works by providing its audience with critical official data by geographical area. When when I say critical official data, some of it is hard to believe. Residents, and even casual visitors, can see how many 911 calls were made for any particular street and what they were about. They can see every restaurant inspection carried out in Boston, and details of every building permit in Seattle.

Sadly the appalling lack of public information available in the UK means this type of site may not make it to the UK.

02. Help Me Investigate

Just launched in the UK in July, Help Me Investigate is effectively crowd-sourced reporting. Members of the public can suggest issues they want investigated, and other members of the public can help uncover the details; each person does their own little bit. It’s already had a couple big hits in the Birmingham local press.

Again, Help Me Investigate isn’t about sexy audio slideshows or a great package, it’s about public access to raw data.

03. Spot.US

Working along the same theme, Spot.US allows the public to get access to the answers they want. Members of the public suggest stories they want covered, and then a fundraising effort gets underway to pay a professional reporter to get to work. I like this idea because it still gives some currency to the trained journalist and their abilities to uncover the truth.

So what makes these sites different?

They’re all about the information, the data, the evidence. It’s not about finding a new way to produce content; no new ways of shooting video, or unique storytelling device.

And while they might not resemble a newspaper or anything like that, they still provide the same vital public service. These news input projects are one of the first tangibly positive things to emerge from this media revolution.