Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Meet the man making money from his blog

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 3, 2010

This is John Hirst. You might recognise him if you have read any of my articles or seen any of my multimedia on the prison votes case.

While serving 30 years for manslaughter he taught himself law and is hounding the government for its slow action on giving inmates the vote.

As you can see, John has a new widescreen flat screen TV in his living room.

He’s  also got a brand new vacuum cleaner and he’s bought his girlfriend a ring.  John told me, when I popped round to his house in Hull last week, that it’s all been paid for…by his blog.

Yes after I wrote here that journalists need to move away from ad revenue as a the way to monetise a website, John has sort of proved me wrong, as one of the few bloggers I can think of making money from pure advertising alone. It’s not Google Adwords though; John’s been approached by insurance companies who he charges a flat annual fee to put banners on his blog.

John’s site, the Jailhouse Lawyer get’s around 500 hits a day, but it can go up to 2,000 when he writes something controversial about Guido Fawkes or Madeleine McCann.

I say sort of proves me wrong: imagine how much extra John could get if he leveraged his blog to publish other products…

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Audio slideshow: from killer to legal campaigner

Posted in Adam, Freelance by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2009

I’ve finally gotten round to posting up a short audio slideshow I started producing when still working as a journalist in Hull.

It tells the story of John Hirst, a fascinating man who is almost single-handedly leading the (controversial) call for UK prisoners to be given the right to vote.  After voraciously studying law books while in prison, John knows his stuff and is confident the law is on his side.

And prisoners could get the vote before May’s election.

I originally shot several hours of video, intending to make a series of short films, but for various technical reasons that never happened. In my final weeks in Hull I decided one good quality audio slideshow would be better than video. Thanks, in particular, to Duckrabbit and Ciara Leeming for their honest feedback which shaped the piece.

You can read more about John and his campaign on his blog.

Future of Journalism presentation

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 15, 2009

I was very kindly asked recently by marketing consulant Jon Moss (@jonmoss) to give a presentation at the increasingly popular Hull Digital event in Hull. The subject: the intimidating title “The Future of Journalism”.

I dusted off my Open Office and Powerpoint skills and put together a presentation back in June. Off the back of that, I was asked to give the same presentation at HumberMUD, a multimedia meetup, also in Hull.

It is now online for you to enjoy, critique and add too.

As I was talking mainly to non journalists I wanted to break the complicated (and ever changing) story right down.  It is also not comprehensive; if I had room I would like to have talked more about Networked Journalism and Hyper-local websites.

Hull and the Humber area has a growing and very talented digital community – if you are in the area I strongly recommend getting involved either at Hull Digital or HumberMUD.

And later this year the inaugural Hull Digital Live event’s taking place -with the just confirmed key note speaker Rory Cellan-Jones. Awesome!

Update: you can now watch my original presentation on the Hull Digital website – or part one here:

The Radio Emergency Survival Guide

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 16, 2009

They almost always catch you unawares, put your and your newsroom under pressure…but as James Cridland blogged recently, emergency situations are when local radio comes into its own.

In July 2007, drying myself off from the floods, I remember telling myself to put together a guide to how to cope. But I never got round to it, and the next thing the city I was working in was evacuated after a major bomb scare; then there was a plane crash…and in the last few weeks Britain has seen the harshest winter in 18 years.

So how should radio news teams respond? Here’s some tips; journos – feel free to add your own.

floods-generic

Radio Emergency Survival Guide

Have emergency numbers close at hand

Don’t waste valuable time looking up the fire services press officer’s mobile number online. Have it in a book or on a sheet – with all the other emergency numbers you’ll need – for every district of your patch.

Make sure you have numbers for other reporters, presenters etc.

Rope in office staff

During the 2007 floods I couldn’t get out of the office to do my job for hours because so many listeners were calling in with, or asking for, information. If you’re drowning in calls, ask a senior office person to direct sales, admin and programming staff to take all the calls.

It helps if at some point during the year they’re briefed on what details to get from the public.

Use the “drive line”

The other busy phone line, especially in weather emergencies, is the drive-line or traffic line. Ask the on air presenter to save any calls they record. Cut these into a montage to lead your bulletins. It sounds real, edgy and gets listeners on the air (click here for a recent example).

Be prepared for school closures

You’ll also get lots of calls from schools telling you they’re closed or closing imminently. It’s one of local radio’s big jobs to pass on this information,  so make sure you keep an accurate list and pass it on to presenters. Each school should give you a unique DFES number to avoid hoaxers and, in some counties, a password.

Get a good information system going

In large scale weather emergencies/natural disasters it’s easy to drown in the sea of information coming in. So make sure you’re prepared to have a good system to record it all. Keep school closures on a board. Use a map to plot what areas are worst affected.

Use new media

At the very least someone should be putting school and road closures on the website, and any other important info. Have you thought about using Twitter to do it too? What about Google maps?

If possible, don’t network

When the shit hits the fan, now’s not the time to switch to networked programming from another city. Keep a presenter and journalist local to regularly insert information. Your listeners will thank you for it.

Book hotel

If transport is going to be a problem – such with flooding – someone should be booking hotel rooms for key staff. That’s usually the breakfast presenters, producers and newsreaders.

Use your resources

Small news teams, and hubbed news teams, covering a big, unprecedented event, is a stretch. It’s tempting to send reporters out into the patch, but be sensible. You need more people at base, making phone calls, check information and getting interviews to air quickly. While it’s important to get quality and colour audio on air, this really only massages ego in the battle with the competition. Bring in any local work experience people-now could be their time to shine.

Remember safety

If you’re out in a difficult situation remember your safety. Apparently the BBC advises reporters to keep away from flood water. Don’t cross police lines unless you have permission.

Get names and numbers

Anyone you interview while you’re out – get their name, get their phone number. You’ll want to go back to them in a week, a month, a year to follow their story.

Think big

Although resources are stretched and you’re all under pressure, now’s the time to think big. I’m talking two-ways, extended bulletins, ambitious packages, music montages – anything to show you’re listener this is a unique event and you’re pulling out all the stops. In the 2007 floods, Touch Radio ran extended programmes at 1 and 6. With just an hours notice I was asked to record a 2-way and cut a package from the waters edge. It was a race, but it sounded great.

Work as a team

Share information with presenters and visa versa. You’re all in it together.

Give 110%

In March 2008, an unexploded WW2 bomb was found right in the centre of Coventry. It was very close to our studios, which was initially great- I was the first radio reporter on the scene. But within minutes, police had set up a corden, and when it widened, our studios were closed.

The station – 96.2 Touch Radio – was put to network and special programming came from our sister station in Stratford. However it closed the region’s newshub – and news bulletins for all 6 stations in the group had to go on hold.

It left 4 journalists with not much to do. We could have all gone home; but we stayed, conducted interviews, filed live phone reports to the network. Late in the evening it appeared the cordon would remain overnight, and could even mean we wouldn’t be allowed back into the building in time to produce breakfast news bulletins.

We crashed at the closest home to the city centre, finally getting to sleep at about 1am. At 4am we got up and checked with the police – the cordon was finally being lifted. 2 of us headed back and joined 2 breakfast readers who’d just gotten in.  And somehow, with just 90 minutes and no preparation, we produced news bulletins for 6 radio stations, including a special report for the Coventry station.

For 3 of us, it worked out as a 30 hour day. There’s no room for slackers on days like these.

Have I missed anything? Covered a story like this yourself? The comments box is right down here…

Sometimes snooping for an exclusive doesn’t work

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on January 25, 2009

Lots of interest in Hull’s FA Cup fixture this weekend.

Partly because a bunch of Milwall hooligans stuck in the 1980s decided to tear up some of the ground, but also because the club unveiled their new signing.

Costing £5m Bullard is the big investment which they’re hoping will secure their place in the Premier League.

Adam Westbrook

L-R Phil Brown, Jimmy Bullard, Paul Duffen (Adam Westbrook)

We first got wind he could be signing last Thursday but often with football, speculation is just that, and getting a confirmation (especially on a big deal) is near impossible before the job is done.

It happened that on Thursday evening I was part of a party of local hacks being taken out for a curry by Hull City boss Phil Brown.

Ahead of the meal my editor texted me: “see what you can find out about Bullard.”

Time for some snooping.

Phil and the rest of the management arrived at the restaurant as we were all sitting down. A hugely engaging and entertaining guy, he announced straight away:

“Can I just say lads, Bull is off the menu.”

Sometimes snooping for that exclusive will get you nowhere…

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7,747

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 22, 2008

It’s difficult in journalism sometimes to get across the scale of something, which is inevitably huge, but also so slow moving it’s barely noticable.  Reporting climate change is the obvious one which springs to mind.

But the current recession/economic downturn/credit crunch is another difficult one.

My patch is bearing the brunt of job losses, but how do you convey the scale of it all, especially at a national level?

Well I’ve just spotted this at the bottom of a Guardian article online, the simplicity of which can leave you with no doubt. Sometimes maybe, you just let the figures speak for themselves:

Guardian Unlimited

Guardian Unlimited

Can local radio succeed online?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 13, 2008

Well, ask Andrew Harrison at the Radio Centre in this week’s Radio Magazine, not really.

He claims commercial radio is another victim of the BBC’s local TV plans, along with the online aspirations of local newspapers.

Well certainly in the 100m online contest, local commercial radio is at the back of the pack. Many sites have old clunky websites which haven’t embraced web 2.0.  Content is rarely updated, I’ve often found the code is full of holes. Most of all, they don’t give their listeners a reason to go there.

Compare that to their BBC radio rivals, and now their newspaper cohorts and it’s a tadge shameful.

But maybe that doesn’t have to be the way.

Over at Viking FM this week, we trialled the station’s first live webcast. We arranged for a local financial expert to come into the station and answer questions from listeners about the credit crunch and what it means for them.

You can see the results by clicking here.

It was a lot more popular than we’d imagined, thanks chiefly to heavy plugging over the airwaves. But it shows, I think, people do have an appetite for this sort of content.

There just needs to be more dedication to doing it.

The people who refuse to get screwed by the system

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 14, 2008

For anyone who doesn’t know I recently moved ‘up north’ to start a new job, working in Hull. So far, so good, and already it’s proving eventful and interesting. Two experiences in the last week have got me thinking about the state of modern Britain, and what appears to be our rapidly deminishing rights and freedoms.

In the dog house

On Monday, I was sent a report from a freelance court reporter in Hull about a case which had just been thrown out of the courts. 57 year old John Hirst, from Hull, an ex-prisoner,  prison reform lawyer – and well known blogger – had been hauled before the judges after his dog was accused of biting a park warden.

When John appeared in court, the prosecution were able to offer no evidence and the judge duly threw out the case.

But not before John had been arrested and questioned. And not before it cost the taxpayer a rather large amount of money (John told me he reckons it’s about £20,000).

Speaking to John on the phone he was “livid” about what had happened and how the case had been allowed to have gotten so far. If it had gone as far as a trial, then it would have cost even more. But there are some other things that worry me about the story.

First up is the supposedly heavy handed response from the authorities. John told me six police officers came to his house after the complaint was made, handcuffed him and took him to a police station. His dog, Rocky, was separated from him and kept at the police station. What defence does any citizen have when this kind of thing happens?

Luckily the justice system came through, but there’s another worry too.

John called me again later in the week, concerned there had been no response from the authorities. True, Hull City Council had refused to comment, saying the police led the prosecution. So I want to find out what the police files on this say, but doing a bit of reading up this weekend it’s not looking promising.

Heather Brooke, the well known journalist and freedom of information campaigner, says Britain’s supposedly “open” legal system is the opposite. Trying to get access to what should be public files is near impossible. Still I won’t let that stop me trying. Let’s see if the FOI Act can uncover more…

Your invite’s in the post

Less than 24 hours later I found myself in Hedon, a small village outside Hull. Today though it was hosting some big(ish) political names. Namely the Environment Secretary Hillary Benn, and local MPs Graham Stuart and David Davis.

Mr Benn had been invited up to talk flooding, and specifically why the EA wants to flood acres of farmland instead of paying for flood defences. We, the assembled media, were there too, hoping to get a soundbite off the Minister.

Waiting outside Hedon’s small town hall, I was approached by a man called Simon Taylor. He lives on a small piece of reclaimed land called Sunk Island. He, along with 800 others were probably going to loose their homes to the Humber River within the next 20 years. That almost certainty meant they couldn’t sell their homes, and are going to have to stay to watch it happen.

A charming and polite man, tall with a bristly moustache, Simon was angry because he was standing outside the meeting, and not in it. The hour long coflab, involved the three politicians, local councillors and a select group of farmers. But the ordinary people hadn’t been invited along. “I’m going to lose my home, and I haven’t got a voice,” he told me.

I chatted to Simon and interviewed him about his worries. But later on he did something which few people would bother to do, or be brave enough to do.

Sure enough, Hillary Benn emerged to give a brief statement to the press before speeding off to his next gig. That left Stuart and Davis left to show off about how they’d got a government bigwig to come all the way up to Hull. But their words were interrupted when to my left, a voice raised above theirs and said “excuse me, why wasn’t anyone invited. We’re going to lose our homes – I think we would have liked to have had a word with the minister.” Like the fiercest of political reporters Simon pressed the question and wouldn’t let it go.

Flustered, Graham Stuart admitted it was a problem of space rather than anything else, and promised a public meeting was going to be held next month. But will Hillary Benn be there? Who knows.

But Simon’s stand is important: denied a voice by modern democracy he persisted and fought to get an explanation. Without him there, the politicians and the media would have skimmed over Sunk Island, and the 800 people would certainly have lost their voice.

Two people then, screwed by the system, and who fought it – and arguably won. In the space of two days. In one city. How many more cases like this are there? And how many don’t get heard?

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