Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

‘Hold the front page, I haven’t got a clue’

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 17, 2010

Image: Chris(UK) on Flickr (cc)

Thanks to Claire Wardle of Media140 for pointing me in the direction of a Sunday Times article yesterday, which shows how much has got to change in our ideas of journalism.

Hold the Frontpage, I want to be on it‘ by Ed Caeser made it into the Times’ Education section, and paints a predictably bleak picture for journalism students graduating this summer.

“…almost every week I receive an email from some poor sap wanting to know how to break into the business” he says. And what advice can said poor sap expect to receive from Mr. Caeser?

“Today, you’ll need luck, flair, an alternative source of income, endless patience, an optimistic disposition, sharp elbows and a place to stay in London.”

Charming.

The article then goes on to interview five or six people who have had the luck, flair, patience, trust fund and London pad necessary to get a job on the Mirror, Daily Mail, Telegraph etc. And what advice can they give?

“Patrick Foster worked at The Times during Oxford University vacations, and stayed after graduation. Kate Mansey came in through the Liverpool Echo trainee scheme — one of the few local-newspaper training schemes still in operation — and began on the nationals by working temporary shifts.

“Many graduates simply turn up on work experience and refuse to leave. It worked for me.”

So, just to sum up: have an Oxbridge degree, and turn up to your work experience placement with a sleeping bag and a three months supply of tinned meats.

How to actually survive in the new age of journalism

Caeser gets one thing right: he realises journalism is changing. The advice he has sought, however, is for an era in the industry heading towards the grave.

He is stuck in the mindset that to have any career worth having in journalism it has to be working on a national newspaper or big broadcaster, and it has to be earned through unpaid work, desperate pleas to those already inside, a lot of luck, and presumably some sexual favours too.

But the crux is this: as Claire Wardle said when she threw this article my way, there is no mention of entrepreneurial journalism.

Caeser hasn’t even thought about it.

The very concept that the next generation of journalists might take control of their careers, become the chess player and not the chess piece seems alien to him; that these ‘poor saps’ might see opportunity where he only sees despair.

So here’s my advice: if you’re just starting out in journalism don’t read this article.* While you’re at it, don’t make yourself ill eating nothing but Supernoodles for a month (as I once had to) just to afford a shitty flat in Clapham. Don’t spend hours squeezing the desperation out of a desperate email to that sub on the Guardian you chatted to briefly at some conference somewhere. And don’t think you should give up just because you live in the North of England, or you’re poor, or because Ed Caeser says you should.

Instead, do this:

Start looking for the brave, exciting new opportunities presented by this wonderful digital age we now live in.

Start thinking about what new niches are evolving which you can exploit with a savvy, bootstrapped new startup. Start thinking of ideas for profitable online magazines or mailing lists which you can leap straight to being the editor of.

Teach yourself how to film and edit simple video, and how to make basic audio slideshows so you can do as much of it as possible without having to hire expensive outside companies. Learn how to build a simple website using WordPress which could one day be the platform for a news business.

If you know how to, start developing a new iPhone or Android app which people will pay you to download. Or leverage social media and blogs to pitch yourself as a go-to expert on a profitable niche, then sell your knowledge in products. Or start making multimedia for non-profits and NGOs, and tell those stories and do the sort of reporting the New York Times or the Guardian would never let you do.

(For more suggestions click here and here)

The Next Generation Journalist is emerging, to whom, Caeser’s advice is completely redundant. It’s up to you which path you chose.

Caeser’s conclusion is, again, predictably bleak.

Just as belts are tightened and we are attempting to map our future in the internet age, the legions of graduates keep coming — arts degrees and journalism diplomas in hand — to join the party. Are they, by attempting to start their journalism careers in 2010, making what the hero of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland calls “a historic mistake”?

The only ‘”historic mistake'” to make is to ignore the fantastic opportunity to reshape journalism we now face. And it’s an opportunity which won’t last forever.

Are you a Next Generation Journalist?

*in fact do, if only to spot the subbing errors. On Sunday afternoon I found six.

Journalism posts: a summary IV

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 31, 2010

Idea 007: breathing new life into old content

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2010

In Ideas for the Future of News I’m collecting positive, tangible, practical examples of business models, products and content which could pave the future.

To catch up on previous ideas, head to the Ideas for the Future of News page.

Idea 007: The Independent’s News Wall

By: UltraKnowledge, The Independent

Headlining today’s Digital Storytelling Conference in London is Andrew Lyons from UK company UltraKnowledge. He’s introducing the company to more than a hundred journalists and showing them the work they’ve been doing with the Independent newspaper.

I met up with Andrew earlier this month, and it seems while many journalists have been worrying about the future, Andrew and his team of coders have been coming up with solutions. They’ve got a very forward thinking mindset, and what they’re doing could breathe new life into old content.

So, introducing the Independent’s new “News Wall.”

It’s accessible by going to http://search.independent.co.uk and is essentially a visual representation of the Independent’s big news stories on a given day.

Rolling your mouse over any of the thumbnails, puts it into the larger window on the right hand side and gives you a preview. It is, in its most simple terms, a visual way of searching the days top stories, and gives the user a much more interactive experience.

A real boon for subs, reporters and editors everywhere, this software does not require any manual SEO or tagging work. It’s all done automatically.

It goes beyond this though.

Firstly, you are able to search for words, people, events using the box at the top. And when you do, you are presented with a visual representation of your search results, which is nice too. What makes this approach clever is the search results page generated automatically becomes a permanent static page on the Independent’s website.

The result? Without any extra work by journalists, the Independent’s website has grown exponentially – this search I did this week pulls up more than 100,000 new pages since News Wall’s launch a month ago. These pages have been created by visitors to the site using the News Wall.

Thirdly, the News Wall is also searchable by date. You’ll eventually be able to type in any date since the Independent launched and get a graphical search result. And what does that mean? Thousands of articles, currently consigned to history, will have new life breathed into them. New sponsorship, new ad revenue.

Imagine if this was done with historical archives.

The people at UltraKnowledge are busy doing some other awesome work which I’m able to mention yet. But keep an eye on them: they’re a great example of how anyone can play a role in the future of news, and unless journalists change their mindset, it won’t be them.