Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The active way to start your journalism career

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 7, 2012
image SeanRogers1 on Flickr

First a quick update on Inside the Story, which has been on sale for 10 days now. It is selling extremely well, and has raised around $1700 for Kiva so far. I want to double this by the time the book goes off sale at the end of May though, so please tell everyone who’ll listen to get a copy!

If you’re not sure about it, then there have been some good reviews of the book so far on Innovative Interactivity, plus from other journalists.

The active way  to start your journalism career

One of the most popular posts on this blog in the last six or so months was a response to a query from Nick, a young Australian journalist. He wanted to know how to use the age of the online publisher to start his journalism career in the best way.

My main advice was to get to work, making high quality video stories, even with nobody to pitch to. Take the initiative, make a bold move, and create good content.

Well, I recently received a follow-up from Nick, which again, he’s kindly agreed to let me share with you.

Hi Adam,

Believe it or not, this morning I got offered my first real job in the journalism industry. It’s just as a Production Assistant at a TV news network, but most importantly it’s my foot in the door. Honestly, after three rounds of interviews it hasn’t sunk in yet.

The reason I’m telling you is because at the beginning of this year I decided to take some initiative, get out there and start creating stories. At the time I drew a lot of inspiration and advice from your blog and links. I bought a Canon 60D (with 50mm f1.4) on credit, found ‘free’ software, created a simple blog and began making videos. My videos are very amateur, but I’m convinced that the reason I got the job this morning was because of taking that initiative. And in part – that initiative was a result of reading your stuff.

First of all that’s fantastic news and congratulations Nick. I’ve shared this, partly to show that fortune really does favour the bold, but also to highlight some of the specifics of Nick’s approach that you can apply yourself.

The key is Nick’s decision to take the initiative, start a project, and get to work making videos. There is literally no excuse not to really, and if you’re a beginner, like Nick, then it is the only way to improve your craft.

Now, Nick says his videos are “very amateur” although I would beg to differ. Take a look:

First of all, I love the concept: give people an ice lolly in exchange for their opinion? Brilliant! If you don’t mind Nick, I will be borrowing that idea myself one day.  (Vox popsicle anyone?). His videos are creatively cut, perhaps inspired by the famous 50 people 1 question series, and he uses his DSLR camera and lens well.

The important thing is this: he has designed a project to channel his creativity and force him to create a series of content, just like some of the video producers I mentioned in the post before. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. It’s a clever idea, but not so ambitious it would take a long time to do (and cause enthusiasm to eventually fizzle out).

Secondly, Nick smartly doesn’t make a big financial investment where possible. He uses free editing and publishing software to get his content made. The music in his films are creative commons licensed. The only thing I’d advise is to avoid buying anything on credit as far as you can. From painful experience, borrowing money is not  a route to go down, especially early in your career.

That said, Nick’s investment in his camera does demonstrate one important thing: commitment. In buying a camera Nick is saying to himself, to the universe and of course, to potential employers, he is serious about this. He is committed.

From experience I can tell you that big projects often require a public demonstration of commitment, as if you are telling the Gods ‘I am serious about this shit‘. Once you make that commitment, you find things start to shift in your favour somehow: people start getting in touch, offers start coming through, inspiration takes hold.

Finally, and most importantly, Nick shipped. He started the Icy Poll project – and he finished it. That proves stamina, determination and an understanding of when something is done.

So, if you are sitting across the table from Nick at this TV News Network you see a young journalist with initiative, creativity, commitment, determination and leadership. Cool fact: they are five skills they don’t teach you at j-school and are therefore rare.

Prove you’ve got those skills too – through action, not words – and you’ve got a much better chance of standing out. The jobs market is not going to get easier: you have to get tougher.

How journalists can get ahead of the game in 2011

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 17, 2011

One of the best reads ahead of the New Year was JWT’s Intelligence Report into the big trends of 2011. Analysts named 100 things which are likely to be of note in the 12 months ahead.

Unlike my predictions for 2011, they’re not written with journalists in mind – however, there are little nuggets of intelligence of use to the Next Generation Journalist.

You can read all 100 of the agency’s predictions after the break, but first I have picked out 12 key ones for multimedia content creators of all kinds to be aware of.

#02 Africa’s middle class

From South Africa to Ghana, the intelligence report says Africa’s growing middle class will be significant in 2011: “McKinsey predicts a 35% increase in African consumer spending power by 2015.”

Takeaway: This means countless stories that are ripe to be told. From the ambitious modernisation of Kigali, to broadband reaching the east coast; if foreign news is your bag, you’ll find plenty of ideas around this mega-story.

Image credlt: suicine on Flickr (cc)

#19 Coming clean with green

There’s no hiding the fact 2010 was a pretty atrocious year for climate change. Protesters were jailed, Copenhagen was a washout, and the earth got more unpleasant reminders that things are changing than we care to remember. JWT’s intelligence predicts that consumer green will be big in 2011.

Takeaway: what information is there for consumers who want to go green? Not much, and the stuff that is, is wrapped in preachy-guilt hyperbole; I think there’s a gap in the market. If you’re interested in environmental reporting, this might be the year to make it happen.

#29 East London’s Tech City

JWT analysts predict development in East London in the run up to the Olympics. The UK’s startup community is coming to life, and it’s growing around the ‘silicon roundabout’ (or Old Street tube station, if you know the area).

Takeaway: This is the year to have confidence in British startups, and if you care to, to meet and join the innovative people and businesses making stuff happen there. For example, the TechHub has recently opened for business, a shared work space for startups right on the Silicon Roundabout.

#32 Entrepreneurial Journalism

Yes, great news for anyone starting their own news business in 2011, or anyone thinking about it. The report predicts “the next generation of journalists will  apply more hybrid skills in entrepreneurial ways…[watch out for] more professionals with varied skill sets who help transform content for the digital age.”

I’m firmly in support of this one, and as well as launching my own business, studio .fu, I am also carrying out in-depth research into Entrepreneurial Journalism in my role at Kingston University this year.

Takeaway: if you’ve got an idea for a news business, this is the year to do it! Aim to be one the pioneers who transform content. If you’re still a student at a UK university, you can get a £1,000 leg-up with the myNewsBiz competition.

#47 Long form content

Yet another journalistically relevant prediction for the year ahead. JWT analysts reckon “the novelty of long-form content will stand out” with sites like LongReads and Longform.org will find an audience this year.

Takeaway: if you’re a fan of creating and consuming long-form content, this is the year to start creating it prolifically. Seek it out as much as you write it – share it, and build the eyeballs. The experts believe the desire to read it is there!

Image credit: JeanbaptiseM on Flickr (cc)

#52 Mobile blogging

Yep, forget all these long WordPress posts. Blogging on the move is going to be big this year. The report says “mo-blogging” is going to spike, with photo intense posts via Tumblr and Posterous.

Takeaway: Journalism is still looking for ways to exploit geo-located content; how can you as an individual or your newsroom use mo-bloggers to your advantage? Could you turn your reporters into mo-bloggers?

#59 Next Generation Documentarians

The report says “access to cheap video cameras and software is fuelling an expansion in video storytelling and stylistic experimentation from a new generation of film-makers”. Storytelling is a big thing these days – do you know the basics of how it’s done?

Takeaway: Even non-journalists are picking up a camera and telling great stories. Stop worrying about how you’ll get funding: start making stories now, as cheap as possible: your idea has more strength as a physical film than as a pitch on paper.

#63 Odyssey Trackers

Sticking with the ge0graphical theme, social media and GPS are combining, says the report, to allow “extreme explorers [to] broadcast their adventures in real time”. It cites EpicTracker, an app in development, as an example.

Takeaway: A clear opportunity if you’re a travel journalist or foreign correspondent. At the same time, it’s an example of  great stories, great films and documentaries being taken from the open hands of journalists, by people who are prepared to get off their backside and make stuff happen. If you’re into travel journalism, this is a trend to exploit.

#75 Scanning everything

So augmented reality wasn’t quite the big thing I predicted last year but the analysts think QR-codes will have a part to play in 2011. They’re the square barcodes which send a device to a website or other location.

Takeaway: nice simple one here: create your own QR code here, and put it on your next pack of business cards, like I’ve done above.

Image credit: Stevecoutts on Flickr (cc)

#83 Storied products

“Consumers are increasingly looking for a personal connection to brands” the report says. Interesting for journalists in two ways: one- if you’re going entrepreneurial, get your story right (InnovativeInteractivity has some great advice on this here); two- story-telling is becoming more and more important.

Takeaway: Businesses need stories. Who’s good at telling stories? Yes, you guessed it. Helping small businesses, startups, charities and the like ‘tell their story’ could be a profitable sidearm to your journalism in 2011.

#93 Transmedia producers

The job-title ‘transmedia producer’ will be created in 2011, JWT analysts predict; more people (including journalists) will be expected to produce content across a range of platforms: in video, text, audio and interactives.

Takeaway: although multimedia producing is not news for journalists, if you’re still a one-platform guy or gal, make it your business to learn a new skill this year.

#100 Youtube the Broadcaster

The JWT report predicts Youtube will become a ‘broadcasting’ platform in its own right, with more live streaming and television-style coverage. Concerning for those of us who don’t want online video to turn into yet more bland television, but of use to journalists none-the-less.

Takeaway: think of Youtube as a channel more than a landfill for online video. Look at users like Fred (606 million views and counting!) who build massive audiences, not around individual videos, but around branded channels. Is there a channel for your expertise that needs building?

Those 100 predictions in full

Many of the other predictions have significance for journalists – as story ideas as well as clues and inspiration for big innovation. Here’s the report in full.

Blogging week #3 How to build an audience

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 11, 2010


In this week-long series, I’ll be taking a look at why you really can’t ignore blogging if you’re a journalist, guide you through the basics of getting started, and reveal some top tricks for making blogging work for you.

We all want readers, right?

There’s little more galling than spending hours on a crisp blog post, announcing your presence to the world and finding nobody’s listening.

The first thing to remember is this: why should anybody read what you write? Why should anyone know you exist? No-one has a right to be instantly noticed in the crowded online world. But it is possible to quite rapidly build a regular audience, and with that a community, prestige, perhaps even extra income.

I know this because I’ve been on the journey. This blog you’re reading now was started on the 1st September 2006 (after my Warwick one was closed down).

I started writing in earnest, and a few people read it – mostly friends and relatives. It maybe got a thousand page views a month, which amounts to roughly 30-odd a day.

And it carried on like this…for nearly three years.

It was OK, I never really had any blogging ambitions, (I was more interested in my journalism); I updated maybe two or three times a month, writing about whatever interested me.

Then, about 18 months ago, I did two things, which I hadn’t been doing before.

  1. I wrote about one single thing (and wrote about it well)
  2. I made sure whatever I wrote added value to other peoples’ lives.

That’s the blog you’re reading now: solely about multimedia journalism (and not interspersed with details about my last holiday), with lots of practical articles like this one.

And sure enough, more readers emerged.

I’ve learned over that time what brings and audience to a blog and what doesn’t. There was no keyword wizardry going on, I didn’t buy anything from Google. I just started writing good stuff, which helped other people.

Seems simple, right?

Five things you can do to add value to your blog and build an audience

Be valuable & regular

The most important thing you can do is write about a very specific thing, and write for an audience who are interested in that thing. So, if you’re a travel journalist, running a blog for business-travellers, write articles which they will find useful.

It’s the difference between an article titled “W00t! I got an article commissioned!!!1 :D” and one called “5 iPhone apps to make your flights fly by”.

Put yourself in the shoes of your readers. What are the difficulties in their life (the pains, the wasted time or dollars, the boredom) which your journalism can fix?

Second of all, be regular. You should really be writing good, useful, valuable articles two or three times every week. Punctuate them with week-long specials (like this one), guest posts (see below) or links-of-the-week type posts.

Engage

The next most important thing to do is engage.

It is not enough to write for the masses, sit back and let them leave comments. Every comment you receive (especially in the early weeks and months) you should respond to. Any debate which sparks off the back of one of your posts you should join in with.

Be controversial. Be provocative. Make some noise. Challenge people.

Another great way to bring in readers, especially important ones, like big names in your field, is to comment on other peoples’ blogs. Say you’ve got competition from another blogger in the business-travel sector. Start commenting on their posts – they’re bound to follow the link back to your post.

Don’t make it obvious, just leave genuine, thoughtful and maybe provocative comments, and they’ll look at who you are.

List posts

An easy way to guarantee your posts are valuable to other people is to write plenty of ‘list’ posts. You’ll recognise them, especially if you’ve read my blog before, or Mashable, or Smashing Magazine. The one you’re reading right now is a list post (and you’re on number 3, by the way).

Lists are popular for two reasons. One, the reader can tell from the title alone whether the post will interest them and they can make a quick decision whether it’ll add value. A list-post title promises quantifiable, tangible advice as opposed to long-winded rhetoric.

And two, if they’re interested enough to click to your post, they can quickly scan down the list itself to see if they’re learning something new-they’ll either click away very quickly, or ideally, you’ve written something good so they’ll hang around.

Aim to write at least one list-post a week when you start blogging – you’ll make your blog so much more valuable.

Sneeze & squeeze posts

Sneeze and squeeze posts are used a lot by ‘professional’ bloggers but they’re useful to occasionally adopt yourself.

A sneeze post is a way of breathing life into old articles, usually taking the form of “Top 10 most popular posts this month” or “15 articles you might have missed”. See my quarterly ‘summary posts’ or the Media Blog’s weekly Top 10 for examples.

It’s a shame, isn’t it, when you write a new article, the one below it slowly slips beneath the waves. Writing a monthly, or quarterly sneeze post brings them back to life – and gives new readers a chance to look through your archive.

A squeeze post is another thing entirely. It’s actually a way to turn readers into either subscribers or customers. It offers them plenty of free stuff (like an ebook or a free report) in return for their valued email address. Something to think about if you decide to take your website to the next level.

Guest posts

Finally, another way to bring in readers with shit-hot content is to get other people involved, usually in the form of a guest post.

They’re used lots by successful journalism blogs like Innovative Interactivity and plenty of the biggest blogs in the world like Copyblogger and Lateral Action.

Identify the big players in your sector and invite them to write a post for you for free. They’ll usually be flattered, and will be happy to do it in return for some link-love. The best bit is they’ll link to your blog ever-after, so you get a chunk of their readers.

Think about interviewing other big players and publishing the interview too. On my other storytelling blog, blog.fu, I’ve invited four film directors to answer questions about their most recent pieces. It’s great for my readers, nice for them, and cool for me. Win, win, win!

And you thought blogging was just an amateur hobby! It is actually a little bit of an art and applying just a couple of these proven blog techniques will almost certainly bring in more readers. But the whole thing must be built on focused, valuable content.

If you’re not making your readers lives easier, more informed or entertained, why would they give you a slice of their fought over attention?

Journo blogger of the day: Christine Ottery

London based freelance journalist Christine Ottery is a good example of someone using not just one blog, but several, to really make the most of their niche and boost their position as an expert in the field.

Christine’s beat is science & environment news and she’s written for the likes of the Guardian and the Ecologist.

Her personal blog, Open Minds and Parachutes, while not that frequent, features some pretty long-form analysis of journalism and the environment, including this excellent piece about campaigning climate change journalism.

Alongside this there’s a tumblr blog which acts as a portfolio site and, as if that wasn’t enough, another blog, Women’s Mag Science – which hones in on a very specific and well defined niche.

Christine’s blogging is similar to that of science journalist Angela Saini who I’ve mentioned many times before. Her blogging and journalism has led to a book deal. Seriously, I’ll say it again, if you are lucky enough to have a journalism specialism get out there and start a blog about it!

Tomorrow: 10 awesome plugins & themes to give your journalism blog spark

(*cough! list-post cough!*)

Online ad revenue: what journalists are getting wrong

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 9, 2010

Image credit: DavidDMuir (cc)

How much money has your website made you recently?

For all but the lucky ones, the figure is rarely enough to buy a latte, let alone support a family. And for all but the smart ones, the figure is usually from Google Adwords revenue.

Here’s the crunch: journalists running their own websites, whether they’re hyperlocal blogs,  online magazines or video sites are getting it wrong. They think there’s only one way to make money from a website – advertising. It’s how newspapers do it, so why should they think any different?

Actually, running a website for profit isn’t about building an audience of millions and raking in the ad revenue. For most of us, even the top niche bloggers, your audience will be in the thousands, not the millions. And that just doesn’t pay.

Doing it right

I was kindly invited to speak London’s prestigious Frontline Club this week, on how to make it as a freelancer in the modern age. Speaking alongside me was the inspiring Deborah Bonello, a journalist who actually has made money from her website, without using ad revenue at all.

In 2007, realising she wasn’t doing the journalism she dreamed of, she packed her bags and moved to Mexico, to carry out what she called “an experiment in digital journalism”. She set up MexicoReporter.com, a website which would be the foundation of her business. Starting life as a free wordpress blog (like this one) Deborah spent months filling it with content, covering stories all over the country.

It became hugely popular with the English speaking expats in Mexico, of which Deborah estimated there are more than a million from the USA alone.

If you ask Deborah how much she made from ad revenue, chances are the amount would be small. But if you ask her how much her website has made her: she’d answer ‘a lot’. By putting loads of free content online she had a strong portfolio to show editors when she approached them with stories. Before long she was getting commissions, and shortly after a retainer from the LA Times.

Now based in London, she’s landed a great gig with the Financial Times. In other words, her website has made her thousands.

And it’s likely she wouldn’t have had the same luck without MexicoReporter.com.

How to really make money from your website

The secret is this: your website is a vehicle for making money elsewhere, not an automatic money making machine on its own.

01. promotion: keep your website regularly updated with examples of your work. And keep producing content, even if it’s without a commission. It pays dividends when you’re offered work or a job off the back of your portfolio. Deborah’s work came because she updated MexicoReporter.com even though she had no-one to pitch to.

02. expertise: maintain a targeted, well promoted, blog which establishes you as an expert in your field. The money comes when you’re offered work because you can prove you know what you’re talking about. I have become both a lecturer and a trainer because of this blog, for example.

03. affiliate: be clever with your links. Affiliate links are dedicated hyperlinks to a product which give you a cut of the money if that product is sold. Reviewing a book, CD or anything else available on Amazon.com? Use an affiliate link to share the revenue. Many companies offer affiliate deals to bloggers.

04. sell: use your website as a vehicle to sell products, targeted around your niche. If you specialise in a certain type of journalism, or Google Analytics tells you your audience are a certain type of person, can you create an online store so they buy direct from you? Tracey Boyer has opened a store on her blog Innovative Interactivity with just that in mind, and Media Storm run a store too.

05. and yes, adverts: but you can be clever with adverts too. The UK based service Addiply created by Rick Waghorn solves some of the problems with Google Ads by offering locally targeted adverts for local based websites. Local bloggers say it’s bringing in results.

A combination of two or more of these things could bring in more money than the Google Ads cheque could. If more journalists looked beyond advertising as their sole business model, we’d move so much faster towards a financial base for the future of journalism.

Best of the blogs: 2009

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 18, 2009

My Google Reader probably trebled in size in 2009. It’s where I get at least 50% of information, gossip, inspiration and ideas on multimedia,  journalism and the future of news. As a Christmas treat, I thought I’d share some of the best blogs of 2009 with you….

Digital Journalism

10,000 words: Mark Luckie’s site is a goldmine of beautifully presented practical advice for digital journalists. His posts have become less frequent since he became re-employed, but each one is still as valuable.

Journalism 2.0: Mark Briggs is bringing out a new book for digital journalists in 2010 – expect it to become a core text on all journalism course reading lists.

Video Journalism

Advancing the Story: Deborah Potter’s blog on video journalism serves the local American market best of all, but it still has useful advice on shooting video and interviews.

Rosenblum TV: Michael Rosenblum’s blog isn’t your standard VJ fare. As the father of the medium, he is determined to see it revolutionised, and is a vocal herald of the death of traditional TV news. He has pitched for funding on an ambitious plan to give out 1,000 Flipcams in New Jersey, and launches a new video academy in New York in 2010.

The Outernet: David Dunkley-Gyimah’s single handedly pioneered the space between video journalism and cinema; his work resembles multi-million dollar Hollywood flicks. As artist-in-residence at the South Bank Centre in London, expect more news/art mashups in 2010.

Video Journalist: Glen Canning’s site offers some great practical tips for video journalists.

Bob Kaplitz: Bob Kaplitz’s blog is a must for anyone trying to get to grips with the basics of video journalism. He’s done what no-one’s really thought to do up until now – use video to teach video journalism. Clever, huh?

Radio

David Stone: a young news editor by anyone’s standards, David’s posts on practical radio journalism are useful for any radio journalist, especially in the UK.

NewsLeader: Justin King has used Twitter very effectively this year to share advice and tips for radio journalists in the UK and elsewhere. There’s more good stuff on his blog.

James Cridland: just returned from a round-the-world tour of radio, Radio Futurologist James has posted from Canada and the US, where he’s been meeting radio producers everywhere and sharing the future of radio with the rest of us.

Photojournalism

RESOLVE, Livebooks: not just a blog, RESOLVE, managed by Miki Johnson, is also a community of photojournalists all seeking the future for their craft. The After Staff series from summer 2009 is a superb library for anyone who’s been laid off and wants to make it in the scary new freelance world.

The Travel Photographer: Tewfic El- Sawy niftily picks up the best photojournalism from around the world and showcases it. A forward thinking blog, the Travel Photographer also presents new multimedia from photogs.

Lens Blog: The New York Times’ home for photojournalism is a beautiful resource of the best images from the around the world, plus occasional advice from the experts. Great for inspiration.

Writing, Blogging & Thinking

CopyBlogger: possibly the most famous blogger in the world, Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is vital for anyone who wants to understand how to build an audience and avoid boring them with dull words.

Steven Pressfield: a recent discovery for me, Steven’s Wednesday Writing tips not only cover the art of storytelling, but also shares advice on dealing with your own mental resistance and the limiting mind.

Freelance Switch: the ultimate resource for freelancers in all disciplines,  this site has regular articles on writing, getting and keeping clients.

Lateral Action: I have referred to Mark McGuinness’ work several times in the last year, not least because it’s so damn inspiring. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, and want help staying motivated, managing your time or pushing creative boundaries head to Mark. Lateral Action is particularly special because he’s teamed up with Brian Clark from Copyblogger (above) – a dynamic duo if ever there was one.

Career Renegade: also high up on the inspiration chart is Jonathan Fields site Career Renegade. If you’re a journalist thinking of launching your own startup, and creating your own “renegade career”, for Gods sake, read his book first.

The News Business & entrepreneurship

Directors Blog: since setting up POLIS at the London School of Economics, Charlie Beckett has held conferences and given countless conferences on the future of journalism. He has also influenced the future with his ideas of “networked journalism”; his blog today provides academic insight into journalism in the brave new world.

Headlines and Deadlines: blogging from the frontline of regional press in the UK Alison Gow’s blog has insight surrounded by lots of good links.

Killer Startups: every day 15 new internet startups are posted and critiqued. You won’t find any news ones on here, at least not yet, but it’s a fantastic inspiring resource for anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial.

News Innovation: with the banner “new business models for news” you know this blog is asking the right questions; follow it and you might get the answer. In the meantime, its posted some excellent videos of Jeff Jarvis (see below) explaining why the future of news is entrepreneurship.

BuzzMachine: Jeff Jarvis has emerged as the key proponent of “entrepreneurial journalism” and is leading the way in the classroom with his work at CUNY. His blog explains with passion why the future of news is entrepreneurship. Expect more pioneering ideas from Jeff in 2010.

Online Journalism Blog: one of the best sites for analysis on all things digital, Paul Bradshaw’s blog leans towards the often ignored arena of uncovering, analysing and producing data.

Paul Balcerak: from the US, Paul Balcerak sees the future, and then writes about. He shared some of the most creative uses of video journalism earlier this year, and expertly slams down anyone who is stupid enough to resist the future.

Mashable: in the TechCrunch v Mashable war, I am (after trialling both) firmly with the latter. Techcrunchers slate Mashable for just sharing funny Youtube videos, but it covers the revolution in journalism far better and with a much more positive outlook.

The Media Business: Richard G Picard’s blogs are more like essays, but their insight into business models for journalism is profound, and should be on the reading list of anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial. His articles  in 2009 have been shared on countless blogs.

Design

Design Reviver: unless you’re solely a radio journalist you should really exploit the internet’s fantastic resources for visual inspiration. Design Reviver is one of them, featuring among other things, great wordpress themes and photoshop tutorials.

ISO50: Scott Hansen is not only a talented musician but an exceptional graphic designer who shares his own work and those that inspire him. His retro colours and collages are perfect inspiration, and his taste in music is on the ball.

FFFFound: a must for visual journalists of any kind seeking inspiration. A warning though – you’ll struggle to click through the 100+ marvelous designs and photographs from around the world which will filter into your reader.

Multimedia

4iP: it’s always worth following the latest developments from 4iP towers; they are one of the major funders of public service startups in the UK, and their blog provides a good idea of what the latest developments are – and what they fund.

Duckrabbit’s Blog: Ben Chesterton and David White have shown the rest of us how to do multimedia, especially for non-profit clients. When not producing powerful stories for those without a voice, Ben and David passionately blog about the good, the bad and the ugly of multimedia journalism.

Bombay Flying Club: meanwhile in warmer climes, the three talents of Poul Madsen, Henrik Kastenskov and Brent Foster are producing equally gorgeous content for non-profits all over the world. Their blog acts as a showcase of their beautiful work, and is a great inspiration for anyone.

Innovative Interactivity: Tracy Boyer’s seriously on the ball when it comes to using multimedia and interactivity to tell news stories. Subscribe to her blog and you’ll get thoughtful critiques of some quite amazing work which is paving the way towards the future.

A daily dose of all these blogs have filled my mind with things I never thought possible, and work of superb quality. And there’s already room for more…what blogs do you recommend?

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!

War Without Borders: top marks

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 9, 2009

Tracey Boyer over at Innovative Interactivity has already written about this new interactive from the New York Times…but it’s so good, I had to write about it too.

New York Times: War Without Borders

New York Times: War Without Borders

At the centre of its sleek design: a large window, which plays a 10 minute film, broken down into 6 chapters. Each chapter tells a different part of the story so you can easily navigate through it.

If you break it right down, there’s not too much to this, visually: a map animation, some titles, one video interview, and some photographs.

But I love this because it’s not just a great piece of multimedia; it’s not just a great interactive. This is a fantastic piece of visual storytelling – and it betters anything I have seen in a TV news film for a long time. The colours, the transitions, even the map is the sexiest thing I’ve seen in ages.

Unless traditional  TV producers learn to experiment with more creative visual styles, the internet will soon become the place for great visual storytelling.

One Week in Iraq

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 19, 2009

One Week in Iraq

After quite a few weeks of work (and a trip to Iraq) my first ever multimedia project went online last week. It’s called One Week In Iraq and I hope it’s a vibrant snapshot of what life is like for the final British soldiers to serve in Iraq, many of whom are starting to come home.

At it’s centre is an interactive collage I created on the website Vuvox.com which was a joy to use; I’m very happy with the final result.

The rest is made up of short self-shoot films, including a piece about the work the soldiers are doing and a look at whether Iraq’s got what it takes to be a big tourist destination.

Following on from earlier articles about kitting out on the cheap, One Week In Iraq follows the same vein, with the only cost being the domain name and hosting. Everything else has been free!

I guest-blogged about it for Innovative Interactivity‘s Behind the Scenes series, and it’s had an interesting write up over at Wire and Lights too. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Some inspiring bits of multimedia

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 10, 2009

My own personal multimedia project is almost finished, nearly two months after I got back from Iraq. It’s been a real learning curve, on everything from slideshows to CSS, but the end is in sight.

In the darker moments when you wonder what you’re doing or why-the-hell why, inspiring works from other (more talented) producers is a shining light to keep you going. Here’s two gems I’ve seen in the last week.

01. Facing Deportation by Eileen Mignoni

Highlighted by Tracey Boyer at Innovative Interactivity, this student project, is a masterpiece of a myriad of journalistic skills, from photography, to map production to online design. What I love most is it’s simplicity – the design of the website is enticingly bare, and the interactive map showing deportation figures top notch.

02. Imber the Ghost Village, by Duckrabbit

I left a comment beneath this beautiful slideshow, saying I was engrossed. The almost haunting photographs and the subtle music drag you straight into this sad story of a village shut down by the MoD in the 1940s. I love a good historical yarn, and Imber certainly fits into it. There’s not a huge amount to it – just a couple of contributers, and some high quality images are all it needs to craft this wonderful story.

A good rundown of how to do multimedia journalism

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 30, 2009

Want to know how an awesome piece of online multimedia/interactive journalism is put together?

Look no further than than the Wisconsin State Journal, and a brief behind-the-scenes report into the production of their “Silent Shame” series on elderly abuse.

Click here to watch the video.

(hat tip: Tracey Boyer at Innovative Interactivity)

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