Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Idea 004: the rise of the blogazine

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on December 7, 2009

In this series I’m compiling a list of creative, tangible, practical ideas for journalism which will emerge from the digital revolution. If you have any suggestions for future features, contact me. Previous entries include:

003: events based reporting

002: students as investigators

001: the news aggregator

Idea: Powering a Green Planet

By: Mark Z Jacobson, Mark A Delluci & Scientific American

An apt subject as the COP15 meeting gets underway in Copenhagen this week. Powering A Green Planet, featured in the Scientific American in November, explains a radical idea on how to stop global warming, put forward by two scientists.

They reckon if we embraced renewable energy head on, we could power the planet on 100% clean energy, in just 20 years. That’s a bit better than the current targets, right?

Powering a Green Planet, Scientific America

It’s an enjoyable, interesting and convincing read. But let’s get down to the future of journalism nitty-gritty.

The Scientific American utilised multimedia platform Flyp to produce the piece. It is arranged and designed as an attractive magazine, so you can literally turn the page, with lots of video, graphics and text moving on the screen.

It is beautifully designed, with lots of space on the page. Crucially, this piece never feels too cluttered: it always feels like there’s just enough information on the page…but not too much.

It’s interactive too, with lots of buttons to click on, video to watch and audio to hear. The complicated science bit is explained in colourful graphics.

This is challenging scientific information made digestible and accessible. And there is value for the consumer in this too, perhaps one they’d pay for.

The blogazine

The idea of the interactive magazine is still in the embryonic stages. It has a blog counterpart too, the blog-azine, a small but growing trend of bloggers who chose to make every single blog entry a unique design masterpiece, tailored to the particular subject of the blog.

For example, British web designer Gregory Wood designs each blog post individually, creating stunning pages like this:

gregorywood.co.uk: Top 5 reasons to learn to dive

In a recent feature, Smashing Magazine said blogazines were great because they stopped you:

“Slipping into the habit of typing up your thoughts and clicking “Post,” without thinking about the layout of each article… By taking a little extra time for the art of blogging, your creativity will increase with your efforts”

but also admitted:

“…building a custom layout requires some experience with CSS and HTML…style borrows many elements from print design, anyone who has worked only in Web design may find it difficult to change their way of thinking. Rules of typography and white space, for example, may throw you off. But practice makes perfect, and an endless supply of inspiration can be found in creative magazines.”

A business model?

This is a surprisingly new way of delivering content. It’s amazing isn’t it, that this far into the web 2.0 world, this far since the development of flash, CSS, J-Query and easy to deliver multimedia, 98% of online news is delivered just like this blog: there’s a title, some text, if you’re lucky- a picture or some video embedded. Which leads us to the big question: can making your content stand out make any money?

This has yet to be proved, but I really think it has potential….but its future lies in mobile. In the advent of the Kindle and other OLED readers these interactive experiences could really kick off, because they gain so much value from a touch screen. Imagine being able to sit on the subway with a newly downloaded copy of your favourite magazine, in exciting interactive form! You can flip the pages, click to watch video, audio and drag graphics around.

And if they’re produced as well as the Scientific American, your sleepy commuter eyes won’t skip over long drawn out paragraphs of text, because it would have been made so accessible.

In the meantime there could be room for an ambitious start-up willing to combine magazine design with innovative content. Again if it looks like nothing else on the internet it could soon grow an audience.

This technical sublime I firmly believe the consumer will pay for. But it relies on a visual sublime too – it has to look good. Style over substance? Maybe.

The sooner designers and journalists start talking to each other, the better.

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Some awesome photographic panoramas

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 6, 2009

Here’s a couple of innovative photographic panoramas which have caught my eye over the weekend.

Nairobi by Steve Bloom

The first, which has been tweeted healthily, is a huge panorama of a Nairobi street. It’s author, Steve Bloom, thinks it may be the longest photographic panorama in the world; sure enough it takes more than six minutes to explore it all in video form:

Kroo Bay by Anna Kari & Guilhem Alandry (for Save The Children)

Thanks to Tewfic El-Sawy over at The Travel Photographer for highlighting this multimedia beauty. Using video and audio slideshows to tell the stories of the people living in this Sierra Leone slum isn’t particularly new of course; but each story is presented within quite remarkable interactive 360 degree panoramas.

Kroo Bay for Save the children

The images are of exceptional quality and I was taken aback by how effectively it brought me into their world. The use of natural sound in the background (such a powerful tool, please use it lots!) sucks you straight in. I could almost smell the sewers again.

In particular check out Scene 3, a colourful portrait of Kroo Bay’s most popular musicians. Not every slum story has to be about diarrhoea, malaria and poverty. You can donate to Save The Children clicking here.

What makes these two work? Exceptional photographs, great use of sound, and the authors do not intrude in the storytelling. More please!

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Journalism posts: Summary II

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 3, 2009

It’s been a busy few months on here! Here’s a wrap up of the journalism related posts since my last summary back in April.

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

The future of journalism

This is why we’re entrepreneurs :: an inspiring video which makes any creative want to leap off their seat, start a production company. NOW!

Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay :: Richard G Picard’s article makes me realise the utter foundations of journalism have changed and are no longer economical

Life After Newspapers? :: the newspaper journalists who are reinventing themselves after being made redundant

Future of Journalism presentation :: in June and July I gave a couple of presentations outlining the crisis in journalism and it’s possible future. You can watch it here.

Noded working: a new way to do journalism? :: how noded working can help the new generation of freelance creative entrepreneurs

Introducing: the journalist of the future :: some of  you said it was great, others naiive, others optimistic; others said it was rubbish. Whatever you might think, if you haven’t read it yet, here’s my picture of the skills and abilities of the journalist of the future.

The Journalist of the future: your reaction :: a neat summary of what some of you guys said about that article

Multimedia Journalism

Learn From The Best :: multimedia producers Duckrabbit shows me the importance of a damned good photograph (they’re still doing it, here)

One Week In Iraq :: how I put together my small multimedia piece reporting from Iraq

History Alive! :: two brilliant examples of how multimedia can be used to bring history to life

Choose your multimedia, wisely :: a look at the individual strengths and weaknesses of video, audio, images and interactivity. Now choose it wisely!

Open Source for multimedia journalists :: a brief skit over popular open source software the multimedia journo should have in their armoury

What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism? :: why Lord Carter’s Digital Britain Report is a massive FAIL for journalism

G20: multimedia experiments

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on April 1, 2009

Protests are always a magnet for the media. Scuffles make great pictures for TV, chants make great sound for radio; the mass of people suggesting some great social movement.

Why should multimedia be any different?

It was no surprise all the big news organisations were employing blogs, twitter, online audio and video for today’s G20 protests. They’ve used them on news stories several times over the past few months.

What I think makes today different is this is the first time newsrooms have had significant warning of a news event, to flex their multimedia muscle and see what it’s capable of.

They had time to think ideas, get creative and explore. So, how’d they do? Here are some UK media examples:

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News: interactive map

BBC News : Interactive map

Immediately popular was BBC News’ interactive map which appeared mid morning.

The movable image covered central London, and as reports from the ground were filed, they appeared on the map.

The stories were multimedia; everything from text, audio, video and images.

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: audio boo uploads

Guardian: Audioboo uploads

The Guardian were out in force at the protests, with journalists employing all sorts of technology to help them in their quest.

One of the favourites was the new audio sharing site Audioboo, unique from places like  Soundcloud and Mixcloud in that it only really works if you have an iPhone.

So excited were Guardian journalists by this new technology it seemed they were happy to upload all and every interview they conducted, including the one pictured, with Rory O’Driscoll.

“Sorry, were you expecting some a little more, err, involved?” he told the reporter, clearly not at all bothered about what was going on.

Guardian: twitter reporters

Guardian: twitter reporters

The Guardian’s Twitter army

Someone (on Twitter in fact) commented, on seeing this image, that there must have been more journalists on the streets than protestors.

What these provide though, were unfiltered, immediate dispatches from the scene.

Stuck in an office, those of us in Web 1.0 world were forced to watch Dermot Murgnahan and the rest of the Sky News reporters stumble their way through the protest.

“Oh look, a policeman’s fallen over” was just one remark, along with a car-crash interview with Russell Brand, the comedian who’d clearly taken the wrong turning on his way out to get some milk.

These Guardian dispatches though – raw, mispelt, abbreviated into 140 characters, gave you the very latest – and of course they’ve not been through an editor.

Who said any story couldn’t be told in 140 characters or less?

BBC News: live updates

The BBC had a similar live update system with similar benefits.

This one though included chosen comments from viewers/listeners as well as BBC correspondents (and in some cases media students) on the ground. It looked good, and continued until 2100…but I’d wager cost a lot more than any other news organisation would manage.

BBC News: live updates

So lots going on, and it felt – for once – there was more to be seen online than on TV. Has this set a precedent? I hope so. Throughout today, no-one was tweeting/blogging about the G20 coverage they heard on the radio or seen on TV. They were sharing links to sites like the above ones.

The key benefits: immediacy, raw information, and interactivity.

But for that, do I feel the coverage of the protests was any better than the old media? Hmmm, that’s not so clear cut.