Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Radio news – in rap

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 13, 2009

Clearly a quiet morning for the staff at IRN, ITN‘s soon-to-close local radio news service.

Well, quiet enough to write a piece of copy about Notorious B.I.G.  – in the style of a rap

The story of one of the world’s greatest rappers is in cinemas today.

Fans thought the Notorious B.I.G. would never go away.

But in 1997 he was shot in the head.

His legacy lives on, even though he’s dead.

The film was co-produced by his mother.

Voletta Wallace says even though he did some bad things – there could be no other.

[CLIP OF VOLETTA WALLACE]

Hat tip to my colleague Laurence Budd at Radio Aire for spotting it.

And to the journo who wrote it – well done!

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Radio gaga

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on January 7, 2009

A great find from James Cridland here:

A TV news report about how commercial radio is struggling under recession. One station has gone out of business, two companies have merged, and critics are blaming over regulation.

There’s only 1 thing: this report was broadcast in 1984….

Some things to look out for in the first 3 minutes:

  1. A very young looking Nicholas Owen
  2. Peter Sissons unable to read an autocue, even 25 years ago
  3. Timmy Mallett acting like a complete twat

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The trend’s already begun

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 5, 2007

Last month I wrote what has to be the most pessimistic of predictions for the future of Channel 4 News, probably Britain’s best quality domestic news product.

A report in the Media Guardian today seems to provide evidence the path to this future has already begun. The amount of “serious factual” programming on the channel appears to have fallen by 25% according to Ofcom.

On the up, unsurprisingly: crap like Supernannies and Big Brother.

But it’s not just Channel 4. The BBC’s flagship 10 o’clock news is potentially facing budget cuts in light of the lower-than-expected licence fee agreement in January.

And as Adrian Monck’s been writing recently, ITV’s news service is tightening it’s belt, with what I only feel able to describe as a piss take new deal.

And that deal’s due to expire…..in 2012, when analogue broadcasting (with it’s requirement for public service news programming) is due to be switched off. It’s not looking healthy.

Incidentally, I’m about to write an essay on news as a commodity…it looks like I’m going to have a lot to talk about!

So the hint is, don’t work in British TV news. Work for the Americans instead. I’m doing an internship at CNN International at the moment which is very interesting and suffering much less from a lack of the greens.

Note: Apologies for the lack of writing recently. The end of term project took most of my energy and my contract at CNN has taken most of my ability to write about what goes on there! Nevertheless I’ll try and bash something out shortly.

A future for Channel 4 News?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on March 18, 2007

Channel 4 NewsroomChannel 4 chief Andy Duncan’s been making some worrying noises about one of the channel’s greatest assets: Channel 4 News.

As Michael Grade’s been trying to secure future funding for ITV News in the digital era, Duncan’s told a select committee of MPs that Channel 4 News won’t survive in it’s current form.

According to the Press Gazette:

Andy Duncan, Chief Executive of Channel 4, told the cross-party media select committee that Channel 4 News was unlikely to survive in its present form without public subsidy.

He said: “Whilst Channel 4 News is a flagship public service programme on the Channel, it is expensive to make and has limited potential for revenue raising.

“As such it is unlikely to survive in its present form – a one hour peak time programme, containing 40 per cent international news – in a purely commercial environment.”

The reason is simple: broadcasting on an analogue signal, all of the terrestrial channels have a certain public service remit. They’re all using large amounts of airwaves which belong to the public and in return they’re expected to provide us all with some news.

And because of this, and it’s unique public service remit, Channel 4 gets some cash for news.

But hark, on the horizon, the looming spectre of the digital switchover. We know now it’s going to start in Whitehaven on October 17th and will be complete by 2012. By then, all homes will be expected to have a digi-box and analogue transmissions will be turned off.

Broadcasting in naughts and ones is nice and compact. You can fit more channels and and not take up as much public airwaves. And because of this, broadcasters are loosing government cash (except the Beeb, of course.)

And – more worryingly – a channel’s news remit (again, except the BBC), will expire too.  Some channels – likely ITV and Five – may well say “screw news – why should I waste my money on that?”

And it looks like Channel 4 News, in spite of it’s scores of awards and cult following, could be forced to change in the next five years.  Let’s hope it doesn’t ditch it all together.

Sky News announced it was taking itself off the Freeview platform last month. Fellow journo Doidge rightly says the loss of competition in broadcast news can only be bad. Imagine that on a massive scale – and the redundancy consequences.

News is a bizarre commodity- like war, it costs loads to do with little or no financial returns. Not one to pitch to Dragons Den.

Keep it simple!

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2007

Training to be a broadcast journalist is a bit like being taught a new language. When it comes to writing, you have to ignore all those rules you learned at school and university and the result is something between C++ and poetry.

One of the golden rules hammered into us is to keep things simple. And keep. Your sentences. Short.  Listeners and viewers can only take in a news report once. Even in the impending “on-demand” world, they’ll only want to take it in once.

So if you turn on the TV and radio you usually hear short sharp conversational sentences with all the fluff removed.

Usually.

Admittedly, Channel 4 News tries to be different. It aims to be a bit more creative, but from what I gathered from chief writer Felicity Spector when she came into City a few weeks ago, it still has to be concise.

So, what on earth is this all about?

It’s a report on the Chinese president’s visit to Africa this week, by the usually excellent Faisal Islam: ex City student and Channel 4 News‘ business correspondent. It’s an interesting piece, but check out Faisal’s first line (watch it here):

“The Chinese presidents twelve day tour takes in eight nations including Sudan the most controversial of the host countries where Chinas unconditional aid policy has angered western governments many of whom say Beijing should use its economic weight to end hostilities in Darfur.”

Say what?

It’s 43 words long. That’s nearly twice the recommended length of any sentence for broadcast.  It could be broken down into no less than four separate sentences:

“It’s a breakneck tour for China’s president: eight countries in a dozen days.

But Hu Jintao’s been criticised for visiting Sudan.

Western leaders want Beijing to use its economic muscle to end violence in Darfur.

Instead in its eagerness for ties with Africa China’s giving aid freely.”

Admittedly that’s not great either. But I think it’s easier to understand, and a bit more conversational.

But it goes to show that even with the best journos working for the best stations, the basic rules sometimes still get broken.

A long day at Gray’s Inn

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2006

Yesterday seven of us from City University’s Broadcast Journalism course had an “operational visit” to ITN‘s headquarters at Gray’s Inn Road in central London. For those who are unfamiliar, ITN produces daily television news for ITV and Channel 4 in the UK, and – as IRN – radio for hundreds of commercial stations across the country.

ITN HeadquartersIt’s paid for as part of our course, and it was an absolute highlight of the year so far. The seven of us turned up bleary eyed at 8am and were met by Richard, a senior producer and our guide for the day.

We got to sit in on the daily planning meeting where all the senior editors get together to bash out the days news. No surprise what was on the agenda yesterday, with Alexander Litvinenko’s death the obvious lead.*

The rest of the day was split between watching ITV News in action, sitting in the gallery during the Lunchtime and Evening news programmes, and getting our hands dirty with some journalistic exercises.

Richard had us debating the running order and writing copy for short “ulays” (short pieces of footage you see on screen while a presenter talks, usually during a ‘news in brief’ segment). With access to ITN’s huge archive of source material and their editing software we wrote and edited a short package on the Australian fires, which Richard then critiqued.

He was an excellent teacher and I learned loads about writing to picture and how to use your pictures creatively.

ITV News studioIt was great seeing ITV News in action as well; with Michael Stone storming Stormont (the alliteration rolls of the tongue) less than an hour before the Lunchtime News went on air, it was chaos in the gallery but the team pulled it together without anyone at home noticing.

I’ve always kind of ignored ITV News in the past, dismissing it as popularist and tabloid. If yesterday showed me anything its that ITV News writes better and uses pictures more creatively than its rivals.

*Bizarre story of the day: three weeks ago, a talk was held at City Uni about the tragic death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Due to talk was her friend, Alexander Litvinenko, but he pulled out at the last minute – due to illness.