Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Presentation: 5 new career paths for journalists

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 23, 2010

I’m busy working on a new e-book, to be released in May 2010, which I hope will be a big help to journalists everywhere.

In it, I’m revealing ten new ways for journalists to do what they love and make money, in the face of the digital revolution and the economic downturn. With fewer traditional jobs, and more journalism graduates than ever before, the maths just don’t add up.

So what can the next generation of journalists do? Think laterally and outside the box– which is exactly what the new book will be all about. I’ve delved into entrepreneurship, life design and tech; looked at how other people are exploiting the internet for profit – then applied it all to journalism.

Earlier this month I shared some of my early ideas with journalism students at Kingston University in London. Here’s a shortened version of the presentation I delivered, with five (OK, six!) of the ten new career ideas briefly explained.

The book will be packed with practical step-by-step guides to fulfilling them – make sure you subscribe to the blog (in the right hand sidebar) for updates!

UPDATE: It’s having trouble with slide #2 but the rest of the presentation is fine!

Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2010

Journalism students and even older journalists struggling for work are being encouraged to get entrepreneurial and launch their own startups.

And damn straight too – let’s hope more of them take the leap and start launching products. I’m sure the most popular ideas for news businesses in someway mimic the mainstream media – for example an online magazine, hyperlocal website or production company.

All businesses with potential, but there are traps to fall into too. Here are some ideas (I came up with) which will never even get off the ground…and why.

1. Twat!: The risque new music magazine for young people in London

Twat! Magazine is a montly print magazine and website for young people in London that “really gets under the skin of culture” and “isn’t afraid to offend”. It features interviews “with upcoming artists the other magazines haven’t even heard of” and crazy mental features.

It won’t work. Why?

Referring to my Journalism Startup checklist it fails on the first four questions: it is not a new idea, and most importantly it does not have a defined target audience. Who are “young people in London?”. As it happens they’re incredibly diverse from postcode gang members to city bankers. None of them can identify with the ‘lifestyle’ the magazine is trying to sell and therefore have no reason to pick it up.

It’s not a new idea, because pubs, bars and student unions are flooded with “edgy, cool, underground” magazines all the time, usually made by Magazine Publishing students. Going for print alongside web brings in large overheads – and bootstrapping becomes harder.

2. WorldTV: a video website that showcases the best films about “the issues which matter.”

This website pays to licence video journalism pieces from around the world and put them into one place. They’re after films about “under-reported” issues for example Darfur, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  It will also allow users to upload their own video which gets voted on by other users. The site will have an “international feel” and be for people who “really care about politics”.

It won’t work. Why?

It’s a noble idea – but why would you want to visit this site? Again, WorldTV suffers from a poor grasp of a well-defined target audience. It is probably aiming for young people around the world, but again they are incredibly diverse. No-one will feel a need to register and therefore hopes of building an active community will fall through. The films themselves are likely to be long, worthy affairs and bore most people after two minutes.

The site wants to pay for video commissions, and so will need to cough up cash to video journalists. It may get some venture capital at first, but the rates will steadily slip from $800 to $500 to $200, to nothing.  Viewing figures will be low: creating something worthwhile and expecting the masses to come is a poor business model.

3. DoleItOut: a multimedia magazine for unemployed people in Birmingham

DoleItOut is a regularly updated multimedia website for people out of work in the Birmingham area of the UK. As well as feature interviews and interactives about life on the dole, it also has plenty of video advice guides on how to find work, video diaries and an active forum. Plans are underway to develop an iPhone app.

It won’t work. Why?

Hurrah! Finally an idea with a well defined target audience! Problem is they’re a bad target audience for running a business. Why? Because they got no money. If the editors of DoleItOut were hoping their readers would pay a minimal subscription they’d be wrong. Advertising is possible, but you’ll be left selling ads for evil loan sharks and 1000% loans. And what unemployed person can afford an iPhone app?

The idea also struggles with question 13 of the startup checklist – it doesn’t really scale. Although it’s good to be geo-specific, are there really enough unemployed people in Birmingham?

Too many news startup ideas fail because they take an upside down approach. Journalists think of a product and then decide who to make it for.  Instead you need to define your audience first – and then ask “what do they need?”.

Have you checked out the News Startup Checklist yet?

Photo Credit: Curious_Zed on Flickr

Ideas 002: students as investigators

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on November 18, 2009

Idea: the Innocence Project

By: David Protess & Northwestern University

This idea for the future of news has been around for 10 years, but I had never heard of it.

But when I did, just last week, it blew my socks off with its simplicity, and lateral thinking.

Under the leadership of experienced investigative journalist David Protess, students at Northwestern University rake through criminal convictions in their region. They hone their investigation and data mining skills checking the facts.

“Our goal,” writes Protess,  “is to expose and remedy wrongdoing by the criminal justice system.”

They focus on murder cases where the defendant has been sentenced to execution.

And to this day they’ve freed 11 men. Five of them have been saved from the chair.

Now that beats a 2:1 any day.

One of them was Anthony Porter, exonerated just 50 hours before being executed.

This isn’t so much an idea which has any business revenue potential obviously, although there’s a chance it could get a decent grant here and there. But what a way to get students engaged during their studies! And what a way to teach them the most difficult skill of all: investigation.

J-courses around the world: you don’t have to do cold convictions (in the UK for example, that would be – sadly – particularly hard); you could check council finances, plough through rejected asylum applications, fact-check all the decisions involving wind turbines approvals or rejections; the list is endless.

On top of its legal accomplishments, the Innocence Project has “sparked a debate” about capital punishment, and invoked the rath of lawyers.

Freeing Porter in 1999, the governor of Illinois George Ryan said “a system that depends on young journalism students is flawed”. But if, as some fear, a void will be left by the cutbacks at papers over the next 10 years, then this could be one way to fill some of the holes.

Your chance to get involved in the future of news

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 10, 2009

There’s lots and lots of talk about the future of journalism at the moment.

You can read it on blogs like this one, this one and this one.

You can occasionally read something new in one of the papers, like this one.

You can even pay some money and go to conferences.

And while they are all fantastic hotbeds for debate, they’re not really regular enough to be good forums for that most crucial currency of all: new ideas.

That’s why I’ve set up a new meet-up group to get things moving.

Futureofnews-meet1

It’s called the UK Future of News Group. If you are in the UK, or even better, in London then please think about joining and coming along to an informal meet up. It’s free, and you don’t even need to be a journalist- just interested about the future of journalism.

It’s perfect for bloggers, J-students, young journalists, J-entrepreneurs, hyper-locallers, lecturers not to mention seasoned old hacks. You could be working online, in print, on radio or with a camera.

The first meet-ups going to be in a bar near Waterloo, on the 7th December.

(hopefully avoiding any early Christmas parties)

What it isn’t, is an arena to repeatedly lament the death of print, or the end of quality journalism, or to go around saying  “paywalls must be the answer, journalists have got to eat!”

What it is, is a place where people can think positively, about tangible new ideas to determine the future of journalism. I hope someone will pitch a few ideas which we can all thrash out and stew over.

And maybe one of them will come up with the next big thing.

But most of all, I want it to be a forum where we can all have a say on the future of our craft, without having to pay hundreds in conference fees.

Interested? Sign up now!

What should we teach tomorrow’s Journalism students?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 4, 2009

I was invited yesterday to join other journalism lecturers from Kingston University and advise them about the future of journalism.

Wisely, they’re getting together now to think about what the media landscape might look like in five years time, and working out how to adjust their teaching accordingly.

We went through lots of different scenarios, and I highlighted some of the following, which I think will be important skills for the J-students of the future:

Entrepreneurial skills

Jeff Jarvis, Hannah Waldram and others have already written much more about this, and I put myself firmly in this camp. Jarvis says it plainly: “The future of news is entrepreneurial.”

The monetisation of journalism will come from journalists, young or otherwise, launching their own enterprises serving a demand from a specific audience. It might be hyperlocal, or it might be niche.

But to achieve this, students will need to be taught these business basics: how to launch a start-up, how to manage money, where to get investment. And even: what is a good business idea?

The future media landscape won’t consist of a few big giants, but many, far smaller, enterprises. And tomorrow’s journalists must be prepared for this.

Social-network skills

Next, I pushed journalism students need to be social-media mavens. It is not good enough to be aware of blogs and Twitter. Or even to have a rarely used account. Journalism students must be fully immersed in these platforms (and what follows them).

They need to understand how they can create a community around a specific topic.

They must have experienced the exhilarating feeling of getting a spike in blog readers when they publish good content.

And they must know how social media markets their work.

New technical skills

I’m talking video shooting and editing, basic photography and photo editing and website design. HTML and CSS would be ideal. Simply because other journalists will have these skills – and you can’t afford to be left behind.

Old journo skills

And here I mean good writing, good storytelling. We talked a lot about what separates a journalist from a citizen journalist. I think the answer is the ability to identify news, to source it, to find people…and to publish it into good content.

…and the drive

You can’t teach this to kids, but you can try to instill some enthusiasm. It is no longer good enough (in any walk of life, save I dunno, chemistry, engineering etc) to walk into a degree and hope to walk into a job. That attitude will earn you a McDonald’s badge and not much else. Students themselves must crave success, and as Hannah Waldram puts it: “get-up-and-go to take them through the difficulties and pressures of doing something on their own…”

The fact journalism course are looking to the future now is a small, but important step in the right direction. What skills would you put on the curriculum?

Disclaimer: I am a part-time lecturer in Video & Photojournalism at Kingston University.