Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Laid off? What are you going to do about it?

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 9, 2010

Image credit: swanksalot on Flickr

New research by the University of  Central Lancashire on job opportunities for journalists, released this week, makes grim  – if predictable – reading.

Laid Off (pdf), a survey conducted by Francois Nel, in partnership with journalism.co.uk concluded that there are now between 30%-40% fewer jobs available for journalists than there were in 2001. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolling on journalism courses has gone up – it is currently at its highest number and its highest proportion of all undergrad courses.

It was figures like this which prompted me to write Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism in 2010, a downloadable e-book with advice on looking for opportunities among the bad news.

Chapter 7 of this week’s report asks “what are journalists doing next?” – and this is what makes the grimmest reading. Of all the 134 respondents, 23% had found full time work again, 42% were still looking. Of those who’d found more work, the majority were freelancing.

The one phrase that doesn’t appear at all is ‘starting my own business‘ or ‘becoming an entrepreneur‘. Not one of the respondents had any intention, it seemed, of using their journalism skills to plug an information gap and provide a new product or service to an audience. (It may have been that they were not asked about this either).

Thing is, the more I look around, the more I see there being a real need for people like this. The number of niches out there, and verticals within those niches, is almost countless. And if anything, it’s becoming cheaper and faster to do it than ever before. Rarely easier, but cheaper and faster.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, the majority of people in the world are happy just to observe and let others take the lead. There’s a shortage of people who see opportunity where everyone else sees a threat; willing to take the initiative, to enthusiastically accept responsibility for solving a problem which isn’t necessarily their’s to solve. “Initiative is a rare skill” Godin says, “and therefore a valuable one.”

David Parkin could have been like the majority of journalists, when he left the Yorkshire Post in 2007. He could have gone into education, or PR, or maybe tried to get a job at a national newspaper. Instead he decided to become a leader to a community, to create something new and take responsibility for a problem. He founded thebusinessdesk.com, a unique news service for regional businesses in central and North West England.

This week, thebusinessdesk.com signed on its 50,000th subscriber and David is now in charge of a thriving, and growing, company.

Sadly, just one or two laid off journalists might read this, and be inspired to launch their own business. The majority though, will look at whether thebusinessdesk.com is hiring.

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How to make a niche work for you

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 18, 2010

You’ll hear me gabber on about a niche all the time these days. Thing is, a niche is one of the keys to unlocking all the money locked in the future of journalism. Niche is the future.

Forget broadcasting to the many – think connecting with the few.

It’s not quite as simple as ‘choose a niche and they shall come’ sadly. You have to choose it wisely, and choose one where there is palpable demand for your news product or service.

On today’s Next Generation Journalist post on journalism.co.uk, I pitch aggregating content as a great way to found a business. Here’s an example of how that could work.

A local hero

Last week I was invited to speak at Press Gazette’s Local Heroes Conference at Kingston University in London, where  I am also Journalist-in-Residence.

One of the most inspiring speakers there was David Parkin – a man who took the plunge and launched into a niche product. Guess what? He’s making it work.

He founded TheBusinessDesk.com, a regional website aggregating and creating financial news. Think the Financial Times, but on a regional scale.

  • new angle on a successful business model – check
  • well defined target market – check

Currently running in Birmingham, Yorkshire and Liverpool (note, not London), the Business Desk hires 10 journalists.

  • a small, nimble operation – check!

It is supported through several means. Firstly, advertising around articles on the website. Because of theBusinessDesk’s niche audience, and its rather well off niche audience, these are advertisers willing to part with some cash. Then there’s the daily mailing list of business news, aggregated by the site, sent to 37,000 subscribers. This too is sponsored. If you knew your brand could reach 37,000 business people in their inbox every morning, you’d cough up some cash right? Thirdly, there’s the events which are organised for the community.

  • multiple revenue streams – check!
  • no total dependence on ad revenue – check!

The Business Desk has also recently launched an iPhone app for its subscribers too. It’s free, but supported by advertising.

  • entering a major new market – check!

David Parkin, quite humbly, revealed the company expects to turnover £1million this year. Impressive.

Now I don’t know anything about the company’s running costs, but I do know how inexpensive a website and mailing list is. And I can imagine 10 staff aren’t costing a huge amount of money.

David Parkin has made the niche model work. Now apply it to the hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds of other niches out there – and you’re in business. If you want to get it right, get your hands on the ebook – out on Thursday 20th May.

A new look to the website

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on March 16, 2010

The more astute of you will have noticed my portfolio website at www.adamwestbrook.co.uk has been offline for the last week.

It’s undergone a bit of a makeover and is now back up and shiny and new. Although it is now not connected to this blog, a feed of my last posts are available on the front page, plus lots of examples of my multimedia, radio and teaching work. Although I am using a different theme, I have kept the same general feel for both website and blog.

You might find it’s cheaper and easier to put together a distinctive portfolio website than you first thought, and I’ve shared how I did it on Journalism.co.uk this week.

And on a completely different note, I’ve been interviewed for this article about SEO for journalists over at Distilled.

A rare work update…

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on January 8, 2010

It’s been a busy start to the New Year here at Westbrook towers.

First off my article about prisoner votes campaigner John Hirst is featured in this week’s Big Issue In The North. It follows this audio slideshow I produced in 2009. If you’re in the north of the UK, I’m sure a (very) cold Big Issue vendor would appreciate your custom. Meanwhile some of the images from this slideshow are appearing in a documentary, The Fear Factor, due for release in March.

My new e-book, Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Websites is due for release next week. It’s a practical manual packed with advice on how to turn your hyperlocal blog into a solid newsgathering operation, holding powers to account where the mainstream media have failed. It’s got a discounted opening price, so make sure you subscribe to the blog for details!

Elsewhere the lecturing work carries on, with dozens of short films my students have made due for marking by the end of this month. I hope to be returning to Kingston University’s journalism department for other events in 2010.

And I’m being kept busy with various conferences. I’m looking forward to speaking at Journalism.co.uk‘s News: Rewired event in London on the 14th January; tickets for that have now sold out. I’m also due to speak at a couple of planned events in London, and I’ve been invited to take part in some exciting international festivals in the spring as well (more details soon).

All the while January’s Future of News Meetup in association with POLIS is now full, with a waiting list building. We’ll be hearing from journalists at the Financial Times and one of the team behind the Berlin Project about innovation  in multimedia. If you would like to sign up to future meetups or try to make January’s event, click here to get involved.

Right here there’s lots of plans for the blog, with lots more practical advice and analysis of developments in journalism due in 2010. You’ll find me contributing to a host of excellent blogs and websites in 2010, including Duckrabbit, A Developing Story and Journalism 2.0.

And ahead, I some exciting multimedia plans stewing, and I’ll be looking for collaborators in the near future – keep your ears to the ground! In the meantime, I’m always available for various freelancing work, so just click on Contact Adam to get in touch!

Thinking of going entrepreneurial? Then you should go to news:rewired

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 22, 2009

Journalism.co.uk‘s up and coming event news:rewired in January 2010 looks like it’s going to be a promising platform to debate an entrepreneurial future for journalism.

I’ve written an article for the event, looking at three ways for journalists to find ideas for news startups, and in particular, I argue:

[idea for new businesses] must start in the market. They must start with a problem the market has, which you can fix; a service the market needs, which you can offer; a product the market wants, which you can produce.

Entrepreneur Mike Southon asks “where’s the pain?” and builds a business idea from there: is there something people moan about having to do or not being there?

If you don’t start with the market, and the pain it has, you risk peddling a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

You can read the rest of my article here. Meanwhile,  the News:rewired site also has profiles of five UK journalist/entrepreneurs, and 10 tips for would-be journalism entrepreneurs; the event itself looks like it’ll be a promising hotbed of business ideas and debate.

I’ll be speaking at news:rewired on the 14th January 2010, alongside a host of interesting journalists on the front line of the digital revolution. You can get tickets from the news: rewired website.

In other news

I’ve popped up in Newsleader’s “Talkie Awards” for 2009, a great roundup of the best of radio in the last year; and the 2nd Future of News Meetup Group has been announced for London on the 20th January 2010.

6×6: business

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 24, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The fourth in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

business

While the news industry is still in an uncertain and uncomfortable state of flux, one certainty has already emerged: journalists can no-longer just be journalists – they must be entrepreneurs too. It’s the difference between the ‘passive’ freelancer who writes to a few editors and waits for the work to come to them, and the ‘active’ freelancer who run themselves as a mini-business.

Until J-schools start adding business skills to the curriculum this will be something we’re all going to have to teach ourselves.

01. diversify

If you went into journalism to become a TV news reporter, and just a TV news reporter, the sad news is those days are over. As are the days of being paid to stay in nice hotels in foreign lands drinking cocktails.

In order to maximise your income, you will need to diversify your skills base. That means selling a range of skills and service, and not just journalism related ones. I know radio journalists who have a nice sideline designing websites, video journalists who run training courses, and photojournalists who work for non-profits.

Training can often be the most lucrative of these – but only consider this if you really know what you’re doing!

Diversify too in your client base. Pity the news-snob who just pitches to the New York Times and The Guardian! The digital revolution means there are more online-only news outfits, but they can be easier to pitch to.

Freelance science journalist Angela Saini offered me this advice recently: “I think it’s almost impossible to survive right now unless you freelance in more than one medium – so as well as doing VJ work, you may have to do radio and print too.”

If you’re a radio journalist you won’t survive as a just a radio journalist. Pitch for video, online, print…everything! Profiling multimedia journalist Jason Motlagh, David Westphal notes:

Motlagh doesn’t just write stories. He shoots still photos. He shoots and edits video. He does audio. He blogs. He narrates slide shows. And because he does all of those things, he says, he has a huge advantage over free-lance foreign correspondents working in a single medium.

Having multiple media skills is “still unusual,” he said. “There aren’t a whole lot of people yet who have gotten up to speed. If you are, you can make clients an offer they can’t refuse.”

02. find new markets

The entrepreneur, although a business profession, requires a lot of creativity. Just ask Richard Branson. From what I’ve gauged you have to be constantly brainstorming new markets and potential clients. And thinking outside the box reaps rewards.

Career evangelist and author of the popular new book Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love Jonathan Fields explores how to sidestep traditional career paths to forge your own unique way. He talks about “moving beyond the mainstream” and finding new markets in 6 different places:

  1. finding a hungrier market
  2. finding the most lucrative micro-markets
  3. exploiting gaps in information
  4. exploiting gaps in education
  5. exploiting gaps in gear or merchandise
  6. exploiting gaps in community

The first two are about digging deeper into the industry and possibly connecting two unrelated ones. A great example comes from a friend of mine, film maker Oliver Harrison. He loves cooking, and loves making films but couldn’t find a way to make any money out of either. After a lot of searching, he and business partner Simon Horniblow started talking to universities – and combined the two. They now run studentcooking.tv a very successful online cookery website for students. Would you think to do that? Think outside the box!

To Jonathan Fields:

“In thinking about potential alternative markets, or trying to find smaller, more lucrative submarkets, think about fields, careers, jobs, or paths where the elements of what you love to do are valued, but in short supply. You are looking for a market where your passion leads to: differentiation, hunger [and] price availability.”

Be practical and realistic though: is there really a demand for your new idea?

Here’s 3 examples of journalists who digged a bit deeper to find new markets:

Weyo found a new market in non-profits looking for quality storytelling

Weyo found a new market in non-profits looking for quality storytelling

Journalist Martin Lewis exploited a gap in the market for impartial financial advice

Journalist Martin Lewis exploited a gap in the market for impartial financial advice

Duckrabbit ex[ploited a gap in education and produce training courses in photography and audio design

Duckrabbit exploited a gap in education and produce training courses in photography and audio design

03. bootstrapping

Bootstrapping means starting your freelance business with little or no cash. It means learning how to get things done for free – and most valuable of all – learning to be careful with money.

The great news is you don’t need any money to start out and market yourself. A website domain name will cost you a small amount. But social media means you can market your talents absolutely free (see the previous 6×6 on branding).

Josh Quittner, writing in Time Magazine uses the term LILO – to mean ‘a little in, a lot out’: “At no other time in recent history has it been easier or cheaper to start a new kind of company. Possibly a very profitable company” he says. “[bootstrapping] means your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.”

If this recession has taught us anything, it’s that the best business is built from the bottom up, on the funds available (not borrowed).

04. dealing with inflexible income

The biggest fear of starting a freelance career is money. Oh, and failure. ‘What if I don’t get any business?’ ‘How will I be sure I’ll always pay the rent?’ Truth is you won’t ever be sure, but that’s part of the thrill, right?

Still there are some things you can do to make the ebb and flow of freelance income a little more stable.

A good tip is to open up a separate bank account for your business earnings. Get Rich Slowly offers this advice: “Every month as you earn income, receive it (and leave it) in your business account. This is where you accumulate your cash. Because it’s in a high-yield account, it earns interest as it waits for you to use it.”

They recommend paying yourself a monthly salary from that business accountand leaving the rest for tax and other investments. The worst thing is to use the profits from a bumper month to pay for a bumper holiday, only to return to slim pickings.

But the best advice for living on an irregular income? Learn to live lite. Cut back on unnecessary spending wherever you can. Back to David Westphal profiling Jason Motlagh: “He lives modestly and accepts that there may be periods in his work where he’ll have to do something besides journalism to pay the bills.”

05. find your creative time

Sure, for some freelancers the appeal of being your own boss is getting up at 10, watching some TV, doing some work, heading out on a night out without the guilt…and that might work for some. But the creative entrepreneur’s life is most likely to be a different one.

Just ask Mark McGuinness. He coaches creative freelancers and says for the successful ones, it ain’t no bohemian life:

After scanning my diary and surveying the tasks in hand, I was faced with a depressing conclusion. I was going to have to get up early.

He’s up at 6 in the morning, every morning, getting the crap out the way, like emails and the like.  He then says he has several hours free to work solidly on creative tasks, before the rest of the world gets up and the phone starts ringing. Know when you are at your creative best and ring fence it, so you can’t get disturbed. It might be 6am, it might be midnight. Whatever, just make sure it’s protected.

…when I look back over the last couple of years, the time when I’ve created most value, for myself and my clients, has been those first hours of the day I’ve spent writing blog posts, essays, seminars and poems. It’s the creative wellspring that feeds into all the coaching, training, presenting and consulting I do when I’m face-to-face with clients.

Treat it like a full time job too. If you can, work somewhere where you can commute to, or have some ringfenced office space at home. I recommend Mark’s excellent (and free) ebook “Time Management for Creative People“.

06. be lean, but don’t be mean

If you’re dreaming of going freelance, you might be thinking about holding off until after the recession. No need, says Leo Babauta 0f Zenhabits fame:

This is the best time to start. This is a time when job security is low, so risks are actually lower. This is a time to be lean, which is the best idea for starting a business. This is the time when others are quitting — so you’ll have more room to succeed.

And with social media and networking taking off, this is the easiest time to start a business, the easiest time to spread the word, the easiest time to distribute information and products and services.

Starting now though won’t be easy – and you’ll need to be lean. But that is such an important skill to keep things afloat later on. Be sensible with your money, don’t overspend. It’s the thing the big companies can’t do, and the reason they lose money hand over fist. And don’t be mean: journalism is a small village – make friends and keep ’em!

The final word:

Journalism.co.uk offer some great practical advice for freelancers, which cover things like registering as self-employed, pitching for new work and managing finances. And if you’re still unsure of taking the entrepreneurial route, just watch this:

Next: audio for multimedia journalist!