Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The most important part of your online video stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on January 30, 2012

What’s the most important thing to consider when making online video?

Is it having a high end DSLR camera with a prime lens? Afterall, if your pictures look pretty and slightly out of focus more people will watch it, right? Nope.

Is it having a really compelling character on a journey we can all relate to? That’s super important – but it’s not the most important thing.

Is it having a rhino suspended upside down from a helicopter? Nope, it’s not even that!

So what’s the most important thing to consider when making online video?

It’s the first ten seconds.

That’s how long you have to win your viewers over. As I mentioned in this article for journalism.co.uk last week, statistics suggest around 20% of people click on from a video after just 10 seconds.

According to Visible Measures, that means if your video gets 1 million views, 200,000 of them didn’t watch past the first ten seconds.

It’s a harsh fact but people are fickle; weeks and months of work, and thousands of dollars invested in a video all stand on the first 10 seconds.

It amazes me then, just how care-free some big publishers are with their first 10 seconds of video.

For example, in a non scientific test, I had a look at some leading online news organisations. The Financial Times, Telegraph Newspaper and CNN all blow their first 10 seconds showing me a pre-roll advert. No thanks guys.

The Guardian loses 4 seconds on its branding ident, even though Guardian videos are not shareable (and so you’ll likely only ever watch it on the Guardian website). That gives them just 6 seconds to make me interested.

So who gets it? Good.is get it – they don’t mess around with branding at the start of their videos and crack straight in. Not always, but usually with a good hookline.

Phos photos, the producers of Last Minutes with Oden get it. In the first 10 seconds they tell us the title, introduce the main character and he says something interesting.

Eliot Rausch/PhosPictures

The exceptions to the rule are the longer, cinematic pieces – for example those produced by MediaStorm: the first 10 seconds still matter, but they’re able to take a slower approach, easing you in & setting the scene. In this case we’re watching for the story, and the opening of Act I is a good place for storytelling nuance.

Getting the first ten seconds right is not easy. Looking back over pieces I’ve produced in the past, I’ve blown the first 10 seconds on all sorts of nonsense. I’m trying to make more active decisions though, and in this short film I recently directed for Kingston University, I used the first 10 seconds to tell a bizarre anecdote that doesn’t fit with what the audience expects, as a way of piquing interest.

Kingston University/Adam Westbrook

So what should you use the first ten seconds for?

  • To show your most arresting images
  • To use your strongest soundbite
  • To surprise your audience
  • To raise a question in the mind of your viewer, setting up “the big reveal
  • To get straight into the story

It is not the place for idents, adverts, cliches, weak pictures, hackneyed introductions, or anything waffly.

This advice has nothing to do with creating good documentaries or crafting engaging narratives – but none of those things matter if you blow your first 10 seconds.

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10 common video storytelling mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on October 24, 2011

Five years after Youtube’s birth there’s probably not a newsroom in the land that isn’t trying to do video journalism in some way or another.

I say ‘trying’ because, as you’ll probably have seen, the vast amount of online video produced just doesn’t cut it. It’s long, boring, technically poor – and amateurish. This is a big shame because online video – done well – has the power to be an art form, to touch people, to make them understand something, to make them care.

As well as training journalists all over Europe in how to do video storytelling, and watching a helluva lot of video stories, I’ve also been teaching student journalists at Kingston University how to do video for more than two years. And in that time I’ve seen all the classic mistakes made. Here’s my run down – as always, if I’ve missed one off, stick it in the comments.

10 common video mistakes (and how to avoid them)

.01 you don’t prioritise sound

I’m actually gonna stick this one at the top because it’s probably the most common mistake. I’ve seen far too many video stories where the interview is practically inaudible, drowned out by traffic, air conditioning or something else. The cause? Not using an external microphone.

Audiences seem quite happy to tolerate poor quality pictures – they don’t mind mobile phone footage for example; but they will not tolerate crappy sound. End of. Invest in a good quality clip microphone for interviews and a Rodemic or similar for on board sound.

.02 you get too caught up in kit

We’ve all met one of these guys before: a ‘depth-of-field-Dave’ who’s more interested in whether you’re shooting on a prime lens than what the story is. They’re the sort of folk who make those music montages on Vimeo where everything looks very pretty and is out of focus, but expresses no meaning.

Kit matters – to an extent – but I believe a good story is a good story whether you shot it on the iPhone 4S or a Canon 5D MkII. At the same time, a poor story is not rescued by a shallow depth-of-field…in fact, it looks just that: shallow.

(NOTE: you’ll almost certainly be able to trawl back through the archives of this blog and find posts where I rave about depth-of-field: let’s just say I’ve grown as a film maker!)

Image: Francois Schnell on Flickr

.03 you don’t use a tripod

What’s the quickest way to ensure professional looking footage in any situation? Don’t move the camera!

It’s that simple. Flip cams, iPhones and DSLR cameras are the most susceptible to looking amateurish when hand-held, because they’re so light. Invest in a light set of Manfrotto sticks and use them for everything. Of course, handheld footage is powerful, and necessary, in certain situations – but more often I see it used as a technique through laziness rather than intention.

[Update: Video journalism advocate Michael Rosenblum argues that tripods are unnecessary: have a look and see what you think]

.04 you don’t shoot in sequences

This one is the bane of anyone who has to teach video to fresh faces: I personally invest hours of class time in explaining, demonstrating and showing examples of sequences in action – and when they don’t appear in finished pieces it’s exasperating.

Sequences – put simply – are a series of shots, showing a single action, creating the illusion of continuous movement. They are the hallmark of cinema, television news and now online video. What’s the difference between amateurs and professionals? Pros shoot sequences.

.05 you parachute into stories

One great advantage of online video journalism over television news is the absence of such tight deadlines. Online, journalists in the future are likely to work inside niches, and therefore will have time to build up contacts, develop relationships and explore stories before taking out the camera.

I can’t underestimate the importance of spending time with your subject/character before filming. Photojournalists have always done this very well, and the photogs who’ve moved to video have brought with them their investment in character. Those moving from television tend to do things the TV way: a quick pre-interview on the phone, then turn up, get the shots and get out.

Which one do you think works better?

.06 you try to copy television

On a similar theme, another big mistake new video journalists make is trying to copy what they see on CNN. Let me be clear: television news is highly formulaic, and it’s a formula designed to work within the tough day-to-day rigour of turning a story round in 3 hours. It works great for TV and that’s good for them.

But to see that formula infect this new genre of online video is heartbreaking in someways – partly because it is so young, and the potential so great. So switch off your TV – and if you have to seek inspiration from anywhere, try your local cinema.

Image credit: Dave Kellman on Flickr

.07 your stories are too long

It’s a well worn (although difficult to back up) belief that online attention spans are short and therefore video should be equally short too. Whether this is true or not, video should always be as short as it could possibly be. As Orwell said, ‘never use a long word when a short one will do.’

If you can tell your story in 90 seconds, why bulk it out to 3 minutes? You’re just wasting everyone’s time. This requires a certain ruthlessness – but if you can train yourself to ‘kill your babies’ as the saying goes, you’ll be a better journalist for it.

.08 you don’t understand storytelling

There are too many journalists who call themselves ‘multimedia storytellers’ or ‘digital storytellers’ or ‘visual storytellers’ but who have never read Robert McKee’s Story or The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (NB: affiliate links).

Storytelling is an ancient art, a craft, that survives human generations because it is without doubt the best way to help people comprehend the world around them. If you care about storytelling at all, you’ll try to master its secrets.

.09 you tell and don’t show

I remember the first video story I did while training at City University some years ago. We felt pretty proud of ourselves: we had a good story and what we made looked like a proper TV news package. But our lecturer wasn’t impressed: ‘you’ve just made radio with some pictures over the top’.

Image: mac_ivan on Flickr

And she was right: our film was laden with long rambling voice over scripts, dull soundbites and the pictures were wallpaper that didn’t add to the story. I’ve always remembered that lesson, and now remember the importance of using pictures to show the story happening and not to describe it.

.10 you don’t play to video’s strengths

Finally, video today is used because it can be, and not because it should be. There is too much video coverage of conferences, long interviews with boring people, and attempts to use video to cover council politics.

Video is good at some things: emotion, action, movement, detail, processes. It is terrible at other things: numbers, meetings, politics, court cases, and anything that doesn’t happen on camera.

The solution? Use video for its strengths – and keep the camera in your bag for the rest.

Some of these are one-step quick actions which will instantly improve your video storytelling; the rest are mindsets and attitudes that take longer to change. But until we get past those, online video storytelling will not improve.

Online video and entrepreneurial journalism: a round up

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on October 3, 2011

It’s time for another roundup of the most popular posts from this blog from the last quarter. I put these together every three months to put the most interesting stuff together in one place – and show up some posts which might be harder to find. 

Here are the summary posts from earlier this summer, and the spring, in case you want  delve deeper into this year’s archives.

Don’t forget – to make sure you never miss a new post, subscribe to the email newsletter on the right hand side of this screen. And you can keep track of me online on Twitter, Tumblr, Audioboo and Vimeo.

Online video

Six new ways to use online video: six ideas on how publishers, organisations and businesses can be more creative with video.

How a university took a risk with video – and it paid off  : a brilliant example of why being brave with video pays dividends for those with the foresight to do it.

Storytelling – the changing game: audiences are getting involved in the storytelling process – find out why that matters for journalists.

Reacting to a riot: the hard lessons I learned during the summer riots in London.

Lessons from the first ever novel for the first online video producers: what do novels, cinema, radio, television and now, online video, have in common? Find out here.

The value of making your journalism ‘finishable’ : the Economist prides itself on being ‘finishable’ – why doesn’t more journalism do the same?

Entrepreneurial Journalism

Lessons I’ve learned as a freelance journalist with a portfolio career : six tips on how to manage a busy portfolio of work and keep your head above the water.

10 myths which will stop you innovating in journalism: journalism needs innovators, but here’s why no-one dares tread on new ground.

Lessons from Monty Python for digital publishers: if Terry Gilliam were a 17 year old today he’d be a prolific online publisher – here’s why.

10 ways to make the most of your journalism course: starting a journalism course this autumn? Make sure you read this before you begin.

How to always have good ideas: ideas are the building blocks of journalism and publishing. But how do you stop yourself running out of them?

The age of the new media pioneer – and how you can become one: this is the most exciting time to be in journalism – but you have to make the most of it.

10 things you’ll hear at every journalism conference: a little bit of fun from me – the 10 cliches of every conference out there.

My call for transparency in journalism: it’s time for transparency in journalism – find out why.

myNewsBiz 2011: what does it tell us about entrepreneurship?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 24, 2011

So the winners of myNewsBiz have been announced and that wraps up the pilot of our entrepreneurial journalism competition for this year.

The two winning ideas reflected the breadth of entries we received. The winner, Visualist, an idea by City University students Nick Petrie and Ben Whitelaw (of Wannabe Hacks fame) aims to provide journalists in smaller newsrooms with the skills and tools to do data journalism. The judges felt it brought something new to journalism, and targeted a very popular area in journalism today.

The runner up idea was a great idea for a magazine, called Relish, submitted by four students at Kingston University, London. The judges loved the name, but also the fact that it targeted a clear, new and gadget hungry audience – men who like cooking.

Read more about the entries and the judges’ comments here. And there’s more coverage on journalism.co.uk.

What did we learn?

All that’s left to do is give the two winners their £1000 and £500 respectively to spend getting their business ideas off the ground. We announced the competition last November and we wanted to achieve two things (as well as give out cash to good business ideas):

  • we wanted to get more journalism students actively thinking about how business/enterprise works
  • and I personally wanted a snapshot of how the next generation of journalists perceive entrepreneurship, after lots of talk on both sides of the Atlantic.

We achieved the first measure, and then some. As well as a series of online training videos, I visited lots of universities to talk about entrepreneurial journalism and promote the competition. Even those who did not win benefitted from the process of idea generation and asking themselves important business questions, like what is their USP and what are their revenue streams.

And there were some excellent ideas submitted, with a variety of products and services. Among those that the judges highly commended were:

  • a magazine aimed at students
  • Plastik magazine, already doing well in South Wales
  • a magazine for young lesbians
  • an online CV service for journalists

Many of the entries though (understandably!) showed little or no knowledge of what makes a good business idea. Those that scored badly did not have a clear target market identified, or any concept of how or where revenue would be made. Only a small handful of entries had really considered the figures, and were able to say “we’d need to sell 5,000 copies to break even.”

Interestingly (from my perspective, anyway) none of the entries really investigated the potential of launching an intentionally small company with low overheads and exploiting lots of free tools; the majority of entries pitched mainstream-style products (printed magazines) despite the high costs and risks associated with that. Similarly, all but two ideas were for products (even though the idea the judges liked best is a service business).

Five big mistakes lots of first-time entrepreneurs made:

.01 no clear market: lots of entries did not really know who they were trying to target with their idea; great businesses (including publishers) work when they help a specific – easily identifiable – group of people with a specific problem.

.02 choosing a market with little money: those that did know who their audience were had chosen markets where not much money flows – so there was limited chance to sell products, events or services to your audience. By contrast, the judge’s second-favourite entry has a gadget hungry market who are interested in buying.

.03 pitching a product with little value: another common problem was to pitch something that the world doesn’t need. This included blogs, podcasts or magazines that talked about general areas like music, film or sport but didn’t offer anything useful. You have to make peoples’ lives better if they (or advertisers) will part with their cash.

.04 spending money badly: most people did not have a good idea of how they would spend the £1,000 if they won it, often wanting to spend large chunks on posters, clothing or stationary. This can happen to experienced entrepreneurs too though!

.05 their idea doesn’t replicate or scale: finally, the judges were most keen on business ideas that had the potential to grow, or be replicated elsewhere. Too many of the pitches were reliant on the passion/work of one person.

Some interesting early reflections then, which I will delve into in more detail as part of research I am carrying out for Kingston University this year. Clearly, interest in entrepreneurship is yet to grow beyond a small number; the vast majority of student journalists & graduates would rather pursue the traditional path to work.

I believe though that competitions like this are vital if more students are to equip themselves with entrepreneurial skills. I’m undecided about running it again next year, although if we did, we would look for sponsors to get involved. If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then please do get in touch. 

Can we teach journalists entrepreneurship?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 16, 2011

I

This is the question I’ll be asking lots over the coming months. I am carrying out research on behalf of Kingston University into entrepreneurial journalism. We want to find out whether we should be teaching it, and if so – how.

Other journalism programs in the UK and US, including UCLAN, BCU, City and CUNY have all introduced (or are planning on introducing) enterpreneurship into their courses, and all in different ways.

Personally, I am very excited by the possibilities and opportunities that entrepreneurship provides – especially to young journalists and creatives.

In a brilliant and inspirational commencement speech at Berkeley this month, the NPR journalist Robert Krulwich summed it up superbly:

It’s not easy. It’s not for everybody. Just something to think about.

Suppose, instead of waiting for a job offer from the New Yorker, suppose next month, you go to your living room, sit down, and just do what you love to do. If you write, you write. You write a blog. If you shoot, find a friend, someone you know and like, and the two of you write a script. You make something. No one will pay you. No one will care, No one will notice, except of course you and the people you’re doing it with. But then you publish, you put it on line, which these days is totally doable, and then… you do it again.

The people in charge, of course, don’t want to change. They like the music they’ve got.  To the newcomers, they say, “Wait your turn”.

But in a world like this… rampant with new technologies, and new ways to do things, the newcomers… that means you… you here today, you have to trust your music… It’s how you talk to people your age, your generation. This is how we change.

II

In the last two years I have dragged myself from a reluctant biz-novice to someone who has produced and sold books and started a business: like Robert says, it’s tough, it’s not for everyone…but it’s addictive.

Thing is, I don’t think its got much to do with the nuts and bolts of business itself (sales, spreadsheets, business plans) – although they play a part.

Entrepreneurship is an attitude: a way of looking at life, perhaps as a playground full of opportunity and not (as most of us do) as an assault course of pitfalls and hazards. I never used to have this attitude but I’ve ‘learned’ it in some way over the last few years.

And the attitude we need to instill in the next generation of journalists is simple: start things. And then finish them. That’s all. Sounds simple, but it requires a lot: the ideas, the initiative to marshall the all the forces to bring the idea to life, and the dogged determination to see it through to something that ‘intersects with the market‘.

Beyond that, you need the thick skin to deal with the inevitable failure of your idea. Then the balls to repeat the whole thing again. And again.

On Wednesday last week I was invited to chair a panel of digital journalists at We Publish in Leeds. The Guardian’s Sarah Hartley, Nigel Barlow from InsidetheM60 and Emma Bearley, founder of The Culture Vulture discussed a whole range of things – and entrepreneurship was a hot topic.

The feeling from the audience, and some of the panel, was that this attitude is rare, especially among young journalists. And blame was placed partly on the education system – at all levels.

III

If you get time, you should watch the marvellous Sir Ken Robinson talk about education in this TED Talk. The education system we use is the same one the Victorians used: and it was designed for a Victorian world – an industrial world.

Schools, says Ken, are like factories: we batch children by age (why age?) put them through a machine, a system, and churn out identikit office and factory workers at the other end. This was fine for our military industrial complex but as offices go digital, and factories go east, we don’t need identikit workers any more.

We need risk takers, creatives and entrepreneurs.

The world has changed. But education hasn’t.

And so, as great as it is that more journalism educators introduce entreprise as a part of their training, they’re still very much rooted in the Victorian tenets of education: failure is bad, risk leads to failure, so stick to the rules and do as you’re told.

How do we make people less risk averse? Can we? Should we? I’d love your thoughts.

Five reasons to enter myNewsBiz

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 4, 2011

The countdown to the closing of entries to myNewsBiz has begun – there’s now just four days left to enter your business idea with the chance of winning £1000.

The competition is open to:

  • any student studying at a UK university
  • any recent gradate from a UK university (summer 2010)

Five reasons to enter myNewsBiz – now!

.01 You’ll get feedback from four of the UK’s most experienced journalist-entrepreneurs: have you seen our panel of judges? We’ve got a group of journalists with decades of collective experience starting businesses. They know what makes a good business, and they’ll be able to give you some sharp feedback on your idea.

.02 It’s a reason to start thinking… use myNewsBiz as an excuse to sit down with a pen, and draw up some business ideas. You just won’t do it otherwise, will you? If you don’t know where to start, the application form gets you asking all the right questions.

.03 .…and a reason to start doing but more importantly, this is a unique opportunity to actually turn an idea – a vague, scribbled down apparition – into something real, something tangible. Your idea for a hyperlocal website means jack until you publish your first article on the completed website.

.04 It’ll make you more employable yes, you heard right! Never mind being an entrepreneur for the rest of your life. Drawing up a business idea, entering myNewsBiz, and making it a reality, will actually make you more employable. Why? Because there are plenty of other journalism students & graduates like you. Very few have used their initiative to start a magazine, design an iPhone app or start a photojournalism business on the side. This initiative is rare, and therefore valuable.

.05 It’s free…oh and did I mention the £1000 cash prize? Yes, entry is free. Click here to get hold of a form.

We’ve already had a good chunk of applications, but there’s room for more.

If you’re a student at a UK university, or you graduated last summer you have no excuse not to enter. And you have just four days left to do it.

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Top posts you might have missed so far this year

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 31, 2011

Image credit: morning_rumtea on Flickr

Wow, we’re a quarter of the way through 2011 already! How did that happen?

I’ve had an intense but brilliant start to the year, producing four commissions for studio .fu, launching myNewsBiz (the deadline’s in one week!), continuing to lecture in video journalism at Kingston University, and of course keeping this blog up to date.

Every three months or so I try to sum up the most popular posts for those of you who might have missed them. Here’s the last one from 2010.

Online video

5 conventions every online video journalist should scrap – a controversial one, with plenty of comments.

10 free and totally legal programs for multimedia journalists – the most popular post this year by far. An update is on the way soon.

My 10 predictions for journalism in 2011 – check out my video predictions for the big trends in journalism this year.

Great online video: The Sartorialist – my favourite piece of online video so far this year.

Great online video: Gold’s Strong Stories

Great online video: Live the Language

Entrepreneurial Journalism

10 Great themes for your online magazine – if you’re starting an online magazine, here’s a great resource of free & premium themes to use.

How to use Flavors.me to create a quick online portfolio

How journalists can get ahead of the game in 2011 – I rummage through JWT’s annual intelligence report to see if there are any big trends journalists should know.

Can journalists really be entrepreneurs? – I ask some of the most successful j-entrepreneurs in the UK.

The first question every entrepreneurial journalist should ask – you’ll have to click to find out what it is!

10 revenue streams for your news business – does what it says on the tin. I list 10 revenue streams every j-entrepreneur could use.

On revolution – This one got picked up by BBC News Online the night Mubarak fell.

If you like what you see, don’t wait for another three months to find out what posts you’ve missed: subscribe and get each email delivered straight into your inbox! The box is on the right…

The first question every entrepreneurial journalist should ask

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 21, 2011

So you want to create a news business? Awesome, you’ve arrived at just the right time.

One of the first lessons I learned was to make an important distinction early on – and I think it is the first question you should ask before you start your entrepreneurial adventure:

Are you creating a product or a service?

They are two different, but equally valid, types of business – both of which offer great opportunities for journalists. A product is something tangible – something you make and sell, which is distinct from you. A service on the other hand, is something you specifically offer yourself, in exchange for money.

Products

The world of journalism has a limited (but growing) number of products. A newspaper is a product. So is a magazine. In fact, you’ll often get the more managerial types of journalists often talking about ‘the product’.

The types of products have grown a lot in the digital age, and with that so have the opportunities. A book is a product, as is an ebook. A podcast, vodcast, blog, online magazine, smartphone app are also products. A TV programme is a product. A hyperlocal website is a product, so is a DVD, event and photobook.

In short, it is something you create and then try to make money from. And the people who buy your product are customers, or readers, or viewers.

When we think of business and enterprise, products are probably the first things that come to mind. The Dyson, the Macbook, the Prius: they’re all products. But, according to journalist and entrepreneur Nick Saalfeld, the service sector accounts for more than 70% of the UK economy, and in terms of the work and opportunities around, it’s a lot more varied.

Services

A service is a skill or craft you offer to someone, in exchange for money. Often, but not always, you charge for your time.

This is the most natural type of business for journalists, because essentially it is doing anything freelance: a copy writer, photojournalist, video journalist, blogger, infographic designer, SEO bod, sub-editor…they are all services.

You as the service provider are intricately bound to the success of the business. The people who pay for your service are clients.

Now you might say because of that, entrepreneurial journalism has been around for a long time. But it’s not quite like that. You see, only recently have people started to create full businesses out of their services – packaging their services into products.

For example, take this video production company in the US, called TVKevin. They are a service business: people hire them to make short films about their company or business etc. But take a look at their website, and you can see how they have packaged their service into products: they offer something called BizShorts, and something else called MyStory.

Scale it up, and throw in some hardcore journalism, and you have MediaStorm, one of the most successful multimedia production companies out there. They offer a service to clients: high quality multimedia documentaries; but they package their services into product type solutions: films, audio slideshows and infographics. MediaStorm also have a lot of by-products: training, DVDs, and even t-shirts.

So which should you do?

Before you start thinking of business ideas, or even if you already have one, you should work out whether you are offering a product or a service. Knowing this early on saves any confusion later on. And there’s nothing to say you can’t do both, or be clever and mix them up like TVKevin & MediaStorm.

To find out about the pros and cons of both Products and Services head on to myNewsBiz, where there’s more training in entrepreneurial journalism in video.

Video: can journalists really be entrepreneurs?

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

More and more people are turning round to the idea that journalism alone is not enough, and that to make it in the uncertain world ahead you have to be entrepreneurial too.

Last week’s buy-out of the Huffington Post will add some hope to the mix too.

The criticism from those who are still skeptical or unsure is that the two must be incompatible.

How can you be good at giving a voice to the voiceless and also know how to rake in the cash?’ Or: ‘In business you have to be ruthless and money orientated. I’m a creative person not a business person.’

Both valid points. But at Kingston University we’ve launched a nationwide competition to prove that’s not the case. We want the next generation of journalists, currently studying at a UK university, to come up with their own idea for a news business that has the potential to be sustainable.

The winning team gets £1000 to turn it into reality, and the runners-up get £500. Pretty cool, right?

Free business training

So now’s the time to flex that entrepreneurial muscle. But if you’re still unsure, we’ve been putting together a great collection of free videos and guides to the basics of business. What makes a good business idea? What’s the difference between a product and a service? It’s featuring a raft of journos and entrepreneurs and will be updated regularly over the next few months.

Find out right here, and let your entrepreneurial journey begin!

Great online video: The Sartorialist

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on February 3, 2011

The top video pick over in the video .fu library right now is a portrait of the fashion blogger The Sartorialist.

I first saw this one over Christmas and many of you will have already watched it, but I wanted to dissect it a little more and work out its secrets. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the time to watch it through. It’s a short documentary portrait of Scott Schuman, an unassuming sort of guy living in New York. Except for the fact he created and runs one of the most famous blogs on the net.

Directed by Tyler Manson/Visibly Smart Films it’s actually a commission from Intel (you know, the core processor guys) as part of their Visual Life campaign. Like the successful Honda’s Live Every Litre campaign of last year, its success is partly down to the fact the sponsor message takes a back seat to the story.

It’s a good example of a new, but growing, genre in video portraiture, rubbing shoulders with concepts like California Is A Place, Last Minutes With Oden; and portraits of Toni Lebusque and The Mast Brothers. Its secret is in its simplicity: a single interview with a fascinating character which creates the spine of the narrative, weaved in with captured moments, evocative music and gorgeous sequences captured in a cinematic style.

So what do we like about it?

It starts with a classic film convention: someone walking somewhere. We don’t know who they are, or where they’re going, and for that reason we keep watching. The camera does a good job of keeping The Satorialist steady and in focus, and slowing the footage down adds elegance and gravitas to our heroes journey.

Films like these are made up of (I think) a few key elements, which I teach to my own video journalism students at Kingston University:

  • interview
  • scenes
  • sequences
  • and a final category of ‘visual flair’ .

The interview in The Sartorialist drives the narrative, and when we do actually see as well as hear the interview, Manson hasn’t been afraid to let Schuman’s face fill the screen. He knows this will be viewed online, on a small screen, and isn’t afraid to cut off the top and bottom of his subject’s head in order that we really see The Sartorialist’s features. He’s clearly positioned near a large window or soft light, and shallow depth-of-field focuses our eyes on his.

When we watch video online it's important to get features in close-up

The easy trap is to shoot and cut a quick interview (the easy part) and then ‘float’ some footage over it at appropriate places – or to cover the edits. As well as ignoring the visual part of visual storytelling, it’s also extremely boring.

That’s why scenes and sequences are important.

A scene is a bit of reality caught on screen; for those taught in the traditional broadcast way, I’m talking about ‘actuality’; on a documentary project at The Southbank Centre last year, David Dunkley-Gyimah used to talk to me about ‘capturing moments’. The Sartorialist is brought to life through these captured moments – where we see a bit of reality unfold, unhindered, before our eyes. For example at around 02’30 into this film, we watch as Schuman spies two women at a junction, and approaches them to take a photograph.

Seeing this action unfold before our eyes shows us how he gets his shots…far more effective than interview where Schuman tells us how he does it.

A 'captured moment' of reality, as Schuman gets a photograph. We see for ourselves how he works.

Before you choose a story to tell this way – or in anyway visually with video – you should be sure these moments happen and that you’ll be able to capture them. If you’re making a film about a cyclist, then you must show us footage of them cycling no excuses. If you’re making a film about a doctor carrying out life saving surgery in Tanzania, then we’d better see it on screen. If, for whatever reason, you don’t think you can get scenes, then ditch the project. Perhaps it’s a story best told in words, audio or stills rather than video.

Finally, sequences are the bread and butter of any good video storytelling. Certainly a convention in television and cinema, I still think they are vital for online video storytelling too. A sequence of shots showing one continuous action brings us into the film and in Vin Ray’s words ‘heightens the viewers’ involvement’ in the story.

Here, Manson devises an aesthetically pleasing sequence of The Sartorialist going to get his hair cut before hitting the streets of New York. My guess is this is something Schuman does regularly, and in presenting this sequence the film makers are showing us this truth, without telling us.

The Sartorialist's haircut is presented in a sequence of shots including wide-shots and closeups.

On top of this, there is a palette of other treatments open to filmmakers, including things like montages or straight GVs, which can be used at will. But I think without and interview, scene and sequences, a film has little to it. But as The Sartorialist shows, these three elements, as well as a compelling character and a great journey are pretty much all you need to for your online video to get viewed thousands of times.

Video .fu is a a growing collection of great factual online video – click here to subscribe and recommend films!

Five things that make a great news business idea

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 31, 2011

Entries for myNewsBiz, the student journalism enterprise competition are open and we are starting to get early entries through.

If you haven’t heard of it, myNewsBiz is open to any undergraduate or postgraduate journalism student at a UK university. There’s a prize of £1000 for the best new idea for a journalism business, be it a product, like a magazine, or a service. A runner up gets £500.

But what makes a good business idea?

That’s a difficult question, if you’ve never thought about starting a business until now. If you don’t know where to begin, here are five different starting places for your search for that winning business idea.

.01 Fill a gap

Any concept (entrepreneurial or otherwise) has to service a need that a large enough group of people have, in order to survive and thrive. So a good place to start is to ask ‘is there a product or service which is not being provided right now?

Murdoch’s much anticipated iPad only newspaper The Daily can be viewed in these terms. The iPad’s been around for just over a year, and yes, there are plenty of magazines and publishers with their own iPad apps…but there is no single dedicated iPad news product. It’s a gap. And News International appear to be trying to fill it.

.02 Scratch an itch

Image credit: corrieb on Flickr

Great business ideas ‘scratch an itch’, by which we mean solving a problem that a group of people have. The best place to identify an itch is on your own body. What’s bugging you right now? What do you see which can be done faster? Cheaper? More accurately? More locally or more beautifully?

TheBusinessDesk, a successful online news startup in the UK, clearly scratched an itch its founders had: there was no good source for regional business & finance news. They scratched their own itch, and in doing so created a thriving business.

Scratching your own itch has a big advantage: because it’s your itch, you are best placed to tell whether your solution is scratching it properly.

.03 Improve something

If that doesn’t work, why not try improving on someone else’s idea?

There are plenty of magazines, websites, services we all use which get us grumbling. “This coverage stinks!” “Their infographics are rubbish” “They could have done that website so much better!”

If there’s something out there which is not up to scratch – make your own, improved, version.

That’s part of the thinking behind studio .fu, my online video production company. There are lots of independent video producers out there, but I could see lots of things they were doing wrong.

I improved their offering by just focusing on online video, and by steering clear of an office or (any) staff, I can offer the same thing at a much more affordable rate.

.04 Begin with you

Instead of looking for a business idea straight away, start with you and your strengths and passions.

What do you love doing? If you could wake up tomorrow morning and commit one act of journalism, what would it be? Designing? Writing? Data interrogation?

Once you’ve identified that, you want to wrap a business around it. Look for markets for your passion, and build a business from there. This philosophy sums up the approach taken in my book Next Generation Journalist, which starts with a look at your real interests.

After all, there’s no point in pursuing a business idea you’re not interested in, just because it looks like a workable idea. I have a brilliant idea for an environmentally friendly kettle. But am I going to make it? No. Because manufacturing, retail and, err, kettles, don’t do it for me right now.

.05 Start making something – right now

Image credit: David Haygarth on Flickr

Finally, once you’ve got an idea – or maybe if you still don’t – start creating, right away.

Ideas are one-a-penny, but they don’t count for anything until you’ve turned it into something tangible. So if you’ve got an idea for an online magazine, get the webspace and domain, upload a WordPress theme and get creating.

Why? Because you’ll only know if your idea is any good once it’s real.

If you don’t have an idea yet, then start creating anyway. Whatever it is you feel like. If you think you’d like to start a business making infographics but aren’t sure what gap it would fill or itch it would scratch, keep going. Start designing infographics and put them online. See what the feedback is. Are people biting? This way you can develop your business idea organically.

Only once you’re making something can you know whether it’s got legs.

Remember the deadline for entries for myNewsBiz is the 1st of April 2011 – so you’ve still got plenty of time to put something together.

And in February we’re publishing awesome interviews with some of the top journalist-entrepreneurs out there, packed with advice on how to get your news business off the ground!

myNewsBiz: a great new opportunity for UK journalism students

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 8, 2010

If the future of news is entrepreneurial, then it’s not as easy as saying “it is so”. Thousands of journalists won’t head straight to Companies House the next morning to register their new business.

If more journalists and other creatives are to create their own careers, build innovative new businesses and spark employment for thousands of others, their entrepreneurial spirit needs fostering early on.

If journalism in the future is powered by entrepreneurs they must be comfortable with business – and excited by it.

Well, I’m really excited to announce the launch of a new nationwide competition I have been working on, alongside Kingston University’s Journalism department in London.

We’re inviting journalism students from any UK university to come up with ideas for new news businesses – whether it’s a platform, a product or a service. We’re putting together a panel of industry judges and the business idea they like the most will win £1000 in cold hard cash to turn it into reality.

A 2nd place runner up will also get £500 to invest in their idea too.

It could be a hyperlocal website, a new smartphone app, an iPad magazine, a production company, an online video platform, a magazine, or even the next social media platform…almost anything!

It’s a great chance to get the next generation of journalists thinking about what makes a good business, how to find a unique selling point and identify a target market. This quick film we made explains the rest:

Training

In the new year we’ll also be unveiling some extensive online training materials to introduce students to the idea of business and enterprise, and help them develop their ideas before sending in their submissions.

How to enter

Entry to the competition is free for groups and individuals – you just need to head over to mynewsbiz.org and download an application form, which you can email back to us by the deadline: 1st April 2011.

With just a handful of journalism courses in the UK touching on the idea of entrepreneurial journalism, this is an unrivalled opportunity to find out what being entrepreneurial really means – and maybe get the cash you need to start your own company!