Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on June 17, 2009

Hello, operator?

"Hello, operator?"

With the sort of hype only the media can generate when talking about itself, Lord Carter’s long awaited Digital Britain report has been published. It’s supposed to be the blueprint for Britain’s place in the digital world. But is it putting us in a good place?

It comes as journalism’s plight grows even greater; ITV news, Channel 4, countless struggling radio groups and newspaper holdings will all be sifting to see if it contains their saviour…or their downfall.

01. Broadband

The Promise: 2Mbps broadband for everyone (and “action separately to address the issue of next generation broadband”)

Result?: epic fail. While broadband for everyone is great, 2Mbps […buffering…] broadband is inadequate for […buffering…] the growing needs of digital journalism including […buffering…] the huge demand for […buffering…] video on demand. Separate action to […buffering…] investigate faster broadband looks like […buffering…] the buck being well and truly passed.

Meanwhile, in South Korea: “1Gbps Downloading by 2012

Will it help journalism? Not really. If online video and multimedia is going to start picking up the cash from traditional media it needs to be reliable and fast.

02. Radio

The Promise: All national radio stations to be on DAB only by 2015 ending use of analogue. Spare FM frequencies for “new tier” of community radio. More local news.

Result: fail. DAB is soo last decade, and while the radio sets look quite pretty, by the time this is rolled out, we’ll all be listening to radio on our iPhones. Over the internet. The folks at MixCloud rightly pointed out last night the real investment needs to be in online radio, and making sure the network can cope with it. It also says nothing about the plight of local commercial radio stations, caused by the filthy binge on new licences by Ofcom.

Creating a “new tier” of hyper local community stations is a nice idea – provided they don’t have to be commercially viable. And more local news? Who Lord Carter expects to pay for that (when newsrooms across the land are cutting staff) is a mystery.

Will it help journalism? An emphasis on localness might fool some Whitehall bureaucrats into investing more in local journalism. But don’t hold your breath.

03. Regional TV news

The Promise: 3.5% of BBC’s licence fee (~£130m) to be available to help regional TV news on ITV

Result: good news for ITV. It has been long argued on all sides, the BBC needs strong competition in regional news to keep its standards up. And while that is the case £130m is a lot to spend investing in the  “a local lady has turned 100” fluff which ITV regions currently put on air.

Will it help journalism? In the short term ITV local news does need the cash, and this might even save some jobs. But once again Lord Carter has missed the trick. What we need is a new way of doing television news, for example Michael Rosenblum‘s VJ newsroom model. Meanwhile, no word about the BBC’s real competition: Channel 4 News.

04. Hyperlocal news

The Promise: No promises here, just a recognition that grassroots online projects are good for democracy

Result: fail. Lord Carter says he likes the growing number of hyper-local community sites, but says there can’t be a gap between what these start ups offer, and what the traditional big boys offer. So he’s investing in making sure newspaper groups and the BBC can offer better online, including, bizarrely, an idea to let newspapers use BBC video content. Considering the row over BBC Local in 2007, that’s pretty hilarious.

Will it help journalism: well there’s no promises here, so it’s up to the people to forge the way.

05. Childrens’ Programmes

The Promise: Money to help Channel 4 develop services for that most difficult of audiences: 10-18 year olds

Result: good news. Channel 4 are best placed to understand this market, and embarrassing dad-dancing attempts by the BBC have shown they’re not really “down with the kids”. It won’t solve Channel 4’s funding crisis though.

Will it help journalism: any investment in actually creating content is a good thing.

All government reports, like Christmas presents from your grandparents, are always a little disappointing;  sadly yesterday’s report fails to really grasp or embrace the mouth watering potential of the future.

Lord Carter: as us bluggers and twotters and myface yoof types say: “epic fail”.

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A new era

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on January 20, 2009

So it was as powerful and emotional and historic as November 4th, and more.

Billions, they reckon, watched Barack Obama’s inauguration; 4 million made the pilgrimage to Washington DC to see it for themselves.

From a journalist’s perspective days like this are always fascinating and exciting. I thought some mind find it useful to see how the local radio station I work for covered it today.

Local v national

Generally, local media have 2 choices when it comes to big national/international stories:

  1. You are a local station, you cover local stories primarily
  2. You are an outlet in tune with your local audience and the wider world.

In radio certainly – many managers consider local news a major facet of their “localness” requirements – and will often inforce ‘Lead on Local’ policies.

Even without, local journalists sometimes feel guilty at covering non-local stories.

Where I work, we take option 2. There is a wider world out there, and often things happen nationally/internationally which affect our listeners lives.

When people turn on the radio, they expect to be briefed on all the big stories – and what’s happening NOW.

We decided editorially last week it would be THE story today, despite another strong local story which has been developing for a week vying for lead.

So we put lots of effort in advance of today getting local reaction to the historic inauguration. In our main lunchtime bulletin we ran an in-house report looking back at Bush’s legacy. We also tracked down American’s living in our area, as well as academics and politicians.

Mixed with audio from our national news wire service we had comprehensive coverage.

Perhaps overambitiously we tried to take a live feed from Washington at 1700 to catch the opening words of Obama’s oath. A nice idea, thrown out of whack when the ceremony was delayed (for the first time in 200 years!).

In terms of writing, a day like to day is a journalists dream, with all sorts of options for epic and creative copy.

Compare that to our local rival (who I won’t name); at 5pm, as Obama was about to step up to take the job of President of the United States, they led with a local crime story.

The inauguration came last “and finally…”

As a listener/viewer/reader would you feel in touch with the world?

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9 questions for newsreaders

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2009

Aaah, reading the news. Some people wait years to get to do it. Some people have to fight, and beg, and slog it out to get a chance.

And if you work in radio – particularly local radio – you could find yourself behind the mic weeks out of college.

Many big media groups offer on the job training and voice coaching. But what else must the newsreader know?

Adam Westbrook

Image: Adam Westbrook

Here are 9 questions for a newsreader to ask themselves after every bulletin:

01. it legally sound and accurate?

Possibly the most important one. Have you remembered your ‘allegedlys’ your ‘he denies the charges’ and your Section 39?

02. Did you treat stories in a responsible way?

Sometimes it’s easy to exaggerate the stories, especially if you’re trying to make it a lead, or even in the pursuit of creativity.

03. Were they appropriate for a family audience?

Dogs die in hot cars, and kids cry in hot cars when the radio’s talking about graphic violence and sex.

04. Would the listener trust you? Have you left any questions unanswered?

It’s vital you are straight with your listener. Keep your scripts simple, and for the love of God, don’t include phrases, terms or explanations when even you don’t know what they mean. This is even more important during the recession. When you tell your audience a local company has gone into receivership, what does that mean? Getting it wrong, or skimming over it doesn’t help anyone understand these difficult times.

05. Have you been creative, but not confusing?

Being creative with your audio and your writing is what makes you stand out in a competitive market. That’s split clips (sometimes called turbos), creative voxes, asking questions, even being poetic. But don’t confuse your listener or distort the story in the pursuit of creativity.

06. Did you involve the listener?

Radio was creating virtual communties long before social networking. How can you involve your listener? Can they text or email their thoughts? Do you have an answerphone line they can call? A montage of listener calls on the hot topic of the day is always a winner.

07. Did you help increase web traffic?

Use every opportunity to throw listeners to your website. But be wary of reading out a web address after every story. The website is very useful if there’s an important story, like the Middle East, which is just too dry. Give it two lines, and then tell your listener to go online if they want more.

08. Did you speak directly to your listener?

That means phrases like “as we told you earlier” “you might remember we told you about” “you’ve been getting in touch with us about…”. The old adage of radio remains: you’re talking to a single listener not a million. It is a personal medium. Talk to them, not at them.

09. Did the stories you chose reflect what your listeners are talking about?

It’s difficult to know what the talking point is when you’re stuck on a newdesk. Use your reporters. Watch the news channels. But don’t be pressured into a lead, just because your rivals are.

Taken from a selection of questions Bauer Radio journalists are often asked to ask themselves.

BBC local TV plans stopped (or maybe just paused)

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 21, 2008

BBC Local TV paused? Or Stopped?

BBC Local TV paused? Or Stopped?

So after speculation earlier this week, the BBC Trust confirmed today plans to launch 65 new local websites have been scrapped.

From a practicing broadcast journalist (and fan of video journalism) point of view, I think it’s disappointing. The potential for hundreds of new jobs in the market’s been lost.

I also agree with Roy Greenslade’s aside, that the BBC has made a mistake in not realising broadband is the future.

The local competition (newspapers and radio) are hailing it as a great victory – they claimed it would threaten their services.

This one is tricky though.

I get edgy when commercial outfits complain the BBC is a threat because of the size of its wallet. If you’ve got the ideas, and the talent (you don’t neccessarily have to pay through the nose for that) then money doesn’t matter. Papers particularly have the enviable contacts.

But their VJ offerings aren’t great. Getting written hacks to create decent VJ pieces hasn’t yet provided any gems.

Most of all, the the chance for diversification has been lost.

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