Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Stuck on what to do? Here’s a simple solution

Posted in Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 12, 2010

Image: Matt Jones

Last month I blogged about the importance of being prolific in order to get good at anything.

If you want to be a successful print journalist you need to write prolifically; if radio is your bag, you must be podcasting and audiobooing like a mutha. No excuses.

I still think it’s worth emphasising because I know as a busy journalist myself, a former student, and now a lecturer in journalism, that motivating yourself to invest in getting better at something is really hard.

If you’re a full time journalist or freelancer, you’re probably tired, poor, or can’t justify the time spent on going out and shooting some photographs without the commission. If you’re a student, you’re probably hungover.

But it isn’t any of these.

What you’re actually lacking is a project: some kind of framework, an organised challenge, bounded in time. It doesn’t have to be a big project, with a deadline years down the line – in fact, aim for the opposite: something you can achieve quickly and regularly.

They can take many forms. Documentary film maker Gail Mooney describes in a recent blog post how ‘passion projects‘ help her get films made. She’s just launched a new one, and is raising money for it on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

…as my career took hold and I became busier with work, I didn’t have time for sharing or personal projects.  But for someone like me who is a dreamer, I was starting to burn out.

There have been other passion projects since these first two and my head is usually full of ideas that are rumbling around, just waiting for the right time to surface.

Author Gretchen Rubin, currently undergoing a year-long and inspiring Happiness Project, calls it a Creativity Boot-camp. She wrote a novel in a month (it was terrible, she admits, but improved her writing massively); and there’s even a cool website which encourages people to draw a comic book in just 24 hours. No planning, no thinking, just drawing.

You lower your standards. If you’re producing a page a week, or one blog post a week, or one sketch a week, you expect it to be pretty darned good, and you fret about quality. Often, however, folks achieve their best work from grinding out the product.

When I’m having trouble getting work done on a big project, my impulse sometimes is to take smaller, easier steps. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes it helps more to take bigger, more ambitious steps instead. By doing more instead of less, I get a boost of energy and focus.

And author and career coach John Williams describes how a Play Project can get you out of rut and let you practice doing the work you really love, without having to get paid for it.

The process feels completely counter-intuitive at first because it requires that you stop fretting about your ideal work or how you could ever get paid – and start doing something. If you are stuck on that very first question “What would I enjoy?” you will benefit hugely from this. At a later stage, you can create further play projects to move you towards getting paid.

If you’re a journalist, young or old, you should be taking note of this. The shift in the industry has created a unique opportunity: to do the journalism we love, and get paid for it. There is a (slowly closing) window of opportunity to turn your journalism into something which provides income and makes you happy. You can’t just leap into it – you need to work out what your passion really is first.

My projects

I first hit on the idea of “projects” over Christmas 2009, when I read a blog post of good new years resolutions. One clever guy suggested writing an ebook in a weekend as a quick hit project. Inspired, I sat down on the first weekend of 2010, and wrote Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Journalists. I started on Saturday morning, and stopped on Sunday evening. A week or so later, I put the book on sale, and people started buying it.

It never made much money, and looking back, was full of spelling mistakes – but it was a finished project. And it gave me the confidence to write Next Generation Journalist a few months later, which has been infinitely more successful.

Now I’m looking for a new passion project to keep me occupied before Christmas. It’ll be a multimedia film project of some kind – and will get me making films every single week.

Have you got a project? Or an idea for one? Share it down in the comments!


A new market for journalists: who else needs good storytelling?

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 13, 2010

There’s less than a week to go until Next Generation Journalist is available to download. From tomorrow, you’ll be able to get a preview of more of the new ways to make money in journalism on journalism.co.uk or by signing up here.

04. storytelling for the commercial sector

In the second chapter of Next Generation Journalist I will give a quick series of questions to ask yourself before reading on. The questions are designed to get you to root out exactly what you love about journalism so much. It’s different for every person but it’s vital to the Next Generation Journalist if you want to pursue a new and exciting career path.

Some of them, like this one, aren’t directly about reporting hard news. But I think they’re still worth including, because not every one of us went into journalism to report hard news right? For some of us, it’s about analysing data and making complicated things simple for everyone to understand; for some it’s about getting to meet the rich and famous; and for others it’s about telling stories.

If you dig telling stories, you’ll like this idea.

It’s about converting your expertise in storytelling, whether in print or multimedia to offer content for small businesses which brings them more customers. In return, they’ll pay you for it.

It’s all about the power of the story. I’ve long banged on about storytelling on this blog as well as to journalism students across the UK. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most powerful, but undervalued crafts in journalism. A good story well told grabs people by the collar and shakes them; it can change their view of the world, make them laugh and make them cry.  Most importantly, stories compel people to action, which is why they’re of value to businesses.

Imagine if you took the power of storytelling and sold it to different industries?

Storytelling for the commercial sector…

  • lets you practice and hone your storytelling and multimedia production skills
  • will help you develop story ideas and contacts to pursue as a journalist
  • could pay you more than editorial clients (depending on how much you’re willing to charge!)
  • is a virtually untapped niche, with countless businesses as potential customers

Here’s how it works: you set up a cheap web based business offering your multimedia storytelling skills to small businesses (the book contains a list of suggested ones); your website convinces them about how a well told story can compel their customers to action (ie buying their product). You offer to do a few short videos for friends or associates for free to build up a decent portfolio. Then you use that start approaching and bringing in clients.

This option might appeal to you, but I understand, it might also repel you. This isn’t journalism after all is it? Well in Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism I’ll show you how it can be part of a wider, bigger income, with the concept of the Portfolio Career.

Click here to find out more!