Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The “Pr” approach to being a freelance journalist

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on October 21, 2010

Image credit: jm3 on Flickr

What are the qualities of a successful freelance journalist in the 21st century?

Of course, there are all the obvious ones (curiosity, good writing skills, tech knowledge etc) which have been laid out many times by far more experienced and talented hacks than me. But I want to introduce four new qualities, perhaps four you would never have thought of before.

And in this brave new world where the opportunities for the enterprising young journalist are limitless, it’s important to approach it in the right way. So I’ve come up with this ‘Pr’ list of qualities which every journalist should aim for – and they’re one’s every journalist can.

Four ‘Pr’ qualities for freelance journalists

.01 Prolific

First of all, to be good at any form of journalism (writing, blogging, filming, podcasting, info-graphics) you must be prolific. You must create content at a rate of knots, and share it with the world. There’s only one way you get good at something: and that’s practice. Practice = proliferation.

Mark McGuinness (a must read if you want to make money doing something creative) makes this point very eloquently. He points out how one of the great creative geniuses of history, Bach, was prolific beyond belief. We only associate a few extraordinary pieces of work to his name, and assume he was of such unrepeatable talent that the rare tunes he touched turned to gold. But it was not so.

Bach spent his career as an employee, composing music to order on a punishing schedule. One such appointment was as Cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, a prestigious but demanding role, where he produced a cantata (a musical setting for sacred texts) every week of the year and extra ones for holidays — a total of 60 every year. He held that position for five years.

Most of Bach’s music was mediocre and disappeared into history. But the very fact his was prolific meant he got so extraordinarily good at his craft he became an unforgettable name in history.

Image: Marxchivist on Flickr

When I read Mark’s article I looked elsewhere in history for a pattern. It didn’t take me long. Let’s take perhaps the most exalted band of the 20th Century, The Beatles. A quick check at their discography proves their success could be down to sheer proliferation: between 1963 and 1969 they produced two albums every yeara total of 307 songs before they split.

Coldplay, by comparison have produced four albums in 13 years, and just a third of the songs. Sure, who can name all 307 Beatles tracks? And sure, many of them are mediocre – but they needed to produce all the mediocre in order to get good.

So if you’re set on being a kick-ass video journalist, you won’t get good sitting around reading video journalism blogs and polishing the lens of your DSLR. Get off your arse, and make a film. Every week. Week in, week out.

. 02 Productive

Being productive is vital for your success as a freelance journalist. In some cases, when you’re being paid a day-rate, that is literally so. But even if not, your time is money, so you have to start using it properly.

This goes beyond just opening the laptop at 9 and closing it at 5pm sharp. It’s about elimating the stuff in your day that doesn’t contribute to your income. It’s also about understanding your own personal productivity: what time of the day are you most productive? What’s the point of starting work at 9, when you’re at your best between 6pm and midnight?

A lot of people use the 80/20 rule too, so it’s worth thinking about. It goes like this: 20% of your time spent, generates 80% of your revenue and visa versa. So you need to identify the 20% of work that actually brings in the cash (that includes sales/pitching) and make sure you do it without fail. And know what the 80% of non-revenue generating stuff is (tweaking your website, filing tax returns, coming up with ideas) and don’t let it overrun your schedule.

If you’re going to be prolific and profitable you need to be productive with your time. So ring fence certain times of your day, compartmentalise and use something like Google Calendar to control it all.

. 03 Profound

Thing is, there are plenty of other voices out there in the digital landscape – maybe too many. And there are plenty more journalists vying for attention. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you make your blog more clickable than the next?

Seth Godin

The answer lies in being profound: having something to say that matters to other people. A lot of blogs – hell, a lot of journalists – rely on rehashing other people’s content, aggregating it, just blindly reporting what is being said or done.

But in the fragmented, digital, niche world, that is not enough. If you want to stand out within your area of specialty then you need to be profound. We turn to the most popular bloggers in journalism, for example, because they say profound things. Jeff Jarvis tells us the business models are all wrong and suggests alternatives; Mark Luckie shows us how to use awesome technology in new ways; Tracy Boyer shows us how great multimedia can be; and almost everything Seth Godin says is profound…and they are all leaders.

In this scary new world, people don’t just want consumers, aggregators or reporters, they want leaders. Are you willing to step up to the plate? By being profound, you almost instantly place yourself at a higher level above the rest of the pack.

. 04 Provocative

And finally be provactive too. Stir things up. Cause an argument.

Someone who does that very well are British multimedia producers Duckrabbit, who, if you read their blog (and you should)* it appears they’re always getting into arguments with the photojournalism establishment (for example, this spat with the organiser of an international photography festival).

But Duckrabbit aren’t being argumentative for the sake of it. They have established a strong, authentic, moral, position – on the side of exploited people in developing countries, and photographers exploited by the industry they work for. This forms Duckrabbit’s story, and we, as the audience (and their potential customers) understand where they’re coming from.

And because they stand up for exploited photographers wherever they can, the audience respect them for it. It makes their presence go beyond that of another multimedia company.

It’s a risky strategy perhaps, but there are a lot of multimedia production companies out there now – what will make yours stand out? Stand up for something, believe it it, and mean something. If you’re authentic then it’s all good.

*disclaimer: I occasionally write for Duckrabbit

So – prolific, productive, profound and provocative: four easy to remember words, which if you use them as a guide, they’ll help elevate you beyond all the others in this ever crowded field. Have I missed any off? I could add ‘profitable’ but that’s for another time…

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The Next Generation Journalist and entrepreneurship

Posted in Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on July 5, 2010

I was recently interviewed by journalist Andy Bull on my Next Generation Journalist ebook and the idea of entrepreneurial journalism.

Andy knows what I’m talking about-an entrepreneurial journalist himself, with a portfolio career, and an actual proper book to his name (on paper an everything). It’s called Multimedia Journalism: a Practical Guide (Amazon affiliate link) and alongside Mark Luckie’s Digital Journalist Handbook is probably the most up-to-date and relevant book for journalists trying to grapple with the new media age out there.

I’m working my way through it and I’ll do a full review for you in the next week or so. In the meantime, here’s a few clips from our interview. The full collection can be found on the website which accompanies Andy’s book.

What is a Next Generation Journalist?

How do you build a portfolio career?

Can anyone be an entrepreneur?

Best of the blogs: 2009

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 18, 2009

My Google Reader probably trebled in size in 2009. It’s where I get at least 50% of information, gossip, inspiration and ideas on multimedia,  journalism and the future of news. As a Christmas treat, I thought I’d share some of the best blogs of 2009 with you….

Digital Journalism

10,000 words: Mark Luckie’s site is a goldmine of beautifully presented practical advice for digital journalists. His posts have become less frequent since he became re-employed, but each one is still as valuable.

Journalism 2.0: Mark Briggs is bringing out a new book for digital journalists in 2010 – expect it to become a core text on all journalism course reading lists.

Video Journalism

Advancing the Story: Deborah Potter’s blog on video journalism serves the local American market best of all, but it still has useful advice on shooting video and interviews.

Rosenblum TV: Michael Rosenblum’s blog isn’t your standard VJ fare. As the father of the medium, he is determined to see it revolutionised, and is a vocal herald of the death of traditional TV news. He has pitched for funding on an ambitious plan to give out 1,000 Flipcams in New Jersey, and launches a new video academy in New York in 2010.

The Outernet: David Dunkley-Gyimah’s single handedly pioneered the space between video journalism and cinema; his work resembles multi-million dollar Hollywood flicks. As artist-in-residence at the South Bank Centre in London, expect more news/art mashups in 2010.

Video Journalist: Glen Canning’s site offers some great practical tips for video journalists.

Bob Kaplitz: Bob Kaplitz’s blog is a must for anyone trying to get to grips with the basics of video journalism. He’s done what no-one’s really thought to do up until now – use video to teach video journalism. Clever, huh?

Radio

David Stone: a young news editor by anyone’s standards, David’s posts on practical radio journalism are useful for any radio journalist, especially in the UK.

NewsLeader: Justin King has used Twitter very effectively this year to share advice and tips for radio journalists in the UK and elsewhere. There’s more good stuff on his blog.

James Cridland: just returned from a round-the-world tour of radio, Radio Futurologist James has posted from Canada and the US, where he’s been meeting radio producers everywhere and sharing the future of radio with the rest of us.

Photojournalism

RESOLVE, Livebooks: not just a blog, RESOLVE, managed by Miki Johnson, is also a community of photojournalists all seeking the future for their craft. The After Staff series from summer 2009 is a superb library for anyone who’s been laid off and wants to make it in the scary new freelance world.

The Travel Photographer: Tewfic El- Sawy niftily picks up the best photojournalism from around the world and showcases it. A forward thinking blog, the Travel Photographer also presents new multimedia from photogs.

Lens Blog: The New York Times’ home for photojournalism is a beautiful resource of the best images from the around the world, plus occasional advice from the experts. Great for inspiration.

Writing, Blogging & Thinking

CopyBlogger: possibly the most famous blogger in the world, Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is vital for anyone who wants to understand how to build an audience and avoid boring them with dull words.

Steven Pressfield: a recent discovery for me, Steven’s Wednesday Writing tips not only cover the art of storytelling, but also shares advice on dealing with your own mental resistance and the limiting mind.

Freelance Switch: the ultimate resource for freelancers in all disciplines,  this site has regular articles on writing, getting and keeping clients.

Lateral Action: I have referred to Mark McGuinness’ work several times in the last year, not least because it’s so damn inspiring. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, and want help staying motivated, managing your time or pushing creative boundaries head to Mark. Lateral Action is particularly special because he’s teamed up with Brian Clark from Copyblogger (above) – a dynamic duo if ever there was one.

Career Renegade: also high up on the inspiration chart is Jonathan Fields site Career Renegade. If you’re a journalist thinking of launching your own startup, and creating your own “renegade career”, for Gods sake, read his book first.

The News Business & entrepreneurship

Directors Blog: since setting up POLIS at the London School of Economics, Charlie Beckett has held conferences and given countless conferences on the future of journalism. He has also influenced the future with his ideas of “networked journalism”; his blog today provides academic insight into journalism in the brave new world.

Headlines and Deadlines: blogging from the frontline of regional press in the UK Alison Gow’s blog has insight surrounded by lots of good links.

Killer Startups: every day 15 new internet startups are posted and critiqued. You won’t find any news ones on here, at least not yet, but it’s a fantastic inspiring resource for anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial.

News Innovation: with the banner “new business models for news” you know this blog is asking the right questions; follow it and you might get the answer. In the meantime, its posted some excellent videos of Jeff Jarvis (see below) explaining why the future of news is entrepreneurship.

BuzzMachine: Jeff Jarvis has emerged as the key proponent of “entrepreneurial journalism” and is leading the way in the classroom with his work at CUNY. His blog explains with passion why the future of news is entrepreneurship. Expect more pioneering ideas from Jeff in 2010.

Online Journalism Blog: one of the best sites for analysis on all things digital, Paul Bradshaw’s blog leans towards the often ignored arena of uncovering, analysing and producing data.

Paul Balcerak: from the US, Paul Balcerak sees the future, and then writes about. He shared some of the most creative uses of video journalism earlier this year, and expertly slams down anyone who is stupid enough to resist the future.

Mashable: in the TechCrunch v Mashable war, I am (after trialling both) firmly with the latter. Techcrunchers slate Mashable for just sharing funny Youtube videos, but it covers the revolution in journalism far better and with a much more positive outlook.

The Media Business: Richard G Picard’s blogs are more like essays, but their insight into business models for journalism is profound, and should be on the reading list of anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial. His articles  in 2009 have been shared on countless blogs.

Design

Design Reviver: unless you’re solely a radio journalist you should really exploit the internet’s fantastic resources for visual inspiration. Design Reviver is one of them, featuring among other things, great wordpress themes and photoshop tutorials.

ISO50: Scott Hansen is not only a talented musician but an exceptional graphic designer who shares his own work and those that inspire him. His retro colours and collages are perfect inspiration, and his taste in music is on the ball.

FFFFound: a must for visual journalists of any kind seeking inspiration. A warning though – you’ll struggle to click through the 100+ marvelous designs and photographs from around the world which will filter into your reader.

Multimedia

4iP: it’s always worth following the latest developments from 4iP towers; they are one of the major funders of public service startups in the UK, and their blog provides a good idea of what the latest developments are – and what they fund.

Duckrabbit’s Blog: Ben Chesterton and David White have shown the rest of us how to do multimedia, especially for non-profit clients. When not producing powerful stories for those without a voice, Ben and David passionately blog about the good, the bad and the ugly of multimedia journalism.

Bombay Flying Club: meanwhile in warmer climes, the three talents of Poul Madsen, Henrik Kastenskov and Brent Foster are producing equally gorgeous content for non-profits all over the world. Their blog acts as a showcase of their beautiful work, and is a great inspiration for anyone.

Innovative Interactivity: Tracy Boyer’s seriously on the ball when it comes to using multimedia and interactivity to tell news stories. Subscribe to her blog and you’ll get thoughtful critiques of some quite amazing work which is paving the way towards the future.

A daily dose of all these blogs have filled my mind with things I never thought possible, and work of superb quality. And there’s already room for more…what blogs do you recommend?

Introducing: the journalist of the future

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 23, 2009

There’s been enough talk about the cancer spreading through modern journalism. The cutting of jobs and money, the shedding of audiences and advertising, the invasion of PR guff and the medium’s failure to reject it; and vitally, the disappearance of time for journalists to do some proper journalism.

I’m tired of talking about the past and want to know what’s coming next. Here’s my picture of a future journalist, based on books, blogs, a couple of talks I’ve given recently and all the noise on Twitter. As always, it’s by no means comprehensive – so let me know what’s right and wrong in the comments box!

Typewriter

 

Introducing: the journalist of the future

This combines the technical skills the new journalist will need (plus the old ones), new ways of collaborating with audiences and journalists across the globe; and most importantly an entrepreneurial edge to create an army of “creative entrepreneurs”.

The Jack of All Trades

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: the journalist of the future is a reporter, a video journalist, a photo-journalist, audio journalist and interactive designer, all-in-one. They shoot and edit films, audio slideshows, podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, and longer articles.  They may have one specialism out of those, but can go somewhere and cover a story in a multitude of platforms.

They may start off hiring the kit, but eventually will become a one-person news operation, with their own cameras, audio recorders and editing equipment.

They don’t just do it because it potentially means more revenue; they do it because they love telling stories in different ways. And let’s get another thing straight: they still live and breathe the key qualities of journalism: curiosity, accuracy and a desire to root out good stories and tell the truth.

The Web Designer

It goes without saying the journalist of the future should know several languages, two of which should be XHTML and CSS (and the more spoken ones the better). Their ability to design interactive online experiences will give them an advantage over competitors and a chance to charge more for their work.

They have an amazing portfolio website which shows off their wares.

They understand audio and video for the web does not follow the rules of radio and TV. They know what works online and what doesn’t. They can use social media to drum up interest and audiences in what they do, and are members of LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Twitter to name just a few.

And it also goes without saying the journalist of the future has been a blogger for a long time.

The collaborator

The journalist of the future doesn’t belong to the world of “fortress journalism“. They don’t sit at their desk in a newsroom all day – in fact, they work from home.

They use Noded Working techniques to find collaborators for different digital projects; picking the most talented people from around the world. There are no office politics or long meetings. They market their work well enough to get chosen to take part in other projects.

And the journalist of the future aspires to the ideals of Networked Journalism set out by Charlie Beckett. They are not a closed book obsessed by the final product. Their journalism is as much about the process as the final product and they use social media technologies to get reaction to stories, find contributors, experts and even money. To top it off, they share their final product under the ethos of creative commons so others can build on it.

The Specialist

The internet has shown we’re just not prepared to pay for general news, especially when someone else is giving it away for free. The decline in newsrooms killed off many correspondents and specialists, but the journalist of the future knows there’s more money and more audiences in a niche. So they become more of a specialist in some areas, or use a current specialism to build an audience around what they do.

Science journalist Angela Saini, for example, uses her qualifications in the subject to get her work with a whole host of TV and radio science programmes.

Business, showbiz and sports news I think have a paid-for future – but so do other specialisms.

The Flexible Adapter

The journalist of the future will be born out of this recession and the death of traditional journalism. They’ll succeed now because they adapted, re-trained and were prepared to change their ways. And that is what will help them survive the next downturn too, and the next media revolution. They are flexible, creative and not stuck in their ways.

Mark Luckie, writing over at 10,000 Words says this ability to reinvent is really important:

…being a Jack of all trades is only the starting point. Journalism and its associated technologies are changing at a rapid pace and to learn one skill set is to be left in the dust. Sadly some of the technologies…will be obsolete in just a few years time. To survive in this industry means continuously evolving along with it.

They embrace new technologies, rather than view them as a threat. When a new social media tool or technology comes along, they ask themselves how can I use this?

And they are prepared to live light for a bit. They can live cheap, which means they can charge less and get more business. As David Westphal writes, describing journalist 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.

The Entrepreneur

The journalist of the future is a Creative Entrepreneur. Their business is their talent, creativity and knowledge. They are a freelancer, yes, but not a slave to the odd newsroom shift or rubbish PR story; instead they are in command of their destiny by creating content people will pay for. They discover stories and generate new ideas and sell them.

Back to Charlie Beckett in Networked Journalism:

“Entrepreneurship must be part of the process because every journalist will have to be more “business creative”…Journalism and business schools should work more closely together as information becomes more important to the economy…”

Their multiple skills means they can pitch countless ideas in several formats, for a wide variety of clients. They run their new start-ups in the get-rich-slow mentality described by Time Magazine as Li-Lo business:

It means that your start-up is self-sustaining and can eke out enough profit to keep you alive on instant noodles while your business gains traction.

And they think outside the small journo bubble: their clients aren’t just Cosmo or Radio 4, but B2B publications, charities, NGOs. They get grants from journalism funds to pursue important and under-reported stories.

Evidence has shown several sacked newspaper journalists have made a new career by remembering newsrooms aren’t the only people who pay for content. Brian Storm, from MediaStorm, quoted in PDN Online says:

“NGOs and corporations are just now starting to see the power of multimedia stories…A pr message has no authenticity. It won’t go viral. Organizations are looking for a new way to get their message out, and journalists can play a role in that.”

The Storyteller

And most importantly they do the thing all journalists have ever done: tell stories. But they do it better than traditional journalists because they are not so constrained by time or house styles or formulas. They understand what makes a good story and aren’t afraid to break some rules.

And they have the time to tell the stories properly: truthfully, accurately and responsibly.

I think these make up an exciting future for journalism, but also for the people who try this form of journalism out. Is there anything more exciting than being such a creative entrepreneur?

There’s never been a better time, I tell students, to be a journalistic entrepreneur — to invent your own job, to become part of the generation that figures out how to produce and, yes, sell the journalism we desperately need as a society and as citizens of a shrinking planet. The young journalists who are striking out on their own today, experimenting with techniques and business models, will invent what’s coming.

Most experiments will fail. That’s not a bug in the system, but a feature. It’s how we get better.

Dan Gilmore, Centre for Citizen Media

Multimedia emergency plans

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 14, 2009

Nice post by Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words on ways for journalists to cover big breaking news stories in multimedia.

Often these new methods get overlooked in the race to get the story the traditional way; Luckie shows just how valuable it can be to keep multimedia in mind.

Click here to have a look.

(Hat tip: Deborah Potter at Advancing the Story)

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