Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The million dollar question (literally)

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 5, 2007

Dollar signThe big story of the day for all Claphams yummy mummys is undoubtedly the news that the education system for 11-14 year old’s to be shaken up.

“Useless” EU languages are going to be scrapped in favour of economically more fruitful ones like Arabic, Urdu and Mandarin.

Brilliant. I’ve always wanted to learn Mandarin, and besides I never use my French anyway.

But seeing as we’re on the topic of economically useful subjects, here’s one that really gets me:

Why were we never taught money at school?

As I flounder in a panic-stricken state, smothered by the giant pillow of £22,000 debt beneath a 13-tog* duvet of rising interest rates and an exploding property market I’m wishing I got told how to manage my money instead of being taught William Blake was a mentalist.

I have little idea of loans, APR, taxes and I only discovered there was such a thing as a credit rating and that failing one is bad news….when I failed one. Cheers for that one education.

And clearly I’m not the only one. Personal insolvency in the UK went up by a whopping 59% last year. In 2006 a record 107,000 thousand people were declared bankrupt and probably now live on a diet of cat food and cardboard, like me.

The government moans and blames the banks. But successive education ministers have been too proud to look at themselves – schools are to blame, not banks. Well, banks are a little too.

So great, teach kids Mandarin, and Urdu and Elvish, whatever. But why the hell aren’t we taught how to manage our money in a world where money’s everything?

It’s the million dollar question.

* you need to have worked a summer selling people duvets to know that 13 tog is a really thick duvet that you have when its cold.

Write on

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2007

Apologies first off for the terrible pun which is supposed to be the title of a blog about good writing. Can’t have everything though.

I’m feeling pretty drained after an intensive few days in the first of a series of masterclasses that make up part of my journalism course at City University. Alongside watching Guiness adverts over and over, realising our collective cultural and historical ignorance and sweating away in a box size room full of 40-odd people we’ve also been given an introduction to what I’ve realised is one of the main pillars of journalism: good writing.

It’s perfectly easy to make it in journalism as an alright writer (and probably a shit one too) and plenty do. This week with department head Adrian Monck was about trying to be a really good writer and taking writing seriously.
And in the last few days we’ve got to read and watch some pretty brilliant stuff. The classics were in there: Michael Buerk’s famous reports from a famine ridden Ethiopia, and the beautifully crafted introduction to the World At War. You get a whole new appreciation of them when you try and improve them, and instead write something laughable.

It’s all made me realise how important good writing is even in television, where the pictures are supposed to tell the story. If you look at some of the most famous journalists, they’ve all been good writers: (my favourites) Ed Murrow, Bill Neely, Barnaby Phillips and Matt Frei.

And why is good writing important? Here’s Vin Ray in his rather good book Television News:

“If there’s one area which really separates the best correspondents from the rest it’s good writing…the best scripts can be defining moments in themselves; and the very best are, once heard, never forgotten…good writing and delivery and a lightness of touch will lift and illuminate the driest and most difficult subjects.”

So here’s to good writing. I don’t think I’ll ever achieve it, but I’ll at least try. And if you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about, here’s an example of something special: the BBC’s Matt Frei on poverty in Japan; it’s creative, surprising, conversational and hooks you in:

“It’s 11.15 am. The queue is getting longer – and more nervous. Some people have been here since dawn. Expectations are rising. They’re afraid the free bowls of soup will run out. For many this could be the only hot meal of the week. Listen to the sound of hunger:

[NATURAL SOUND]

No this is not North Korea. Nor a slum in China. But Japan – and these are the homeless of Osaka.”

From Vin Ray, Television News

1 in a 1000

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 21, 2007

“Hi is that Max?”

“Yes it is.”

“Hi Max, it’s Adam from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. How are you?”

“….not too good considering a tree’s just crushed my car.”

That’s how not to brief a guest just before you put them on air.  I was working to the Drive Programme on BBC Cov & Warks and the weather, not for the first time, was making the headlines.

The day’s planning for the programme had been pushed aside in light of the falling trees, powercuts and general chaos caused by last weeks 99mph winds. And it was a great example of local radio reacting to a breaking news story. We were getting dozens of calls from listeners, all eager to tell us what the situation down their road was like, all interacting with the station.

It was an exciting end to an interesting few weeks seeing BBC Local Radio in action. I was regularly impressed by the ideas and creativity that came out of the daily meeting (I’ve decided an ideas meeting is a must in any newsroom) and above how in touch the station was with it’s patch.

Rather than wait for news to come in via councillors, press releases and the like, there’s a real effort to get out and react to what the listeners care about.

BBC Coventry and Warwickshire open centre in actionThe studios in Priory Place, Coventry contain an Open Centre – a new idea in local radio. It’s a wireless hub, cafe and computer classroom all in one and it tries to encourage people to come in even just for a drink. Seeing as many people don’t know where the studios of their local stations are I think this is excellent.

Most impressively, Coventry’s pioneering a citizen journalism scheme called Citizen 1000; The aim is to recruit 1,000 citizen journalists to come and report for the station – whether by phoning in with a story, doing a film review or talking about sport.

Within it’s first three weeks of launching, several CJ’s had phoned in with tip-offs and these became stories that no other rival would get.

That’s absolutely brilliant, and this symbiotic relationship between local radio and local community is something the BBC (and commercial rivals) should seize upon right away.

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The world (so far)

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2007

The world (so far)
This map’s done the rounds, but still always fun to put it up…the countries in red are the ones I’ve visited in my 22 years.

Going to Russia certainly helps make you look travelled…but Africa’s still looking too grey for my liking.

Tagged with: , ,

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“Never a better time to be a journalist”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 31, 2006

An interesting article from November’s Press Gazette caught my eye last week.

Andrew Neil: ‘It’s Never a Better Time to be a Journalist’ (November 9 2006) gives an insight into what Neil thinks jobs for people like me will be in years to come.

While some are pessimistic, especially for the poor sods training to be print journalists, the Scottish ex-editor’s not so negative…although he thinks big changes are afoot.

“In the age of the internet and 24-hour television and radio news means that journalistic ethos will soon have your newspaper belly up and in the graveyard.”

This was his most interesting idea:

“The journalists of tomorrow will write for newspapers, contribute to magazines and podcasts, work for TV production companies, write their own blogs, because you wouldn’t give them a column – and then they will sell the blog back to you at an inflated price…

“The journalist of the future…will  have more than one employer and become a brand in their own right.”

A brand in our own right? So is this future one of the permanent multi-platform freelancer? I don’t think that would be so bad.

And I think we can see the branding idea beginning around here too…perhaps before long there’ll be Chris Doidge Ltd, Rachael Canter Inc., James Laidler Corp and Adam Westbrook Inc (as scary as that sounds!)?

Suddenly 2007 sounds quite exciting…

Back in Touch…

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 30, 2006

…I’ll never get tired of that one!

Yes, I’ve been back freelancing at Touch Fm in the south midlands this week…extremely gruelling as to get to the studios in Stratford-upon-Avon for 10.30 I had to get up at 5am.

And I didn’t get back home until 10pm. Thankyou British public transport.

Anyway, it was an interesting week as I became a veritable copy machine…I counted around 60 pieces of copy (the news script that newsreaders read) that I wrote over the three days, plus several voicers.

As usual it was an exercise in making dull stories interesting. The worst story I was given was so bad, I kept a copy of it for your amusement. Here’s the script I eventually wrote:

STA-LIBRARY/1            AW                  SAT-Copy

If you’ve got some library fines you want to clear before the New Year then today’s your last chance.

Libraries in Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds are closing tonight for the New Year holiday…they’ll open again on Tuesday.

Yes, that’s right, it was a press release about library opening times. All I can say is that it wasn’t my idea to run it.

Meanwhile, there was a fair share of violent crimes. In particular it seems to have been a miserable, violence ridden christmas for people in Warwickshire..on the same day:

  • An old man was hospitalised in a hit and run
  • A teenager had the shit beaten out of him outside the cinema in Leamington Spa
  • A man held a 15-hour seige at his Coventry home, injuring two police officers in the process.

Most interestingly a thief in Redditch stole a car and drove 100 yards before noticing the owner’s elderly mother sitting in the back. He pulled over and unceremoniously dumped her on the pavement before speeding off.

Now, this is a serious story, of course.  So I was unable to use the pun I came up with, which I think is worthy of the Sun:

Gran Theft Auto.

Oh dear, oh dear.

A long day at Gray’s Inn

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2006

Yesterday seven of us from City University’s Broadcast Journalism course had an “operational visit” to ITN‘s headquarters at Gray’s Inn Road in central London. For those who are unfamiliar, ITN produces daily television news for ITV and Channel 4 in the UK, and – as IRN – radio for hundreds of commercial stations across the country.

ITN HeadquartersIt’s paid for as part of our course, and it was an absolute highlight of the year so far. The seven of us turned up bleary eyed at 8am and were met by Richard, a senior producer and our guide for the day.

We got to sit in on the daily planning meeting where all the senior editors get together to bash out the days news. No surprise what was on the agenda yesterday, with Alexander Litvinenko’s death the obvious lead.*

The rest of the day was split between watching ITV News in action, sitting in the gallery during the Lunchtime and Evening news programmes, and getting our hands dirty with some journalistic exercises.

Richard had us debating the running order and writing copy for short “ulays” (short pieces of footage you see on screen while a presenter talks, usually during a ‘news in brief’ segment). With access to ITN’s huge archive of source material and their editing software we wrote and edited a short package on the Australian fires, which Richard then critiqued.

He was an excellent teacher and I learned loads about writing to picture and how to use your pictures creatively.

ITV News studioIt was great seeing ITV News in action as well; with Michael Stone storming Stormont (the alliteration rolls of the tongue) less than an hour before the Lunchtime News went on air, it was chaos in the gallery but the team pulled it together without anyone at home noticing.

I’ve always kind of ignored ITV News in the past, dismissing it as popularist and tabloid. If yesterday showed me anything its that ITV News writes better and uses pictures more creatively than its rivals.

*Bizarre story of the day: three weeks ago, a talk was held at City Uni about the tragic death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Due to talk was her friend, Alexander Litvinenko, but he pulled out at the last minute – due to illness.  

Local TV on the way?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 20, 2006

Interesting article in the Press Gazette this week: the Newspaper Society’s apparently criticised a report saying that the BBC’s Local TV project won’t damage the local press industry.

The BBC’s Laughton Report investigated the impact of the BBC’s uber-local TV project, piloted in the West Midlands about a year ago, a daily 10 minute programme of news focussing on small areas. It concluded there was:

“no statistically significant impact on newspaper circulation figures in the region” and that “Daily recorded 7-10 minute bulletins and on-demand news items and features are unlikely to have a significant impact on other players in local markets.”

BBC Local TV imageAs a result, the BBC is apparently planning a full roll out of 66 Local TV strands across the UK pending a Board of Governers’ decision. The Newspaper Society doesn’t agree though and is inherently threatened by the BBC’s plans.  

As indeed all newspaper hacks seem inherently threatened by anything that doesn’t use endless reams of paper and utilises that magic substance they call ‘electricity’.

As a wannabe VJ at Uni in Warwick, near Coventry, I near soiled myself when the pilot began in my area. It was for the most part successful (i.e. interesting) and was a mixed bag of crime, council news and silly stories. The production quality was at times questionable, but overall good.

I hope it rolls out next year, and I don’t think it’ll threaten local papers, just offer them stiff competition. Most local papers have a regularly updated website anyway.

But Joe, a colleague on my BJ course here at City, made quite a good point about the Local TV idea. It would seem there’s an inherent contradiction within the scheme. On the one hand, it makes news as local as it can get – daily 10 minute chunks of stuff at the end of your road; the people who tend to dig this sort of stuff are in their autumn years, and wary of new technology.

BBC Local TVOn the other hand, Local TV is the most hi-tech form of BBC journalism: a mix of online and “press the red button now”, not to mention it’s use of Video Journalism.  Who digs this? Young people. But they hate local news.

So there’s a dodgy contradiction here, which might stop the scheme creating a successful identity for itself.  But it’s a natural, inevitable conclusion in the hi-tech newsworld, and ought to please people who feel their half-hourly dose of regional TV is as local as Newsnight.

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At the Frontline

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 17, 2006

Frontline Club logoWent to a very interesting awards/debate event at London’s Frontline Club last night, after an invite from the lovely James, Rachael and David at Westminster Uni.

 

 

Hosted by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, it began with the Kurt Schork Awards, highlighting brave freelance journalists like Kurt himself who was killed reporting from

Sierra Leone in 2000. One award went to Steve Vincent who was killed recently in
Iraq and there was a touching moment as his widow accepted the award from Kurt Schork’s widow, which really brought home the sacrifices some people choose to make.

Then came a debate on the impact of new technology (such as DV Cams and VJs) on local freelance journos around the world. Some were worried that the accessibility of equipment would water down journalism, and others that the equipment’s too expensive for local journalists anyway. But I reckon the flood of “citizen journalists” (if the flood ever happens) will only strengthen the need for accurate, well trained journalists (cough-cough!).

 

But I remembered something the venerable Emmanuel Bensah said a while back when I got excited about new technology:

Video journalism is all exciting, innit, but I have to say that I espouse a visceral belief that journalists are far from dead. In the long run, these are TOOLS, TOOLS, and TOOLS, NOT substitutes. When all else fails, we need our journalists to do the quintessential work of, erm, journalism, no?”

I also got to meet David Dunkley-Gyimah who runs the ever expanding View Magazine site. He’s riding the new media wave big time, and apparently View Magazine’s going to make Minority Report look like Postman Pat before long. Brilliant.

Ruud ElmendorpDavid also mentioned that Ruud Elmendorp just won the International TV Award at the Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. Ruud works freelance in East Africa and his reports are a much needed alternative side reporting in Africa. Definitely check out his excellent report where he meets the imfamous Joseph Kony. Great to see he’s got some recognition.

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SRA success!

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2006
  • Posh hotel: check
  • Nice suit: check
  • Free drink: check!

I mentioned earlier that RaW (my old student radio station back at Warwick Uni) got some nominations in the national student radio awards.

We all turned up and got thoroughly merry. All the drunken gossip that usually arises aside, I think we left with 2 silvers, 2 bronzes and a gold for technical innovation. The silver for Best Station was much deserved. Well done everyone!

Here we are all getting hammered (and looking like we’ve been set alight…)

RaW at the Student Radio Awards

Regent’s Street christmas lights

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2006

Regents Street Christmas 3

 

In an abortive attempt to get properly festive this year I popped along to the turning on of the Regent’s Street christmas lights in central London, the smaller sibling of the big Christmas light display on Oxford Street.

Regents Street Christmas 2

The verdict? Garish, crass, not at all christmassy, and a sickenly commercial plug for the latest sugar filled kiddies movie.

All the lights are adorned with characters from “flushed away” (some film about toilets apparently).

While I was there though, I had a quick look at the BBC’s much feted W1 Project: a rennovation of Broadcasting House including the largest newsroom in the world.

W1 Project

 

More frustration

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 10, 2006

The bulletins yesterday went very well, and the interest rate announcement at midday made it pretty exciting.

In the end I didn’t get time to put my off-diary story about the lack of poppies on sale together (see here). Didn’t think much of it, until the London Lite ran the same story on their frontpage. Whoops.

After all the technical cock-ups on Wednesday it’s been a week of “how not to be a reporter”.

In other news, lots of lovely golds and silvers for RaW – my old student radio station – at the swanky student radio awards last night…not mention all sorts of goss…more soon (when the hangovers gone!)