Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Greenslade is right: I *am* saying what ought to happen

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 18, 2010

Thanks to all of you who left so many interesting and diverse comments on ‘Hold the Front Page, I haven’t got a clue‘. It’s had more than a thousand page views in 24 hours which is awesome.

British journalism commentator Roy Greenslade has also stepped into the debate, in support of Ed Caeser’s article, and dismissing myself, Adam Tinworth and Claire Wardle who disagreed with it (you can read Adam’s response here and Claire’s here).

Roy Greenslade’s criticism comes down to this:

…the difference between them and Caesar (and me) is between “is” and “ought.”

Caesar and his interviewees are telling like it is. His critics are saying what ought to happen.

And he gets it spot on: I am saying what ought to happen. I really believe journalism needs to change and should change for the benefit of everyone.

That’s why I quit my nice job in the mainstream media eight months ago. That’s why I’ve written three ebooks to help people to do things differently and better. That’s why I write thousands of words a week about it on this blog, at Duckrabbit and on journalism.co.uk. That’s why I set up the Future of News Meetups, so journalists who want to create the future can meet and come up with new ideas.

What’s the point in saying it how it is? Or fantasizing about how it was? Surely the most productive thing is to fantasize about how it could be…and then make it happen.

Greenslade ends by quoting one of his students at City University*, dismayed at the prospect of having to be entrepreneurial online. “That’s all very well” she tells him, “but I came here to get on to a newspaper.” A valid point – we must remember alternative ways of doing things aren’t for everyone (although Greenslade neglects to mention her ambitions may be because that’s what the City University brochure promised her before she paid £7,900 to do the course).

Of course, many young journalist will still want to work on a national. Thousands of them will want nothing more than to be presenting the BBC 10 bulletin in 20 years time. That was my dream when I trained.

There’s nothing wrong with holding on to that dream. The future of news still has the BBC, Sky, CNN, The Guardian, the New York Times and the Sun in it. Still doing what they do. Still hiring.

But there is this other opportunity that exists now right now that we would be plain stupid to pass up. An opportunity to diversify the news ecosystem, let new species emerge. To do something more than make coffee and rewrite press releases for five years. To not only do sort of journalism you love and get paid for it, but to go down as a pioneer and an innovator.

Oh, and there’s plenty o’ money to be made too if that’s what motivates you. The Video Journalism pioneer Michael Rosenblum says it best in a comment on this very blog:

There is an absolute fortune to be made in the journalism business today and for the next decade. The whole apple cart of our industry has been turned upside-down and that means we are undergoing a massive reorganization of our industry…there are several billion pounds laying on the table just waiting to be scooped up by any aggressive enough to go after them. And the path to that is most certainly not taking a job as a reporter at a newspaper.

Of course money isn’t everything  (although it’s what motivated the newspaper pioneers of the 19th century).

I’m going to end there, because these blogger debates tend to eventually descend into ‘you misinterpreted the tense of what I said’ pedantry. But it’s important we thrash out these issues now because, in some sense, the future of the industry relies on it.

If we let the naysayers, the doom-mongers and the sceptics win out, we risk paralysing the young innovators upon whose shoulders it falls to reinvent journalism.

They need ideas, encouragement, support and motivation – something they certainly won’t get from the Sunday Times or the Media Guardian.

A quick timeline in case you need to catch up:

  • Ed Caeser writes this
  • Claire Wardle tweets this
  • Adam Tinworth blogs this
  • I blog this
  • Roy Greenslade blogs this

*I also trained, and had Greenslade lectures, at City University in 2006-7

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What’s your “news eco-system”?

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 25, 2008

The BBC have carried out some research into how the modern homo-sapien consumes its news. They asked a load of people to keep a diary noting everytime they checked up on the news, and how they did it.

Steve Hermann writes about the results here.

Interestingly, their researchers described each person as having their own “news eco-system”: ‘where an individual might read several papers, hear news on the radio, look at various websites and/or TV channels for news’.

Well I hope that pattern isn’t news to the BBC.

But that’s an interesting term, and got me wondering what my news-ecosystem might look like….

0630: BBC 5 LIVE – DAB radio, in bed – to find out the headlines and who’s saying what

0800: Viking FM – DAB radio, in bed – to see what stories I’ll be sent out to cover that day

0830: Radio 1 – radio, in car – to get an idea of how Newsbeat are tailoring the news for their audience.

0900: Scan through the local papers, plus Mail, Mirror and Sun – to get an idea of what our listeners are reading.

Mid morning – a catch up with the big stories online. I also check Media Guardian, BBC News Online, NY Times. I also get email alerts from various sources.

All day – brief glances at Sky News in the office. I’m also drip fed news via IRN’s wire service.

1330 – BBC Look North – to see what the opposition are up to; inevitable plug of Peter Levy’s show.

Evening – check up on social news: Facebook, Google Reader/blogs and Twitter all tell me what people I’m interested in are up to.

1900 – Channel 4 News – but these days for just a few minutes. On Friday’s I love Unreported World.

Evening – alternative news sources if I have time: Current TV

There you go – I count 17 different sources (20 if you breakdown all the local papers, 50 if you add each blog). Each one consumed for no more than 5-10 minutes, and each one I select, chew and spit out as I please.

So what could be a useful conclusion for the future of news? It can be alternative. And it needs to be short.

What’s your eco system? Post below, and maybe we can give David Attenborough a ring!

And so it begins…

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on September 29, 2008

Has it been 18 months since I wrote this?

‘….broadcasting on an analogue signal, all of the terrestrial channels have a certain public service remit. They’re all using large amounts of airwaves which belong to the public and in return they’re expected to provide us all with some news….

‘…But hark, on the horizon, the looming spectre of the digital switchover…and…a channel’s news remit will expire too.  Some channels – likely ITV and Five – may well say “screw news – why should I waste my money on that?”’

Last week of course we had the sad announcement ITV’s local output was becoming regional.

And today, ITV boss Michael Grade says “we risk loosing national news bulletins.

‘Grade voiced his concerns that national news might ultimately not be financially viable at a Royal Television Society London conference on Friday.

He said: “In a PSB world, you get guarantees in terms of privileges. In a non-PSB world you do things for as long as you [commercially] can.”‘

Well, news never was financially viable. I can’t believe that’s a surprise to Mr Grade.

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Some wise words

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on August 5, 2007

This articles six weeks old but I think it’s good enough to share around some more.

BBC training guru Vin Ray writes about how he re-discovered an old email from Alan Johnston the then virtually unheard of Middle East correspondent, and now one of the most recognisable faces of BBC News.

In it Alan gives some advice on what makes a good radio reporter. As someone just a few months into their first radio journo job I think it’s brilliant advice:

I normally never tell war stories “… when I was in Jalalabad with the mortars coming down … blah, blah, blah.” But, on this one occasion, there is something I can remember from Grozny that illustrates the point. I was with a journalist, not a BBC bloke, who very much liked being in a war zone, and during the battle for the city, we were in an abandoned block of flats. We went into an apartment where a shell had come through the living-room wall. And I remember hearing this guy immediately start talking about whether it had been a bazooka shell or a rocket-propelled grenade that had done the damage, and where the soldier who fired it must have been standing on the street outside.

But if you looked around the room for a minute, you could see the life that used to go on in it. You could see the books that the family used to read, and the sort of pictures that they liked to hang on the walls, and, from photographs, you could see that they had three kids and that the oldest girl had graduated from university. Of course, their story, what had happened to them – what they were, and what they had lost – was what the war was all about. It did not really matter whether it was a bazooka or a rocket that had turned their world upside down.

So much of the job is about trying to find the imagination within yourself to try to see, to really see, the world through the eyes of the people in the story. Not just through the eyes of the Palestinian who has just had his home smashed. But also through the eyes of the three young Israelis in a tank who smashed it. Why did they see that as a reasonable thing to do? What was going through their minds as their tank went through the house? If you can come close to answering questions like that, then you’ll be giving the whole picture, which is what the BBC must do.

Click here to read the full article by Vin Ray.

And Vin has written one of the best books for aspiring journos there is:  The Television News Handbook.

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Maybe letter writing does work…

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 16, 2007

Today’s Media Guardian has a spread announcing the launch of the 2007 Student Media Awards – the annual parade of student journalism talent in the UK.

And for the first time, there’s a category for Student Broadcaster of the Year.

It’s taken 12 months exactly…but maybe letter writing does work:

Letter to the Media Guardian

Shame all three of us are no longer elible to enter though.

[Cheers to Doidge for the tip off]

“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…

Monkey mischief

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 16, 2006

Media MonkeyCity University (where I’m studying) was the subject of a scandelous expose by the ever watchful Media Monkey today:

Print out
To City University now, where the journalism course boasts alumni such as Sophie Raworth and Faisal Islam, and enrolled a dozen extra students this year, boosting uni coffers by around £70,000. The bigger intake, however, has left less space in City’s cramped east London classrooms, and barely a month into the new term, the new arrivals are annoyed that not a single printer in the building seems to work. They would write a letter of complaint, but there’s nothing to print it on.

Clearly, everyone’s favourite Monkey has eyes not just in professional newsrooms but the trainee ones as well. In the interests of fairness I should point out that I successfully printed a bursary application form on Friday afternoon, but I did struggle to get the department photocopier to work.

Rumours are abound as to who the mole was and more crucially, why he/she didn’t have anything more interesting to tell monkey about.

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