Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Future of News Bootcamp: a market for traditional reportage?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 23, 2010

The first ever Future of News Business Bootcamp took place in London last night – 7 journalists, several bottles of wine and one problem: how to make money in journalism.

Each bootcamp will focus on a different area of journalism, and this inaugural event had possibly the biggest challenge of all – how to create a business around human rights & development reportingthat vitally important, but until now, expensive and unprofitable part of journalism.

In the room were half a dozen journalists, pretty much all of whom were interested in being able to travel to different parts of the world and uncover human rights abuses and report on development issues – and get paid to do it. And we were going to do something which has never really been tried in this way before – to take an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to business, and transplant it onto journalism.

Not many journalists dare to stray into this territory, more often than not, simply because they don’t have much entrepreneurial nouse (or don’t think they do). Not us! We bravely strolled into this area to see what sticks.

Product or Service?

Almost all businesses can be divided into two categories – those which provide a product, and those which provide a service. A product is an item you can ship and sell; a service is selling your own time, expertise or knowledge. We looked at both options. Under service, we came up with ideas such as a business which chases every penny of UK development money around the world to check it’s being spent properly; we also looked at providing a reporting service for businesses with Corporate Social Responsibility policies and half a dozen other ideas.

The idea of a product got the group more excited. Is there a gap for a decent human rights reportage magazine? The room felt there was, but it would need to be a massive departure from what little there is out there already. Costs would be another problem; the annual cost estimates for a small business, with maybe six journalists travelling and reporting, ranged from £500,000 ($1m) to £3m ($6m) a year. A lot, yes, but the Times and the Guardian loose hundreds of thousands a day – something new would have a massive advantage…

A market?

A key part of starting any business is thinking ‘who is my customer?’. We spent a fair bit of time coming up with crazy different ideas for who might want this type of journalism in the modern world…NGOs? Students & universities? Schools? The military? Traditional media appeared too, although we all agreed getting money from them was becoming harder and harder.

Packaging?

We made some good headway with the idea of how to package the product. Settling on an idea for an online (and possibly print-on-demand) magazine, we looked at all the other news outlets thriving online: the Financial Times, NPR & Propublica, Techcrunch & Mashable, the BusinessDesk.com, MediaStorm – and looked at what ways of packaging our product we could steal from them: everything from exploiting a sponsored mailing list to running events, to bootstrapping, to branding. A combination of these feeding into multiple revenue streams seemed like an attractive idea.

With all the wine gone and the two hours up, we had a lot of ideas, but nothing hugely concrete. But that’s OK! It was pretty much as much as we could have hoped for. More importantly I think it sewed some seeds in all our minds about what might work and what wouldn’t….that’ll stew in our minds for a while – and I think maybe someone in the room will suddenly get the spark of inspiration not far into the future.

Thanks very much to Deborah, Donnacha, Kat, Rebecca, Adam and Phil for bravely taking part in the experiment! If you like the idea of the bootcamps and would like to come to the next one make sure you’re signed up to the Future of News Meetup Group (it’s free!).

In London? Get to the Future of News meetups!

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on May 5, 2010

As you may remember, last year I founded the Future of News meetup group; a monthly gathering of journalists, entrepreneurs, students, academics and web geeks to thrash out solutions to journalism’s problems.

The rules of the meetup are simple:

  • it’s free
  • anyone can rock up
  • negativity of any kind is banned
  • as are phrases like “news is dead” and “that’s a crap idea”

Four meetups later and the group is going strong with nearly 300 members, and three local spin off groups in Brighton, Birmingham and Cardiff.

After the UK general election is out of the way on Thursday, we’re having no fewer than two meetup events this month – if you are in or near London please come along!

01. what can we learn from social media & the general election?

Thursday 13th May – details here.

This election is the first where a fully developed social media landscape has been present. How has that affected the campaign, the outcome and how people voted?

More importantly, what can journalists learn from how social media was used during the election campaign? What can we apply to new business ideas and big events in the future?

We’ll be hearing some as yet unpublished figures from UK startup UltraKnowledge who are monitoring social media activity as we speak. The information, including data on what days, parties, events were most popular, won’t have been seen before, so it’s worth heading along to get your eyes on that alone.

Afterwards we’ll be asking how journalists can apply social media for more profitable ways in the future. It’ll be one of our regular big ideas sessions, so if you want to come along, click here to sign up.

02. the entrepreneurship special

Tuesday 18th May – details here

Lots of commentators including Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis have been saying the future of journalism is entrepreneurial for some time. But becoming one is easier said than done. What makes a good idea for a news business and how do you even go about starting one up?

We’ve got three speakers lined up who can answer all those questions, including the CEO of a TechCrunch rated startup.

If you would like to launch your own news business (an online magazine, sharing site, social media platform etc.) but don’t know where to start then this event is a must. Spaces are already filling up fast. Click here to sign up & get a place.

There’ll be more future of news meetups over the summer, so make sure you register to get all the information.

More UK Future of News talk

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 9, 2010

The Future of News Meetup Group continues to grow from strength to strength this week, with the first local branch meetings held in Birmingham and Brighton.

To Brighton first, where the group (hashtag #bfong), organised by Journalism.co.uk‘s Judith Townend included talks from Jo Wadsworth from the Brighton Argus and Simon Willison from the Guardian.

They both spoke about some awesome innovations in journalism, including the Guardian’s successful crowd-sourcing experiment during the MPs expenses scandal.

Laura Oliver provides excellent coverage of both speakers which you can read here and here.

To Birmingham where the group (hashtag #fonwm) heard from Andrew Brightwell from hyperlocal blog Grounds and debated some exciting new business models; hyperlocal star Philip John provides a good write-up here, and student Alex Gamela shares his thoughts too.

Meanwhile the first Welsh event in Cardiff is being planned and there’s plans afoot to set one up in Scotland too.

And back in London, there are still a few places left for February’s event featuring, among others, radio futurologist James Cridland – click here to find out more!

Roundup: UK Future of News Meetup 2

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 25, 2010

Filming has kept me from putting together a write up of the first proper Future of News Meetup in London, which we held last week…but better late than never!

Since I opened the group in November, numbers have swelled to more than 200, and around 50 made it to the London School of Economics on Wednesday where we were kindly put up by the politics and society thinktank POLIS.

We were lucky to have two excellent speakers, both of whom are leading the way on the ground; two people who you won’t see at any conference.

From Data Visualisation…

First up, Cynthia O’Murchu from the Financial Times opened many peoples’ eyes to the power and potential of data visualisation. In the FT’s business of making complicated city statistics digestible, interactive graphics have played a big role.

She explained how they work with reporters across the FT, and how some took a while to understand the potential of data-viz. It’s an awesome branch of multimedia…but how many young journalists today are learning the design or coding skills needed to produce it?

Do they even need design and coding skills, or can it all be outsourced?

…to Berlin

Cynthia was followed by Alex Wood, a City University graduate who, along with four colleagues, is paving the way – simply by actually making stuff happen. He’s one of the names behind the superb Berlin Projectfeatured here in an earlier Ideas For the Future of News post. Although, that might be simplifying it a bit – Alex’s presentation revealed the technical, logistical and journalistic achievement of the  Project, and he revealed plans for a conference – which made the news right here.

We wrapped the evening up with some brainstorming to get everyone thinking of practical ideas for new news businesses – which is what the group is all about. I’m hoping we’ll fit in more of that in future meetups.

Future of News gets local…

And some fantastic news in the last few days, is the creation of not one, but three local off shoots to the London Future of News group. Judith Townend from Journalism.co.uk is working on a Brighton based group – check out the details from Sarah Booker here. Meanwhile in the West Midlands the venerable Philip John is planning a group, with others l0oking to take up the challenge in South Wales.

With four Future of News Groups now in action, the future is looking brighter indeed.

A rare work update…

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on January 8, 2010

It’s been a busy start to the New Year here at Westbrook towers.

First off my article about prisoner votes campaigner John Hirst is featured in this week’s Big Issue In The North. It follows this audio slideshow I produced in 2009. If you’re in the north of the UK, I’m sure a (very) cold Big Issue vendor would appreciate your custom. Meanwhile some of the images from this slideshow are appearing in a documentary, The Fear Factor, due for release in March.

My new e-book, Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Websites is due for release next week. It’s a practical manual packed with advice on how to turn your hyperlocal blog into a solid newsgathering operation, holding powers to account where the mainstream media have failed. It’s got a discounted opening price, so make sure you subscribe to the blog for details!

Elsewhere the lecturing work carries on, with dozens of short films my students have made due for marking by the end of this month. I hope to be returning to Kingston University’s journalism department for other events in 2010.

And I’m being kept busy with various conferences. I’m looking forward to speaking at Journalism.co.uk‘s News: Rewired event in London on the 14th January; tickets for that have now sold out. I’m also due to speak at a couple of planned events in London, and I’ve been invited to take part in some exciting international festivals in the spring as well (more details soon).

All the while January’s Future of News Meetup in association with POLIS is now full, with a waiting list building. We’ll be hearing from journalists at the Financial Times and one of the team behind the Berlin Project about innovation  in multimedia. If you would like to sign up to future meetups or try to make January’s event, click here to get involved.

Right here there’s lots of plans for the blog, with lots more practical advice and analysis of developments in journalism due in 2010. You’ll find me contributing to a host of excellent blogs and websites in 2010, including Duckrabbit, A Developing Story and Journalism 2.0.

And ahead, I some exciting multimedia plans stewing, and I’ll be looking for collaborators in the near future – keep your ears to the ground! In the meantime, I’m always available for various freelancing work, so just click on Contact Adam to get in touch!

Talking the future of news

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 11, 2009

This week we held the first Future Of News Meetup in London.

A small but interesting mix of people turned up: journalism students, academics, publishers, photojournalists, news producers and seasoned hacks: a small fraction of the 140 people who have joined the group so far.

Although it was a casual first meeting, conversation soon turned to the crisis in journalism and the digital revolution, with paywalls and citizen journalism being thrashed out by the bar.

I set the group up in November, with the idea of bringing together journalists, academics, students and entrepreneurs to a free, regular forum to talk about new ideas which will define the future of news.

You can read more about it here, and if you’d like to join and come to more formal meetings in 2010 sign up here.

Photographs: Megumi Waters

Your chance to get involved in the future of news

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 10, 2009

There’s lots and lots of talk about the future of journalism at the moment.

You can read it on blogs like this one, this one and this one.

You can occasionally read something new in one of the papers, like this one.

You can even pay some money and go to conferences.

And while they are all fantastic hotbeds for debate, they’re not really regular enough to be good forums for that most crucial currency of all: new ideas.

That’s why I’ve set up a new meet-up group to get things moving.

Futureofnews-meet1

It’s called the UK Future of News Group. If you are in the UK, or even better, in London then please think about joining and coming along to an informal meet up. It’s free, and you don’t even need to be a journalist- just interested about the future of journalism.

It’s perfect for bloggers, J-students, young journalists, J-entrepreneurs, hyper-locallers, lecturers not to mention seasoned old hacks. You could be working online, in print, on radio or with a camera.

The first meet-ups going to be in a bar near Waterloo, on the 7th December.

(hopefully avoiding any early Christmas parties)

What it isn’t, is an arena to repeatedly lament the death of print, or the end of quality journalism, or to go around saying  “paywalls must be the answer, journalists have got to eat!”

What it is, is a place where people can think positively, about tangible new ideas to determine the future of journalism. I hope someone will pitch a few ideas which we can all thrash out and stew over.

And maybe one of them will come up with the next big thing.

But most of all, I want it to be a forum where we can all have a say on the future of our craft, without having to pay hundreds in conference fees.

Interested? Sign up now!