Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: designing good stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 24, 2012

Are you excited yet? There are less than 48 hours until Inside the Story goes on sale!

I’m personally psyched about the whole thing for a few reasons: firstly because it’s the culmination of three months of work, hundreds of emails all over the world, lots of planning, writing and designing, and I can’t wait to have something to show for it. Secondly because now I see the finished product I reckon it’s going to be incredibly useful for hundreds of journalists, film makers, publishers and producers who are flirting at the edges of remarkable, but aren’t quite there yet (I include myself in that).

The third reason is the most important. I want Inside The Story to do more than help digital storytellers: I also figured it could make a real difference to people all over the planet. That’s why 100% of all the money from each sale will be donated to Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

Kiva are a real innovative non-profit: they crowd-fund loans which are given to people wanting to start their own business in countries like Kenya, the Philippines and Indonesia. The money lets these entrepreneurs invest in equipment, supplies and anything they need to get started, but would never be able to afford on their own. Incredibly, in the last six years 760,000 people have been given help starting a business with more than $3million in loans – and 98% of those loans actually get paid back!

It’s a simply brilliant way to help people help themselves and master their own destiny. Inside the Story is going the extra mile though: every penny will be given to Kiva as a donation, rather than a loan; Kiva estimate every dollar donated generates $10 in loans – so if we make $3000 through selling Inside the Story, that could create $30,000 in loans. Epic.

That’s why this book will help up your career, and the career of someone else. Remember it goes on sale Thursday morning at 0800 BST. 

Story design like a pro

All this week I’m giving teasing glimpses at the great knowledge and advice you’ll find in Inside the Story – written by some of the finest digital storytellers in the world. So far, we’ve had a look at how to prepare stories like a pro, and how to structure them in the most engaging way. But the book isn’t just for film makers. There’s advice too for web designers, photographers and interactive designers too.

What does it take to capture people on the page and engage them with your story? For Monica Ulmanu, interactive designer at the Boston Globe, it’s all about focus. Monica creates amazing multimedia interactives for the Boston Globe’s website – there are some must-see examples in the book. So what is the secret to good design?

“Focus your user’s attention on one element at any given time. Carefully craft your design so that particular element stands out. Constantly ask yourself: What do I need to show right now to make the message clear, the story easy to follow and uncluttered?”

Another peek inside Inside the Story

Monica follows this up with some great graphic-design tips on how to direct a viewers’ eye through the page. It’s advice echoed by web designer Sergio Acosta, co-founder of Designing Stories. He says web design needs to move away from making templates and instead use design to give the visitor an experience – in essence a narrative.

“Storytelling design is the experience a web designer creates out of a narrative. So, look for the visual cues and the key words that will set the design apart.”

And when it comes to creating immersive experiences, the New York Times is up there with the best. In Inside the Story you’ll get to hear from the NYT’s Multimedia Editor Andrew DeVigal, who leads the team responsible for some real innovations in multimedia storytelling, including a story which was commended in this year’s World Press Photo Awards.

…great journalists ask those questions in which the answers provide insights and pushes us to think in entirely new ways. In asking these questions, curiosity often leads to innovation and in providing new angles to a story or situation.

Andrew gives examples of how his team solved problems and created a new way of experiencing stories on the web  – you can find out what they did on Thursday.

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6×6: branding

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 17, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The first in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

branding

Even as far back as 2006, the likes of Andrew Neil appreciated the journalists of the future will need to brand themselves well. “The journalist of the future…will have more than one employer and become a brand in his own right” he wrote.  With full time jobs in well staffed newsrooms becoming more sparse, but opportunities outside traditional/mainstream journalism becoming more plenty, this prediction is coming true. So, what can you do to boost your brand?

01. own your name

The first thing to overcome is the embarassment or discomfort of ‘blowing your own trumpet’. For some people the idea of self branding is for cocky self promoters. Well guess what: if you’re going to succeed as a freelancer, some self promotion has gotta be done. Oh, and aim for confident, not cocky.

As a freelancer especially, your brand is your name. Therefore you need to own your name, especially in cyberspace. You should try and own your domain name (www.yourname.com or http://www.yourname.net or http://www.yourname.co.uk).  If you’re running yourself as a business with its own name that’s OK too.

Lisa Barone at Outspoken Media agrees: “It’s always better to have the username and not use it, then need to wait and kick yourself later when someone else grabs it. Having a unified social media username is very important in establishing trust with other members.”

Another unpopular thing to do: Google your own name. How far up does it come? If an editor or potential client needs to find you, you must be high up the rankings. You don’t need to pay for this (although you could); instead you should be putting up authoratitive quality content which gets you those all important links, diggs and retweets from readers.

Brian Clark, in his excellent Authority Rules e-book, makes the point that if “people think you’re important, so will Google.”

02. define your niche

The branding experts tell you if you’re going to have a brand, people need to know what you’re about. And you need to be able to give someone the elevator pitch about yourself too. A niche will give you a vital advantage over general-news journalists. Freelance science journalist Angela Saini for example knows what she’s good at (science) and has successfully built herself a reputation as a science journalist around that, in less than a year.

If you don’t have a niche, don’t worry too much. But just be able to sum up what you’re about: not only will it define your branding, it’ll help keep you focussed on what projects you pursue.

03. have a good great website and blog

As a multimedia journalist your content exists for the web. And so to not have your own web presence is ludicrous. But your website must be great (not just good). It must stand out and most importantly be designed to show off what you’re good at.

So:

  • if your selling point is the great photographs you take, make sure your website has a huge single column on the front page, with a flash platform displaying your best photos at their best
  • if you’re a video journalist, your front page should have an equally large single column splash video showreel
  • if you’re about the audio, think about getting a visually exciting audio player, again at the top of the front page

Here are three original, striking and inspiring portfolio websites to get you going:

6x6-portfolio-carmichaelx

6x6-portfolio-maisiex6x6-portfolio-monicax

A blog is another crucial element for the multimedia journalist, for several reasons. It keeps your website current and up to date; it allows you to build on your brand and show off your expertise with some well written authoratitive blogs; and allows you to build and engage with a community of other journalists and even clients.

Back to Brian Clark at Authority Rules: “Your content actually demonstrates your expertise, compared with a website or bio page that claims expertise.”

04. have a fresh CV and showreel

After your blog and front page portfolio, the most important thing visitors will need to be able to find is your CV/resume and showreel. Have it in the top navigation bar and in one of your sidebars.

Your CV must be in pdf format (or a Google Doc) and up to date. You can chose to have it typed up in the page as well.  Create an image button to make it more attractive. Mindy McAdams says your CV is  vital to prove your claims, so “your real work experience should be easy to find and easy to scan quickly. People will want to check this for verification, so dates should be clear, not obfuscated.”

Your showreel must also be up to date, especially if you are pitching for daily news work. Radio journalists especially: make sure your uploaded bulletin is only a few weeks old.

Upload your showreel and embed it into your web page. That way potential editors and clients don’t need to download large files to be able to see what you do. Vimeo is ideal for video. Soundslides does the job for photographs and audio slideshows. And I use Soundcloud for embedding audio. If you can, use flash to give your showreel some animation. Freelance radio journalist and web designer Katie Hall does this to good effect on her site.

05. keep your networks consistent

An important part of brand management is consistency. The internet is a hugely powerful tool for connecting with people, so it is important you spread yourself across as many social networks as possible: Twitter, LinkedIn, Wired Journalists, Demotix, Current TV and Facebook to name just a few.

But keep them all consistent. Have the same username for each – and make it your name. My Twitter name is AdamWestbrook, as is my Vimeo and LinkedIn profile. My Facebook URL is facebook.com/AdamWestbrook.

And do the same with images. Have one image of yourself (it’s called a Gravatar) and use that for your profile images. One name, one image, one brand.

06. get business cards

All these tips so far have been for branding yourself in the online world. Amazingly the real world hasn’t given up the ghost through lack of attention just yet, and it’s equally important to promote yourself at networking events, conferences and other shindigs.

Business cards are a neccessity. There are many sites offering this service, not to mention high street stores, but UK born website Moo.com has been recommended to me far too many times for it not to be good. They’ll even give you 50 free business cards as a trial.

The final word…

Now I know I’ve pushed for you to brand yourself as your own name as a multimedia journalist. It’s a lot quicker, cheaper and easier than creating an actual stand alone business. But a wise word of warning comes from James Chartand at Freelance Switch:

A personal brand traps you into always being present in your business. You will be at the mercy of your clients and your career…your personal reputation is at stake. One bad day, one slip, a job gone sour, an unhappy client spreading rumors, and your reputation is tarnished.

Next: video for multimedia journalists!