Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Five things that make a great news business idea

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 31, 2011

Entries for myNewsBiz, the student journalism enterprise competition are open and we are starting to get early entries through.

If you haven’t heard of it, myNewsBiz is open to any undergraduate or postgraduate journalism student at a UK university. There’s a prize of £1000 for the best new idea for a journalism business, be it a product, like a magazine, or a service. A runner up gets £500.

But what makes a good business idea?

That’s a difficult question, if you’ve never thought about starting a business until now. If you don’t know where to begin, here are five different starting places for your search for that winning business idea.

.01 Fill a gap

Any concept (entrepreneurial or otherwise) has to service a need that a large enough group of people have, in order to survive and thrive. So a good place to start is to ask ‘is there a product or service which is not being provided right now?

Murdoch’s much anticipated iPad only newspaper The Daily can be viewed in these terms. The iPad’s been around for just over a year, and yes, there are plenty of magazines and publishers with their own iPad apps…but there is no single dedicated iPad news product. It’s a gap. And News International appear to be trying to fill it.

.02 Scratch an itch

Image credit: corrieb on Flickr

Great business ideas ‘scratch an itch’, by which we mean solving a problem that a group of people have. The best place to identify an itch is on your own body. What’s bugging you right now? What do you see which can be done faster? Cheaper? More accurately? More locally or more beautifully?

TheBusinessDesk, a successful online news startup in the UK, clearly scratched an itch its founders had: there was no good source for regional business & finance news. They scratched their own itch, and in doing so created a thriving business.

Scratching your own itch has a big advantage: because it’s your itch, you are best placed to tell whether your solution is scratching it properly.

.03 Improve something

If that doesn’t work, why not try improving on someone else’s idea?

There are plenty of magazines, websites, services we all use which get us grumbling. “This coverage stinks!” “Their infographics are rubbish” “They could have done that website so much better!”

If there’s something out there which is not up to scratch – make your own, improved, version.

That’s part of the thinking behind studio .fu, my online video production company. There are lots of independent video producers out there, but I could see lots of things they were doing wrong.

I improved their offering by just focusing on online video, and by steering clear of an office or (any) staff, I can offer the same thing at a much more affordable rate.

.04 Begin with you

Instead of looking for a business idea straight away, start with you and your strengths and passions.

What do you love doing? If you could wake up tomorrow morning and commit one act of journalism, what would it be? Designing? Writing? Data interrogation?

Once you’ve identified that, you want to wrap a business around it. Look for markets for your passion, and build a business from there. This philosophy sums up the approach taken in my book Next Generation Journalist, which starts with a look at your real interests.

After all, there’s no point in pursuing a business idea you’re not interested in, just because it looks like a workable idea. I have a brilliant idea for an environmentally friendly kettle. But am I going to make it? No. Because manufacturing, retail and, err, kettles, don’t do it for me right now.

.05 Start making something – right now

Image credit: David Haygarth on Flickr

Finally, once you’ve got an idea – or maybe if you still don’t – start creating, right away.

Ideas are one-a-penny, but they don’t count for anything until you’ve turned it into something tangible. So if you’ve got an idea for an online magazine, get the webspace and domain, upload a WordPress theme and get creating.

Why? Because you’ll only know if your idea is any good once it’s real.

If you don’t have an idea yet, then start creating anyway. Whatever it is you feel like. If you think you’d like to start a business making infographics but aren’t sure what gap it would fill or itch it would scratch, keep going. Start designing infographics and put them online. See what the feedback is. Are people biting? This way you can develop your business idea organically.

Only once you’re making something can you know whether it’s got legs.

Remember the deadline for entries for myNewsBiz is the 1st of April 2011 – so you’ve still got plenty of time to put something together.

And in February we’re publishing awesome interviews with some of the top journalist-entrepreneurs out there, packed with advice on how to get your news business off the ground!

How journalists can get ahead of the game in 2011

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 17, 2011

One of the best reads ahead of the New Year was JWT’s Intelligence Report into the big trends of 2011. Analysts named 100 things which are likely to be of note in the 12 months ahead.

Unlike my predictions for 2011, they’re not written with journalists in mind – however, there are little nuggets of intelligence of use to the Next Generation Journalist.

You can read all 100 of the agency’s predictions after the break, but first I have picked out 12 key ones for multimedia content creators of all kinds to be aware of.

#02 Africa’s middle class

From South Africa to Ghana, the intelligence report says Africa’s growing middle class will be significant in 2011: “McKinsey predicts a 35% increase in African consumer spending power by 2015.”

Takeaway: This means countless stories that are ripe to be told. From the ambitious modernisation of Kigali, to broadband reaching the east coast; if foreign news is your bag, you’ll find plenty of ideas around this mega-story.

Image credlt: suicine on Flickr (cc)

#19 Coming clean with green

There’s no hiding the fact 2010 was a pretty atrocious year for climate change. Protesters were jailed, Copenhagen was a washout, and the earth got more unpleasant reminders that things are changing than we care to remember. JWT’s intelligence predicts that consumer green will be big in 2011.

Takeaway: what information is there for consumers who want to go green? Not much, and the stuff that is, is wrapped in preachy-guilt hyperbole; I think there’s a gap in the market. If you’re interested in environmental reporting, this might be the year to make it happen.

#29 East London’s Tech City

JWT analysts predict development in East London in the run up to the Olympics. The UK’s startup community is coming to life, and it’s growing around the ‘silicon roundabout’ (or Old Street tube station, if you know the area).

Takeaway: This is the year to have confidence in British startups, and if you care to, to meet and join the innovative people and businesses making stuff happen there. For example, the TechHub has recently opened for business, a shared work space for startups right on the Silicon Roundabout.

#32 Entrepreneurial Journalism

Yes, great news for anyone starting their own news business in 2011, or anyone thinking about it. The report predicts “the next generation of journalists will  apply more hybrid skills in entrepreneurial ways…[watch out for] more professionals with varied skill sets who help transform content for the digital age.”

I’m firmly in support of this one, and as well as launching my own business, studio .fu, I am also carrying out in-depth research into Entrepreneurial Journalism in my role at Kingston University this year.

Takeaway: if you’ve got an idea for a news business, this is the year to do it! Aim to be one the pioneers who transform content. If you’re still a student at a UK university, you can get a £1,000 leg-up with the myNewsBiz competition.

#47 Long form content

Yet another journalistically relevant prediction for the year ahead. JWT analysts reckon “the novelty of long-form content will stand out” with sites like LongReads and Longform.org will find an audience this year.

Takeaway: if you’re a fan of creating and consuming long-form content, this is the year to start creating it prolifically. Seek it out as much as you write it – share it, and build the eyeballs. The experts believe the desire to read it is there!

Image credit: JeanbaptiseM on Flickr (cc)

#52 Mobile blogging

Yep, forget all these long WordPress posts. Blogging on the move is going to be big this year. The report says “mo-blogging” is going to spike, with photo intense posts via Tumblr and Posterous.

Takeaway: Journalism is still looking for ways to exploit geo-located content; how can you as an individual or your newsroom use mo-bloggers to your advantage? Could you turn your reporters into mo-bloggers?

#59 Next Generation Documentarians

The report says “access to cheap video cameras and software is fuelling an expansion in video storytelling and stylistic experimentation from a new generation of film-makers”. Storytelling is a big thing these days – do you know the basics of how it’s done?

Takeaway: Even non-journalists are picking up a camera and telling great stories. Stop worrying about how you’ll get funding: start making stories now, as cheap as possible: your idea has more strength as a physical film than as a pitch on paper.

#63 Odyssey Trackers

Sticking with the ge0graphical theme, social media and GPS are combining, says the report, to allow “extreme explorers [to] broadcast their adventures in real time”. It cites EpicTracker, an app in development, as an example.

Takeaway: A clear opportunity if you’re a travel journalist or foreign correspondent. At the same time, it’s an example of  great stories, great films and documentaries being taken from the open hands of journalists, by people who are prepared to get off their backside and make stuff happen. If you’re into travel journalism, this is a trend to exploit.

#75 Scanning everything

So augmented reality wasn’t quite the big thing I predicted last year but the analysts think QR-codes will have a part to play in 2011. They’re the square barcodes which send a device to a website or other location.

Takeaway: nice simple one here: create your own QR code here, and put it on your next pack of business cards, like I’ve done above.

Image credit: Stevecoutts on Flickr (cc)

#83 Storied products

“Consumers are increasingly looking for a personal connection to brands” the report says. Interesting for journalists in two ways: one- if you’re going entrepreneurial, get your story right (InnovativeInteractivity has some great advice on this here); two- story-telling is becoming more and more important.

Takeaway: Businesses need stories. Who’s good at telling stories? Yes, you guessed it. Helping small businesses, startups, charities and the like ‘tell their story’ could be a profitable sidearm to your journalism in 2011.

#93 Transmedia producers

The job-title ‘transmedia producer’ will be created in 2011, JWT analysts predict; more people (including journalists) will be expected to produce content across a range of platforms: in video, text, audio and interactives.

Takeaway: although multimedia producing is not news for journalists, if you’re still a one-platform guy or gal, make it your business to learn a new skill this year.

#100 Youtube the Broadcaster

The JWT report predicts Youtube will become a ‘broadcasting’ platform in its own right, with more live streaming and television-style coverage. Concerning for those of us who don’t want online video to turn into yet more bland television, but of use to journalists none-the-less.

Takeaway: think of Youtube as a channel more than a landfill for online video. Look at users like Fred (606 million views and counting!) who build massive audiences, not around individual videos, but around branded channels. Is there a channel for your expertise that needs building?

Those 100 predictions in full

Many of the other predictions have significance for journalists – as story ideas as well as clues and inspiration for big innovation. Here’s the report in full.

myNewsBiz: a great new opportunity for UK journalism students

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 8, 2010

If the future of news is entrepreneurial, then it’s not as easy as saying “it is so”. Thousands of journalists won’t head straight to Companies House the next morning to register their new business.

If more journalists and other creatives are to create their own careers, build innovative new businesses and spark employment for thousands of others, their entrepreneurial spirit needs fostering early on.

If journalism in the future is powered by entrepreneurs they must be comfortable with business – and excited by it.

Well, I’m really excited to announce the launch of a new nationwide competition I have been working on, alongside Kingston University’s Journalism department in London.

We’re inviting journalism students from any UK university to come up with ideas for new news businesses – whether it’s a platform, a product or a service. We’re putting together a panel of industry judges and the business idea they like the most will win £1000 in cold hard cash to turn it into reality.

A 2nd place runner up will also get £500 to invest in their idea too.

It could be a hyperlocal website, a new smartphone app, an iPad magazine, a production company, an online video platform, a magazine, or even the next social media platform…almost anything!

It’s a great chance to get the next generation of journalists thinking about what makes a good business, how to find a unique selling point and identify a target market. This quick film we made explains the rest:

Training

In the new year we’ll also be unveiling some extensive online training materials to introduce students to the idea of business and enterprise, and help them develop their ideas before sending in their submissions.

How to enter

Entry to the competition is free for groups and individuals – you just need to head over to mynewsbiz.org and download an application form, which you can email back to us by the deadline: 1st April 2011.

With just a handful of journalism courses in the UK touching on the idea of entrepreneurial journalism, this is an unrivalled opportunity to find out what being entrepreneurial really means – and maybe get the cash you need to start your own company!