Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

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We’ll be hearing some as yet unpublished figures from UK startup UltraKnowledge who are monitoring social media activity as we speak.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.

The future of journalism: IN vs OUT

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 5, 2009

The news production process has pretty much always been divided into two parts: input (newsgathering) and output (news production). In the debate about the future of news, is this being forgotton?

For example, my blog post Introducing: the Journalist of the Future focussed, unwittingly, entirely on news output – the way the content will be produced. It mentioned nothing of news gathering. It may be that in the future, these two sides of the coin will be completely separated.

And while the editors and managers engage in a bout of synchronized-head-scratching over how to get us to pay for the output side of news, the input side appears to be generating itself a nice bit of revenue potential.

It’s time to give that area some attention.

new media news gathering

These operations could succeed not because they offer the audience a pre-packaged, scripted and editorialised view of the world; quite the opposite. Their value is in allowing the audience easy access to the raw data. The police statistics, the council decisions, the official documents.

Of course, these are (or should be) accessible to the public anyway, but are often too time consuming to get hold of.  Another characteristic of these operations is they often (although not always) involve some form of crowdsourcing for their success

Three (potentially) successful new-media newsgathering operations

01. Everyblock

Everyblock (in the US only) currently covers a dozen or so cities. It works by providing its audience with critical official data by geographical area. When when I say critical official data, some of it is hard to believe. Residents, and even casual visitors, can see how many 911 calls were made for any particular street and what they were about. They can see every restaurant inspection carried out in Boston, and details of every building permit in Seattle.

Sadly the appalling lack of public information available in the UK means this type of site may not make it to the UK.

02. Help Me Investigate

Just launched in the UK in July, Help Me Investigate is effectively crowd-sourced reporting. Members of the public can suggest issues they want investigated, and other members of the public can help uncover the details; each person does their own little bit. It’s already had a couple big hits in the Birmingham local press.

Again, Help Me Investigate isn’t about sexy audio slideshows or a great package, it’s about public access to raw data.

03. Spot.US

Working along the same theme, Spot.US allows the public to get access to the answers they want. Members of the public suggest stories they want covered, and then a fundraising effort gets underway to pay a professional reporter to get to work. I like this idea because it still gives some currency to the trained journalist and their abilities to uncover the truth.

So what makes these sites different?

They’re all about the information, the data, the evidence. It’s not about finding a new way to produce content; no new ways of shooting video, or unique storytelling device.

And while they might not resemble a newspaper or anything like that, they still provide the same vital public service. These news input projects are one of the first tangibly positive things to emerge from this media revolution.

Kurt Lancaster: an important voice

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 29, 2009

I just discovered the blog of documentary video journalist and lecturer Kurt Lancaster. And this guy’s right on the ball when it comes to knowing TV style film making is dead.

In Kurt’s own words:

No narration provided by a reporter. No heavy-handed production telling the audience how to think or feel.

By placing himself into the short documentary, Kristof thankfully eschews the tired style and omniscient voice of the broadcast journalist who typically stands with microphone in hand, almost pleading with an audience to emotionally engage their sensationalized, “must-see” story. “Look at me and what I have to say!”, seems to me the pervading style of the news broadcast journalist.

In an interview with doc filmmaker Ellen Spiro (Body of War 2007), she told me that a lot of broadcast news sets up the classic confrontation of one side versus another side. But she feels there are as many sides to a story as there are people experiencing or witnessing the event

Broadcast news tends to give us a snapshot of either a victim or an overly-cute feel-good subject, as seen on the outside looking in. Documentary filmmakers build trust and take us into a slice of life of their characters…And this is one of the core differences between broadcast news and documentary filmmaking — the building of that trust in order to get the subject to open up.

So…he’s a film maker, a documentary maker, a video journalist. But he hates opening GVs, he hates overwritten voice overs and pleading pieces to camera. In fact, all the things which make standard TV packages so repetitive and unimaginative.

Like I say, he’s right on the money. Click here to visit his website.

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“Why journalists deserve low pay”

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 20, 2009

Fascinating article thrown my way through Twitter today: “why journalists deserve low pay“.

As a journalist, on low pay, I was immediately angered by the title. And therefore had to have a read. Annoyingly its author, Robert G. Picard, makes perfect sense. This is not so much an article on why journalists deserve low pay (for now); rather a thesis on the very reason journalism, as a concept, is struggling for breathe.

Broken down it says:

Economic value is rooted in worth and exchange. It is created when finished products and services have more value – as determined by consumers – than the sum of the value of their components.

That’s the first time I’ve seen what I do broken down into its raw economic terms.

These benefits used to produce significant economic value. Not today. That’s because producers and providers have less control over the communication space than ever before,

So the reason newspapers aren’t making money, and radio & TV are losing money: they’ve lost their economic value.

Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians. Consequently, the primary economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but in distributing the knowledge of others. In this process three fundamental functions and related skills have historically created economic value: Accessing sources, determining significance of information, and conveying it effectively.

This too has been diminished by the internet and social media. So not only has journalism lost its value, so have journalists.

Today all this value is being severely challenged by technology that is “de-skilling” journalists….until journalists can redefine the value of their labor above this level, they deserve low pay.

It’s so refreshing to see our profession reduced to its raw bones; and until we solve these core issues of value in what we do, no pay-wall or subscription fee will save us.

A snapshot of the new media debate

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on March 18, 2009

It was a busy day. Lots of last minute editing to do for my radio station’s week of reports on Iraq and content to put online; then bits to send to sister radio stations in Leeds and Teeside; not to mention a huge amount of local news moving including some important court cases and inquest verdicts….

In short, probably not the time to engage in a debate about the future of journalism.

After a couple of good articles in the Media Guardian it was on my mind; and sitting across from fellow new-media-ist @mattgame (here’s his website) it was inevitable.

I said: I love doing online journalism and multimedia – but how do we make money out of it?

Matt said: No-one will ever pay for online content – not when it’s free everywhere else

I said: so how will we make any money as video journalists online?

Matt said: once newspapers ditch print and we all have Kindles, they’ll have audio, video and text – in short you’ll be a VJ for a big newspaper, and people will watch your films on the underground.

I said: but what about in the meantime?

…we both shrug our shoulders.

I then tweeted the summary – and caught the attention of @jonshuler (here’s his website) and the following debate occured in 140 characters or less-a snapshot of the new media debate raging across the world

twittalk

Three young media types trying to figure out the future of their profession. That’s the new media debate - join in!

update: Check out this video from Beet.tv: they interviewed online video producer Zadi Diaz at SXSW. Her advice for getting through the tough times: team up with other producers and see if you can come up with  a good way to make it work financially. You have to think outside the box. When online money dries up Zadi switches to consulting/advising others to keep herself going.

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Footnotes for new journalism

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 15, 2009

A couple of good bits on the  future of journalism have popped up in the last week-mostly through discussions at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Texas.

First up, check out  a good summary of  a talk by David Dunkley-Gyimah of Viewmagazine.tv at the SXTXState blog.  It gives a very good overview of video journalism as a practice, including:

  • how it was pioneered in the mid 90s in the UK and US, with hope it was the way forward, but died out  when “we realized that TV is not dead.”
  • but how the internet has given VJing a new life with the rise of online video
  • assertion that the form is driven by a ‘visual narrative’ with pictures telling the story, as with traditional broadcast news
  • but David points out current VJing follows the old conventions and just sticks them on the web
  • instead, it needs to discover its own style, which he says is more cinematic: “When it comes to the net, there is no code yet as I believe that is set in stone….we’ve all been taking TV’s language and applying that and it hasn’t quite worked. Video journalism needs a more cinematic- hightened visual base.”

Secondly Michael Rosenblum’s puts up a very fluent argument on how to run a financially sound newsroom – by not actually having a newsroom.

  • he’s setting up a second cable VJ news network-but won’t be renting a newsroom
  • all his VJs work from home or in the field on laptops
  • that saves a huge amount of money and makes the operation more likely to make a profit
  • some executives rubbish the idea saying ‘you can’t run a news operation without a newsroom’
  • but he says “‘Facebook now has 170 million members. It seems to function quite well as a nexus of information, both text and increasingly video. It gets information, processes it and distributes it. It has a net value of $15 billion last time I looked. They don’t.”

Changing media: the human victims

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 15, 2009

A lot of the talk about the death of newspapers and the new media revolution can be quite excited, proclaiming a new era.

But let’s not forget the ‘death of newspapers’ has human consequences too.

The recently closed Rocky Mountain News in the US  ‘covered it’s own funeral’ and produced this emotional account of its demise:

(Hat tip: from dead trees to moving pictures)

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The online news site that IS making money

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 14, 2009

Non-retail/business sites on the internet find it difficult to make any money.

And news never makes any money. So combined, websites offering news content are usually loss makers.

Except for one:

the worlds news forecaster

Hubdub: the world's news forecaster

Well…OK it’s not a news website. Instead it asks its users to gamble play money on how actual news events will pan out.

And never mind play money, Hubdub is making some real money too. According to @jemimakiss at The Guardian:

“Hubdub has raised £810,000 in funding from a mix of angel investors, software venture firm Pentech and the Scottish Co-Investment Fund.

“This new round of funding will support more partnerships; at the moment those sites have a page on Hubdub, but the startup wants to extend that to other news sites to make a lightweight ‘powered by Hubdub’ feature available on external sites.”

Great news for startups. But what can journalists learn from this? Well if anything it’s that with sites like this community is king. It’s the ability to interact with other users which sees a quarter of a million people log on a month, not news.

And also the importance of having a good fundraiser on your team. I bet £800k from a mix of investors took a lot of slog on the ground.

Oh, and out of curiosity, I’m giving it a go – bet against me, I’m called NewsJedi.

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