Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: quality counts

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 25, 2012

The countdown is on! There are less than 24 hours to go until Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best is released upon the world. You’ll be able to buy a copy from 0800 BST tomorrow, Thursday 26th April 2012.

The English version will be live from tomorrow and German, Spanish and Catalan editions will be available in the next few weeks.

But how much is Inside the Story going to cost? Good question. We’ve thought really hard about pricing and we want this book to be affordable and make lots of money for Kiva – who we’re raising money for.

So I’m thrilled to announce the book will be yours for a ridiculous $5.00!  It’ll be on sale in US dollars, which will be converted to your local currency when you buy (but it’s roughly €4.50 or £3.75) – an absolute bargain.

It means we’ll need to shift lots of copies to raise all the money we want for Kiva though – so in exchange for getting in cheap you must promise to share it with as many people as possible! But there’s a catch: Inside the Story will only be available for a matter of weeks (so don’t hang around).

How to tell quality stories like a pro

You’ve had a week of sneak previews and there’s space for just a few more. In the last week, I’ve previewed advice from the book about how to plan stories like a pro, structure them properly and use design to your advantage. And that still covers a mere third of what’s in the book!

If Inside the Story is about one thing, it’s quality: it is aimed directly at producers, film makers, video journalists, photographers and designers who are in hot pursuit of creating remarkable stories for the web – stories that really impact people. For most of us, we fall short a lot of the time. So what are the secrets of achieving quality?

A great person to ask is Richard Koci Hernandez: a pioneer of multimedia storytelling – for which he’s even won an Emmy. In a great chapter which rounds off the book, Koci shares six tips for anyone who wants to aim high.

“Spend time everyday consciously shooting pictures, recording sound etc. Work deliberately on improving a multimedia skill, because practicing your craft is one of the biggest productivity payoffs around.”

Richard Koci Hernandez, Brian Storm and John Pavlus in Inside the Story

If you thought there was an easy way round getting good at storytelling you were wrong! Koci is backed up by another multi award winning producer, Brian Storm, Executive Producer at MediaStorm, again nominated for a prestigious Webby Award earlier this month. For Brian there is one sure-fire path to achieving good quality.

“We look for projects that have deep reporting, especially a commitment to coverage over a long period of time. Then we spend as much time as necessary in post production to pull the best possible story from the coverage.”

Brian explains more about the secret ingredient of quality storytelling and how to apply it to your projects. And perhaps counterintuitively, a final word from yet another award winner: John Pavlus, who’s produced multimedia for NPR, the New York Times and the Atavist among others. For him, the secret of achieving quality is something else entirely.

“Make it suck”.

Trust me, it makes perfect sense when you read his full article – and there’s only one way to do that! Sign up to the Facebook page, join the mailing list, and make sure you’re on this website tomorrow morning.

Inside the Story will be on sale for a limited time only – a matter of weeks, so don’t hang around!

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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.

Inside the Story: how to structure your stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 23, 2012

There are just four days to go until Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best goes out to the world, in a bid to raise as much cash for charity as possible.

And today I’m psyched to reveal what the front cover of the ebook will look like, thanks to the brilliant people on the Inside The Story Facebook page. Last week I threw up three front page design ideas and over the weekend, they’ve all been voting on which one they like best. And here’s the winner!

Front cover of Inside the Story

It features a mesmerising image taken by visual journalist and contributor to the book Jonah Kessel.

On Friday, I let you have a peek at what advice the book has about how to prepare your stories. Today I’ll show you what the best digital storytellers in the world have to say about how to structure a story properly.

How to structure your stories like a pro

When it comes to creating a narrative in the most effective way, no-one knows more than the contributors to the book, who all have scores of stories under their belt. Amy O’Leary is one of them: she’s a reporter on the New York Times and has been a producer of This American Life.

For Amy, it’s all about the start.

“Don’t be afraid to confuse your audience; suck them in with one gorgeous moment and use the rest of your piece to explain what the heck it was they just saw.”

I’ve written before about those vital 10 seconds at the start of every piece – something Amy echoes on her page in the book. She’s got some great advice on other ways to hook your audience right off the bat and reel them in. Many digital stories I see suffer from a boring, irrelevant opens so it’s important to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Amy, Poul and Claudio's pages from Inside the Story

So you’ve hooked them in. Now what? Poul Madsen is the founder of the Bombay Flying Club, a multimedia collective based in Denmark, but usually found in all corners of the globe. For him, it’s vital every moment of a film, article or multimedia story has drive.

“From the very first frame, everything in your story – audio and/or visual elements – must point in some direction that makes sense to your viewers. Usually this means forward!”

How to you achieve forward drive in digital storytelling? Poul goes into the details in the book. And once you’ve propelled your viewer through your story it’s time to wrap it up, and according to director Claudio Von Planta that is where resolution comes in. Claudio’s been making films for 20 years, including the hugely popular documentary The Long Way Round which followed Ewan McGregor biking through Africa. Claudio’s page is crammed with nuggets like this:

“It’s always wise to develop a human-interest angle as a secondary focus where you explore how the characters in your story deal with adversity. This approach can offer an exit if you miss the primary goal.”

Claudio also offers advice for storytellers developing investigative films, and longer feature films – all of which require a strong resolution.

There’ll be another preview tomorrow, and in the meantime get on board the Facebook page and the mailing list!

Inside the Story and where are you?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on March 26, 2012

A few weeks after announcing it, I’m excited to reveal more about the storytelling book project I’m working on at the moment.

It now has a title: Inside The Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – and a website. It’s been tested in most browsers (and will look a bit different in some) so do let me know if you spot any problems.

UPDATE: there’s now a Facebook page for you to get involved in too – click here to take a look

Some of the best multimedia storytellers out there are currently working hard on their contributions for the book, and we’re going to begin layout next week.

So far, I can promise you will learn about how to structure and pace stories from award winning film makers Claudio Von Planta and the Bombay Flying Club, how to make people engage with complex issues from Catherine Orr, who helped create Coal: A Love Story, and practical advice on coming up with innovative ideas from Andrew DeVigal, Multimedia Editor at the New York Times and photojournalist Jonah Kessel.

And that’s the just the beginning! Every day I work on the book the more convinced I am it’s going to be a really useful resource for anyone who wants to be better at storytelling on the web. And all the money goes towards Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

If you’re even in the slightest bit excited by the book, please put your name in the email box at the bottom of the preview page. No spam, I promise, but a note in advance of the book being launched. And most importantly please share it with everyone who could benefit from it!

In a mission to learn as much along the way as possible I’ve designed the web site myself in HTML5 and I’ll post some lessons I’ve learned as a novice web designer in a future post.

So that link again: Inside The Story.

Over to you

I write a lot on here about the need for more starters, initiators, entrepreneurs and storytellers who are committed to quality over quantity. And I know there are lots of you out there, I just don’t know who you are.

Quite often I get offers of work which for one reason or another I am unable to take up, and my list of people to recommend is actually quite short.

So I want to build a database, if you like, of excellent multimedia producers, filmmakers, directors, photographers, web designers, who I might potentially collaborate with on an exciting online project or be able to recommend to clients. I might also be able to hook you up with other collaborators.

No guarantees on either of those, of course, but if you’re interested in collaborating with others then please drop me an email with a line or two about yourself and a link to your best work.

I should stress I’m only interested in working with people committed to investing time in ambitious, high quality work. If you’re about quick hits and talking heads, that’s fine, but not what I’m looking for. The email address is adam [at] adamwestbrook.co.uk.

In the UK or Europe (for direct collaboration)

  • Film makers
  • Photographers
  • Researchers

And anywhere in the world (where we could collaborate remotely)

  • web designers
  • graphic designers
  • interactive designers
  • motion graphics animators
  • infographic and data journalists

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

How to feed your journalism cow

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 22, 2011

Image: cheeseslave on Flickr

Here’s a question I bet you don’t get often: do you feed your cow?

In the early days of my freelance career, back in January 2010, I spent a couple of weeks working on a film with video journalism supremo David Dunkley-Gyimah at the Southbank Centre in London.

We were interviewing artists from around the world, and every discipline imaginable: poets, musicians, film makers, painters and violinists. Among them was the architect Shumon Basar. Off camera he was the most interesting and relaxed, and while we were talking he said something that’s stuck with me since.

He said whatever type of art you do, it’s vital you keep consuming ideas and information. He likened the brain to a cow: ‘you want the cow to produce milk [ideas] but to do that you must feed it well.’

Journalism, and its periphery disciplines (writing, film making, photography, design) consume ideas like we consume petrol. If you’ve worked on a magazine, 24-hour news channel or even run a blog, you’ll know just how ideas hungry these things are.

So, no matter how busy you are, make time to take Betsy out for a big lunch. As always, I’d love your own personal recommendations too – stick ’em in the comments box!

Six things to feed the cow

.01 A good newsletter

Sign up some inspiring, idea-laden, newsletters, that pop into your inbox without you having to do anything. If it’s sitting in your inbox it’s harder to ignore, and you can still save it for later on.

I’m personally loving two particular newsletters right now: BrainPickings, a weekly collection of great design and ideas curated by Maria Popova in New York. Her Twitter feed is really worth following too. Secondly the Do Lectures (think TED lectures but on a Welsh farm) send out a weekly newsletter called Kindling, which does just that: it sets off little sparks of inspiration and lets them catch hold.

.02 TED Lectures

If you can make time, even once a week, to watch an 18 minute TED lecture, you’ll be a more informed and inspired person. As well as good talks on productivity, ideas and the like, the best TED talks are about something completely off the wall, like whaling or painting.

The success of the format relies on the focus on new ideas (rather than a soap box for criticism) and on the 18 minute slot: too short for an expert to waffle on for hours, but too long to just scramble a powerpoint together at the last minute. This one on the future of online video has inspired my ideas throughout 2011.

.03 Kickstarter

Never mind cool ideas, what about being inspired by what people are actually doing? That’s why I love visiting KickStarter. It started as a platform to raise funds for cool projects, but has a secondary role as a hub for inspiring ideas people are trying to get off the ground. If you’re a film maker, it’s a useful watering hole to see what documentary projects people are trying to get off the ground.

I’m living in patient wait for KickStarter to become available to those outside the US (at the moment only US citizens can fundraise). Oh and if you see one you like, don’t forget to donate a dollar or two to the cause.

.04 Video .fu library

Speaking of films, I couldn’t miss off the video .fu library from this list. I’ve been curating a collection of epic, cinematic, memorable video storytelling all year. There are more than 30 films in the library so far, and dozens of subscribers.

In particular, I look for factual stories which take a cinematic approach to how they’re made, focusing on compelling characters and strong narrative arcs. Many appear on this blog but not until some time after they’re in the library so get an early peek. If you’re looking for inspiration for characters, styles or story structure, this is a good place to start.

.05 This American Life

This American Life is a wonderful way to feed the cow when you’re on a long journey or even just commuting to work. The hour-long weekly podcast is a finely crafted nugget of great stories well told, by Ira Glass and his team. If you want to learn how to tell better stories you must listen to TAL.

As it’s a podcast it’s something you can drop onto your iPod, iPhone or just the laptop, and listen when you’re travelling. A word of warning about This American Life: each episode demands (and rewards) your concentration. Don’t listen while you’re doing emails or writing a blog post – give it your full attention.

.06 beta620

A new product from the New York Times, beta620 is a platform for experimental projects being tried about by developers, journalists and co at the paper. They include apps and mashups – worth a visit to see what some of the smartest people in journalism are up to. They also have some great hacking events going on, if you’re NYC based.

Of course, I should add visits to museums, galleries and exhibitions to this list, plus who knows how many countless books. But at least this digital selection is something you can dive into right away. Please add your own suggestions below!

Why video journalism is ALL about the story

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 12, 2010

Last year I blogged about the winner of the Concentra Video Journalism Award, an international prize for excellent self-shot films.

The winner in 2009 was the superb Alexandra Garcia (currently producing a gorgeous fashion series for the Washington Post) with her film the Healing Fields.

I’ve used it lots of times to teach storytelling and sequences to my students.

Well, last week the 2010 awards were held and there’s a new winner: Adam Ellick from the New York Times.

So what makes this an award winning piece of journalism?

For me, it shows one thing and one thing alone: video journalism is about the story. The buck stops there. Here’s why.

Technically, this film is far from perfect. Some of the shots are badly framed, the voice over is stodgy, and the sound on some of the interviews is below par. Other contenders for the award were technically much stronger – for example, Vaughan Smith’s film made during a firefight in Afghanistan.

The pictures aren’t all that, either. There are some nice show-don’t-tell moments in the piece, but a little bit too much b-roll of traffic and rooftops for my liking .

And there is a narrative, but other contenders showed how it could be done better.

But Adam has one thing: the story. An amazing story: two entrepreneurial brothers, in the middle of Pakistan, supplying a large part of the world’s gimp masks and fetish wear. And he has access to it all: he has the brothers opening up, being frank and revealing on camera. He has the company’s designer, saying she’s partial to a bit of leather in the bedroom.

And he has the surprise. Watch the film and you get a rare “no way!” moment when you find out what’s going on.

Lesson: it’s the story and the story alone.

Six great collaborative photography and journalism projects

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 1, 2010

I think collaborative projects & crowd sourced creativity, is one of the greatest and most powerful things about the internet.

Getting people, not just to share their opinion, but a bit of their creative flair is wonderful and it’s great seeing photographers & journalists using that power well. Here are four great examples I’ve found over the past few years. If you know any good ones, feel free to share!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Images: Someone Once Told Me, 4am Project, How’s Your Weekend, Volcano Love Stories)

Someone Once Told Me

A great concept from BBC Journalist Mario Cacciottolo: people take pictures of themselves holding up a card with a phrase someone once told them. The rules are it has to be something said to them directly, in monochrome and on a piece of paper. I broke the rule writing on a whiteboard I know.

I used SOTM to teach my students basic photography and I was chuffed to see some of them appear on the site having submitted their own ones.

And they’re on Twitter too: @SOTM

How’s Your Weekend?

I love this idea to bits:

Sunny lazy day on the beach. Snuggling under blanket over hot chocolate and DVDs. Morning jogging. A road trip. A hot date. Good times wine and dine. Dress up party. Awesome gigs. A craft day. Baking cupcakes or cooking homemade pasta. Afternoon tea. Coffee and cakes. Art exhibition…we want to share how people around the world spend their weekends. Everyone has a story, share your weekend with us and see what others do too.

The rules are you must submit 3 images which tell the story of your weekend (building a narrative) and they must be at least 800px wide.

Click here to find out more.

Volcano Love Stories

The idea here is to collect stories of love and loss which inevitably happened when the volcanic ash cloud descended on Europe and closed air space.

Were adulterers caught out when they couldn’t get home from their illicit break? Did a romantic weekend with a new couple turn into a nightmare week of travelling which broke them up? And on the flip side, were any people brought together in the melee who wouldn’t otherwise have met?

Click here to contribute stories.

4am Project

A well known British born project to capture the world at 0400 on a specific date. This year it was the 4th April, and despite my best intentions I never made it out of bed on time (well, it was a Sunday).

Lots of people did though – check out the results here.

A Moment in Time

On a similar theme comes A Moment In Time, on the 2nd May 2010 (I just got this blog out in time!); a project by the folks at the New York Times’ Lens Blog.

The idea: photographers, professional and amateur all capture an image at the same moment. This weekend it is 1500 UTC (GMT), so wherever you are in the world, work out your local time and go out and take an image.

Rather than capturing a random shot, they want images you’ve put some time into:

What matters more than technique is the thought behind the picture, because you’ll only be sending us one. So please do think beforehand about where you will want to be and what you will want to focus on.

Click here to read the rules  – and take part!

Have I gone way off topic?

What’s this got to do with multimedia journalism? Whatever your trade, your art, it’s important to keep yourself fed with inspiration from all quarters.

Even as a journalist I try and consume as much non journalism as possible, and let it seep into my brain. As a visual journalist, on a quest for new styles and approaches, the work of artists in other fields is vital fuel for the fire.

To that end I spend as much time as possible at the wonderful Photojojo, Travel Photographer, Duckrabbit, 500 Photographers, Kitsune Noir, ISO50 and FFFFound.

On being a VJ for the New York Times

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2010

The NY Times’ excellent Lens Blog (a must for all photo & visual journalists) has a nice piece with one of their own video journalists.

Brent Macdonald is one of nearly a dozen full time VJs at the paper (they’re supported by more freelancers too) who shoot, edit, sculpt a narrative, script and voice their own material. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in video journalism – here are a few choice cuts from Brent:

On kit:

 I ended up in Idaho, with a Hi-Def camera, a tripod, travel cases, three microphones, three compact lights, two light stands, clamps, cables, a laptop computer and, of course, a pair of comfortable shoes.

On audio:

Capturing good sound is often as important as recording dazzling pictures. Viewers tend to forgive an interview that’s poorly framed or lighted, as long as the audio is clean. But a beautifully shot interview with scratchy or distorted audio? Forget it. Nothing will drive a viewer out of a video quicker than bad audio.

On the “shoot-to-edit” ratio:

But it is usually preferable to have too much than too little. On the one hand, the less footage you have, the less time it takes to sift through and edit. On the other hand, if you limit your shots, you risk missing something that could become important during the edit …For VJs, there are no second chances.

On creating a narrative:

Much of the storytelling happens after the shoot, when you sketch the narrative arc, knowing now what material you have to work with. Generally speaking, stories that make for captivating Web video have a strong visual and emotional payoff.

Want more?

Visual Editor’s man Robb Montgomery’s just put together a list of the five most basic things for first time video journalists to remember.

And there’s loads of stuff on this blog, including a 6×6 Video chapter and more.

The powers and problems of the audio slideshow

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 1, 2009

Match the absorbing power of a beautifully crafted photograph, with the intimacy of some crisp, clear audio and you have a potent force.

Yes, the audio slideshow has fast become a rising medium for multimedia journalists, and it’s unique because it’s been born from the digital revolution and not threatened by it. It only exists in digital form.

If you haven’t heard of an audio slideshow, the name pretty much gives it away: a sequence of photographs, soundtracked by audio, usually of a person speaking, plus music and “actuality” where possible.  I’ve been making them for about a year now, and spent last week both in meetings with radio producers about them and in classrooms teaching students about them.

I figured it’s time to give them some blog-respect.

The powers of the audio slideshow

I decided to show my photojournalism students some audio slideshows last week as an introduction to the medium. Most of them had never seen one before, but they were completely engaged by The New York Times’ sublime “1 in 8 million” and Duckrabbit’s new MSF project. Why?

01. the powerful combination

For nearly a century each, the mavens of both radio and photography have raved about the immense power of their particular medium.

Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers and infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution

Ansel Adams

A great advantage of the aural medium over print lies in the sound of the human voice – the warmth, the compassion, the anger, the pain and the laughter. A voice is capable of conveying much more than reported speech.

Robert McLeish

On their own great radio and great photographs pack a real punch. Think of the famous images of the D-Day landings, the Vietnam War or 9/11. Think of the lush vividness of Ed Murrow’s This is London reports, the intimacy of This American Life and the solemn colour in Richard Dimbleby’s report from Belsen.

Put together they hold equal if not greater power. Either through being able to see something you’re hearing, or to hear the richness of the voice of someone you’re looking at.

02. it’s not video #1

We hear all too often how video is the medium. How moving pictures are the ultimate way to tell stories and how film is more arresting that anything before it.

Now this may be true. But let me tell you if you don’t know already: video is also really hard to do. Don’t get me wrong, radio, print, podcasts, flash interactives, photography – they’re all really hard to get right. But video is another beast, and you can sweat piss, and still come out with a ropey product.

I’m not saying audio slideshows are easier…they’re less time consuming, less brainpower consuming – meaning you can focus on getting it really good, rather than just getting OK pictures.

03. it’s not video # 2

Equally, video is not only demanding on the sanity of the artist, but on the story too. Video stories have to be told in certain ways. We need sequences and visual grammar, and so storytellers must usually bend or break their craft to fit it into a 720×526 screen.

Again radio and photography are more flexible. And as a result, the audio slide show is not bound by the same rules and formulas which TV finds so hard to break free from.

04. cost of production

In terms of the kit you need, audio slideshows are cheaper to produce. A good enough Digital SLR camera will set you back hundreds, sure. But an audio recorder of a good standard need only cost you just over a hundred. And the editing kit – well the standard seems to be the Soundslides Software, which goes for just over £50.

And that’s a snip of your video costs.

The weaknesses of the audio slideshow

Now we’re seeing lots of audio slideshows being made. And some of them are pretty awesome. Websites like the New York Times and The Guardian have their own online sections dedicated to them. Hoorah. But they are still not gaining huge traction. How come?

01. it’s not video

Aha, this again. Well, sort of. Video’s popularity relies on several things: the fact we were all brought up on television and crave the moving picture, the glamour associated with television production also rubs off on video; we’re led to believe video is more real. And technology is forcing video to be popular with more and more smaller cheaper cameras.

This instantly gives the audio slideshow a disadvantage.

“What? The picture’s don’t move? This sucks!”

02. it’s slow

Video and television are a bit like crap magicians. If their trick is no good, they can stun you with a quick flash or spark. They do this with fast cuts, fancy transitions and montages.

Audio slideshows aren’t like that. They’re a lot slower. One image will stay on screen for 5 or more seconds, before slowly dissolving into another. In video, we see images lasting just a matter of frames.

To some, this lack of visual ecstacy makes audio slideshows appear duller, when really they’re not.

03. saboteurs

A lot of audio slideshows, especially in the mainstream media, aren’t very good. I wondered for a long time why this was. Why did the audio and pictures not match up? Why was the editing so bad?

Then I heard one photojournalist at an expo in London. He’s been trying audio slideshows out, and I asked him why more generally, many slideshows out there weren’t very good. He said he knew cases of newsroom journalists resenting being given multimedia work.

“They make it shit on purpose, so they won’t be asked to do it again” he said.  Incredible, really. A relief though, because it means just because so many slideshows are dull, does not mean the medium does not have potential.

04. the name

This came up in a meeting with radio producers in London last week.

“Audio Slideshow” is a crap name. It ain’t web 2.0 that’s for sure, and conjours an image of your aunty and uncle showing you their holiday snaps. Worst of all,  if people have not heard of one before, they can tell straight away what it is from the name, and draw their own (usually negative conclusions).

Compare that to the emergence of the podcast. It’s name is unusual and not self explanatory, so you’re forced to listen to one to investigate.

So here’s the deal: audio slideshows need a new name. Let’s find one.

I’m creating a poll to vote on a new name. It starts with the first idea I came up with, and you can add your own suggestions too. If you have an idea, put it in the comments box and I’ll add it to the poll manually. Everyone can then vote on the best ones. Ready? Here goes:

And while you’re thinking, here are some awesome examples of [INSERT NAME HERE] out there:

New York Times: 1 in 8 Million

Duckrabbit: Praying for the Rain

Ciara Leeming: Born Free

Eileen Mignoni: Facing Deportation

John D McHugh: Memorial

Adam Westbrook: Hirst v UK

BBC News/Paul Kerley: Tommies’ Tales

Nick Hand: Slowcoast

Resolve Blog’s coverage of audio slideshows

More good video journalism

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 7, 2009

The New York Times has come up with another stunning display to remind the rest of us how multimedia journalism should be done.

Inside the Private Equity Game - Business and Financial News - The New York Times_1254898058756
Flipped takes us inside the dark and mysterious world of private equity, and it’s affect on the market, business and jobs…OK, I’ve lost you already haven’t I.

Well this is exactly why Flipped is so good. It fulfills two things journalists of the future will need to do no matter what changes in technology come along. Firstly they need to keep telling us about complicated things in an accessible way. And secondly they need to find a way of grabbing us by the collars and saying “this is really important!”

Flipped does that. I have never had an interest in private equity, but the style, brevity, flair of Flipped kept me watching through all 10 videos. 15 minutes of my time, and I was enlightened.

And that’s what this is all about, right?

So what lessons can we learn from Flipped?

  • It is made up of 10 short (2-5 minute) videos, instead of one long one. This makes it easier to digest.
  • It has an easy to navigate flash carousel, which leads you through the story.
  • Videos appear instantly inside the window (very important).
  • The subjects (mostly NYT reporters) are extremely engaging, and very good at breaking down the issue
  • It doesn’t take itself too seriously, with short cartoons to help understand the complicated bits
  • It puts a human side to the story, with workers who’ve been screwed by the system

Mindy McAdams writes on Twitter it could have done with key words on the side to help chose which videos to watch. I agree, but I got most value from watching all the videos and understanding the whole story.

And there is huge value in this isn’t there? Matters of huge interest, broken down and made accessible, relevant and engaging. Private Equity is a creator of huge wealth…but also huge debt, and impacts all our lives.

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Is there an Atlantic divide in digital journalism?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on September 16, 2009

The past year has seen some remarkable pieces of multimedia journalism.

From a stunning biography of a drug addict turned boxer, to a fluent and comprehensive look at the drugs trade in Mexico, to a mind-blowing flash based project on the Great Lakes.

And that’s just the professionals.

Look at the journalism students and you have memorable stories like Maisie Crowe’s film about a boy with a rare genetic condition and Chris Carmichael’s portrait of a family losing their home.

Here’s the thing: they’re all coming from journalists and newsrooms – in America.

US produced multimedia journalismClockwise from left: ESPN, Boston Globe, NYTimes, Chris Carmichael

A quick visit to the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR and ESPN reveal a plethora of enticing, exciting and well produced multimedia projects. Go more local and you can find stunning multimedia from the Boston Globe and the Roanake Times.

More and more have their own designers who work with flash to give them an asthetic appeal as well as journalistic clout.

So what does the UK have in response? The Guardian’s multimedia page has a healthy selection of new videos and the occasional audio slideshow, not to mention some worthy experiments in data sharing, for example this attractive interactive on UK public spending. And there is some nice video pieces – including this excellent alternative look at exam results by John Domokos.

But there are few interactive flash stories, and nothing on the scale of War Without Borders or One in Eight Million (both NY Times).

The BBC News website is (for obvious reasons) packed with original video and audio, and on big stories you’ll find a decent interactive map. But nothing with the ambition and groundbreaking attitude we see over the pond.

You’ll find the occasional audio slideshow, for example this tidy piece marking the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse, but again they are left as slideshows alone and not developed into something bigger.

And it gets worse when you leave London, with some worryingly unimaginative pieces, in small windows; you see pieces like The Fallen (NY Times) and think “in a different league”.

So come on, UK newsrooms, where are you?

Of course it’s all about money, or the lack of it. It is not as if UK media don’t have the talent. But can money really be an excuse? American papers afterall have been hit harder than British ones with more big city closures and layoffs: almost all UK papers that were in print a year ago are still in print today. And of course there are many talented freelancers and independent producers making great stuff, but even that is hard to find.

So what else is it? A lack of ambition? We just don’t get multimedia? Or are we just not interested?

The postcard below awaits your thoughts…

What can next-generation journalists learn from Les Paul?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 15, 2009

Les Paul

Les Paul

A music icon of the 20th century passed away this week. Aged 94, Les Paul was still playing weekly gigs in Manhattan right up to his death.

Not just a talented musician, Les Paul was an innovator, and hearing him speak you realise he had within him the skills the journalists of the future will need if they’re to innovate as much as he did.

Last year he spoke to the New York Times about his life, as part of the obituary segment called “The Last Word.

“I was playing one night and this guy comes up to me and says ‘hey, your guitar isn’t loud enough!’ So I thought to myself ‘how can I make my guitar louder?'”

Lesson: Les had a goal – a dream: something to aim for. It was as simple as making his guitar louder, but it set something on fire inside of him.

He attached his guitar strings to his mother’s radio: “and it made the most beautiful sound I ever heard.

“I went to work on wood, shaping it like a beautiful woman…and finally I got it – it took years and years and years of continued working on it.”

Lesson: innovation takes a hell of a lot of work – and a lot of time. But keep working, shaping, building, refining until you get it right.

“I took it to the manufacturers and they kept turning it down, saying it was a novelty.”

Lesson: there’ll be lots and lots of knock backs – but never, ever give up.

From guitarists to journalists to business people to web designers to sports stars: the same passion, dream, determination and perserverance runs through them all.