Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

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.

Idea 007: breathing new life into old content

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2010

In Ideas for the Future of News I’m collecting positive, tangible, practical examples of business models, products and content which could pave the future.

To catch up on previous ideas, head to the Ideas for the Future of News page.

Idea 007: The Independent’s News Wall

By: UltraKnowledge, The Independent

Headlining today’s Digital Storytelling Conference in London is Andrew Lyons from UK company UltraKnowledge. He’s introducing the company to more than a hundred journalists and showing them the work they’ve been doing with the Independent newspaper.

I met up with Andrew earlier this month, and it seems while many journalists have been worrying about the future, Andrew and his team of coders have been coming up with solutions. They’ve got a very forward thinking mindset, and what they’re doing could breathe new life into old content.

So, introducing the Independent’s new “News Wall.”

It’s accessible by going to http://search.independent.co.uk and is essentially a visual representation of the Independent’s big news stories on a given day.

Rolling your mouse over any of the thumbnails, puts it into the larger window on the right hand side and gives you a preview. It is, in its most simple terms, a visual way of searching the days top stories, and gives the user a much more interactive experience.

A real boon for subs, reporters and editors everywhere, this software does not require any manual SEO or tagging work. It’s all done automatically.

It goes beyond this though.

Firstly, you are able to search for words, people, events using the box at the top. And when you do, you are presented with a visual representation of your search results, which is nice too. What makes this approach clever is the search results page generated automatically becomes a permanent static page on the Independent’s website.

The result? Without any extra work by journalists, the Independent’s website has grown exponentially – this search I did this week pulls up more than 100,000 new pages since News Wall’s launch a month ago. These pages have been created by visitors to the site using the News Wall.

Thirdly, the News Wall is also searchable by date. You’ll eventually be able to type in any date since the Independent launched and get a graphical search result. And what does that mean? Thousands of articles, currently consigned to history, will have new life breathed into them. New sponsorship, new ad revenue.

Imagine if this was done with historical archives.

The people at UltraKnowledge are busy doing some other awesome work which I’m able to mention yet. But keep an eye on them: they’re a great example of how anyone can play a role in the future of news, and unless journalists change their mindset, it won’t be them.

Three ideas for news businesses which will never work (and why)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2010

Journalism students and even older journalists struggling for work are being encouraged to get entrepreneurial and launch their own startups.

And damn straight too – let’s hope more of them take the leap and start launching products. I’m sure the most popular ideas for news businesses in someway mimic the mainstream media – for example an online magazine, hyperlocal website or production company.

All businesses with potential, but there are traps to fall into too. Here are some ideas (I came up with) which will never even get off the ground…and why.

1. Twat!: The risque new music magazine for young people in London

Twat! Magazine is a montly print magazine and website for young people in London that “really gets under the skin of culture” and “isn’t afraid to offend”. It features interviews “with upcoming artists the other magazines haven’t even heard of” and crazy mental features.

It won’t work. Why?

Referring to my Journalism Startup checklist it fails on the first four questions: it is not a new idea, and most importantly it does not have a defined target audience. Who are “young people in London?”. As it happens they’re incredibly diverse from postcode gang members to city bankers. None of them can identify with the ‘lifestyle’ the magazine is trying to sell and therefore have no reason to pick it up.

It’s not a new idea, because pubs, bars and student unions are flooded with “edgy, cool, underground” magazines all the time, usually made by Magazine Publishing students. Going for print alongside web brings in large overheads – and bootstrapping becomes harder.

2. WorldTV: a video website that showcases the best films about “the issues which matter.”

This website pays to licence video journalism pieces from around the world and put them into one place. They’re after films about “under-reported” issues for example Darfur, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  It will also allow users to upload their own video which gets voted on by other users. The site will have an “international feel” and be for people who “really care about politics”.

It won’t work. Why?

It’s a noble idea – but why would you want to visit this site? Again, WorldTV suffers from a poor grasp of a well-defined target audience. It is probably aiming for young people around the world, but again they are incredibly diverse. No-one will feel a need to register and therefore hopes of building an active community will fall through. The films themselves are likely to be long, worthy affairs and bore most people after two minutes.

The site wants to pay for video commissions, and so will need to cough up cash to video journalists. It may get some venture capital at first, but the rates will steadily slip from $800 to $500 to $200, to nothing.  Viewing figures will be low: creating something worthwhile and expecting the masses to come is a poor business model.

3. DoleItOut: a multimedia magazine for unemployed people in Birmingham

DoleItOut is a regularly updated multimedia website for people out of work in the Birmingham area of the UK. As well as feature interviews and interactives about life on the dole, it also has plenty of video advice guides on how to find work, video diaries and an active forum. Plans are underway to develop an iPhone app.

It won’t work. Why?

Hurrah! Finally an idea with a well defined target audience! Problem is they’re a bad target audience for running a business. Why? Because they got no money. If the editors of DoleItOut were hoping their readers would pay a minimal subscription they’d be wrong. Advertising is possible, but you’ll be left selling ads for evil loan sharks and 1000% loans. And what unemployed person can afford an iPhone app?

The idea also struggles with question 13 of the startup checklist – it doesn’t really scale. Although it’s good to be geo-specific, are there really enough unemployed people in Birmingham?

Too many news startup ideas fail because they take an upside down approach. Journalists think of a product and then decide who to make it for.  Instead you need to define your audience first – and then ask “what do they need?”.

Have you checked out the News Startup Checklist yet?

Photo Credit: Curious_Zed on Flickr

Idea 005: the digital magazine

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on December 17, 2009

In Ideas for the Future of News I’m collecting positive, tangible, practical examples of business models, products and content which could pave the future.

To catch up on previous ideas, head to the Ideas for the Future of News page.

Idea 005: Mag+ concept

By: Berg London and Bonnier R&D

Magazines have a value above newspapers: people don’t just read the words, they buy them for the amazing photographs, lifestyle statements, and sometimes just because it looks great on the coffee table.

Magazines will be revolutionised by technology – but in a really positive way. For proof, see the work of Berg London and Bonnier R&D.

They’ve had a really good think about how future e-readers (like the much mooted Apple Tablet) could work with magazines – and crucially they have started with the benefits of magazines and worked from there. As the creaters explain:

“The concept aims to capture the essence of magazine reading which people have been enjoying for decades: an engaging and unique reader experience in which high quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.”

They’ve looked not at the e-readers themselves, but how magazine layouts should adapt to them. They have created, I think, a very enjoyable reading experience, which will add huge value to magazines.

“We don’t want to interrupt the core reading experience,” says Jack Shulze from Berg, “we’re very keen to make sure the UI doesn’t get in the way of the experience – it’s not covered in buttons.”

It’s 8 minutes long, but I highly recommend you watch this video, a demo of Mag+ in action.

(Hat tip: Hull Digital)

A business model?

Could the e-reader provide a financial saviour for magazines? In short, yes. For two reasons: firstly, as I mentioned they add extra value to the magazine itself. The experience of scrolling through pages on a touch screen is so enjoyable, people may buy mags just for that.

And more importantly people will pay to download an electronic magazine and experience it on these e-readers.  They won’t pay to view the content on a website.

Berg London and Bonnier R&D’s ideas are very new, but magazine owners should waste no time in chasing this concept and making it a reality. Newspapers too need to wake up to the possibilities and ask how the Mag+ concept could help them.

Their success though depends on the readers themselves. Who will make them and how much will they cost? Magazines will need to think about subscription models again, but that shouldn’t be too hard as that’s how many magazines make money anyway. And how will you download the content? Will it take long?

But these creases will no doubt be ironed out over the next two to three years.

As well as keeping current magazines afloat, they could also inspire a new generation of magazines, and most importantly keep journalists in business doing what they do best: writing great content and presenting it with great designs and pictures.

Thinking of a journalism start-up? Here’s a checklist

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 5, 2009

If the future of journalism is indeed entrepreneurial, we have to start thinking with a business hat on.

It’s a big change in mentality for some journalists. I’ve been to several events and meetings recently where hacks have insisted people will have to pay for news “because journalists have to eat”.

This is upside-down thinking. People don’t buy iPhones because Steve Jobs needs to eat. They buy them because they are an innovative product which satisfies a demand people are willing to pay for.

And so it must be if journalists are to be entrepreneurs. I’ve put together a list of criteria a new business idea might need to satisfy to see it become successful. I don’t think a successful business will need to satisfy all of them, or maybe even 50%. But ignoring these questions means another financial failure…

News start-up checklist

  1. Is it a new idea?

  2. Does it have a defined target audience?

  3. Does it provide niche (i.e. hyperlocal) content?

  4. Does it satisfy a desire that is not being fulfilled by someone else?

  5. Or does it do something better (faster, cheaper, more effectively) than someone else?

  6. Does it actually have income potential, or will it rely on funding?

  7. Does it use the power of crowd-sourcing/community?

  8. Would it be fulfilling for journalists to work for?

  9. Does it publish/exist on more than one platform?

  10. If it has content, is it sharable?

  11. Does it require a lot of money to run?

  12. Does it have boot-strapping potential?

  13. Does it scale?

  14. Does it fulfill a public service?

  15. Is it a legally sound idea? What about copyright?

  16. Would it appeal to venture capitalists, angel investors?

  17. And…does it have a cool name?

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. I think if you answer these questions at the early stages, you’ll have a greater chance of your start up succeeding. What it says is a sustainable business – journalism or otherwise – begins with a solid well-defined customer base.

You need to know who these customers are, and be really clear about why you are providing something they can’t get elsewhere. Innocent Smoothies was begun by three British students in 1999 who realised there was a demand for healthy fruit smoothies, which wasn’t being satisfied by anyone else. It now has a revenue of £128m.

US start-up “incubator” Y-Combinator is looking for new media business ideas which embrace this form of thinking:

What would a content site look like if you started from how to make money—as print media once did—instead of taking a particular form of journalism as a given and treating how to make money from it as an afterthought?

Add more to the list in the comments below if you have any. And while you’re here, read the comments of one reader on an earlier blog entry. Some interesting criticism of the notion journalism is entrepreneurial at all…

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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Mashable’s How To on launching your own Indie Journo site

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 25, 2009

There’s a tidy post over at Mashable today with advice on how to launch your own indie journalism site.

It doesn’t offer anything we didn’t know before, but sums it all up quite nicely:

  • it’s pretty much free to set up a site like this
  • think about how to get advertisers or sponsors (without losing editorial control)
  • wordpress is best
  • use Twitter and Facebook to build up an audience

Interestingly, at the time of writing, this article – by Maria Schneider over at Editors Unleashed – has been retweeted 445 times and facebooked 25 times.

There’s clearly an appetite for this and with so many lay offs this year, it’s not surprising. Will 2010 be the journo-start up year?

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Journalism posts: a summary

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 26, 2009

Here’s a summary of some of the practical journalism posts I’ve written this year.

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Multimedia journalism

Great free apps for multimedia journalists :: the most popular one by far, covering some online sites to aid journo production

Shooting multimedia-a lot to juggle :: the challenges of covering stories in multimedia in the field; in this case, Iraq.

Video Journalism

The ultimate budget film making kit :: a guide to how I kitted myself out for video journalism on a £500 budget

Broadcast Journalism

The radio emergency survival guide :: how radio newsrooms should prepare for major news events

Making the most of your network :: a good example of how to use other journalists in your group

Three ways to instantly improve your newswriting :: a quick guide to broadcast writing

Five even quicker ways to improve your newswriting :: more tips

Covering court cases-the questions you were afraid to ask :: everything from what to wear in court, and where to sit

How to avoid being THAT annoying PR person :: advice for those unfortunate PR professionals

9 questions for newsreaders :: a checklist for newsreaders

It is time for commercial radio to embrace the web

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2009

Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.

Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.

The BBC has embraced it with much gusto across both TV and radio. From the groundbreaking (and bandwith-breaking) iPlayer to the Editors Blogs to Scott Mill’s daily podcast.

But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”

But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.

As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.

What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.

Local news

This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.

Presenter blogs

A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.

Newsroom blogstwitterscreenshot

The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments.  Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.

Presenter twitter

Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.

Playlist twitter

An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.

Podcasts!

The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.

webspecialscreenshotOnline specials and archive

Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.

Audio slideshows

I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.

Online video

For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.

Traffic mashups

trafficscreenshot

Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.

Web chats

A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue.  At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.

Online polls

Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.

A design overhaul

As I mentioned radio websites are “sooo web 1.0” and aren’t designed to be platforms for large amounts of media and meta data. They need to be far more accessible and designed to operate in Mozilla and Google Chrome, not just Internet Explorer. A look at just some of the free WordPress templates floating around shows just how much there is to improve.

Turn listener communities into virtual communities

Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.

Facebook bonuses

The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.

Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.

Inspirational online journalism things

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 12, 2009

Two things: one video, one text; view them right after each other and you almost want to go out and become an online journalism mogul still dressed in your pyjamas.

First, watch this

And then watch part 2 and part 3 if you can. (HT @paulbradshaw)

Most inspiring thing: Michael runs a hyper-local video journalism station in Washington DC for an annual TOTAL cost of $600,000. They can charge just $5 per 30 sec ad slot and break even.

Then read this:

@Dave Lee on creating an online news site while in New Zealand.

Most inspiring thing: how cheap and easy it is to create a fully multimedia news service.

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5 even quicker ways to improve your newswriting

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 28, 2009

writingNot long ago I put down Three Ways to Instantly Improve your Newswriting.

It’s occured to me since, there are even more – even quicker – ways to instantly make your copy shine just that bit more.

Note: these ones are more for broadcasters, who write to be heard not read.

01. Get rid of “that”

Once you’ve written some copy, go through it and remove the word “that” and see what a difference it makes. For example:

“The International Monetary Fund has said that Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It has predicted that the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims that the British government will be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

OK, so remove the “that”s and we’re left with something which slips off the tongue far more easily:

“The International Monetary Fund has said Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It has predicted the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government will be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

02. Contract words

This one is simple and should become automatic for broadcast writers. Contract everything where possible:

He is –> He’s

She will –> She’ll etc.

So our recession copy above can be improved further:

“The International Monetary Fund’s said Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It’s predicted the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government’ll be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

The only possible exception is ‘will’. It’s not so easy to contract that down – although I’ve done it after “government” in the example above.

03.  Knock it all into the present tense

Especially the top line. News is about what’s happening now. If you can’t put your topline into the present tense, you need to find a new angle on the story. If you can’t do that, it’s time to can the story.

“The International Monetary Fund says Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It’s predicting the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government’ll be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

04. A new top line

Let’s be honest, this copy is pretty boring. More bad news about the economy. Instantly sharpen it up by sticking in a new top line – something short pacy, which sums up the whole story.

Another headache for Gordon Brown tonight…

The International Monetary Fund says Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It’s predicting the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government’ll be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

05. Over is out

This is the one thing that turns me into a grammar nazi: the difference between “over” and “more than”.

When you’re talking about numbers, figures, statistics, you use more than. You can’t go over a number. You go over a hill.

So it’s “…the economy will shrink by more than 2.8 percent in the next year.”

Five quick steps and we’ve knocked that boring bit of econo-copy into shape.  On top of that, I’d get rid of the long organisation names and replace a few ‘says’/’claims’ with ‘reckons’.  But you get the point.

Any other tips you’ve picked up? Stick ’em in the comments box!


“Deadbeat Dads”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2009

It was an innocent enough piece of copy from our news provider in London:

“A new crackdown on parents who refuse to pay child support goes before Parliament later.

“So-called ‘Deadbeat Dads’ could be stripped of their driving licences and passports without the courts being involved.”

Well, use of the word ‘crackdown’ aside, it sparked a big reaction from our listeners. Why? Because of the phrase “deadbeat dads”.

The script itself even says “so-called deadbeat dads” but that didn’t stop several people calling into complain.

But everyone was using it. I heard BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat use it, without the “so-called”; it also appeared in several newspapers.

And you can see why it’s used – it’s a catchy phrase which makes a bit of a woolly legal story more interesting.

Our callers  – single dads, mostly – felt singled out as the responsible party. Mums, they said, also skimped on child support. Why should they get a hard time in the press? And they’re right.

So what’s the answer? Should journalists avoid pithy catchphrases all together? Or do they make the story more interesting and relatable?

A good bit of advice for other journalists: the complaints weren’t bad news for us. We listened to their concerns, explained how the word made it on radio…and then convinced them to speak on air, giving us the best local audio on this story.

Have a listen