Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

10 things you’ll hear at every journalism conference

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 5, 2011

The 2011 conference season is almost over, with just a few events left to go.

After a busy 2010 attending these things I promised myself to go to less of them in 2011. That is a resolution I have profoundly failed to do. Oh well.

You have been spared the sight of me presenting at many though, so far at least. I am looking forward to talking about storytelling and journalism at the next News:Rewired conference in London on the 6th October. There’s an excellent line-up so far, so if you’re in London, make sure you get a ticket. Also in London, the Wannabe Hacks folks are organising an interesting alternative conference for younger hacks too.

10 things you hear at every journalism conference

1. Twitter/Facebook/Live-blogging is “just a platform”

2. We need to remember what journalism is “all about”

3. “…but where’s the money?”

4. “Is anyone else having trouble with the wifi?”

5. “…we’re all about ‘engaging with users'”

6. A reference to Andy Carvin or Neal Mann

7. News is “fragmenting” (whatever that means)

8. Journalism students must blog/tweet/do video or they won’t get a job

9. An obvious statement about what journalism is (i.e: ‘a journalist’s role is to sift through mass of info to find out ‘what is important’ & ‘what is true”)

10. And, usually from someone afterwards “there’s too much talking and not enough doing*”, followed by “so are you going to the next conference?**”

*This is usually me.

** So is this

There are many more, of course – add your own suggestions in the comments below! 🙂

Storytelling: the changing game

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on August 29, 2011

I.

Traditionally journalism, publishing, film-making, music, photography & broadcasting are one-way processes. We create some content and a mainstream platform of some kind pumps it out for the masses to consume.

They passively receive stories and information, a concept best explained by Peter Horrocks’ End of Fortress Journalism. Attempts to make all this interactive in some way have never got past the “send us your photos” or “you decide!” appeals from our TV sets.

But something extraordinary and unexpected is happening. Audiences are getting involved in our stories – but not how you’d expect. If an audience feel involved in a story, whether it’s The Wire, Mad Men, a movie, they are starting to find their own ways to dive deeper into the world of the story. They set up their own twitter accounts, or start wikis, and develop a story far beyond the control of the author.

This is very new. And journalists shouldn’t think their stories are immune either.

II.

I have, until recently, ignored this trend. I produce online video – an inherently passive medium that cannot really foster interactive engagement. On a selfish level, I don’t want anyone else to get involved in my storytelling, thank you very much. Surely the fun is producing something exceptional and then sharing it for others to enjoy?

Well, my view on this, is shifting a little bit.

A few weeks back I discovered Awkward Silence, the website of a UCLAN multimedia student, who goes by the name of Beans. He’s produced a couple of 90s style platform games (think Commander Keen or Prince of Persia) which you can play online for free.

In One Chance, you become a scientist who’s cure for cancer is threatening to wipe out every living cell on earth. Over the course of six days (15 minutes gameplay time) you must find a cure.

Yes, the graphics (and gameplay) don’t add up to much by our modern Xbox standards, but bear with me. As simple as it looks, it is a very adult game, with a sophisticated story – and it’s the story that sucks you in.  Inevitably, my less than sensible decisions made throughout the game resulted in everyone dying and me sitting alone with my daughter on a park bench, waiting for the end.

Beans also produced another game recently – except, it’s not really a game. The Body takes four minutes and you basically press and hold left in order to complete it. Beans himself describes it as:

“…short, confusing and isn’t technically fun. It’s not a game I’m not particularly proud of. Infact, The body is barely a game at all.”

But beyond the gameplay, The Body offers more. In it, you become a man trying to dispose of a body. Who is the body? How did they die? The backstory is (sort of) revealed in flashbacks – a convention more at home on TV or in the cinema. And despite it being not ‘technically fun’ I engaged with the story.

Beans hasn’t created a game – he’s told a story. And because I was participating in the story I was hooked.

III.

I recently mentioned Frank Rose’s new book on how the internet is changing storytelling. As he sees it, these new ways of telling stories are letting us get more immersed – and therefore more engaged.

“Conventional narratives – books, movies, TV shows – are emotionally engaging, but they engage us as spectators. Games are engaging in a different way. They put us at the centre of the action…Combine the emotional impact of stories with the first person involvement of games and you can create an extremely powerful experience.”

If I’m honest, I’m not sure exactly how this will change factual storytelling and multimedia journalism yet – but I’m almost certain it will. I’ve got some early ideas which I’m chewing over and if they amount to anything I will try and share them. But as content creators we have a responsibility to tell stories which grab people by the collar. All but the very best online video out there right now fails on that first test.

The idea of ‘games journalism’ has also grown in popularity in only the last year: this is very new and the ideas are still quite basic.

I’ll be talking more about connected storytelling and journalism at News:Rewired Connected Journalism on October 6th. Click here to get tickets.

Revenue streams for your news business: part 2

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 24, 2011

Image credit: Meneer Zjeron on Flickr

This is a 2nd of a two-part series suggesting ideas for revenue streams for a news business. Read the first post here, and don’t forget, the deadline for entering myNewsBiz (to win ÂŁ1000) is Friday 1st April 2011.

In the previous post, we talked subscriptions, partnerships, newsletters, affiliates and B2B revenue streams. But that’s only half the game, if none of those appeal, try some of these on for size.

10 ideas for revenue streams for your news business (part 2)

.06 a store

This is a method of income completely separate from the journalism, but an online a store is relatively simple to run. It relies on your content bringing in the eyeballs to your site – again, building a community of like minded folk – and then offering them products which you can be confident will appeal to them.

So, for example, say you edit an online magazine for retired people who want to be more green. Once you’ve built up a community of readers, there’s a whole range of things you could sell on the side, from jute bags and wormeries to slippers & christmas cards. You’ll most likely want to partner with a fulfilment company, who will manage sales, stock and delivery for a percentage.

Who’s doing it? You’d be surprised. Big newspapers like the Sunday Times make a mint out of their wine club, which ships wine to readers; multimedia producers MediaStorm sell DVDs and even T-shirts on their site; UK hyperlocal The Lichfield Blog recently started selling t-shirts too.

.07 events

Again, if you’ve got a loyal readership focused around a niche, events are another way to convert them into money, and this is nothing new. Everyone from Mashable to TheMediaBriefing run events tailored to their audience: think Journalism.co.uk’s successful news:rewired series for another example.

Conferences are big to organise but through ticket sales and sponsorship offer revenue opportunities. Beyond conferences there are meetups, speed dates and training.

.08 digital products

If selling someone else’s products to your lovely readers doesn’t appeal, then why not create your own? Digital products – in particular ebooks, training and podcasts now cost virtually nothing to produce. The two ebooks I have written and sold to date have paid for themselves many times over…chiefly because they cost absolutely nothing to make!

If you’re positioning your product as the ‘thought-leader’ in a particular area (as you should be), then you can legitimately package your expertise in digital form. To recall our environmental magazine example, you can create an ebook called ‘10 Ways To Grow Your Own Allotment‘ or ‘The Ultimate Guide to What’s In Season When

.09 by-products

Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals argues every business has a by-product. In his excellent book Rework, he describes how the band Wilco brought someone in to film them recording their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was released as a DVD called Am I Trying To Break Your Heart?. So they successfully sold their main product (the album) and a by-product (the DVD).

This clever idea can be adopted by journalists, their products and services. You don’t just make one thing, so what else are you creating? A wealth of data about a story or topic? Stock footage or images? Training opportunities? A book or DVD?

.10 advertising

And here’s the one you’re most familiar with. But it’s at the bottom of the list. Why? Because it’s the first (and often the only) revenue stream most journalists think of, and that’s why they never get very far. But it’s also so dependent on the economy. Advertising will boom again I’m sure, but until it does (and when it eventually collapses again) where does that leave you? Sure, do advertising: services like Addiply can help magazines, blogs and other products, for example.

But – in my opinion only – it ought to be the thinnest slice of the pie.

The greatest revenue stream of them all…

Which brings me neatly to the best, most reliable, and safest revenue stream: lots of them.

Having read this post and the one before it, don’t take just one single revenue stream and hope to make a living. Instead pick and choose the 3, 4 or 5 that are most relevant or appealing to you and your business idea.

If one of them doesn’t work, swap it round for another, and keep testing the soup til it works.

So who said journalism doesn’t any money? A targeted combination of several of these revenue streams could keep your idea going. But there are surely more…what have I missed off? Tell me in the comments below!


Your last chance to get “Newsgathering For Hyperlocal Websites” on the cheap!

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 16, 2010

As promised, the ebook Newsgathering For Hyperlocal Websites, will move up to it’s original price of ÂŁ7.99/~$13.00 at midnight on Sunday GMT.

That means you’ve got about 24 hours to buy it at a bargainous discounted price of ÂŁ4.99/~$8.00

If you’ve not heard the buzz, it’s a 40 page e-book written specifically for anyone starting up a hyperlocal website. It’s packed full of advice on finding local stories and turning your blog into a real source for local news, adding value to your readers’ lives. Here’s a list of chapters.

As well as some lovely reviews, there’s been lots of positive feedback from journalists and bloggers at the News:rewired conference in London this week. But there’s also another big reason to get this book while it’s still so cheap.

Already I have a new edition planned, which will be rolled out  later in 2010 to keep up with new developments in this fast moving field. But rather than release a whole new book (old school, or what?) I’ll be releasing new chapters like a software upgrade.

That means if you’ve already got the book you’ll get a chance to buy these new sections for as little as ÂŁ1, depending on what they’re worth, a week before they go into the main book.

Everyone else will have to buy the whole book from scratch.

Click here to buy (Paypal only)

So don’t delay. It’s only a fiver!  But having said that, if you can only spare a fiver, donate it instead to the DEC Haiti appeal – if you’re in the UK, text “GIVE” to 70077 or click here; in the US text “Haiti” to 90999.

A rare work update…

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on January 8, 2010

It’s been a busy start to the New Year here at Westbrook towers.

First off my article about prisoner votes campaigner John Hirst is featured in this week’s Big Issue In The North. It follows this audio slideshow I produced in 2009. If you’re in the north of the UK, I’m sure a (very) cold Big Issue vendor would appreciate your custom. Meanwhile some of the images from this slideshow are appearing in a documentary, The Fear Factor, due for release in March.

My new e-book, Newsgathering for Hyperlocal Websites is due for release next week. It’s a practical manual packed with advice on how to turn your hyperlocal blog into a solid newsgathering operation, holding powers to account where the mainstream media have failed. It’s got a discounted opening price, so make sure you subscribe to the blog for details!

Elsewhere the lecturing work carries on, with dozens of short films my students have made due for marking by the end of this month. I hope to be returning to Kingston University’s journalism department for other events in 2010.

And I’m being kept busy with various conferences. I’m looking forward to speaking at Journalism.co.uk‘s News: Rewired event in London on the 14th January; tickets for that have now sold out. I’m also due to speak at a couple of planned events in London, and I’ve been invited to take part in some exciting international festivals in the spring as well (more details soon).

All the while January’s Future of News Meetup in association with POLIS is now full, with a waiting list building. We’ll be hearing from journalists at the Financial Times and one of the team behind the Berlin Project about innovation  in multimedia. If you would like to sign up to future meetups or try to make January’s event, click here to get involved.

Right here there’s lots of plans for the blog, with lots more practical advice and analysis of developments in journalism due in 2010. You’ll find me contributing to a host of excellent blogs and websites in 2010, including Duckrabbit, A Developing Story and Journalism 2.0.

And ahead, I some exciting multimedia plans stewing, and I’ll be looking for collaborators in the near future – keep your ears to the ground! In the meantime, I’m always available for various freelancing work, so just click on Contact Adam to get in touch!

Thinking of going entrepreneurial? Then you should go to news:rewired

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 22, 2009

Journalism.co.uk‘s up and coming event news:rewired in January 2010 looks like it’s going to be a promising platform to debate an entrepreneurial future for journalism.

I’ve written an article for the event, looking at three ways for journalists to find ideas for news startups, and in particular, I argue:

[idea for new businesses] must start in the market. They must start with a problem the market has, which you can fix; a service the market needs, which you can offer; a product the market wants, which you can produce.

Entrepreneur Mike Southon asks “where’s the pain?” and builds a business idea from there: is there something people moan about having to do or not being there?

If you don’t start with the market, and the pain it has, you risk peddling a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

You can read the rest of my article here. Meanwhile,  the News:rewired site also has profiles of five UK journalist/entrepreneurs, and 10 tips for would-be journalism entrepreneurs; the event itself looks like it’ll be a promising hotbed of business ideas and debate.

I’ll be speaking at news:rewired on the 14th January 2010, alongside a host of interesting journalists on the front line of the digital revolution. You can get tickets from the news: rewired website.

In other news

I’ve popped up in Newsleader’s “Talkie Awards” for 2009, a great roundup of the best of radio in the last year; and the 2nd Future of News Meetup Group has been announced for London on the 20th January 2010.