Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Journalism posts: a summary V

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 30, 2010

Half way through the year already? Where’s it all going?

In case it’s going too fast for you to keep up with all the awesome posts here, here’s a summary of the best articles since March. (You can see previous summaries here).

Entrepreneurial journalism

The big problem for mainstream media – they’re too big (and why that’s great for us)

Is there actually a business model in human-rights reportage?

Why you only need 1,000 true fans to make a living in journalism

Will the Times Paywall work?

Why it’s not content, it’s experience, which brings readers to your website

How to make a niche work for you

How to really make money from your website

Meet the man making money from his blog

Why Ed Caesar’s advice to young journalists is all wrong…

…and why Roy Greenslade’s defense of him is wrong too

How to exploit the ‘knowledge economy’ and make money

Digital storytelling

Is video journalism better when the VJ works with someone else?

Three beautifully made online films

My first shoot using the Canon 550D digital SLR

My current kit and production workflow

An amazing piece of historical documentary making…by a car company

The art of the audio slideshow – and how to make one

Three more lessons in digital storytelling…from people who really know what they’re doing

Proof video journalism is all about the story

…and why I think it’s also about access (to the story)

Six great collaborative photography & journalism projects

How to achieve the cinematic aesthetic in video journalism

Next Generation Journalist

Next Generation Journalist: my message to journalism students in 2010

Are you waiting for approval to go out and do something epic?

What you’ve all been saying about Next Generation Journalist

Why you SHOULDN’T buy Next Generation Journalist


Are you making the most of the knowledge economy?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 12, 2010

Journalists, by tradition, made money by finding and sharing information. It is with some irony (and some tragedy) we notice, in what’s been called the Information Age, journalists seem to be doing the worst out of everyone.

How come?

It’s because the Information Age has changed the way information is valued, sourced and consumed;  journalists have acted like a very large ship with a very small rudder, unable to change in time.

But the thing is this: Next Generation journalists don’t have to change much to turn the Information Age into opportunity. It’s known as the Knowledge Economy, and it’s there to be exploited.

Two ways to exploit the Knowledge Economy now!

01. consume knowledge for free

The days of needing a qualification, or a 3-day course, or even a book to learn something new are on the way out. Want to learn a new skill? Welcome to the age of teach-yourself.

Now I know you’re instantly going to interject with exceptions, and yes there are somethings we have to learn the old way: media law, medicine, driving a car, flying a plane: thankfully all things which require some professional training to comprehend.

But what about HTML? Or making an audio slideshow? Or creating data visualisations?

The internet is full of tutorials, videos, blogs and ebooks which are usually available for free, and sometimes for money (see below). All you really need to invest though is some time, in evenings or weekends and a desire to practice. And then the world is yours.  Journalist Michelle Minkoff has a great post on self teaching code, for example. Through the internet, I have learned:

  • how to do advanced video editing effects, including mattes and keys
  • how to use Photoshop & GIMP to a high standard (from scratch)
  • how to build a website from scratch
  • HTML, CSS and some Javascript
  • how to sew a button onto a jacket

All of these skills (OK, except the last one) radically up my value as a journalist, producer and whatever I chose to be. And none of them have cost me a penny. Blogger and entreprenuer Yaro Starak puts it simply:

“Whenever you have the opportunity to learn from verifiable experts, gurus, teachers, trainers or mentors – which is pretty much all the time thanks to the knowledge economy we presently live in – do it.”

02. share knowledge for profit

In the current age, information is abundant, but knowledge & attention are sparse – and that means there’s value in it.

The fact is, although learning how to make the most of social networking, for example, is utterly free to do, and requires an investment in short amounts of time only,  most people cannot be bothered. Or they don’t even have the time.

That means, simply by consuming some knowledge as above and practicing, you know can more than 80% of people in your field who want to know the same information. Package that in a way that makes it quicker to chew for Mr Lazy and Mrs Busy and you’ve got a business.

I don’t know how many people I have met who see building a small website as the Mount Everest of hurdles, yet haven’t even looked for the basic w3 tutorials on the net. A year ago, I didn’t have a clue either. Now I’ve been paid to build websites for other people, without taking a single course or buying a single book.

You have the chance to learn more skills and information faster and cheaper than in any time in human history. Nothing is beyond your means. Are you making the most of the knowledge economy?

A call to action for Next Generation Journalists

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 2, 2010

The last seven days has seen two big announcements from two of the world’s largest broadcasters.

Last week, American TV Network ABC announced a huge swathe of cuts in their newsrooms: more than 300 jobs in total. They’re cutting their technical staff back by using their control room suites more effectively…and bringing in multimedia journalists:

“In production, we will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs, while recognizing that we will continue to rely upon our ENG crews and editors for most of our work”.

David Westin, memo to ABC staff

As Micheal Rosenblum rightly says:  “Welcome, ABC News, to 1990”.

And this morning, the BBC in the UK have confirmed what some within the corporation had been suspecting for months, and fearing since Friday: a £600m series of cuts, which will halve the number of websites, and close two digital radio stations: 6music and the Asian Network.

“The reality for the BBC is that it faces increasingly difficult choices. Failure to make such choices would lead to limitless expansion, increasing demands for funding and corresponding impact on the wider market. That prospect is not one the Trust can accept.”

Sir Michael Lyons, BBC Chairman

There’s lots of concern and a fair bit of understandable anger about both cuts. Thing is, they’re both valid decisions in the financial and ever-changing digital climate.  Two sad victims of the seismic shift we’re undergoing.

Chess piece or chess player?

It’s time for the broadcasters, journalists and creatives of the future to pick up the pieces. These cut backs are tragic, but they create new opportunities for us to exploit. For example, BBC 6music served a young niche audience extremely well with alternative music, documentaries and even radio plays. Who’d have thought that would work?

When it closes all those people will need a new home. Who will they go to?

According to the last UK census, 2% of the British population are Asian. Where will their news, music and community come from on a national level when the Asian Network is taken off air?

Radio futurologist James Cridland, speaking at February’s Future of News Meetup, just hours before the BBC cuts were first leaked, showed us how radio stations in Canada schedule 30 minute documentaries in the middle of their breakfast shows and make it work; how NPR in the US are combining pictures with their audio to reach audiences in new ways. There is still a huge amount of innovation to be done.

With these sad changes, new markets open up. It is now cheaper, faster and easier to become a publisher and broadcaster online than it ever has been. Will you exploit this new opportunity or pass it by? Your call.

Get your copy of 6×6: advice for multimedia journalists

Posted in 6x6 series by Adam Westbrook on October 26, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

My e-book 6×6: advice for multimedia journalists is now available for download.

I put it together after the popularity of the blog series of the same name back in August. It sums up the advice in that series and updates it. It’s also packed with bonus tips which you won’t find in the series itself, plus a page of resources and links to help you on your way.

The six chapters cover the technical skills, like video, audio & storytelling, plus the non-technical skills, like branding & business.

Best of all, this 32 page e-book is 100% free – you won’t need to register or anything – just click on the big download button below to get it!

And please hit me with feedback, good or bad. What did it miss out? What would you put in?

Click to download for free!

6×6: video

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 19, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The second in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.


Video has by far and away become the most popular medium for the multimedia journalist – to the extent it almost seems many won’t consider it a truly multimedia project unless its got a bit of video in it. The thing is, video is a tricky medium and must be treated differently in the world of online journalism.

01. video doesn’t need to be expensive

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t do video just because you haven’t  got any cash. Sure, if you want to go right to the top range, say a Sony EX3, Final Cut Pro and After Effects yes, it’s going to set you back about £3,000 ($5,000). But high quality can be achieved on lower budgets.

Check out my article on how I put together an entire film making kit for £500 ($800).

02. shoot for the edit

If there’s one piece of advice for multimedia journalists making films – it comes from Harris Watts, in a book he published 20 years ago. In Directing on Camera he describes exactly what shooting footage is:

“Shooting is collecting pictures and sound for editing…so when you shoot, shoot for editing. Take your shots in a way that keeps your options open”

Filming with the final piece firmly in mind will keep your shooting focussed and short. So when you start filming, start looking for close ups and sequences. The latter is the hardest: an action which tells your story, told over 2 or more shots.

Sequences are vital to storytelling and must be thought through.

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

A simple sequence: shot 1, soldiers feet walking from behind

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

Then to a wide shot of the same action...

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

...and then to a wide reverse showing more detail

03. master depth of field

In online video, close ups matter. The most effective way to hold close ups – especially of a person – is to master depth of field. Put simply the depth of field how much of your shot in front of and behind your subject is kept in focus. It is controlled by the aperture on your camera – so you’ll need a camera with a manual iris setting.

Your aim – especially with closeups – is to have your subject in clear focus, and everything behind them blurred: Alexandra Garcia does it very well in her Washington Post In-Scene series. (HT: Innovative Interactivity)

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Screenshot: Innovative Interactivity

Here’s a quick guide to getting to grips with depth of field:

  1. you need a good distance between the camera and subject
  2. a good distance between the subject and the background
  3. and a low f-stop on your iris – around f2.8, depending on how much light there is in your scene. A short focal length does this too.
  4. You may need to zoom in on your subject from a distance

04. never wallpaper

If there was ever an example of the phrase “easier said than done” this would be it. It’s a simple tip on first read: make sure every shot in your film is there for a reason. But with pressures of time or bad planning you can often find yourself “wallpapering” shots just to fill a gap.

In his excellent book The Television News Handbook Vin Ray says following this rule will help you out no end:

“One simple rule will dramatically improve your television packaging: never use a shot – any shot – as ‘wallpaper’. Never just write across pictures as though they weren’t there, leaving the viewer wondering what they’re looking at. Never ever.”

05. look for the detail and the telling shot

Broadcast Journalists are taught to look for the “telling shot”, and more often than not make it the first image. If your story is about a fire at a school, the first thing the audience need to see is the school on fire. If it’s about a woman with cancer, we must see her in shot immediately.

But the telling shot extends further: you can enhance your storytelling by looking for little details which really bring your story to life.

Vin Ray says looking for the little details are what set great camera operators apart from the rest:

“Small details make a big difference. Nervous hands; pictures on a mantelpiece; someone whispering into an ear; a hand clutching a toy; details of a life.”

I’m midway through shooting a short documentary about a former prisoner turned lawyer. One of the first things I noticed when I met him was a copy of the Shawshank Redemption on his coffee table – a great little vignette to help understand the character.

06. break the rules

The worst thing a multimedia journalist can do when producing video for the web is to replicate television – unless that’s your commission of course. TV is full of rules and formulas, all designed to hide edits, look good to the eye, and sometimes decieve. Fact is, online video journalism provides the chance to escape all that.

Sure it must look good, but be prepared to experiment – you’ll be amazed what people will put up with online:

  • Cutaways are often used to cover over edits in interviews; why not be honest and use a simple flash-dissolve instead. Your audience deserve to know where you’ve edited right?
  • TV packages can’t operate without being leaden with voice over, but your online films don’t need to be
  • Piece to cameras don’t need to be woodenly delivered with the camera on a tripod

The final word…

Here’s VJ pioneer David Dunkley-Gyimah speaking at this year’s SxSW event in the US:

““When it comes to the net, there is no code yet as I believe that is set in stone….we’ve all been taking TV’s language and applying that and it hasn’t quite worked. Video journalism needs a more cinematic- hightened visual base.”

Next: storytelling for multimedia journalists!