Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Future of News Bootcamp: a market for traditional reportage?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 23, 2010

The first ever Future of News Business Bootcamp took place in London last night – 7 journalists, several bottles of wine and one problem: how to make money in journalism.

Each bootcamp will focus on a different area of journalism, and this inaugural event had possibly the biggest challenge of all – how to create a business around human rights & development reportingthat vitally important, but until now, expensive and unprofitable part of journalism.

In the room were half a dozen journalists, pretty much all of whom were interested in being able to travel to different parts of the world and uncover human rights abuses and report on development issues – and get paid to do it. And we were going to do something which has never really been tried in this way before – to take an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to business, and transplant it onto journalism.

Not many journalists dare to stray into this territory, more often than not, simply because they don’t have much entrepreneurial nouse (or don’t think they do). Not us! We bravely strolled into this area to see what sticks.

Product or Service?

Almost all businesses can be divided into two categories – those which provide a product, and those which provide a service. A product is an item you can ship and sell; a service is selling your own time, expertise or knowledge. We looked at both options. Under service, we came up with ideas such as a business which chases every penny of UK development money around the world to check it’s being spent properly; we also looked at providing a reporting service for businesses with Corporate Social Responsibility policies and half a dozen other ideas.

The idea of a product got the group more excited. Is there a gap for a decent human rights reportage magazine? The room felt there was, but it would need to be a massive departure from what little there is out there already. Costs would be another problem; the annual cost estimates for a small business, with maybe six journalists travelling and reporting, ranged from £500,000 ($1m) to £3m ($6m) a year. A lot, yes, but the Times and the Guardian loose hundreds of thousands a day – something new would have a massive advantage…

A market?

A key part of starting any business is thinking ‘who is my customer?’. We spent a fair bit of time coming up with crazy different ideas for who might want this type of journalism in the modern world…NGOs? Students & universities? Schools? The military? Traditional media appeared too, although we all agreed getting money from them was becoming harder and harder.

Packaging?

We made some good headway with the idea of how to package the product. Settling on an idea for an online (and possibly print-on-demand) magazine, we looked at all the other news outlets thriving online: the Financial Times, NPR & Propublica, Techcrunch & Mashable, the BusinessDesk.com, MediaStorm – and looked at what ways of packaging our product we could steal from them: everything from exploiting a sponsored mailing list to running events, to bootstrapping, to branding. A combination of these feeding into multiple revenue streams seemed like an attractive idea.

With all the wine gone and the two hours up, we had a lot of ideas, but nothing hugely concrete. But that’s OK! It was pretty much as much as we could have hoped for. More importantly I think it sewed some seeds in all our minds about what might work and what wouldn’t….that’ll stew in our minds for a while – and I think maybe someone in the room will suddenly get the spark of inspiration not far into the future.

Thanks very much to Deborah, Donnacha, Kat, Rebecca, Adam and Phil for bravely taking part in the experiment! If you like the idea of the bootcamps and would like to come to the next one make sure you’re signed up to the Future of News Meetup Group (it’s free!).

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Do multimedia journalism…and get paid!

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 10, 2010

Here’s a great way to build a business telling powerful human stories for people who really need them.

01. make multimedia for non-profits and NGOs

The first featured career path for the Next Generation Journalist is not so new, but it is yet to reach it’s full potential. What it’s looking for is journalists with the innovation and vision to do something different. What’s this one all about? It’s about applying your research, storytelling, writing and multimedia production skills to produce powerful content for the third sector.

In the US and Europe a fresh crop of companies are making this work. In North America, companies like MediaStorm, Weyo and Story4 (which I have featured in articles like this one) are independent companies producing content for NGOs and non-profits as well as editorial clients. In Europe, the competition is smaller, with just a handful of businesses starting to establish themselves, including Duckrabbit, Not On The Wires, and the Bombay Flying Club.

This is a sector with huge potential and it’s a great opportunity for forward thinking journalists.

If you get it right, the money is there. Brian Storm, who founded MediaStorm, says 2009 was their best year ever – but when I spoke to him in February 2010 they had already booked in 65% of that for 2010. MediaStorm actually turn down 70% of work because they’re so busy! At this year’s Digital Storytelling Conference, Duckrabbit revealed they are making money too. Do you want a piece of that pie?

Setting up a multimedia production company…

  • gives you the chance to focus on telling compelling stories, often about unreported issues
  • lets you build a solid business and brand with a well defined market
  • markets to a sector with a lot of money, and minimal expertise in journalism

And it’s not too expensive or risky to do either. A website costs $50 and a weekend’s work to get looking great with a WordPress theme. The kit, if you don’t have it already, can be yours for around $1000 (see my articles here and here). Then you need the cracking content: building a portfolio of remarkable work, by offering to produce things for free.

Find out more…

10 trends in journalism in 2010

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 15, 2009

It’s that time of year again…

After a turbulent year in the industry, I’ve had a good think and put together my top 10 trends for journalism for 2010, wrapped in a big shiny positive outlook. But rather than roll out another list, I thought I’d be a bit different and crack out some video. Enjoy!

And is there anything I’ve missed? Add it in the comments box!