Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Video: can journalists really be entrepreneurs?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 17, 2011

More and more people are turning round to the idea that journalism alone is not enough, and that to make it in the uncertain world ahead you have to be entrepreneurial too.

Last week’s buy-out of the Huffington Post will add some hope to the mix too.

The criticism from those who are still skeptical or unsure is that the two must be incompatible.

How can you be good at giving a voice to the voiceless and also know how to rake in the cash?’ Or: ‘In business you have to be ruthless and money orientated. I’m a creative person not a business person.’

Both valid points. But at Kingston University we’ve launched a nationwide competition to prove that’s not the case. We want the next generation of journalists, currently studying at a UK university, to come up with their own idea for a news business that has the potential to be sustainable.

The winning team gets £1000 to turn it into reality, and the runners-up get £500. Pretty cool, right?

Free business training

So now’s the time to flex that entrepreneurial muscle. But if you’re still unsure, we’ve been putting together a great collection of free videos and guides to the basics of business. What makes a good business idea? What’s the difference between a product and a service? It’s featuring a raft of journos and entrepreneurs and will be updated regularly over the next few months.

Find out right here, and let your entrepreneurial journey begin!

Meet the online video heroes of 2010

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on December 21, 2010

I’ve got a really good feeling about 2011: online video is going to be huge.

This last year’s been ramping up to that realisation. In the past few months I’ve been approached by journalists, online magazines, charities, corporations and even individuals seeing the enormous potential of online video and wanting to commission films, consulting or training.

Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.

James Cameron

The real heroes are the people out there already making video. They’re not asking if it’ll make money before picking up their camera.They’re just getting off their arse and creating content. The online videos heroes I’ve chosen have done more than made a pretty film: they’ve used online video in a new way, for journalism, art or even business.

The list is pretty arbitrary though: if you know other, better online video heroes, add them to the list via the comments!

my online video heroes of 2010

1. Phos Pictures

Heading up the list is a group of three young American filmmakers who are showing the rest of us how online documentary ought to be done. They blew me away back in March with Last Minutes With Oden a short about one man and his dog, a piece so good, it was recognised as Vimeo’s documentary of the year. It’s clocked up 1.3million page views at last count. They followed it quickly with Pennies HEART and most recently with The KINGDOM.

I interviewed filmmaker Lukas Korver about the production of their films for blog.fu earlier this year – check it out here.

2. Yoodoo

Coming in from a different line is the UK enterprise Yoodoo.biz, founded by Nick Saalfield and Tony Heywood. I met them both when I invited them to speak at the UK Future of News Meetup back in the spring.

Yoodoo is an online training course for entrepreneurs and new businesses. It is content which could be delivered through text and pictures. Any other producers would probably do just that. But Nick and Tony saw the potential of online video earlier than many, and the free course is delivered through short video interviews.

Disclaimer: I write occasionally for Yoodoo.

3. Food Curated

What you need to know about me is pretty simple. I love food. And I love telling a good story.

That’s how Liza Mosquito de Guia describes the founding of Food Curated: an online video blog all about food. Throughout the year Liza’s been out shooting and editing (she’s a one-man-band) short films in all sorts of food establishments.

Each film is unique and she does a good job of keeping herself out of it, and letting the subjects tell their own story. Her site was nominated for a James Beard Award this year, for best Video Webcast.

4. The Scout

If there’s one thing American new media producers can do better than European ones (in this reporter’s humble opinion) it is designing online magazines that look insanely stylish. Dwell, for example, has an elegant aesthetic which outclasses the Darth Vader-esque front page of Britain’s Monocle.

Another stylish number is The Scout, a food culture and design blogazine from the US. They’re on this list for commissioning several short films about inspiring creatives which leave you drooling. They’re the work of director Brennan Stasiewicz who I interviewed back in the summer. His piece on eccentric chocolatiers the Mast Brothers has been shared very widely, but his film on architects Roman and Williams is also superb.

Hat-tips for dedication to similar online video content this year has to go to The Monocle and Vice’s VBC TV.

5. Honda

Yes, it pains me too. But one of this years online video heroes has to be Honda, for their surprising Live Every Litre campaign.

They hired top director Claudio Von Planta to tell a series of powerful short stories, on the premise of a journey taken while driving a Honda Civic. The vehicles and any Honda promotion takes a back seat to the stories however, which is what makes this campaign quite unique in 2010. In particular, check out this short about a D-Day veteran and his daughter which gives many history documentaries a run for their money.

6.Vimeo

Many of the best online video of the year wouldn’t be possible without Vimeo, the classier alternative to Youtube. But that’s not why they’re on the list. The video sharing site was a late entry, with the release, just last week, of their online video school.

It’s something they’ve been working on all year, according to the site’s blog, and it’s a comprehensive, stylish and fun introduction to shooting video. They even brought in Philip Bloom to teach us how to use our DLSR cameras properly. Again, some training Vimeo could have been tempted to deliver in text or even in paid face-to-face courses.

But they chose to harness the power of online video and create something of far more value instead.

7. Witney TV

OK, straight-up, Witney TV ain’t pretty. They’ve actually chosen the ‘broadcast news’ theme from Garageband for their opening titles, which themselves, look like they’ve been done in Microsoft Paint. There isn’t a huge amount of care taken to making pretty video.

ButWitney TV is one of the first, sustained attempts at online video serving a local audience. And, it’s incredibly popular. Some episodes I’ve seen have 150,000+ views and scoops with Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron have had them mentioned in the national press. I grew up in Witney, and family members tell me it’s also huge in Japan. Who knew?

They’re showing the rest of the hyperlocal world how it should be done. If you choose to follow in their footsteps, just don’t use Garageband.

8. Tim Johns

BBC radio producer Tim Johns (Disclaimer: he’s a friend) is on the list to represent all the people who’ve picked up a camera and got creative with it this year, again without any desire for reward.

Online video is an unrivalled platform for original drama and comedy, and with a flipcam costing less than £100 it’s possible for anyone to join the party. But how many do? And how many get scared away?

Tim isn’t one of those. He’s just started making films for the hell of it, and for a radio producer, he shows a startling aptitude for visual comedy & storytelling.

.09 VJ Movement

Another online video hero this year is the Dutch social enterprise  VJ Movement.

It launched back in 2009 amid some hype (among video journalists, at least) and since then has got down to the business of building a network of VJs from across the globe. After a recent rebrand this autumn, the VJ Movement have focussed on developing larger scale projects and commissioning films for that project from all over the world.

Personally, I think it’s yet to find its real voice and distinctive style, but this will come with time. For the time being, it is one of the only fully independent platforms commissioning in-depth journalism from outside mainstream circles, and long may that continue.

Disclaimer: I occasionally produce films for the VJ Movement

Lifetime achievement award: TED

And finally, a lifetime achievement award is deserving of one organisation who clearly ‘got’ online video when Youtube was still in nappies.

TED lectures have been around for sometime, but it was only when they started uploading them to Youtube and making them freely available that the organisation’s remarkable talks really started to take off.

They’ve collectively been watched more than 600 million times, and spurred future speakers to up their game, a concept TED boss Chris Anderson called Crowd Accelerated Innovation. In this TED lecture, he predicts online video will have a profound affect on our future. Which begs the question: if you’re not getting in on the fun now, why not?

It’s not content – it’s ‘experience’ (and red shoes)

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

How do journalists become entrepreneurial?

That was the big question at last night’s Future of News meetup in Central London. Around 50 journalists, students, academics and other entrepreneurs came to hear first hand how to set up a news business from those who’ve done it themselves.

(Update #1: Journalist Patrick Smith has written a far more comprehensive review of the event for journalism.co.uk – you can read it by clicking here.)

(Update #2: The West Midlands Future of News Meetup is hosting a similar event tomorrow night as part of JEEECampall the details are here!)

Emi Gal, the founder of Brainient a website which helps people make money from online video, spoke first. At the age of 24 he is already a serial entrepreneur having set up three businesses so far.

He was followed by Tony Heywood and Nick Saalfield, who run Yoodoo.biz a free service for anyone who dreams of setting up their own business but doesn’t know where to start. As a journalist himself Nick was sure journalists can set up their own businesses and make it work.

It’s not content, it’s experience

One of the big sticking points of the night was the seeming void between doing the sort of journalism that matters (human rights, for example) and serving a market who’ll pay for that content.

Deborah Burnello, founder of mexicoreporter.com (and now thevideoreporter.com) spoke of her ambition to set up a news website, but couldn’t see who would pay for important, worthy news stories.

Nick was clear: content does not make money. “The days of being paid by the word a dead” he told the room. Instead, journalists must create an experience for their audience – a really enjoyable experience which they’ll come back for, and pay for.

We don’t all go crazy for Apple products because they’re technically better than Windows – but because the whole user experience is so much better.

How do we make the experience better online? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Don’t wait – go!

Brainient founder Emi Gal’s big advice is not to hang around. “Don’t wait for your product to be perfect” he says – you can’t get it right until it’s out there.

Photo Credit: Jon Slattery

Emi also reiterated the importance of collaborating with others. If you’re not good at sales (as many journalists won’t be) find a partner who is. If you want to create a web platform but don’t know the first thing about Ruby or HTML, find someone who does.

Emi, who funded Brainient through winning Seedcamp‘s startup competition, says venture capital (VC) is a good way to get cash – if you can find a good investor. Nick and Tony though reckon ‘Angel investors’ – individuals with spare cash and up for an adventure – are the way to go, and less likely to end up in disaster.

…oh, and the shoes

Emi, Tony and Nick agreed on one thing: get good shoes. Or some item of clothing that makes you stand out – people (potential investors, collaborators) are more likely to remember you that way.

If you want to know more about entrepreneurship and journalism, you don’t have to wait long – Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism goes on sale tomorrow!