Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

10 ways to make waves in journalism & publishing

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 14, 2012

Our industry needs innovators, boat rockers, leaders, starters.

If you want to make your mark, get noticed, here are some ideas. These are things you can do as a journalism student, recent graduate, employee – whatever. They’re necessarily big (what’s the point in making small waves?) but manageable if you start small, take baby steps and gain momentum in your spare time.

  • Create a product (that’s a website, magazine, app, film, podcast, experience or book) that challenges how journalism is done right now.
  • Deploy new technology on journalism before anyone else does. Think of Not On the Wires‘ clever use of mobile reporting in 2009, and more recently Codoc’s ideas for layered video journalism.
  • Create a product that strives to do journalism better than the mainstream media (it’s not difficult).
  • Create an in-depth multimedia production that goes deeper into a story or issue than anyone has before. There are plenty of examples, from Powering a Nation, to The Ration.
  • Write a blog that challenges the status quo. Duckrabbit do this really well and everyone loves them for it.
  • Go in-depth into an under-reported community and create a site about them. MA students at City University in London have been doing this with good results.
  • Design products that savour in-depth quality over 400 word posts. This space is wide open right now, but it’s time consuming and hard to do. I’m really looking forward to Kirby Ferguson’s next project This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, but he’s spending months putting it together.
  • Find a gap in the market and go all out to fill it. Think of how Jamal Edwards has become well known in a whole music genre by pushing SB.TV or even how Poppy Dinsey saw a space in social fashion.
  • Be an experimenter and a ‘media inventor’ who’s always creating new things. Robin Sloan is one of my favourite people on the whole internet. Have you read his tap essay? You should.
  • Create something that looks fantastic and ignores the design conventions of the web.
  • Pick a niche and knuckle-down to become an expert in the space. This doesn’t mean getting qualifications, it means being generous with what you know.

Whatever you do, aim big and take no shortcuts.

The industry already has more reporters, subs, producers, editors and designers than it needs, and you’re up against thousands of others to become one of them. What the industry sorely lacks are people who come up with big boat-rocking ideas and execute on them.

Be one of those people and your career could take you to remarkable places. But you’ve got to make waves first.

Speaking of boat-rocking ideas, Inside the Story has already raised more than $2500 for charity and helped hundreds of people get better at storytelling. Have you got your copy yet? It’s only available for another 12 days.

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Video: Nick Williams on the portfolio career

Posted in Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on September 30, 2010

One of the easiest ways to become a Next Generation Journalist and forge your own exciting work life, is to create a portfolio career.

I go into this in some length in chapter one of the e-book, but the thrust of it is this: we are all good at more than one thing, and we can all make money from more than one thing. The result: a rewarding, challenging and profitable career which takes traditional ‘freelancing’ to a new level.

Last night I went to an event all about portfolio careers, hosted by Nick Williams, one of the thought-leaders on creative entrepreneurialism.  The point of a portfolio career, he says, is not holding down lots of bad jobs to make up a decent income – instead it’s a way of life you purposely pursue.

More and more people are becoming fed up with the rat race, realising life’s too short, and thinking about how they can get paid to do what they really love doing.

Is it something journalists can do? You bet, and many journalists already are. One of last night’s speakers was former ITN newsreader Katie Ledger (pictured, right). She left ITN a while back and now puts her journalism skills to use across a whole range of jobs, from working with Microsoft, to writing a bookAlex Wood, of Not on the Wires, combines his journalism with a thriving web design business; another Not On The Wires journalist, Marcus Gilroy-Ware combines reporting with lecturing and designing software.

I’ve been doing the portfolio career thing for a year now (more on that next week) – but alongside my video journalism and newsreading, I have been lecturing, speaking in different parts of the world, writing books and setting up a new business. It is possible, and it’s awesome fun.

The modern world is calling for more so-called ‘renaissance souls’ as Nick explains:

In this video:

  • you will learn why having a portfolio career is actually more secure than sticking with your 9-5
  • you’ll find out how it’s possible to balance having more than one revenue stream
  • and you’ll hear why journalists are actually positioned perfectly to exploit the demands of the 21st century

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…

Storytelling in the digital age

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2010

It’s one of human kinds oldest acts, against the most intense technological revolution in history. How do storytellers adjust in the digital age?


For answers, turn your eye to the Digital Storytelling ’10 conference today in London. I have teamed up with the people from Not On The Wires to put together an afternoon of inspirational speakers and events for journalists, academics, entrepreneurs, digital experts and students.

Fact is, there’s a big need for a conference like this. Why are journalists still telling stories in old ways with new technologies? As Alex Wood will explain in his opening remarks, why do TV journalists put traditional print on their websites, and why do newspapers put mimics of TV news packages on their websites?

Speakers include the multimedia producers SoJournPosse and Duckrabbit, as well as technical pioneers like Demotix, Blinked.TV and UltraKnowledge.

New ideas for the Future of News

The day wraps up with the March edition of the UK Future of News Meetup, where we’ll be using some unusual techniques to drum up lots of new ideas for journalisms big problems.

Follow the hashtag!

To keep up with events today, follow the hashtag #ds10 from 1300 GMT and #fong from  1830 GMT. There’ll also be live streaming, with all the details right here.