Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Why entrepreneurs are journalism’s only hope

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 7, 2011

Even David Cameron’s saying it now. In a speech to his spring conference this weekend he announced that entrepreneurs are Britain’s ‘only strategy’ for growth, and is promising help for people starting their own businesses in this month’s budget.

The same is true for journalism too. The call to enterprise isn’t a stop-gap, nor an acceptance of defeat trying to get a ‘proper’ job.

Journalism needs entrepreneurs to shake things up and make some new things happen. In the shadow of newsroom cuts, creative famine and spreading churnalism, these brave starters are journalism’s ‘only strategy’ for growth.

As if by magic (or more likely by perusing the planning diary) the Observer yesterday featured several ‘young guns‘: young men and women who, in the face of high youth unemployment, have made their own careers happen. Included was 20-year-old film-maker Jamal Edwards who founded SBTV, an impressive youth channel; Georgina Cooper, 26, the creator of PretaPortobello.com; Gerard Jones, 21, who founded his own football training academy while still at university; and Edwin Broni-Mensah, 25, who’s come up with a great business around refillable water bottles.

They are inspiring stories of young people who, in the face of a game where the odds were stacked against them, invented a new game, with the rules squarely in their favour. And they’re relishing the freedom and opportunity it gives them. Meanwhile, more young journalists who fought their way into a national newspaper the old way are handing in their notices!

So start now…but start small.

The time to make your own career happen is now.

I had the pleasure of speaking at Leeds Trinity University’s Journalism Festival a week ago, alongside Joanna Geary from the Times, Chris Ship from ITV, Patrick Smith from the The Media Briefing and many others.

I was there to talk about entrepreneurial journalism – and in particular, the often overlooked beauty of starting an intentionally small, but insanely profitable business. In it, I presented several examples of journalists making money in new ways, described how I did it launching my business studio .fu and gave some practical advice on how to start a business with no funding, no employees and no office.

My presentation is available to view by clicking here.

You can also read a write-up and listen to an interview here.

The lure of having @bbc.co.uk or @cnn.com on your email address is a temptress, I know. But we are entering an age where the self-starter is the one with the opportunities – don’t miss out! If you still need convincing read this great article in Smashing Magazine.

And for another four weeks, there is the opportunity to win £1000 in cash to get your business off the ground in our unique myNewsBiz competition. Click here for details of how to enter.

UPDATE: a couple of similar excellent posts from other young journalists today: Joseph Stashko asks why are j-students still attracted by the mainstream media; and Marc Thomas explains why he’s going entrepreneurial instead of looking for jobs this summer.

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A little bit of history repeating

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 24, 2010

This whole multimedia journalism thing seems very new a lot of the time.

We’re always being told we’re breaking new ground, doing things no-one has done before. But that’s not necessarily so:  some of the ‘innovations’ we have come accustomed too have been around for decades.

Citizen Journalism

When do you think the first citizen journalists appeared? Did amateurs start recording news events a few years back? 2004? 2002?

How about 1940?

BBC Four in Britain are screening a series of programmes called Shooting The War, about how ordinary soldiers and civilians used the first cinecameras to record daily life during World War II. People like Leslie Fowler and Derek Brown provided us with an intimate portrait of life in Britain in the run up to, and during the early years of the war.

Their footage shows Home Guard preparations for a possible invasion of England in the summer of 1940.

The documentary describes amateur film-making as an unusual hobby in the 1930s, but it was still there.

One-man-bands

Now what about solo-journalists? The one man* film-maker, out in the field on his own with a camera? 1990s? 1980s?

How about the 1940s again?

During the war, the British government became aware of the extent to which the Wehrmacht had been using propaganda films to accentuate their sudden invasion of Western Europe. Realising the potential of this, they created a new division in the army: the Army Film and Photographic Unit. It trained ordinary soldiers to carry their own film cameras and shoot activity on the front line.

As well as lugging their weaponry and everything else, they were carrying a huge wooden cinecamera and probably loads of film too – and then filming entirely by themselves, something most of us didn’t think could happen until Betacams in the 1980s.

Multimedia

And number three, what what the first newspaper to go multimedia? Was it the NY Times in 2000? Or the LA Times in 2003?

Nope?

What about the Observer…in 1951?

I’ve spent the last two weeks documenting a project at the Southbank Centre in London, the home of what was once called the Festival of Britain. In the festivals last weeks in the summer of 1951, the Observer paper (the Guardian’s Sunday edition) commissioned a 15 minute film called Brief City. You can watch it here too.

It explained how the Royal Festival Hall was built, and how it was used. It is a stunning piece of film making of its time, with its own specially orchestrated score.

So that’s a newspaper investing in moving pictures to tell stories. In 1951.

It’s a shame they all forgot pretty soon after how to do that.

*sorry ladies, it is still the 1940s after all

Twitter as a research tool?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 24, 2009

“Weird and aimless”: that was David Mitchell’s summation of Twitter in his extremely witty must-read column in last Sunday’s Observer.

His brief description went as follows:

‘It’s a website where you express what you’re currently doing in 140 characters or fewer and that gets sent to all your “followers”; similarly, the “tweets” of those you “follow” are relayed to you – and you can do it on your phone, laptop, BlackBerry, iThermos or rape alarm.’

Pretty much sums it up. But the great thing about it, is it keeps coming up with new uses. For example, I discovered this week it provides an excellent living, breathing research tool for journalists.

How? Well, later this week I am flying out to Iraq to spend some time reporting on the work of  British troops in the closing days of Operation Telic; the advent of control being handed to Iraqi troops. Now I’ve only been given short notice of the visit – well 5 days to be precise – and that’s hardly enough time to dig through A. Leo Oppenheim’s Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilisation.

I need the facts and I need them fast. But as well as reading up on the basics of the Iraq occupation, I need to be following the latest news and developments before I head out. That’s where Twitter comes in. With Tweetdeck installed, I have had constant updates on all the chatter involving “iraq” and “basra” for the last 3 days. I know who’s talking about it, and when big news stories happen they appear as news feeds.

Best of all it’s live, it’s fresh.

For those that would come back saying Twitter is not a reliable source – well, actually if the sites it links to like the BBC and CNN are reliable then what’s the problem?

And on that whole “reliability” issue, well let’s go back to David Mitchell – he sums it up perfectly:

‘…readers should always question the veracity of what they read and the motives of whoever wrote it, and in the internet age more than ever. People who allow themselves to be made credulous by stylish typesetting and a serif font are screwed. And if Wikipedia, while being very informative in most cases, teaches a few lessons about questioning sources, then that’s all to the good.’

Let’s not forget Twitter as a good tool for collecting information, as well as publishing it.

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I’m leaving very shortly; in the likely absence of any internet connection in Iraq this will be the last blog for a week or so…

Human Rights: 60 years on

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 21, 2008

This year marks 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was first penned.

The Observer’s Review supplement’s put together an excellent special today on how the rights have ultimately been ignored over the last six decades.

What’s struck me recently is how little any of us know about our human rights. I’m an educated sort of bloke, good upbringing an all that. But ask me any details on what are the fundamental protectors of my free existence, and I can’t answer much.

I know there’s something about freedom of religion, and freedom of expression and freedom from torture. And that Eleanor Roosevelt and World War Two had something to do with it.

But scarily, that’s it.

How, I wonder, are we all supposed to ensure our Human Rights are protected, when we don’t even know what they are?

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