Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

10 great Wordpress themes for your online magazine

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 13, 2011

Earlier this week, I suggested Flavors.me has the edge over WordPress, when it comes to creating a visually unique portfolio website for journalists.

But, when it comes to doing something more complex – such as creating a new online magazine, then WordPress still wins hands down (in fact, don’t even try using Flavors, it wasn’t designed for it!).

If you are starting an online magazine, or a complex blog, you’ll need a theme with the flexibility to create new articles and arrange them, create featured posts and media galleries. Luckily, hundreds of WordPress theme designers have come to the rescue with some awesome themes – many of which, won’t cost you a thing!

After a several weeks lost in theme galleries, I have picked out 10 really exceptional themes. I won’t describe each one – you can see for yourself whether it suits your purposes. Remember, don’t just pick themes based on their colours or fonts – those can be changed by editing the theme’s CSS file.

Free wordpress themes

(A NOTE about free themes: these themes come from trusted producers (such as WPShower), or via a trusted curator, such as Smashing Magazine. However there are dangers with using any old free theme you can find, as highlighted in this article. Thanks to @mike_rawlins for the tip)

Suburbia by WPShower | Demo

Magazeen by WeFunction | Demo

Sight by WPShower | Demo

Imbalance by WPShower | Demo

Premium wordpress themes

The Style by Elegant Themes $39 per year | Demo

Magazine Theme by Organic Themes $69 | Demo

Le News by Mrmema $35 | Demo

FolioStudio by BeanTheme $42 | Demo

Blogazette by Readactor $30 | Demo

Bulldog by SweetThemes $33| Demo

Why pay for a theme? Some of the benefits of a premium theme are better support, often better coding, and more flexibility. I have used both free and premium themes in the past; the free ones can have bugs and be a lot harder to understand for a novice web designer.

Any more to add? Stick ’em in the comments!

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A new look to the website

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on March 16, 2010

The more astute of you will have noticed my portfolio website at www.adamwestbrook.co.uk has been offline for the last week.

It’s undergone a bit of a makeover and is now back up and shiny and new. Although it is now not connected to this blog, a feed of my last posts are available on the front page, plus lots of examples of my multimedia, radio and teaching work. Although I am using a different theme, I have kept the same general feel for both website and blog.

You might find it’s cheaper and easier to put together a distinctive portfolio website than you first thought, and I’ve shared how I did it on Journalism.co.uk this week.

And on a completely different note, I’ve been interviewed for this article about SEO for journalists over at Distilled.

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

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!

Web video: myths and facts

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 10, 2009

What type of videos are really popular online? TV show clips? Music videos? News pieces?

Deborah Potter over at Advancing the Story‘s come across some interesting research into what our online viewing habits really are – and it makes some interesting reading.

  • Comedy/bloopers: 26%
  • Movie previews: 29%
  • Music videos: 31%
  • News stories: 32%
  • But, it concludes, “the most-watched online videos are not professionally produced” with video shot by consumers taking up 43% of regular online video viewing.

Is there a lesson here in the tastes and expectations of web viewers? I think it means journalists need to post more video online – but once and for all abandon the old styles and formulas of story telling.