Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

It is time for commercial radio to embrace the web

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2009

Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.

Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.

The BBC has embraced it with much gusto across both TV and radio. From the groundbreaking (and bandwith-breaking) iPlayer to the Editors Blogs to Scott Mill’s daily podcast.

But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”

But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.

As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.

What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.

Local news

This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.

Presenter blogs

A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.

Newsroom blogstwitterscreenshot

The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments.  Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.

Presenter twitter

Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.

Playlist twitter

An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.

Podcasts!

The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.

webspecialscreenshotOnline specials and archive

Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.

Audio slideshows

I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.

Online video

For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.

Traffic mashups

trafficscreenshot

Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.

Web chats

A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue.  At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.

Online polls

Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.

A design overhaul

As I mentioned radio websites are “sooo web 1.0” and aren’t designed to be platforms for large amounts of media and meta data. They need to be far more accessible and designed to operate in Mozilla and Google Chrome, not just Internet Explorer. A look at just some of the free WordPress templates floating around shows just how much there is to improve.

Turn listener communities into virtual communities

Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.

Facebook bonuses

The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.

Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.

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Local radio doing video content

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on December 9, 2008

Following on from – and in fact contrary to – my post a few weeks ago about online content on local radio websites.

I wrote local radio is lagging behind in terms of the quality of web content.

Here’s a good example of stations making it work – Bauer Radio’s Radio Aire (Leeds) produced a video report for the verdict in the Karen Matthews trial in the UK.

Journalists at the station – and others in the Big City Network – were able to throw listeners to it to enhance their coverage of the sensational trial.

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My TV manifesto

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 11, 2008

I’ve been working in broadcast news for two years now, and I’ve been following it, I guess for five. And well, I think I’m just a bit tired with it all. With the formats, with the delivery, with the writing, with the style, with the editorial choices.

Surely there must be something different?

Here’s thing: I don’t think there is. We all know radio is in a state, and as for TV? Well I could write a long diatribe, but it’s been done already, far more succintly and wittily, and then put on television by Charlie Brooker:

Watch part one here:

Then part two here

And part three here:

Whether you like it or not, or whether you think it’s the way it’s always going to be or not, I am convinced there is room for something different.

Something aimed at a younger audience; with a journalistic transparency, a complete fluid harmony with digital and web technology, delivered differently, cheaply, eco-friendily, telling different stories, off the agenda, breaking the rules, offering something new.

To avoid sounding like the Alistair Darling when he gave his speech about how to fix the economy the other week (and didn’t actually announce anything), here is – for what its worth – my own TV news manifesto. Just some ideas; debate them, slate them!

a new news manifesto

This is my own idea for an online based alternative news platform. At its heart is a daily studio news programme, uploaded to the website and to Youtube. It is of no fixed length – only dictated by the content.

Content

Ignore the stories of the mainstream media. That means crime stories are out. Court stories with no lasting impact are out. Surveys, unless by major bodies are out, so is the sort of PR pollster rubbish that fills the airwaves. If people want that they have no end of sources. This will be different.

Solution journalism?

Rather than just reporting on a problem and ending with the cliche “whether this problem will be solved is yet to be seen” there’s a good argument for solution journalism. Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick suggest it as part of their own ideas on Peace Journalism (could it be adapted to non-conflict reporting?)  Reports which examine how a problem might be solved rather than just reminding us there’s a problem.

A younger audience; a digital existence

A programme for the ‘web 2.0 generation’. That’s the people who blog, use facebook and myspace and exist in a digital online world. It’ll be up front and direct, but not patronising like Newsbeat‘s “something bad has happened in a place called abroad” style. VJ pieces will be created for web use not to mimic TV styles.

Video Journalism

At its heart will be the ethos of video journalism. David Dunkley-Gyimah laid out his own manifesto on this here. As well as staffing young creative VJs for firefighting stories and assignments, this brand would tap from a huge source of international freelance sources as well as other existing solutions like Demotix and Vimeo. Stylistically it would take its cues from already successful projects like Current TV. Packages are edited fast and with attitude -they know the rules of conventional film, but aren’t afraid to break them.

Focus

It would have an international focus, remembering the unreported stories. It believes the phrase “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. It would focus on unreported issues and people with the story tellers getting right into the story. Creativity is the norm, and the packages do not try to emulate TV news in content or form.

But what about the main agenda?

This wouldn’t be ignored – but would be wrapped in each show in a “newsbelt” form – “the stories the other shows are talking about” It would need to feel connected to the national agenda but not neccessarily following it.

Transparent

A key element to this type of journalism would be transparency in reporting and editing. Packages would be VJ produced – from the root to the fruit – and VJ led. In other words the viewer follows the VJ as they investigate and tell the story. If it’s from a press release the audience deserves to know that. There would also be an openness in editing with misleading cutaways, noddies and GVs removed, and edits to interviews clearly signposted (for example through a flash wipe). Agency footage labelled as such so viewers know it’s not inhouse. Images of reporters can appear on screen as they cover the story.

Delivery

The platform is digital – through an accessible, well designed fluid website. Viewers can watch whole shows or individual reports. Each show would have no time requirements as broadcasters do. It would need to host an online community of viewers who watch, comment, submit and review. They are reflected in the content. The people at 4iP lay it out quite nicely right here.

Attitude

The journalism would have attitude, and would be not afraid to take risks. At its heart is good story telling and brilliant writing. Creative treatments would set the standard mainstream broadcasters will adopt months later.

Cheap and green

The video journalism model is cheap and green. One man bands on assignment, sourcing, shooting and cutting themselves. No need for live satellite link ups or expensive foreign trips housing 5 people in big hotels (what’s wrong with a hostel?) The central programme itself would be studio based but avoiding the “absurdist cathedrals of light” preferred by the mainstream. Solar powered lighting? Light cameras on light peds?

Presentation

The central programme is relaxed, young and doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. The team have the mind set of the Daily Buzz and create great moments even when they’re not trying too. Stylistically the presentation takes its cues from a more fluid version of C4 News in the UK, with almost constant (but not distracting) camera movements.

This news platform doesn’t need to report the mainstream stores – because there is a plethora of media to do that already. It avoids the distorting pressures of the other networks, like the need for live pictures from the scene, uninformed 2-ways and time pressures. It focusses on bringing something new, but allowing analysis too. It’s VJ packages are well produced – but do not try to emulate the style of TV news.

That’s pretty much all I got. As i mentioned I strongly feel there is a demand for a new way of doing things-we just don’t know what that is yet.

And just a quick disclaimer: I’m just a young broadcast journalist with only 2 years under my belt. I certainly don’t suggest this any good a solution, or that I should have anything to do with it. But for what it’s worth I thought it was worth jotting down.

You might agree, or you might disagree…stick your thoughts in the comments box!