Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How to make a niche work for you

Posted in Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on May 18, 2010

You’ll hear me gabber on about a niche all the time these days. Thing is, a niche is one of the keys to unlocking all the money locked in the future of journalism. Niche is the future.

Forget broadcasting to the many – think connecting with the few.

It’s not quite as simple as ‘choose a niche and they shall come’ sadly. You have to choose it wisely, and choose one where there is palpable demand for your news product or service.

On today’s Next Generation Journalist post on journalism.co.uk, I pitch aggregating content as a great way to found a business. Here’s an example of how that could work.

A local hero

Last week I was invited to speak at Press Gazette’s Local Heroes Conference at Kingston University in London, where  I am also Journalist-in-Residence.

One of the most inspiring speakers there was David Parkin – a man who took the plunge and launched into a niche product. Guess what? He’s making it work.

He founded TheBusinessDesk.com, a regional website aggregating and creating financial news. Think the Financial Times, but on a regional scale.

  • new angle on a successful business model – check
  • well defined target market – check

Currently running in Birmingham, Yorkshire and Liverpool (note, not London), the Business Desk hires 10 journalists.

  • a small, nimble operation – check!

It is supported through several means. Firstly, advertising around articles on the website. Because of theBusinessDesk’s niche audience, and its rather well off niche audience, these are advertisers willing to part with some cash. Then there’s the daily mailing list of business news, aggregated by the site, sent to 37,000 subscribers. This too is sponsored. If you knew your brand could reach 37,000 business people in their inbox every morning, you’d cough up some cash right? Thirdly, there’s the events which are organised for the community.

  • multiple revenue streams – check!
  • no total dependence on ad revenue – check!

The Business Desk has also recently launched an iPhone app for its subscribers too. It’s free, but supported by advertising.

  • entering a major new market – check!

David Parkin, quite humbly, revealed the company expects to turnover £1million this year. Impressive.

Now I don’t know anything about the company’s running costs, but I do know how inexpensive a website and mailing list is. And I can imagine 10 staff aren’t costing a huge amount of money.

David Parkin has made the niche model work. Now apply it to the hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds of other niches out there – and you’re in business. If you want to get it right, get your hands on the ebook – out on Thursday 20th May.

Can you tell it’s conference season?

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 30, 2010

Image credit: Poulomi Basu/Digital Storytelling '10

Some card said on Twitter recently that they feared the Future of Journalism was ‘endless conferences on the Future of Journalism’.

They’re probably right, although if we can help it, the future of news will be defined with action rather than words.

Having said that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to take part a whole host of interesting events and conferences so far this year including News Rewired in January and Digital Storytelling ’10 in March. There are some particularly good ones coming up too:

Frontline Club :: 6th April

I’ll be joining John Brazier and Anne Wollenberg at London’s Frontline Club to share my experiences of going freelance in the new digital age. It’s an event tailored just for freelancers so if you’re lucky enough to work for yourself or are thinking of giving it a go, then you’ll find it  really interesting. Click here to get tickets.

International Journalism Festival :: 19th – 25th April

I’m really excited about this one: 20,000 journalists from around the world, converging on the beautiful Italian town of Perugia. You’ll find me alongside the team from Media140 for a week of future of news chat, audio booing, qiks, slideshows and possibly even some pizza. I’ll be speaking on the Friday about the power and potential of audio slideshows, and throughout the week Claire Wardle, Ande Gregson, Christian Payne, Kate Pickering and I will be trying all sorts of multimedia nonsense to show off real time web.

Local Heroes 2010 :: 14th May

A one day conference to sort out the future for local news in the UK. It’s being held by The Press Gazette, at Kingston University, London, where I am currently Journalist-in-Residence. I’ll be speaking to news editors from across the country about “why video could be the answer for local news” and the rest of the line up looks excellent. Local journos sign up here!

If you’re going to any of these events drop me a line – it would be great to meet face-to-face!

A future for Channel 4 News?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on March 18, 2007

Channel 4 NewsroomChannel 4 chief Andy Duncan’s been making some worrying noises about one of the channel’s greatest assets: Channel 4 News.

As Michael Grade’s been trying to secure future funding for ITV News in the digital era, Duncan’s told a select committee of MPs that Channel 4 News won’t survive in it’s current form.

According to the Press Gazette:

Andy Duncan, Chief Executive of Channel 4, told the cross-party media select committee that Channel 4 News was unlikely to survive in its present form without public subsidy.

He said: “Whilst Channel 4 News is a flagship public service programme on the Channel, it is expensive to make and has limited potential for revenue raising.

“As such it is unlikely to survive in its present form – a one hour peak time programme, containing 40 per cent international news – in a purely commercial environment.”

The reason is simple: broadcasting on an analogue signal, all of the terrestrial channels have a certain public service remit. They’re all using large amounts of airwaves which belong to the public and in return they’re expected to provide us all with some news.

And because of this, and it’s unique public service remit, Channel 4 gets some cash for news.

But hark, on the horizon, the looming spectre of the digital switchover. We know now it’s going to start in Whitehaven on October 17th and will be complete by 2012. By then, all homes will be expected to have a digi-box and analogue transmissions will be turned off.

Broadcasting in naughts and ones is nice and compact. You can fit more channels and and not take up as much public airwaves. And because of this, broadcasters are loosing government cash (except the Beeb, of course.)

And – more worryingly – a channel’s news remit (again, except the BBC), will expire too.  Some channels – likely ITV and Five – may well say “screw news – why should I waste my money on that?”

And it looks like Channel 4 News, in spite of it’s scores of awards and cult following, could be forced to change in the next five years.  Let’s hope it doesn’t ditch it all together.

Sky News announced it was taking itself off the Freeview platform last month. Fellow journo Doidge rightly says the loss of competition in broadcast news can only be bad. Imagine that on a massive scale – and the redundancy consequences.

News is a bizarre commodity- like war, it costs loads to do with little or no financial returns. Not one to pitch to Dragons Den.

“Never a better time to be a journalist”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 31, 2006

An interesting article from November’s Press Gazette caught my eye last week.

Andrew Neil: ‘It’s Never a Better Time to be a Journalist’ (November 9 2006) gives an insight into what Neil thinks jobs for people like me will be in years to come.

While some are pessimistic, especially for the poor sods training to be print journalists, the Scottish ex-editor’s not so negative…although he thinks big changes are afoot.

“In the age of the internet and 24-hour television and radio news means that journalistic ethos will soon have your newspaper belly up and in the graveyard.”

This was his most interesting idea:

“The journalists of tomorrow will write for newspapers, contribute to magazines and podcasts, work for TV production companies, write their own blogs, because you wouldn’t give them a column – and then they will sell the blog back to you at an inflated price…

“The journalist of the future…will  have more than one employer and become a brand in their own right.”

A brand in our own right? So is this future one of the permanent multi-platform freelancer? I don’t think that would be so bad.

And I think we can see the branding idea beginning around here too…perhaps before long there’ll be Chris Doidge Ltd, Rachael Canter Inc., James Laidler Corp and Adam Westbrook Inc (as scary as that sounds!)?

Suddenly 2007 sounds quite exciting…

Local TV on the way?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 20, 2006

Interesting article in the Press Gazette this week: the Newspaper Society’s apparently criticised a report saying that the BBC’s Local TV project won’t damage the local press industry.

The BBC’s Laughton Report investigated the impact of the BBC’s uber-local TV project, piloted in the West Midlands about a year ago, a daily 10 minute programme of news focussing on small areas. It concluded there was:

“no statistically significant impact on newspaper circulation figures in the region” and that “Daily recorded 7-10 minute bulletins and on-demand news items and features are unlikely to have a significant impact on other players in local markets.”

BBC Local TV imageAs a result, the BBC is apparently planning a full roll out of 66 Local TV strands across the UK pending a Board of Governers’ decision. The Newspaper Society doesn’t agree though and is inherently threatened by the BBC’s plans.  

As indeed all newspaper hacks seem inherently threatened by anything that doesn’t use endless reams of paper and utilises that magic substance they call ‘electricity’.

As a wannabe VJ at Uni in Warwick, near Coventry, I near soiled myself when the pilot began in my area. It was for the most part successful (i.e. interesting) and was a mixed bag of crime, council news and silly stories. The production quality was at times questionable, but overall good.

I hope it rolls out next year, and I don’t think it’ll threaten local papers, just offer them stiff competition. Most local papers have a regularly updated website anyway.

But Joe, a colleague on my BJ course here at City, made quite a good point about the Local TV idea. It would seem there’s an inherent contradiction within the scheme. On the one hand, it makes news as local as it can get – daily 10 minute chunks of stuff at the end of your road; the people who tend to dig this sort of stuff are in their autumn years, and wary of new technology.

BBC Local TVOn the other hand, Local TV is the most hi-tech form of BBC journalism: a mix of online and “press the red button now”, not to mention it’s use of Video Journalism.  Who digs this? Young people. But they hate local news.

So there’s a dodgy contradiction here, which might stop the scheme creating a successful identity for itself.  But it’s a natural, inevitable conclusion in the hi-tech newsworld, and ought to please people who feel their half-hourly dose of regional TV is as local as Newsnight.

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