Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A call to action for Next Generation Journalists

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 2, 2010

The last seven days has seen two big announcements from two of the world’s largest broadcasters.

Last week, American TV Network ABC announced a huge swathe of cuts in their newsrooms: more than 300 jobs in total. They’re cutting their technical staff back by using their control room suites more effectively…and bringing in multimedia journalists:

“In production, we will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs, while recognizing that we will continue to rely upon our ENG crews and editors for most of our work”.

David Westin, memo to ABC staff

As Micheal Rosenblum rightly says:  “Welcome, ABC News, to 1990”.

And this morning, the BBC in the UK have confirmed what some within the corporation had been suspecting for months, and fearing since Friday: a £600m series of cuts, which will halve the number of websites, and close two digital radio stations: 6music and the Asian Network.

“The reality for the BBC is that it faces increasingly difficult choices. Failure to make such choices would lead to limitless expansion, increasing demands for funding and corresponding impact on the wider market. That prospect is not one the Trust can accept.”

Sir Michael Lyons, BBC Chairman

There’s lots of concern and a fair bit of understandable anger about both cuts. Thing is, they’re both valid decisions in the financial and ever-changing digital climate.  Two sad victims of the seismic shift we’re undergoing.

Chess piece or chess player?

It’s time for the broadcasters, journalists and creatives of the future to pick up the pieces. These cut backs are tragic, but they create new opportunities for us to exploit. For example, BBC 6music served a young niche audience extremely well with alternative music, documentaries and even radio plays. Who’d have thought that would work?

When it closes all those people will need a new home. Who will they go to?

According to the last UK census, 2% of the British population are Asian. Where will their news, music and community come from on a national level when the Asian Network is taken off air?

Radio futurologist James Cridland, speaking at February’s Future of News Meetup, just hours before the BBC cuts were first leaked, showed us how radio stations in Canada schedule 30 minute documentaries in the middle of their breakfast shows and make it work; how NPR in the US are combining pictures with their audio to reach audiences in new ways. There is still a huge amount of innovation to be done.

With these sad changes, new markets open up. It is now cheaper, faster and easier to become a publisher and broadcaster online than it ever has been. Will you exploit this new opportunity or pass it by? Your call.

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Looking for awesome multimedia training?

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 12, 2010

…then look no further!

If you’re in the UK in April and looking to skill up on your video shooting, editing and radio skills then the Journalism Weekender will be perfect for you.

News agency Feature Story News have team up with Newsleader Consultancy to offer an awesome weekend of hands on training on professional camera and audio skills. And I’m happy to announce I’ve jumped on board to help out over the course of the weekend as well.

According to the site, you’ll get a lot out of it:

…sessions on writing and presenting as well as the skills of multi-media working, including using social media; Practical assignments in either TV or radio; One to one coaching including CV building; Final session on marketing yourself to the media market.

Tickets are on a 20% discount ’til end of play Friday so if you’re thinking about it, think quick!

More training

On top of this, I’ve also been invited to join the KM Group of newspapers & radio stations in Kent later this month to share advice on multimedia, video journalism and making the most out of social media.

If you’re interested in finding out more, drop me a line!

Photo Credit: vinodvv aka vcube on Flickr

Comments Off on Looking for awesome multimedia training?

Still doubting the power of good audio?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 9, 2010

Cleverly used audio (both natural sound and music) can tell a story – even when the pictures are as simple as…well, a Google Search screenshot.

Here’s how Google used it to great effect with their Superbowl halftime ad:

Give audio a chance!

Want to know more about audio? Check out my 6×6 guide to using it properly, and tips on making a great audio slideshow.

Best of the blogs: 2009

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 18, 2009

My Google Reader probably trebled in size in 2009. It’s where I get at least 50% of information, gossip, inspiration and ideas on multimedia,  journalism and the future of news. As a Christmas treat, I thought I’d share some of the best blogs of 2009 with you….

Digital Journalism

10,000 words: Mark Luckie’s site is a goldmine of beautifully presented practical advice for digital journalists. His posts have become less frequent since he became re-employed, but each one is still as valuable.

Journalism 2.0: Mark Briggs is bringing out a new book for digital journalists in 2010 – expect it to become a core text on all journalism course reading lists.

Video Journalism

Advancing the Story: Deborah Potter’s blog on video journalism serves the local American market best of all, but it still has useful advice on shooting video and interviews.

Rosenblum TV: Michael Rosenblum’s blog isn’t your standard VJ fare. As the father of the medium, he is determined to see it revolutionised, and is a vocal herald of the death of traditional TV news. He has pitched for funding on an ambitious plan to give out 1,000 Flipcams in New Jersey, and launches a new video academy in New York in 2010.

The Outernet: David Dunkley-Gyimah’s single handedly pioneered the space between video journalism and cinema; his work resembles multi-million dollar Hollywood flicks. As artist-in-residence at the South Bank Centre in London, expect more news/art mashups in 2010.

Video Journalist: Glen Canning’s site offers some great practical tips for video journalists.

Bob Kaplitz: Bob Kaplitz’s blog is a must for anyone trying to get to grips with the basics of video journalism. He’s done what no-one’s really thought to do up until now – use video to teach video journalism. Clever, huh?

Radio

David Stone: a young news editor by anyone’s standards, David’s posts on practical radio journalism are useful for any radio journalist, especially in the UK.

NewsLeader: Justin King has used Twitter very effectively this year to share advice and tips for radio journalists in the UK and elsewhere. There’s more good stuff on his blog.

James Cridland: just returned from a round-the-world tour of radio, Radio Futurologist James has posted from Canada and the US, where he’s been meeting radio producers everywhere and sharing the future of radio with the rest of us.

Photojournalism

RESOLVE, Livebooks: not just a blog, RESOLVE, managed by Miki Johnson, is also a community of photojournalists all seeking the future for their craft. The After Staff series from summer 2009 is a superb library for anyone who’s been laid off and wants to make it in the scary new freelance world.

The Travel Photographer: Tewfic El- Sawy niftily picks up the best photojournalism from around the world and showcases it. A forward thinking blog, the Travel Photographer also presents new multimedia from photogs.

Lens Blog: The New York Times’ home for photojournalism is a beautiful resource of the best images from the around the world, plus occasional advice from the experts. Great for inspiration.

Writing, Blogging & Thinking

CopyBlogger: possibly the most famous blogger in the world, Brian Clark’s Copyblogger is vital for anyone who wants to understand how to build an audience and avoid boring them with dull words.

Steven Pressfield: a recent discovery for me, Steven’s Wednesday Writing tips not only cover the art of storytelling, but also shares advice on dealing with your own mental resistance and the limiting mind.

Freelance Switch: the ultimate resource for freelancers in all disciplines,  this site has regular articles on writing, getting and keeping clients.

Lateral Action: I have referred to Mark McGuinness’ work several times in the last year, not least because it’s so damn inspiring. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, and want help staying motivated, managing your time or pushing creative boundaries head to Mark. Lateral Action is particularly special because he’s teamed up with Brian Clark from Copyblogger (above) – a dynamic duo if ever there was one.

Career Renegade: also high up on the inspiration chart is Jonathan Fields site Career Renegade. If you’re a journalist thinking of launching your own startup, and creating your own “renegade career”, for Gods sake, read his book first.

The News Business & entrepreneurship

Directors Blog: since setting up POLIS at the London School of Economics, Charlie Beckett has held conferences and given countless conferences on the future of journalism. He has also influenced the future with his ideas of “networked journalism”; his blog today provides academic insight into journalism in the brave new world.

Headlines and Deadlines: blogging from the frontline of regional press in the UK Alison Gow’s blog has insight surrounded by lots of good links.

Killer Startups: every day 15 new internet startups are posted and critiqued. You won’t find any news ones on here, at least not yet, but it’s a fantastic inspiring resource for anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial.

News Innovation: with the banner “new business models for news” you know this blog is asking the right questions; follow it and you might get the answer. In the meantime, its posted some excellent videos of Jeff Jarvis (see below) explaining why the future of news is entrepreneurship.

BuzzMachine: Jeff Jarvis has emerged as the key proponent of “entrepreneurial journalism” and is leading the way in the classroom with his work at CUNY. His blog explains with passion why the future of news is entrepreneurship. Expect more pioneering ideas from Jeff in 2010.

Online Journalism Blog: one of the best sites for analysis on all things digital, Paul Bradshaw’s blog leans towards the often ignored arena of uncovering, analysing and producing data.

Paul Balcerak: from the US, Paul Balcerak sees the future, and then writes about. He shared some of the most creative uses of video journalism earlier this year, and expertly slams down anyone who is stupid enough to resist the future.

Mashable: in the TechCrunch v Mashable war, I am (after trialling both) firmly with the latter. Techcrunchers slate Mashable for just sharing funny Youtube videos, but it covers the revolution in journalism far better and with a much more positive outlook.

The Media Business: Richard G Picard’s blogs are more like essays, but their insight into business models for journalism is profound, and should be on the reading list of anyone thinking of going entrepreneurial. His articles  in 2009 have been shared on countless blogs.

Design

Design Reviver: unless you’re solely a radio journalist you should really exploit the internet’s fantastic resources for visual inspiration. Design Reviver is one of them, featuring among other things, great wordpress themes and photoshop tutorials.

ISO50: Scott Hansen is not only a talented musician but an exceptional graphic designer who shares his own work and those that inspire him. His retro colours and collages are perfect inspiration, and his taste in music is on the ball.

FFFFound: a must for visual journalists of any kind seeking inspiration. A warning though – you’ll struggle to click through the 100+ marvelous designs and photographs from around the world which will filter into your reader.

Multimedia

4iP: it’s always worth following the latest developments from 4iP towers; they are one of the major funders of public service startups in the UK, and their blog provides a good idea of what the latest developments are – and what they fund.

Duckrabbit’s Blog: Ben Chesterton and David White have shown the rest of us how to do multimedia, especially for non-profit clients. When not producing powerful stories for those without a voice, Ben and David passionately blog about the good, the bad and the ugly of multimedia journalism.

Bombay Flying Club: meanwhile in warmer climes, the three talents of Poul Madsen, Henrik Kastenskov and Brent Foster are producing equally gorgeous content for non-profits all over the world. Their blog acts as a showcase of their beautiful work, and is a great inspiration for anyone.

Innovative Interactivity: Tracy Boyer’s seriously on the ball when it comes to using multimedia and interactivity to tell news stories. Subscribe to her blog and you’ll get thoughtful critiques of some quite amazing work which is paving the way towards the future.

A daily dose of all these blogs have filled my mind with things I never thought possible, and work of superb quality. And there’s already room for more…what blogs do you recommend?

The powers and problems of the audio slideshow

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 1, 2009

Match the absorbing power of a beautifully crafted photograph, with the intimacy of some crisp, clear audio and you have a potent force.

Yes, the audio slideshow has fast become a rising medium for multimedia journalists, and it’s unique because it’s been born from the digital revolution and not threatened by it. It only exists in digital form.

If you haven’t heard of an audio slideshow, the name pretty much gives it away: a sequence of photographs, soundtracked by audio, usually of a person speaking, plus music and “actuality” where possible.  I’ve been making them for about a year now, and spent last week both in meetings with radio producers about them and in classrooms teaching students about them.

I figured it’s time to give them some blog-respect.

The powers of the audio slideshow

I decided to show my photojournalism students some audio slideshows last week as an introduction to the medium. Most of them had never seen one before, but they were completely engaged by The New York Times’ sublime “1 in 8 million” and Duckrabbit’s new MSF project. Why?

01. the powerful combination

For nearly a century each, the mavens of both radio and photography have raved about the immense power of their particular medium.

Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers and infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution

Ansel Adams

A great advantage of the aural medium over print lies in the sound of the human voice – the warmth, the compassion, the anger, the pain and the laughter. A voice is capable of conveying much more than reported speech.

Robert McLeish

On their own great radio and great photographs pack a real punch. Think of the famous images of the D-Day landings, the Vietnam War or 9/11. Think of the lush vividness of Ed Murrow’s This is London reports, the intimacy of This American Life and the solemn colour in Richard Dimbleby’s report from Belsen.

Put together they hold equal if not greater power. Either through being able to see something you’re hearing, or to hear the richness of the voice of someone you’re looking at.

02. it’s not video #1

We hear all too often how video is the medium. How moving pictures are the ultimate way to tell stories and how film is more arresting that anything before it.

Now this may be true. But let me tell you if you don’t know already: video is also really hard to do. Don’t get me wrong, radio, print, podcasts, flash interactives, photography – they’re all really hard to get right. But video is another beast, and you can sweat piss, and still come out with a ropey product.

I’m not saying audio slideshows are easier…they’re less time consuming, less brainpower consuming – meaning you can focus on getting it really good, rather than just getting OK pictures.

03. it’s not video # 2

Equally, video is not only demanding on the sanity of the artist, but on the story too. Video stories have to be told in certain ways. We need sequences and visual grammar, and so storytellers must usually bend or break their craft to fit it into a 720×526 screen.

Again radio and photography are more flexible. And as a result, the audio slide show is not bound by the same rules and formulas which TV finds so hard to break free from.

04. cost of production

In terms of the kit you need, audio slideshows are cheaper to produce. A good enough Digital SLR camera will set you back hundreds, sure. But an audio recorder of a good standard need only cost you just over a hundred. And the editing kit – well the standard seems to be the Soundslides Software, which goes for just over £50.

And that’s a snip of your video costs.

The weaknesses of the audio slideshow

Now we’re seeing lots of audio slideshows being made. And some of them are pretty awesome. Websites like the New York Times and The Guardian have their own online sections dedicated to them. Hoorah. But they are still not gaining huge traction. How come?

01. it’s not video

Aha, this again. Well, sort of. Video’s popularity relies on several things: the fact we were all brought up on television and crave the moving picture, the glamour associated with television production also rubs off on video; we’re led to believe video is more real. And technology is forcing video to be popular with more and more smaller cheaper cameras.

This instantly gives the audio slideshow a disadvantage.

“What? The picture’s don’t move? This sucks!”

02. it’s slow

Video and television are a bit like crap magicians. If their trick is no good, they can stun you with a quick flash or spark. They do this with fast cuts, fancy transitions and montages.

Audio slideshows aren’t like that. They’re a lot slower. One image will stay on screen for 5 or more seconds, before slowly dissolving into another. In video, we see images lasting just a matter of frames.

To some, this lack of visual ecstacy makes audio slideshows appear duller, when really they’re not.

03. saboteurs

A lot of audio slideshows, especially in the mainstream media, aren’t very good. I wondered for a long time why this was. Why did the audio and pictures not match up? Why was the editing so bad?

Then I heard one photojournalist at an expo in London. He’s been trying audio slideshows out, and I asked him why more generally, many slideshows out there weren’t very good. He said he knew cases of newsroom journalists resenting being given multimedia work.

“They make it shit on purpose, so they won’t be asked to do it again” he said.  Incredible, really. A relief though, because it means just because so many slideshows are dull, does not mean the medium does not have potential.

04. the name

This came up in a meeting with radio producers in London last week.

“Audio Slideshow” is a crap name. It ain’t web 2.0 that’s for sure, and conjours an image of your aunty and uncle showing you their holiday snaps. Worst of all,  if people have not heard of one before, they can tell straight away what it is from the name, and draw their own (usually negative conclusions).

Compare that to the emergence of the podcast. It’s name is unusual and not self explanatory, so you’re forced to listen to one to investigate.

So here’s the deal: audio slideshows need a new name. Let’s find one.

I’m creating a poll to vote on a new name. It starts with the first idea I came up with, and you can add your own suggestions too. If you have an idea, put it in the comments box and I’ll add it to the poll manually. Everyone can then vote on the best ones. Ready? Here goes:

And while you’re thinking, here are some awesome examples of [INSERT NAME HERE] out there:

New York Times: 1 in 8 Million

Duckrabbit: Praying for the Rain

Ciara Leeming: Born Free

Eileen Mignoni: Facing Deportation

John D McHugh: Memorial

Adam Westbrook: Hirst v UK

BBC News/Paul Kerley: Tommies’ Tales

Nick Hand: Slowcoast

Resolve Blog’s coverage of audio slideshows

Radio looks to the future

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on October 30, 2009

I’ve written on more than one occasion about my concerns radio in the UK is settling in as a back-seat passenger in the digital revolution.

With print and TV and online finding new ways to innovate all the time, the radio bods have turned up the “hits and memories”, closed their eyes and pretended it was still the 1990s.

How refreshing, then, to see the line up for next week’s Rate 2009 conference organised by the Radio Academy. A day in London looking at mobile technology, visual radio and other new platforms.

Some evidence radio is still a little hesitant to jump in, though, with one session entitled “Spotify: Friend or Foe?” (rule #1 of the internet: embrace or die) and “Why Radio Must Go Digital” (a debate threatening a schism in the industry).

It wraps up with what promises to be an entertaining Blackburn v  Bacon.

Unfortunately the £300 ticket price is a bit beyond my means, but here are the things I would say if I were there…

Share

Share your content – it adds to its value! With news Bauer is pulling its Kiss FM content from Absolute’s innovative Compare My Radio Player, it seems we’re a long way off this mindset with some companies.

Innovate

Remember what the first pioneers of radio must have felt when they invented radio for the first time. The first time someone used it to create a package; the first time someone used it to read out letters from listeners. We are very lucky to live in the first age where it’s possible to reinvent radio. What a shame to waste it.

Outside the BBC, Absolute Radio so far seem the only ones even bothering to try. It’s paying off though. Their One Golden Square Labs have already brought out several innovative products, including Compare My Radio & Dabbl.

New platforms means new content

The top-ten-at-ten on a smart phone is exactly the same as the top-ten-at-ten on FM. Invest time (not necessarily always money) in new content. Surprise your listeners!

Remember what radio is good at…

…speech! Radio is such a powerful medium for getting across ideas and emotions, and yet here were are, with only a couple of totally speech stations in the entire UK. I know it’s expensive, and “risky”…but in this scary new world, fortune favours the brave. And no-one can put you down for trying. Radio 4’s 10 year high in listening figures proves the demand is there.

Radio At The Edge is on Monday 9th November at 9.30. Thanks to James Cridland for the hattip.

Reinventing Radio News

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 28, 2009

Any presentation with the words “reinventing” and “radio” in its title is a winner in my book. If there’s a medium out there that needs a shot of the good stuff its radio (in the UK at least).

If you agree, Justin King’s talk at the RadioDays conference in Oslo and Copenhagen last week is worth a read. It’s called Reinventing the Radio News Team and Justin (who runs the Newsleader Media Consultancy) has put the notes up online.

I appear in it briefly (in video form) as do the far smarter Olly Barratt at FSN and Greg Burke at Jack FM.

6×6: audio

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 26, 2009

6x6 advice for multimedia journalists

The fifth in a series of 6 blogs, each with 6 tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists.

audio

Audio is one of the most powerful mediums available to the multimedia journalist. Whether its radio, podcasts, on video  or audio slideshows, audio brings a piece to life. So why is it almost always an afterthought? Too many good films and audio slideshows have been let down by bad quality audio. Here’s 6 tips to make sure that doesn’t happen to you!

01. let sound breathe

…as soon as a voice comes out of the speakers, the listener attempts to visualise what he hears to create in the mind’s eye the owner of the voice…unlike where the pictures are limited to the size of the screen, radio pictures are any size you care to make them.

Robert McLeish, Radio Production

In other words, with audio your limit is the size of the imagination. Last time I checked, that was pretty big.

So for the love of God, show audio some respect. First off a piece of audio does not have to consist entirely of voices with no gaps in between.  In fact that sucks. When you’re out recording, take a moment to listen for sounds – in radio it’s called actuality and it is a key ingredient in bringing sound to life. Doing a story about some people on a boat? We want to hear the water lapping up against the bow. Is your scene in a cafe? Let’s hear the cups clinking, the chatter of everyday conversation, the whoosh! of the coffee machine in action.

This more often than not recorded as wildtrack. After filming, taking photos, interviewing, whatever, record at least 60 seconds of actuality. It’ll make editing a lot easier too.

Let the audio breathe. Give it a few seconds just to play in your listeners imagination and don’t talk over it. It’ll do more to paint a picture than overladen voice over will.

Marantz PMD620

Marantz PMD620

02. invest in a good microphone

Audio is so often an afterthought for video and photo journalists alike. This is mostly manifested in using a crap microphone. VJs – don’t use your camera’s onboard mic unless you’re lucky to have something nice like a Canon XL2, Sony EX3, Z1 etc. If you can, buy an external microphone to attach to your cameras horseshoe. For interviews, it is worth investing in a lapel mic.

Rodemic do some pretty decent offers, including a camera mic for under £100 ($180). For radio journalists, or photo journalists doing audio slideshows, there are a good range of digital audio recorders you can look at. The Marantz PMD620 is small, easy to use and so reliable you’d let it babysit your kids. I took it out to Iraq earlier this year and it was great. It starts at around £300/$500.

The Edirol R-09HR (£211/$349)  has had produced some great sounding audio for freelancer Ciara Leeming and journalists are raving about the Olympus DS-40(£82/$135)

03. get the mic in close

Microphones do not have selective hearing like our ears do: they won’t pick out the voice across the room you’re pointing them at. So get in close to your interviewee – really close – like a little under their chin (if they’re ok with that). It eliminates a lot of  background noise, like air conditioning, traffic, squeaks of chairs and all that. And more often than not it gives the recording a richness and an intimacy.

Compare, for example, the effect of these two recordings: the first with a mic held too far away in a large room, the other with it right in close.

Another great tip I picked up: if you can, record your interviews outside – it eliminates that shallow echo you get in peoples’ offices and living rooms.

04. let the characters talk

A bit of a personal bugbear this, but often the temptation with multimedia projects is to talk all over them, y’know, like they do on the TV and that. But new media means new ways of doing things. And I think one of the great new trends emerging is the silencing of the journalist/reporter voice over.

If you’ve recorded some great audio for your story, let it breathe – let the characters tell their own story. We don’t need to hear you saying “Angie is a mum of three struggling to make ends meet” when we can hear Angie saying “things are really hard right now, tryin’ to support three kids, y’know, payin’ the bills…every days a struggle.”

This takes some planning in the interview stages – most of all, you need to ask open questions, so your interviewees answers start as full sentences. It has been industry practice for many years to ask interviewees to include your question in their answer:

Why are you finding it so hard to make ends meet?

I’m finding it so hard to make ends meet because….etc.

05. use pauses

If you’re new to using audio, especially if you’re moving from print or photo journalism, the first thing you will notice when you listen back to your interviews is yourself. Going “uhuh, yeah, hmmmm, sure…” all over their answers.

Ask a question – then keep shtum. This pays dividends in some interviews – especially emotional ones – where your interviewee finishes their point. There’s a pause…you would normally fill it by asking a question…but don’t. Stay silent – and let the interviewee fill the pause. It’s a bit mean, but it gets them to reiterate their point, and in the process show what they’re really thinking.

And then keep those pauses in your piece. They are a natural part of speech and often reveal more about your character than their words.

06. take them on a journey

There are times when it’s right to bring yourself into the piece. But try not to use it just for dry voice overs recorded in a studio. Your voice is best when you’re somewhere your audience wants to be, and you can show them what it’s like.

To achieve this, you’ll need to be very descriptive in your writing. Tell people where you are and what you’re doing in vivid detail.

For the best examples, we have to go way back, to the first broadcast journalists:

I began to see what was happening to Berlin. The small incendiaries were going down like a fistful of white rice thrown on a piece of black velvet. The cookies-the four thousand pound high explosives-were bursting below like great sunflowers gone mad.

And then, as we started down again still held in the light, I remembered that the Dog still had one of those cookies and a whole basket of incendiaries in his belly. And the light still held it, and I was very frightened. I looked down, and the white fires had turned red. They were beginning to merge and spread, just like butter does on a hot plate.

Ed Murrow, on a boming raid over Berlin, 1944


Richard Dimbleby

Richard Dimbleby

There were perhaps a 150 of them, all so thin that their skin glistened like stretched rubber on their bones. Some of the poor starved creatures whose bodies were there looked so utterly unreal and inhuman that I could have imagined that they’d  never lived at all.  They were like polished skeletons, the skeletons that medical students like to play practical jokes with.

At one end of the pile a cluster of men and women were gathered round a small fire. They were using rags and old shoes taken from the bodies to keep it alight.

Richard Dimbleby at Bergen Belsen, 1945


The BBC’s Alan Little is one of the finest radio writers, still alive – here’s his advice:

Try to use old words, words that reach into the very core, the very oldest part of the language. They have the most impact….beware of adjectives. This is a rule I keep breaking and I have to exercise great vigilance to rein myself in. Adjectives are fine in moderation and when they genuinely add to the meaning or clarity of the image being conveyed.

The final word…

From award-winning multimedia producers Duckrabbit, the combo of a great photographer and a great audio producer:

Many great photographers make really bad audio slideshows because they treat audio as afterthought, or they try to do a voiceover without having any presentation skills. They might as well not bother.

Actually I’d go further then that.  When you put your photos together with poor audio you actually diminish the value of your photos. Good audio is like a bad dog. It gets its teeth into you and won’t let go.

Next time: making things happen!

Radio journalists: get your inlines right!

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 18, 2009
Image: Adam Westbrook

Image: Adam Westbrook

In a radio news story there are two really important lines: the “top-line” and the “in-line”.

The first one is the first line of the story and it has to get the whole story across simply, directly, accurately – and keep the audience listening at the same time. Journalists spend most of their time getting this right, which is why the “in-line” is so often overlooked.

It’s the line just before a clip of audio, and its purpose is to tell us who’s about to speak.

The oldest man in the world – and one of the last survivors of the First World War – has died at the age of 113. (Topline)

Henry Allingham passed away at his care home in Brighton yesterday.

He was one of the founding members of the RAF and took part in Ypres and the Battle of Jutland.

Dennis Goodwin, founder of the First World War Veterans’ Association, said he was a national treasure: (Inline)

[CLIP OF DENNIS GOODWIN]

My problem with most in lines is when journalists try to tell us more than who is about to speak; they try to tell us what the person is about to say as well.

But that is totally redundant if they’re going to repeat you in the audio clip.

It gets worse too. How often do you hear an in-line introducing someone you’re going to recognise?

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, insists our troops are well looked after.

[CLIP OF GORDON BROWN]

Or someone you don’t need to know?

These people we spoke to in Manchester think it’s a bad idea:

[CLIP OF VOX POP]

Some argue the journalist has a responsibility to make sure the listener fully understands what’s happening. But I believe they are smart enough to put the pieces together – and indeed engage more when they do. You can surprise the listener more by bringing in audio without introducing it: it means they have to connect the audio to the story and engage.

You can save valuable seconds by just telling us who we’re about to hear and let them do the talking; or just let the audio speak for itself.


What does #digitalbritain mean for journalism?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on June 17, 2009

Hello, operator?

"Hello, operator?"

With the sort of hype only the media can generate when talking about itself, Lord Carter’s long awaited Digital Britain report has been published. It’s supposed to be the blueprint for Britain’s place in the digital world. But is it putting us in a good place?

It comes as journalism’s plight grows even greater; ITV news, Channel 4, countless struggling radio groups and newspaper holdings will all be sifting to see if it contains their saviour…or their downfall.

01. Broadband

The Promise: 2Mbps broadband for everyone (and “action separately to address the issue of next generation broadband”)

Result?: epic fail. While broadband for everyone is great, 2Mbps […buffering…] broadband is inadequate for […buffering…] the growing needs of digital journalism including […buffering…] the huge demand for […buffering…] video on demand. Separate action to […buffering…] investigate faster broadband looks like […buffering…] the buck being well and truly passed.

Meanwhile, in South Korea: “1Gbps Downloading by 2012

Will it help journalism? Not really. If online video and multimedia is going to start picking up the cash from traditional media it needs to be reliable and fast.

02. Radio

The Promise: All national radio stations to be on DAB only by 2015 ending use of analogue. Spare FM frequencies for “new tier” of community radio. More local news.

Result: fail. DAB is soo last decade, and while the radio sets look quite pretty, by the time this is rolled out, we’ll all be listening to radio on our iPhones. Over the internet. The folks at MixCloud rightly pointed out last night the real investment needs to be in online radio, and making sure the network can cope with it. It also says nothing about the plight of local commercial radio stations, caused by the filthy binge on new licences by Ofcom.

Creating a “new tier” of hyper local community stations is a nice idea – provided they don’t have to be commercially viable. And more local news? Who Lord Carter expects to pay for that (when newsrooms across the land are cutting staff) is a mystery.

Will it help journalism? An emphasis on localness might fool some Whitehall bureaucrats into investing more in local journalism. But don’t hold your breath.

03. Regional TV news

The Promise: 3.5% of BBC’s licence fee (~£130m) to be available to help regional TV news on ITV

Result: good news for ITV. It has been long argued on all sides, the BBC needs strong competition in regional news to keep its standards up. And while that is the case £130m is a lot to spend investing in the  “a local lady has turned 100” fluff which ITV regions currently put on air.

Will it help journalism? In the short term ITV local news does need the cash, and this might even save some jobs. But once again Lord Carter has missed the trick. What we need is a new way of doing television news, for example Michael Rosenblum‘s VJ newsroom model. Meanwhile, no word about the BBC’s real competition: Channel 4 News.

04. Hyperlocal news

The Promise: No promises here, just a recognition that grassroots online projects are good for democracy

Result: fail. Lord Carter says he likes the growing number of hyper-local community sites, but says there can’t be a gap between what these start ups offer, and what the traditional big boys offer. So he’s investing in making sure newspaper groups and the BBC can offer better online, including, bizarrely, an idea to let newspapers use BBC video content. Considering the row over BBC Local in 2007, that’s pretty hilarious.

Will it help journalism: well there’s no promises here, so it’s up to the people to forge the way.

05. Childrens’ Programmes

The Promise: Money to help Channel 4 develop services for that most difficult of audiences: 10-18 year olds

Result: good news. Channel 4 are best placed to understand this market, and embarrassing dad-dancing attempts by the BBC have shown they’re not really “down with the kids”. It won’t solve Channel 4’s funding crisis though.

Will it help journalism: any investment in actually creating content is a good thing.

All government reports, like Christmas presents from your grandparents, are always a little disappointing;  sadly yesterday’s report fails to really grasp or embrace the mouth watering potential of the future.

Lord Carter: as us bluggers and twotters and myface yoof types say: “epic fail”.

Choose your multimedia, wisely

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 12, 2009

He chose, poorly

"He chose, poorly"

Video, audio, pictures, timelines, slideshows, maps….multimedia’s great isn’t it? As a journalist it gives you an amazing choice of how to treat a story.

But how many journalists use that choice? And how many chose wisely?

In order to know which medium to use for which story, you must know its strengths and weaknesses; not of the software or  the content – but of the very medium itself.  Because some mediums are only good for some things.

Video

With so much talk about video journalism, it’s not surprising so many journalists take a camera out and shoot whatever they can. I rarely see a big multimedia project without any video in it. And that’s a shame, because video, really, is only good at a couple of things. And bad for some others.

Video/Film/TV whatever you want to call it, is great for showing action. For evoking an emotional response. For creating atmosphere….so use it for this.

But video is bad, really bad, for getting across facts, figures, and complicated arguments. That’s why overloaded documentaries and TV reports are so dull.

Writing about online video’s older, more glamorous sister, television news, BBC journalist Vin Ray says:

“The problem for television news is that it is at once both an immensely powerful medium, and yet an inadequate way of explaining complicated issues in a comprehensive way.

“Academics, sociologists and newspaper columnists the world over have criticised the shortcomings of television news for years, but they have rarely – if ever – come up with a realistic, practical alternative.”

So whatever your story, save the complicated bit for another type of medium. Use video to show us something happening, or make us angry or sad. Video is the ultimate medium though in many ways because – done correctly – it is totally engrossing. We surrender ourselves to it and you can make an impact with video. It’s great to use as an opening gambit to suck your audience in.

Audio

In a world where pictures dominate, the power of radio is often underestimated. This is a mistake though because audio’s power to penetrate the mind is very strong. And don’t forget, while in the US, UK and Europe we may prefer to watch films on our laptops, in the developing world, millions upon millions of people live with a radio by their side.

Still unsure of audio’s power? Robert McLeish sums it up perfectly in Radio Production:

“It is a blind medium but one which can stimulate the imagination so as soon as a voice comes out of the loudspeaker, the listener attempts to visualise what they hear and to create in he mind’s eye the owner of the voice.

“Unlike (video) where the pictures are limited by the size of the screen, radio’s pictures are any size you care to make them”

With the size of most web video players that should hit home even harder. So think: if you haven’t got or can’t get the amazing pictures which show your audience what you want, some good audio interviews and vivid writing can let the audience do the work inside their own head.

And audio’s other strength is the fact it is uni-sensory: you can listen to audio, while doing something else.

Audio weaknesses though are the same as videos: as a temporal medium it is exceptionally bad at explaining complicated issues comprehensively. So again, save it for the emotional/action/umbrella elements of your piece. And it is very reliant on good quality sound – and good voices. This piece by the New York Times is excellent…but weakened by the monotonous drone of the voice over.

If you’re going to use sound, please make sure it’s high quality!

Images

The renaissance in photography thanks to the internet reminds us of how powerful the still image can be.  Of course it’s cheaper and quicker to produce photos for your multimedia project than video or audio; but don’t mistake that with easier. If you’re going to take photographs which have an impact you’re going to need a good SLR, and you’re going to need to know your f-stop from your shutter speed (and, indeed, how they are related!)

So when should you use photographs and slideshows in your work? It’s weaknesses are the same as video – but then you would never use a photograph to convey information. The photo is about that one moment in time, and because of that it is about smacking your  audience across the face with some emotional trout. Use it to make them feel something about your story.

And some great advice from multimedia experts Duckrabbit:

“The point about a still photo is that your eye explores it. When you put too much motion into a slideshow you’re removing the viewers ability to pause and reflect, to explore.

“Slow pans on a big screen look great … but at the small size the images are reduced to on our computer screens the panning looks as rough as a dogs dinner that even the dog refuses to eat.”

Give your audience time to explore your photographs.

Text (and quotes, maps, graphics)

Poor text. The original medium, it’s kind of been given a back seat by those of us too excited by the glitz and glamour of the video camera and the audio recorder.

But text covers the other media’s ass – because it’s the one which can get across all these details, background, statistics; all the things the audio visual mediums are rather poor at.

There’s no escaping it: if you’re going to be a multimedia journalist, you need to be damn good writer; being a great editor, or good voice don’t cut it. So use text to convey the nuts and bolts of your story, but make sure you don’t bore them while you’re doing it.

Maps, tables and graphs are great assistants to this: they can brighten up a page of text and add an element of interactivity. And text too becomes interactive, the moment you put in a hyperlink.

So remember: as a multimedia journalist you have a choice. So use it!

“Why journalists deserve low pay”

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 20, 2009

Fascinating article thrown my way through Twitter today: “why journalists deserve low pay“.

As a journalist, on low pay, I was immediately angered by the title. And therefore had to have a read. Annoyingly its author, Robert G. Picard, makes perfect sense. This is not so much an article on why journalists deserve low pay (for now); rather a thesis on the very reason journalism, as a concept, is struggling for breathe.

Broken down it says:

Economic value is rooted in worth and exchange. It is created when finished products and services have more value – as determined by consumers – than the sum of the value of their components.

That’s the first time I’ve seen what I do broken down into its raw economic terms.

These benefits used to produce significant economic value. Not today. That’s because producers and providers have less control over the communication space than ever before,

So the reason newspapers aren’t making money, and radio & TV are losing money: they’ve lost their economic value.

Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians. Consequently, the primary economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but in distributing the knowledge of others. In this process three fundamental functions and related skills have historically created economic value: Accessing sources, determining significance of information, and conveying it effectively.

This too has been diminished by the internet and social media. So not only has journalism lost its value, so have journalists.

Today all this value is being severely challenged by technology that is “de-skilling” journalists….until journalists can redefine the value of their labor above this level, they deserve low pay.

It’s so refreshing to see our profession reduced to its raw bones; and until we solve these core issues of value in what we do, no pay-wall or subscription fee will save us.