Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Goodbye mainstream media. It’s been fun.

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, Journalism, News and that, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on December 14, 2010

This is going to be a very personal post, so apologies in advance; it’s something I try to avoid on this blog as much as I can.

The past two weeks has seen the first, sustained, clash between two ages: a new era of complete online freedom and transparency (and all that this entails, good and bad); versus the old world of secrecy, authority and control. And it’s been paralleled in a clash between a new way of doing journalism and the way the traditional, mainstream media does it.

As someone very much straddling both sides of the fence, so to speak, it has given me a huge amount to think about. I have now come to the conclusion that the future of journalism will not come in any shape or form from the current established media – at least in its present form.

I want to state that here and now because it is something I have not said publicly before: the future of journalism does not lie with the mainstream media. I am not suggesting it will get replaced by blogs or news startups – it will continue to exist. But anyone looking to it to breed a strong, sustainable and effective craft in the decades ahead – that genuinely performs a fourth-estate role – is looking in the wrong place.

NOTE: I know that will send many straight down to the comments box – and please do give me your thoughts! Please read the bullet points right at the bottom first – which clarify what I am, and am not saying.

It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, and it’s the result of a long string of personal events.

Of mice and mephedrone

I’ve described before on this blog how I quit my job in the mainstream media back in September 2009. At the time I was working for a well-established, popular and profitable commercial radio station in Yorkshire, England. I had the privilege of being part of a news team who consistently beat our local rivals in relevancy and quality of our news, despite far smaller resources.

Earlier this year, I found myself back in the newsroom, sitting in the same chair – for a short period of time. I’d returned to do a couple of weeks of freelancing, to see old friends and keep my skills sharp.

My return coincided with one of the big media blowouts of the year (although one which has now almost entirely been forgotten). Two teenage boys had been found dead and Humberside Police suggested it may have been the result of a new, and legal drug, mephedrone. Mephedrone has lots of sexy nicknames, like M-Cat and meow-meow and was instant news-media sugar.

For us, both boys – who I won’t name, but you can find out easily yourself – were from our local patch, just south of the Humber estuary. A big local story then, and we immediately kicked into action. Over the next two weeks we diligently reported all the details of the story: reaction from local health experts, the latest from Humberside Police, growing pressure for the drug to be banned; statements from the Health Secretary Alan Johnson (who, helpfully was also a local MP); and then how Britain’s senior drugs expert Professor David Nutt resigned in protest at that decision.

Finally, on my last day, we reported the funerals of the two boys. I was at the first funeral, and in a superb use of initiative and social media journalism, reporter Jen Grieves was able to contact friends of the two boys via Facebook. We both went out and interviewed them. We asked them about mephedrone and what they thought of it. Within days, the drug had been banned – the one of the quickest changes in legislation in the UK in years.

At the end of the two weeks, I returned to London and we all felt we had done an excellent job – we had done good journalism.

Except, for one thing. The two teenagers did not die from mephedrone. In fact, they had never even taken it. This didn’t emerge until nearly two months later, and when it did, it barely registered in the mainstream media.

And I came to a cold and uncomfortable conclusion: this year I have participated fully in the mainstream media for just two weeks. My only achievement in that fortnight has been to perpetuate a national myth, to compound an echo-chamber, to package more lies and unwittingly sell them as truths.

Here’s the crux: I am not, on the whole, a bad journalist. The journalism we did was exactly the same as every other news outlet in those two weeks. We reported the events in the same way as the most senior BBC, ITV and Guardian journalists. In fact, a lot of our information came from our official news-wire, provided by Sky News.

Looking back, we should have challenged the police press release. We should have actually asked what mephedrone was, instead of going with what our news wires were saying. When the most accepted expert on drugs in the UK resigned, we should perhaps have wondered if he had a point. And we should have waited for the toxicology reports before linking the deaths to it.

Of course, none of these things are possible inside the mainstream news cycle, which is why it has become so distorting and dangerous. The actions of thousands of journalists telling half truths here and there, and passing on unchallenged information as fact from ‘reliable sources’ creates a foghorn for lies on a giant scale.

Iraq and The News You Don’t See

Tonight, ITV in the UK is screening a documentary by the campaigning journalist John Pilger, called The War You Don’t See.

Last night I was at a networked preview screening of the film, followed by a live Q&A with Pilger himself. The film makes this same point, except with far more dangerous lies than legal highs. In fact, he takes on what has become the greatest single lie of the 21st century so far – the reasons for invading Iraq in 2003 – and points the blame squarely at the mainstream media.

His film tries to show how our most respected news outlets: CBS News, The New York Times, Observer, BBC News and ITV News in particular failed to effectively challenge the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. In fact, never mind failed: the mainstream media did not even try to challenge its legitimacy. The film has quite extraordinary confessions from Observer and BBC Journalists (including Rageh Omar) who look back with shame (their words) at their reportage from the time.

But again, they were not doing anything other than follow the cues of their news organisations and the popular narrative of the time. Inside the news machine, they could hardly have done anything else.

The films concludes government propaganda machines have become so fantastically sophisticated – and they are successfully hoodwinking journalists on a regular basis.

Pilger is also very critical of embedding journalists. As a reporter who was embedded in Iraq (albeit very briefly, in 2009) I can see why.

When you are in the pockets of the military (they house you, transport you, guide you and feed you) objectivity is near impossible. Even if you can emotionally detach yourself from your hosts, on most embeds you see what the military want you to see, how they want you to see it. My very affable Media Ops guide, was prone to pointing out all the positive things the army were doing in his soft friendly tones; it was hard to disbelieve him.

And we went along with it, some more than others. Quite remarkably, one print journalist offered her copy to the Media Ops officer to ‘check it before I email it home’. It must have been like Christmas come early for the MOD.

The new ‘fifth estate?’

And so to Wikileaks, the stateless organisation that has given pretty much everyone something to think about.

Earlier this week I was invited to debate Wikileaks’ impact on the future of traditional journalism on Al-Jazeera English with, among others, journalism heavyweight Robert Fisk, perhaps one of the last remaining old-school war reporters. In our debate he argued that Wikileaks shows mainstream journalists up in a very bad way – he said they’ve become lap dogs, while Assange hands out the scraps.

While I think that sentiment is unfair to the scores of journalists at The Guardian, Der Spiegel, New York Times and others who have been doing good legwork sifting through thousands of documents, I do think it shows how passive the mainstream media has become.

Wikileaks publishing the unsorted data is not journalism – however it is an act of journalism, and the most significant since the MPs expenses scandal and Watergate before that.

And it has not been done by journalists. If anything, the success of Wikileaks represents a milestone failure for the mainstream media in the uncovering of truth and the holding of authority to account.

More worrying, however, has been the response to the cables. I personally feel the actions of the US government to get Julian Assange arrested and to shut down the website is on a par with the behaviour of the Chinese, Burmese and Iranian governments in the face of its own dissidents and websites it does not like. It is an outrageous abuse of power that should set alarm bells ringing in democracies around the world.

Does the mainstream media defend a flag bearer for free speech? Does it stand firm against US government pressure?

The more I am convinced of the need to challenge the authoritarian behaviour of our governments in the years ahead, the less I feel convinced the mainstream media has the capability or willingness to do it.

A new way ahead?

So if not the mainstream media, what?

Speaking after the preview of his documentary, John Pilger put his faith in new independent journalists, free from the legacy costs and attitudes of the big news machine and authority itself. He echoed ideas you will have read on this blog before: the internet has made it faster, cheaper and easier to create and publish content – and that gives these independent reporters a new platform and a new advantage.

It’s a future predicted by Richard Sambrook writing about the future of War Reporters for the Reuters Institute. The days of the khaki-wearing Corkers, working their way from hotel lobby to hotel lobby are numbered, he says; but in their place a new, independent – and younger – generation of multimedia journalists can emerge.

I agree. Brave and creative journalists, willing to take risks and innovate online might just be some future protection from corruption, incompetence and abuse of power, which the Cable leaks have shown are all thriving in our ‘democratic’ governments.

I can’t pretend to know the specifics of this future, or even whether it could do a better job than the current mainstream approach. But I do know we need to support and encourage these independent journalists whatever path they take. Our schools and colleges push journalism students through courses towards full time employment, fodder for the hungry news machine. Instead they need to be encouraging them to make a difference in the years to come.

So…

At first I was unsure about whether Wikileaks was a good thing. Then I watched the footage from the Apache gunship circling over the streets of an Iraqi town, and mowing down more than a dozen people, including two Reuters cameramen, a father and his two children.

The film, made public by Wikileaks – and not by journalists – revealed the value the US military puts on a human life and, in stark black and white, how our governments have lied repeatedly to our faces. And worst of all, how our mainstream media have served but to amplify those lies.

So I’m sorry mainstream media. It’s been fun; but me, I’m done.

Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far. More relevant, useful and valuable articles resume later this week!

P.S.

To save the breathe of commenters – here’s what I am not saying:

  • that I will stop consuming mainstream media news. (To clarify: I won’t, at least not right away. If I do, it’s with healthy scepticism)
  • that I think mainstream media journalists as individuals are incapable of doing good journalism. (To clarify: I know scores of talented, experienced and dedicated journalists working in all sectors of print and broadcast. They are good journalists, just working in a broken system)
  • that the mainstream media does no good acts of journalism. (To clarify: it does all the time, but the overall narrative it creates is dangerous)
  • that I will never set foot in a mainstream media office again. (To clarify, I work on a freelance/contractual basis for a range of outlets in the mainstream media, but I have no ambitions to work full-time for anyone)
  • that there is some kind of mainstream media conspiracy. (To clarify: there isn’t)

Fresh eyes: what can journalists learn from a web coder?

Posted in Fresh eyes series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 2, 2010

What happens when you ask a film maker or a musician about the future of journalism? What skills can the next generation journalist learn from a branding expert? As part of Fresh Eyes experts in non-journalism fields cast their eye over the digital revolution and offer their wisdom.

Michelle Minkoff, journalist and web coder

Studying at Northwestern University’s School of Journalism, Michelle is on a mission to see how data and technology can come together to help the public. She has recently programmed her first app on Django; on her blog she unravels the mysteries of Computer Assisted Reporting and Data Visualisation, two of the most under valued parts of next-generation journalism. You can check out her portfolio here. Michelle’s ‘data-driven philosophy’ spells out what she’s all about.

Data & journalism: reporting, presenting and collaborating

Photo: Stewf on Flickr

As journalists, we spend our lives pursuing “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media,” how Merriam-Webster defines journalism.

Another way to put that is “the collection of information that matters.” While there are many concerns about the changing nature of journalism, the Web helps us spread these collections faster than ever, and in more robust and interesting ways.
I’m about to complete my graduate work from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and I consider all the information we collect a form of data. I call myself a data journalist.

That’s not because I work with numbers a lot (although I do), but because I see the field as the craft of telling stories by organizing information in interesting ways.

Three facets to data journalism

I propose that there are three facets to more thoroughly integrating data journalism: via reporting, presentation and collaboration. Here are some tips on how we might be able to head in the right direction.

Reporting

  • When working our beats, just as we are taught to end each interview asking “Is there anyone else you know of that I should speak with? we should be asking the same of interesting data sources we should “interview.” Who knows if a city clerk will tell you about some report everyone else has overlooked, or a secretary can point you to a section of a Web site you haven’t yet seen?
  • Once you get a set of numbers, even from a press release, question whether you should take them at face value. We corroborate people’s quotes, we should corroborate numbers. That means double check their accuracy when possible, but also juxtapose data with per capita values, when appropriate. Sure, one college may graduate the most people, but it may actually be a much lower percentage than a smaller school graduating half as many, but 98 percent of their total class. I would argue omitting such information is tantamount to a fact error.
  • Compare past to present. Finding information across multiple years can often help you find a whole new story angle. Numbers usually go up or down, have some peaks and valleys. That trend probably isn’t your story in itself, but it can give you avenues for exploration.
  • Integrate data into your workflow. Don’t think of a certain group of reporters, or a certain beat, as being good for data. The New York Times’ Derek Willis put it this way on Twitter:”All news could benefit from knowing/considering CAR [computer-assisted reporting], but not all stories demand it be part of the end product.”
  • Use visualizations to help you understand information. Looking at millions of spreadsheet cells can be tiring. Using pictures of the data for analysis uses a different part of your brain, and can help you “get” the information. If you’re comfortable making the data public, try uploading the data and examining it with Many Eyes in your browser. Or, if you prefer, keep the data on your computer, and try out the newly-released Tableau Public.

Presenting

Now you have your story that incorporates data — whether it’s a statistic you’ve integrated into a breaking news brief or a year-long investigation with millions of records. Either way, you can make that information comprehensible to the public in a variety of pretty simple ways.

  • Remember that ManyEyes visualization you made in the last step? Embed it on your news site, and now users can play with it.
  • Use the Google Visualization API to make quick interactive graphs of all sorts. This uses Javascript, just put the appropriate code in the <head> and <body> sections of your HTML file. Not a coder? It can be as simple as copying and pasting the code Google provides (here’s one for a bar chart), and adjusting the data points. With this technology, tooltips that display the exact values of each node are generated automatically. If it works with your content management system, this is a technology that makes Web 2.0 almost simpler than generating an Excel graph.
  • If you have Web developers working at your newsroom, try to include them early on in the project planning process. Programming and journalism have a lot in common in that they require creativity, and attract people drawn to the pursuit of knowledge. Bringing both perspectives to brainstorming sessions will result in better projects. Web applications don’t have ledes or nut grafs, literally, but they give the user a starting point and the flexibility to pursue the story that matters most to him or her.
  • Encourage your audience to connect with your news organization. Present information in a visualization or a table, and make yourself available for users to present questions they have. Then, we serve the democratic function of a free press, improve community relations, and you’ve got some new story ideas! Involve your community and those with different backgrounds may see patterns you hadn’t considered.

Collaborating

  • Every fact you take in is a piece of data. But after your story, where does it go? What happens after you leave your news organization? How does the community maintain its connection to that information? It’s a valuable source, and cries out to be maintained.
  • If you’re willing to go public with your info, try creating a wiki at wikispot.org to collaborate with your colleagues. Also, community members can benefit from your information, and contribute to it, thus enhancing your repository of sources and information.
  • Prefer to keep the facts internal? Create a series of folders on your local network with folders for different beats.
  • Use a table or spreadsheet structure to label all the people you talk to, with information in separate cells: first name, last name, sure, but also cities lived in, occupations held, as much divisible information as you can find. Then, when anyone in the newsroom needs to talk to someone at x company, that source you used for a different story might be able to help you, or find someone who can.

How are you using data in your newsroom now? What obstacles are there to making it a more central concern? I’d love to hear your questions, thoughts, comments and suggestions — let’s chat in the comments, or you can find me at michelleminkoff.com.

Tomorrow: what can journalists learn from marketing and branding gurus?

Multimedia shooting: more lessons learned

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2009

My post on the challenges of shooting multimedia during a visit to Iraq this month proved a popular one (thank you!). A week of furious editing in both radio studios and on my own video edit software later and I’ve learned a load more. Here are the highlights…


8 more lessons learned in shooting multimedia

01. different mediums, different audiences

I wrote on a previous post how a difficulty of shooting for different mediums was juggling all the kit. Well, since coming back I’ve really come to realise how you also have to juggle different audiences some times. I went out primarily for my local radio station; the brief: meet local soldiers, find out about their life on the front line, get some good home references (like supporting local football teams) and messages back home to loved ones. Your typical local young house-wifey type content.

In taking out a camera though, I gave myself  a second agenda – an audience on the web very different from my radio one. Now the challenge before me is to produce content for two different audiences with the same raw material. So something fun – like this; and something a bit more serious – like this.

02. different mediums – helpful sometimes

OK, so holding a mic and a camera ain’t easy but it can cover your back too. The external mic on my camera failed me on one interview, but luckily I had the same interview in mp3 from my Marantz recorder. A bit of tricky synch work and you’ve fixed the problem.

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

03. interviews

Self-shooting without a tripod made interviews a bit of a challenge. I had to be close enough to my subjects to pick up audio on my Marantz recorder, but far enough away to get a wide enough head shot. The result: most interviews were in extreme close up! Although close ups are often recommended for online video in its smaller 720×526 screens.

04. get to know your camera

I didn’t have enough time to really practice with my camera before I used it for the first time. I meant a lot of wasted tape as I tried to ride the iris or adjust the manual focus.

05. keep it manual

I don’t regret keeping all my settings – but namely white balance, focus and iris – completely manual.

Scribbles and notes

Scribbles and notes

06. log it

I logged everything as I shot, which has saved time in the edit. Also my logbook provided a great home for memes, sketches and ideas.

07. be prepared…

…for technical hitches. I was very positive about my budget film making kit earlier this year, but remember, pay peanuts and you get monkeys. Adobe Premiere Elements is great value for money, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it crashes every time I try to capture video. And the image recorded is shifted ever so slightly to the left. And when I recorded video with my external mic plugged in but not switched on I got a nice blast of Iraqi radio on the soundtrack instead.

08. oh and one bit of advice to anyone else who takes  recording equipment to a military theatre…

…don’t record anywhere near a military radio kit. Number of interviews lost: 2. Number of amazing pieces to camera on top of a moving vehicle lost: all of them

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

All the radio content has been broadcast this week on 96.9 Viking FM in the UK. Lots of content including interviews, audio slideshows and video is online – click here. I will put up all my audio shortly. And more video coming soon!

The all digital newsroom: a vision

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 3, 2009

Here’s an interesting look into what a post-print digital newsroom might look like, from Steve Outing in the Editor & Publisher.

It’s crux is a reduced core of multi-media journalists, who – as well as writing, shooting, podcasting and blogging – create web 2.0 communities around their specialism.

Sounds great, for those left with the jobs, but involves huge job losses in circulation, print, middle management.

And he reckons it might not be so far off.

HT: Cyberjournalist.net

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Covering court cases: the questions you were afraid to ask

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 26, 2009

Journalists undergoing training get excellent tuition these days on media law. The difference between libel and slander, section 39, contempt of court, jigsaw ID, all that.

The idea: to leave the course with an instinctive knowledge of when a story isn’t legally sound. Some alarm should go off in your mind.

All well and good, but just 2 weeks after finishing my training, in June 2007, I found my way to court for the first time, on my own,  covering the sentencing of a woman who’d been convicted for dumping her stillborn baby on the banks of a river.

It hit me then: I knew the law – but I sure as hell didn’t have a clue how to cover a court case.  The practicalities. So everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned on the job, covering trials for murder, rape, fraud, armed robbery you name it for nearly two years.

The questions you were afraid to ask (or never got told)

How do I find out about court cases?

To find out if a case is due to appear in a given court, on a given day, the online source Courtserve is a good first stop. You can browse cases by court, although the next day listings won’t appear until mid-afternoon the day before.

Every Crown and Magistrates Court has a listings department; it’s good practice to call them to confirm the appearance as often changes are made at the last minute.

Finally there is no substitute for maintaining a thorough court diary (court jester) on your newsdesk. Every time a crime hits the headlines, note the arrest and follow up subsequent appearances.

What is the legal process?

Keeping it (very) simple: once someone has been charged they will appear at their local Magistrates court, and depending on the seriousness of the crime, it will be sent to Crown Court. There is often at least one Preliminary Hearing where details like the defendant’s name and address are confirmed.

Then comes the Plea and Case Management Hearing (or PCMH) this is where the defendant will plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” If it’s the former it goes straight to sentencing, if it’s the latter, a date will be set for trial – and a window for that trial to take place.

The trial itself will take place: the jury sworn in, then opening statements, before the prosecution and defense have full blow at all the evidence with witnesses galore. Both sides sum up, before the judge sends out the jury. After deliberation lasting hours to days, they return a verdict. At which point the judge adjourns the case while he decides a sentence. He may also ask for psychiatric reports to be prepared which can delay the process.

The sentence is given, and case closed.

justice

What should I wear in court?

I would always recommend wearing something vaguely smart, but I’ve never been kicked out for wearing trainers and jeans. It’s no worse than the relatives of those appearing will turn up in.

What can I take into court?

Into the courtroom itself you can take your bag,  a pen and notebook. Phones are allowed but for the love of God, turn it to silent (be paranoid about this!).

Broadcasters: you will have to surrender your mics, cameras to the security desk. I recommend approaching them with eye contact and a smile and the line “I need to hand this over to you” If you leave it for them to find it in your bag, then it gives them a major lecture-licence which we could all do without.

Where am I supposed to sit?

Every courtroom has a press gallery, usually in the ‘pit’ of the courtroom. There’s also the public gallery, but press is preferable because you can swap notes with other reporters.

What happens if I arrive late or need to leave early?

People are allowed to come and go from a courtroom, but it is customary to turn and give the judge a respectful nod as you leave or enter. At some stages, arriving or leaving will be banned.

How do court rooms work?

When you arrive you’ll go through a security check, often with a metal detector. A frisking isn’t unusual. Broadcasters, handover your recording equipment.

Then there’s a lobby, with access to all the court rooms. You’ll see all sorts in here:

  • A group of people looking scruffy: normally the family/friends of the defendant, and not unusually the defendant themselves.
  • People dressed smart, looking nervous or crying: often witnesses about to spill all.
  • Smart looking people sitting next to them: the detective on the case, hoping the witness says the right thing.
  • Very smart people in a gown: the clerk of the court: They’ll call in witnesses and announce the start of proceedings in a certain courtroom.
  • And the people you’ll probably want to ID the fastest: other journalists. Make friends-you’ll need to share notes and know you’re in on the right case!

I’m in the court building but I don’t know what room I’m supposed to be in, what do I do?

Navigate your way round with the flatscreen monitors dotted around. There’s at least one in the lobby, listing all the cases due that day (by defendant’s name, case number, case stage, place and time).

Each courtroom usually has a room specific monitor outside it.

Still you’ll need to keep your wits about you – there’s nothing worse than realising you’ve gone and sat in on the wrong case.

How do I find out if there are any reporting restrictions?

Normally there’s a note on the press bench. Again, this where it’s useful to make friends with other hacks – especially PA or the local paper. They’ll tell you if there’s anything you should know about.

Who can I talk to for help?

Your afformentioned journo friends. Also you can usually approach the court clerk at an appropriate moment, or one of the council. Every court also has at least one attached freelance court reporter who files copy for organisations who can’t be there. Living in the building they’ll tell you everything and anything – but be warned, they earn their living on passing on court copy, and a reporter present = one less sale.

Will I be upset?

You may be. On a murder or sexual assault case the details are graphic and unrelenting. Be prepared for sex assualt cases in particular, when the charges are often listed by each individual ‘penetration’ (which is then described). And you’ll hear bad language all over the shop, including from barristers and the judge (when reading out witness statements).

Am I allowed to approach anyone?

On a big case, you might want to interview the police on the case or the family of the victim. There’s no problem with this, but use your common sense and tact. Courts are very distressing places for some people.

What are good questions to ask?

If you’re looking for that extra scoop or new angle, try and speak to the officer who tried the case after verdict (they’ll be at court). Were there any previous convictions you can now report? By arrangement the families may give a statement or take questions outside court. This is usually done with arrangement with the police press office.

What happens if I get any grief?

I’ve never gotten grief from someone involved in a specific case. The only resistance you’re likely to encounter is – bizarrely – from the people who work in courts. For some reason, no-one’s ever told them the important role journalists play in justice and democracy, and you’re seen as a nosey parker.

The answer: remember Lady Justice with her two scales. Justice is to be done and seen to be done. If you need to give a (minor) court official a reminder on this, all the better.

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!

Broadcast Journalism: a bibliography

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 1, 2008

Here’s a post which has been sitting in my draft folder for more than a year! No Idea why I never published it at the time…but here it is. Other journos: feel free to add your own suggestions or reviews of the below!

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