Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: quality counts

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 25, 2012

The countdown is on! There are less than 24 hours to go until Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling by the people who do it best is released upon the world. You’ll be able to buy a copy from 0800 BST tomorrow, Thursday 26th April 2012.

The English version will be live from tomorrow and German, Spanish and Catalan editions will be available in the next few weeks.

But how much is Inside the Story going to cost? Good question. We’ve thought really hard about pricing and we want this book to be affordable and make lots of money for Kiva – who we’re raising money for.

So I’m thrilled to announce the book will be yours for a ridiculous $5.00!  It’ll be on sale in US dollars, which will be converted to your local currency when you buy (but it’s roughly €4.50 or £3.75) – an absolute bargain.

It means we’ll need to shift lots of copies to raise all the money we want for Kiva though – so in exchange for getting in cheap you must promise to share it with as many people as possible! But there’s a catch: Inside the Story will only be available for a matter of weeks (so don’t hang around).

How to tell quality stories like a pro

You’ve had a week of sneak previews and there’s space for just a few more. In the last week, I’ve previewed advice from the book about how to plan stories like a pro, structure them properly and use design to your advantage. And that still covers a mere third of what’s in the book!

If Inside the Story is about one thing, it’s quality: it is aimed directly at producers, film makers, video journalists, photographers and designers who are in hot pursuit of creating remarkable stories for the web – stories that really impact people. For most of us, we fall short a lot of the time. So what are the secrets of achieving quality?

A great person to ask is Richard Koci Hernandez: a pioneer of multimedia storytelling – for which he’s even won an Emmy. In a great chapter which rounds off the book, Koci shares six tips for anyone who wants to aim high.

“Spend time everyday consciously shooting pictures, recording sound etc. Work deliberately on improving a multimedia skill, because practicing your craft is one of the biggest productivity payoffs around.”

Richard Koci Hernandez, Brian Storm and John Pavlus in Inside the Story

If you thought there was an easy way round getting good at storytelling you were wrong! Koci is backed up by another multi award winning producer, Brian Storm, Executive Producer at MediaStorm, again nominated for a prestigious Webby Award earlier this month. For Brian there is one sure-fire path to achieving good quality.

“We look for projects that have deep reporting, especially a commitment to coverage over a long period of time. Then we spend as much time as necessary in post production to pull the best possible story from the coverage.”

Brian explains more about the secret ingredient of quality storytelling and how to apply it to your projects. And perhaps counterintuitively, a final word from yet another award winner: John Pavlus, who’s produced multimedia for NPR, the New York Times and the Atavist among others. For him, the secret of achieving quality is something else entirely.

“Make it suck”.

Trust me, it makes perfect sense when you read his full article – and there’s only one way to do that! Sign up to the Facebook page, join the mailing list, and make sure you’re on this website tomorrow morning.

Inside the Story will be on sale for a limited time only – a matter of weeks, so don’t hang around!

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Inside the Story: a video update

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 16, 2012

For the last few months I’ve been working on an exciting project which is almost ready to launch. It’s called Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – an ebook, to raise money for Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

The last few weeks has been a flurry of layout, web design and conversations with some of the best film makers, digital producers and  journalists out there, and the book is almost ready to go live.

What’s going to be in the book? Here’s a quick video update on the project – and a sneak preview of some of the pages. Later this week, I’ll be publishing snippets from the book so you can see some more and announcing the publication date.

If you’re not a fan of the Facebook page yet, why not? 

What Monty Python can teach the next generation of publishers

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 22, 2011

If Terry Gilliam were a 20-year-old nobody today, I have little doubt he would be all over the internet, with a Youtube, Audioboo and Tumblr account, creating mashups, animations, films and the like.

He’d be one of the many people creating shareable stuff, probably using music without permission…and probably getting some of it taken down by Youtube!

Instead, he was lucky enough to be part of Monty Python in the 1960s and 70s, creating their instantly recognisable cut-out animations. I stumbled across this video recently, where Terry appears on what looks like a brilliant 70s children’s art show on the BBC, the likes of which just aren’t made any more.

After a rather odd title sequence which offers to teach you “something to your advantage” he explains how he produces his animations – and there’s lots for the new generation of digital publishers to learn.

It’s all about the idea and the message

Very early on in the video, Terry says “the whole point of animation is to tell a story, tell a joke, express an idea. The technique itself doesn’t really matter, whatever works is the thing to use.”

Terry is not animating for animation’s sake, nor his own vanity. Each time, he has a story or a joke to tell, or an idea to share. The takeaway: make sure your own work, whether it is making a documentary, writing a blog or launching a podcast is more than just for the sake of it – you must have a meaning you want to express, somehow.

Everything is a remix

In a sequence that might shock many of us today, especially those versed in copyright,  Terry confesses – well, he really just states – to using whatever he can find to create is now famous collages. He steals from magazines, books, paintings-  literally whatever he can get his hands on. He says he loves old photographs because the faces are so expressive.

This is – I think – a wonderful attitude to have to creating content, and one that, luckily, enough amateur online publishers still have. Obviously, there are (often crossed) legal boundaries, but without their willingness to use other peoples’ content we wouldn’t have Newport State of Mind, these great Brian Cox spoofs, nor much of the expanded Star Wars expanded universe, now a big industry.

Use whatever you can

Terry uses felt-tip pens, sellotape and perspex to get the job done. Not very glamorous but it did the trick. He doesn’t invest in expensive paper, or professional ink he just uses what’s cheap. If you want to create multimedia stories – video, audio slideshows, photographs and the like – you don’t need to blow £2k on the priciest camera, when a Flipcam will do the job for you. People take extraordinary pictures with their iPhones too: Richard Koci Hernandez creates wonderful images on his phone.

Work quick

Wherever Terry could save time he did – even to the extent of replacing legs with wheels. In the surreal Monty Python universe that worked, but there are lessons for young publishers too: don’t fret about creating perfection. Instead create a quantity of work – the more you make, the better you become.

If so, create a platform or a vehicle which forces you to create content regularly. I’m currently collaborating with Dave Lee to launch a new video magazine later this year: it’s a platform which demands new stories on a regular basis – and I’m shooting and editing far more often because of it.

So there you go: even an old bit of BBC archive floating on Youtube holds lessons for new digital producers in the 21st century. Work fast, with whatever you can find, remix (within reason) and above all: do it to tell a story, make a point or express some kind of meaning.