Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Greenslade is right: I *am* saying what ought to happen

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

Thanks to all of you who left so many interesting and diverse comments on ‘Hold the Front Page, I haven’t got a clue‘. It’s had more than a thousand page views in 24 hours which is awesome.

British journalism commentator Roy Greenslade has also stepped into the debate, in support of Ed Caeser’s article, and dismissing myself, Adam Tinworth and Claire Wardle who disagreed with it (you can read Adam’s response here and Claire’s here).

Roy Greenslade’s criticism comes down to this:

…the difference between them and Caesar (and me) is between “is” and “ought.”

Caesar and his interviewees are telling like it is. His critics are saying what ought to happen.

And he gets it spot on: I am saying what ought to happen. I really believe journalism needs to change and should change for the benefit of everyone.

That’s why I quit my nice job in the mainstream media eight months ago. That’s why I’ve written three ebooks to help people to do things differently and better. That’s why I write thousands of words a week about it on this blog, at Duckrabbit and on That’s why I set up the Future of News Meetups, so journalists who want to create the future can meet and come up with new ideas.

What’s the point in saying it how it is? Or fantasizing about how it was? Surely the most productive thing is to fantasize about how it could be…and then make it happen.

Greenslade ends by quoting one of his students at City University*, dismayed at the prospect of having to be entrepreneurial online. “That’s all very well” she tells him, “but I came here to get on to a newspaper.” A valid point – we must remember alternative ways of doing things aren’t for everyone (although Greenslade neglects to mention her ambitions may be because that’s what the City University brochure promised her before she paid £7,900 to do the course).

Of course, many young journalist will still want to work on a national. Thousands of them will want nothing more than to be presenting the BBC 10 bulletin in 20 years time. That was my dream when I trained.

There’s nothing wrong with holding on to that dream. The future of news still has the BBC, Sky, CNN, The Guardian, the New York Times and the Sun in it. Still doing what they do. Still hiring.

But there is this other opportunity that exists now right now that we would be plain stupid to pass up. An opportunity to diversify the news ecosystem, let new species emerge. To do something more than make coffee and rewrite press releases for five years. To not only do sort of journalism you love and get paid for it, but to go down as a pioneer and an innovator.

Oh, and there’s plenty o’ money to be made too if that’s what motivates you. The Video Journalism pioneer Michael Rosenblum says it best in a comment on this very blog:

There is an absolute fortune to be made in the journalism business today and for the next decade. The whole apple cart of our industry has been turned upside-down and that means we are undergoing a massive reorganization of our industry…there are several billion pounds laying on the table just waiting to be scooped up by any aggressive enough to go after them. And the path to that is most certainly not taking a job as a reporter at a newspaper.

Of course money isn’t everything  (although it’s what motivated the newspaper pioneers of the 19th century).

I’m going to end there, because these blogger debates tend to eventually descend into ‘you misinterpreted the tense of what I said’ pedantry. But it’s important we thrash out these issues now because, in some sense, the future of the industry relies on it.

If we let the naysayers, the doom-mongers and the sceptics win out, we risk paralysing the young innovators upon whose shoulders it falls to reinvent journalism.

They need ideas, encouragement, support and motivation – something they certainly won’t get from the Sunday Times or the Media Guardian.

A quick timeline in case you need to catch up:

  • Ed Caeser writes this
  • Claire Wardle tweets this
  • Adam Tinworth blogs this
  • I blog this
  • Roy Greenslade blogs this

*I also trained, and had Greenslade lectures, at City University in 2006-7


Journalism’s “fame academy” gets blogging

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2009

It’s good to see a whole raft of postgraduate journalism students at City University now with their own blogs.

City – or the “fame academy of journalism” as it was once described – is  recognised as Britain’s leading school of journalism, a nudge ahead of  Cardiff, Westminster and Leeds Trinity All Saints.

It’s got top names, like Adrian Monck, Stewart Purvis and Roy Greenslade on its books, and more household names in its alumni than you can mention here.

But when I was there just two years ago, there was just one student blogging: me.  In fact the internet – although recognised as a valuable research tool – was somewhat sidelined in the curriculum.


Instead we focussed on getting the skills and the art of traditional TV and radio nailed.

But over the road at Westminster, almost every student was blogging, and under the tuition of David Dunkley-Gyimah producing TV and radio content online. Learning how to produce a single story three ways, not to mention the valuable art of Video Journalism.

Now I don’t think any students in my year suffered from that, but you couldn’t help but feel City might suddenly find itself out of date.

However, the numbers of student blogs of this years intake, including:  Shona Ghosh, Ali Plumb, Beth Mellor (all of whom I’ve met in various places), Abigail Edge, Claire Dickinson, James Bray, Lara King, Tommy Stubbington…suggests the internet has moved up the agenda in EC1. And rightly so.

I’d be interested to know what any of the above, or any other current City hacks think about the courses online credentials: get in touch!

BBC local TV plans stopped (or maybe just paused)

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 21, 2008

BBC Local TV paused? Or Stopped?

BBC Local TV paused? Or Stopped?

So after speculation earlier this week, the BBC Trust confirmed today plans to launch 65 new local websites have been scrapped.

From a practicing broadcast journalist (and fan of video journalism) point of view, I think it’s disappointing. The potential for hundreds of new jobs in the market’s been lost.

I also agree with Roy Greenslade’s aside, that the BBC has made a mistake in not realising broadband is the future.

The local competition (newspapers and radio) are hailing it as a great victory – they claimed it would threaten their services.

This one is tricky though.

I get edgy when commercial outfits complain the BBC is a threat because of the size of its wallet. If you’ve got the ideas, and the talent (you don’t neccessarily have to pay through the nose for that) then money doesn’t matter. Papers particularly have the enviable contacts.

But their VJ offerings aren’t great. Getting written hacks to create decent VJ pieces hasn’t yet provided any gems.

Most of all, the the chance for diversification has been lost.

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Give peace (journalism) a chance?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on February 4, 2007

Bob GeldofNews this week that the pope of poverty, Bob “da poyple are fookin’ doyin'” Geldof is planning on launching a TV channel devoted to promoting peace.

Funded by Point of Peace, Geldof’s developing the idea with his production company Ten Alps and will announce whether the channel will launch later this year. Let’s just hope it’s not 24 hours of black-and-white charity commercials set to Coldplay.

Among journalists there’s a parellel debate running: whether or not war correspondents should report conflicts with a bias towards peace.

Peace Journalism, as it’s known, has been enshrined in a book by Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick; I’m yet to read it, I’m afraid to say, but us City journos were given a taster this week courtesy of Roy Greenslade.

Essentially it argues journalists can and should promote a peaceful resolution to conflicts. It’s a noble aim, and you can’t argue its intentions, but pragmatically, it’s not to clear cut.

Asking too much?
War reporting is ahistorical peace journos say. Each day we’re told the bare facts: the what, where, when and who. But not the why and the accusation is that reporters don’t give us the origins and consequences of the violence we see on our screen.

Fair enough. I think we can see this in the day-to-day reporting in Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan. We’re told the “latest”, and (in Iraq) reminded yet again “the country is sliding ever closer to civil war.”

So here-here for more indepth analysis on our screens. But it’s not so simple: reporters and producers suffer one major limitation – time.

Can you report the latest and give indepth analysis in 90 seconds?

And this is where the problem with peace journalism lies. If you look at some of its recommendations they jar with reality:

  • Avoid portraying conflict as a battle between two forces over the same goals.
  • Don’t just report a suicide bomber from one group killed scores from another – explain what the motivations are.
  • And show the invisible effects of conflict – mental illness, depression etc, not just the visible effects.

Great goals – but where’s the time to do it?

Noble aims
This isn’t to say I disagree with the concept at all. There are some really good recommendations from Lynch and McGoldrich that would really benefit journalism. Things like avoiding showing the human rights abuses and/or suffering of just one side; avoid showing opinion as fact and avoid blaming someone for the conflict.

Just try telling that to the hardened hacks in the field.


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Whatever happened to the Fifth Estate?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 16, 2006

fourth es-tate noun. journalists, the press or the media in general, in addition to the ‘three estates’ (the Lords spiritual, the Lords temporal, the House of Commons).

The media, in one of it’s key roles in a democracy, is seen as the fourth estate, the watchdog of those in power, recording their movements and holding the powerful to account. But who watches over the watchers?

The presence of a fifth estate is vital for keeping the media in check. But in Britain, a country hailed for the doggedness of its journalists, the press has no accessible watchdog. There is of course the Press Complaints Commission and (for broadcasters) Ofcom, who set the standard and deal with complaints.

But there’s no publication, no programme which regularly takes on the people with power over information.
And even worse, it seems attempts to set up a Fifth Estate have been quashed by fat cat editors in the most backhand of ways.

It’s known, for example, that media journalists face a constant battle with the papers and broadcasters they write about to stop critical articles going to print. Concerted efforts have taken place to stop papers running their own media pages…ever wondered why just the Guardian and the Independent run a weekly supplement?

There’s even allegedly a backroom deal between the owners of the Telegraph and Associated Newspapers (owners of the Daily Mail) to ensure no coverage critical of the Telegraph is printed in the Mail, Metro or Evening Standard.

So far from having a healthy press in Britain which monitors itself to avoid abuses of power, the Fifth Estate function has been silently suffocated.

It wasn’t always this way. In the late 80s good ol’ Raymond Snoddy (now of Newswatch fame) hosted a Channel 4 programme called Hard News which gave tabloids and the rest a weekly spanking for bad behaviour. It even won awards.

Of his new programme, Raymond Snoddy says “The idea of a programme like Newswatch is long overdue” and he couldn’t be more right. But we need more. We need a new programme that hauls the press and broadcasters into the dock and ensures they only do good in our name.

Creative producers could develop a Top Gear style format, live/as live studio based, with a fun cheeky tone that puts the assertions made in print and in broadcast to the test. Where Clarkson test drives a new car, the new Snoddy would test drive a sleazy allegation made by a Sunday tabloid.

It would be an entertaining programme as well, not to mention a shocking one on occasion. But it should be something to scare the press into maintaining high standards, so sad occurences like the hounding of Neil Kinnock and then the Tories and the Hutton affair are less likely to happen.


Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 28, 2006

Time for a much needed media-whore blog.

Old wrinkly manIt’s been quiet here the past couple of weeks but I’ve been busy; I’ve moved to the big smoke, moved into a new flat and started my new course – Broadcast Journalism at City University in London. It’s all awesome, and it’s got me thinking futures big time. Because the industry I’m finally on the verge of going into, is going to look unreckognisably different by the time I leave it as an old wrinkly man.

In fact it’s faster than that….the world of broadcast and media and even journalism is going to change within 5 years. We are, as Prof Roy Greenslade said in a lecture this week, in the midst of a digital revolution.

So I’ve been pondering the future..what will it be like to work in radio/tv news in 10 years time? Will radio and TV even exist?

The paper bin of history…

Well the first thing to say is that if you’re a newspaper journalist, you’re fucked. No not really, but it seems big change is on the horizon for the old hacks. UK paper circulation is declining big time; one doomsayers predicted something like 2043 as the year the last newspaper closes down.

Of course it won’t be that bad, but newspapers in their traditional form – i.e. on paper – seems a dying concept. All the major papers (with the exception of the Indie) are moving to online content and eventually we may all get our newspaper news online.

The big change this has brought has been the move to multimedia, eschewed neatly by the Daily Telegraph. A conservative piece of piffle here in the UK, the Telegraph is now on the forefront of the digital revolution. Soon all its journalists will be producing audio and video content as well as writing for the papers.

This, I reckon, is the future for the newspaper journalist. There’s a good site run by a lecturer at another journalism course at Westminster- David Dunkley Gyimah – who’s seen the same future.

Broadbandcast Journalism?

Video JournalismAnd it’ll be the same for the traditional BJ as well. Multiskilling’s the way forward and soon we’ll all be expected to shoot, record, edit and write the news ourselves. In many cases this is already happening.

But the bigger future for broadcast journalism is video journalism. This is where the traditional 2/3 person TV crew is replaced by an all singing all dancing journalist who writes, researches, shoots and edits reports all by themselves. 

VJ’s are in place all over the world but are used in conjunction with traditional crews. The future, I think, is the VJ-only newsroom, nicely described by it’s “guru” Michael Rosenblum and it works a bit like this: 

  • A daily 30 minute programme could be supplied by a team of 20-30 independent VJs.
  • Working like a traditional newspaper journalist they take on individual stories themselves seeing them through to transmission.
  • This gives each VJ a greater satisfaction in their work, and encourages more original journalism, moving away from the daily diary.
  • With 30 VJs and only 10 reports per programme, each journalist would only be expected to produce 2/3 reports a week rather than churning out 1 a day. Again, more considered, thorough journalism.
  • And as much as I hate to talk about money, it’d also be cheaper than hiring editors, camera crews etc.

It has it’s downsides of course. VJs as yet can’t report live via satellite and some news events require teams of producers behind the scenes. Some also moan about the quality of video journalism but excellent journalists like Inigo Gilmore and even these Inside Africa pieces prove those people wrong.

Finally, delivery will change too. Video News on Demand (VNOD) is in its early stages, with the marvellous CurrentTV leading the trend. Before long, TVs will be connected to broadband and we literally choose what news we want to watch. Good? Scary? I’m not sure yet.

So it’s all change. Changes are even causing ripples outside Europe and the US…check out Emmanuel’s blog on an E-media conference in Accra.

It’s all very exciting and a bit scary too..will there be jobs for journalists in the future? Emmanuel reckons so – he quite rightly reminded me that all these exciting technologies are tools for journalists and not substitutes.

Whatever the technology does there’ll always be a need for a cynical alcoholic to tell us the facts….I hope.