So a new year is upon us, and as usual, it’s a good time for reflection and making big plans for the year ahead.
There’ll be some small tweaks to how I do all this blogging in 2012, so briefly, here’s a quick round-up of how to keep in touch with everything I do this year.
In return for your attention, I promise to keep writing useful practical advice on multimedia production, plus ideas and advice on publishing and entrepreneurship.
This blog now reaches between 5 and 10,000 people a week which is really nice. The posts here are usually much more thought out than anything else I write, and focus – as much as possible – on the doggedly practical.
Make sure you subscribe by putting your email address in the box to the right of this page. It’s free, and you should only ever get an email whenever a new post is written.
You can also keep in touch over RSS – click on this link to grab the rss feed for this blog.
I started using Tumblr more in 2011, and it’s a much more informal place for raw ideas, quotes, thoughts and more reflection. I wrote a post looking back on 2011, which was more personal than you’d expect here, as well as explaining why I’ve quit Facebook. There’s a very small, but growing, number of readers – if you’d like to be one of them, just follow me, the tumblr way, here.
If you want to keep up anywhere, Twitter is probably still the best place, although I’ll be tweeting a little less in 2012. @AdamWestbrook is the link to click.
The video.fu library of remarkable video storytelling is growing over at Vimeo. I add any awesome factual video I find – and usually go onto to write about it here. But subscribers see the videos as soon as they’re added: a nice way to keep your inspiration flowing.
The website & journal
That’s it! Here’s to an amazing 2012.
In this week-long series, I’ll be taking a look at why you really can’t ignore blogging if you’re a journalist, guide you through the basics of getting started, and reveal some top tricks for making blogging work for you.
Today, let’s get the basics demystified once and for all.
Firstly setting up a blog is cheap (and it can be free); it’s quick (you’ll be up and running in less than 20 minutes); and really, it is easy…I promise.
There are two options: buy your own webspace and install a blogging platform (if, for example you want to tie it in with your portfolio website); or just register with a blogging website.
I’ve covered the installation process in other articles, like this one for journalism.co.uk, so let’s just talk free platforms.
WordPress, Tumblr, Posterous, Blogspot…
There are a whole host of blogging platforms out there (they’re known widely as Content Management Systems or CMS).
Each one has its own benefits and downsides. Look for other blogs you admire and like the look of, and follow their route. Here’s a quick introduction.
The best thing about WordPress is its ease of use, regular updates and flexibility in terms of appearance. Writing a blog is as easy as filling in a box, formatting some text, and inserting pictures.
WordPress opened up their code to developers years back which led to the creation of countless unique themes anyone can use. It means you can give your blog a personalised appearance quite easily. You can use ‘portfolio themes‘ to show off your work and ‘magazine themes‘ to give your blog a newspaper appearance.
It has some downsides though. WordPress is particularly vulnerable to spammers and security hacks, simply by way of its popularity.
I’ve really grown to like Tumblr of late. It’s an appealing alternative to WordPress, designed for short-form blog posts, sometimes as short as a single photograph, quote or link. Readers can leave comments, but more often ‘reblog’ the post.
If you don’t have time to write lots, or prefer using images and video to communicate then Tumblr’s a great option. It’s all about sharing good content: photographs, links, videos, audio. If you spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the web, taking photographs, or shooting video Tumblr is a great place to share your discoveries. For example, if you’re a science journalist, it could be a great platform for either sharing links to articles you’re researching, or for documenting the shooting/editing of your multimedia.
On the downside, Tumblr’s themes are far fewer in number and it has fewer options for customising the look of your blog. However, for many users that’s OK – they’re all about the content.
Posterous is relatively new to the blogging scene and has a USP all it’s own: you update it via email. No need to login to update your website – you just send it an email. Attach any media you want and it appears online. Although WordPress now offer a similar function, it has given Posterous an edge in some quarters.
Posterous are now trying to claim more of the blogging market by making it easy for users to transfer from a WordPress, Tumblr or Blogspot host to their own.
Their pitch is their simplicity – again if you want a blog you can update very regularly and on the move. However, if you’re all about the long considered articles, you might find Posterous limits you.
By far and away my least favourite blogging platform, this is the one Google product I am no fan of. Blogger (or Blogspot) is one of the older platforms, but like MySpace, its age is starting to show.
I have not used it seriously myself, but a Blogger blog is easy to spot – it’s usually the familiar Orange or light Blue. I gather it has similar functionality to WordPress (in some ways better, as it lets you embed any media you want) but lacks sorely in appearance.
If you want to make your blog look different you have to edit the HTML or CSS yourself, which explains why so many Blogger sites, well, look alike.
Finally, the paid-for option, Typepad, which markets itself towards the Small Business/Professional market.
For the price it offers ‘beautiful themes’ and mapping your domain is included. As a very happy WordPress user, I can’t really see what Typepad could offer which would make me get my credit card out – but please feel free to correct me in the comments!
So they’re the main players. There are plenty more including LiveJournal and Xanga – you can read a brief history of all of them on Mashable. There others of course, but I think for beginners WordPress, Tumblr or Posterous offer the most realistic options. So, what are you waiting for? Go get signed up!
Journo-blogger of the day: David Stone
David Stone is a local radio news editor in the west of England, a job I know from experience, is extremely time consuming. Yet somehow he finds time to run broadcastjournalism.co.uk a blog & resource site dedicated to radio and television news.
He describes his blog as “…a jotter-pad for my own constant attempts to refresh and expand my learning, and partially a way of sharing what I know with aspiring journalists and interested third parties.”
David’s constant attempts to improve his skills has led to great practical articles on things like how to conduct the perfect vox pop, and how to find news in a quiet local news patch. He’s also teaching himself shorthand so expect some good tips on that too.
Broadcastjournalism.co.uk does what most blogs should do: it is useful. It is step-by-step. That’s the reason it’s a regular read for me. Is your blog useful?
Tomorrow: how to build an audience for your blog!
If you’re aged between 21 and, say, 40 and you’re in journalism (or want to get into journalism) you need to read this post.
It’s an optimistic one – but it carries a warning…and a call to action.
Yesterday I blogged how Jon Snow and Andrew Marr are excited by the possibilities the internet holds for journalism in the future. So ahead of us that’s two of the most established and traditionalist of British journalists getting excited about what we could all make happen.
Now look behind you
Because here’s the warning. If you’re going to do something about the future of journalism, you haven’t got long.
Right behind us, there’s an army – a whole generation – who already get it and are already better at it than you. Here are four examples.
Jamie Keiles is 18 and a high school senior from Pennsylvania. This year she gave herself a project: to live according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine for a whole month. She collected the experiences together on a blog, and created the Seventeen Magazine Project. Her articles include text and photographs and now she’s wrapping it up with a crowdsourcing project called ‘Dear Mainstream Media’ which has had scores of entries.
Yes, an 18 year old who’s already created her own (albeit temporary) magazine, and built an impressive following. It caught the eye of Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog this month too.
Rebecca Younge is 14 and from Ealing in West London. As part of a school science project she made a three-minute film about pollution and recycling, which she shot on a FlipCam and edited on iMovie on her dad’s laptop. She put it on Youtube and it caught the eye of Video Journalism pioneer Michael Rosenblum, who admits it’s raggedy, but says
She’s never had a day of formal filming or editing tuition, she just worked it out for herself….There is a whole generation coming up who have no fear of video. In fact, they think of it as second nature.
You might think you’re going to do multimedia one day. You might get that it’s the future. But have you picked up your camera and filmed much yet? Is it as second nature to you as it is to Rebecca?
Rahayu is (I think) 20, and from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I’m not sure who she is, or what she does, because she doesn’t write much about herself. But what she does do is run a Tumblr Blog called On a High Note. Now, this is nothing to do with journalism, I’m going to be honest with you. In fact, it’s just a collection of quirky photographs, retro truisms and quotes which she collects and shares. But: she’s built up a community of nearly 90,000 followers all addicted to her way of seeing the world. 20,000 of them are in the US alone. Each photo she posts gets retweeted and reblogged more than 500 times.
And I won’t lie to you – it’s one of my own favourite things in my Google Reader every day. A perfect, inspirational break from the usual stuff.
Alex Day is 21 and from Essex in the UK. As a teenager in 2006 he started video blogging on Youtube. He used the internet to launch several bands and has just started fronting a major Channel 4 campaign called Battlefront about young people changing the world. His youtube channel Nerimon has got 202,000 subscribers and has had more than 3,000,000 views.
So, we have two people who are shooting and editing video on their own without batting an eyelid, one person who has run their own online magazine, and one who has created a community of nearly 100,ooo people from all over the world.
None of them are over 21. But they’re already digital natives. This is all second nature to them. As soon as they hit the big wide world they’re going to take this and make some serious money out of it. And if we’re not careful, they’ll leave the rest of us chewing their dust.
So here’s the rub
The future of journalism is amazing, exciting and out there to be had right now. But you’ve got to go out there and get it yourself. There’s no guidebook on how to do this, there is no step-by-step guide. There’s no-one to take you by the hand and guarantee your idea will make money one day.
Thing is, there are plenty of people out there willing to sit back and be consumers in this world, instead of creators. There’s no shortage of people like that. And so there’s no value in them.
People who are willing to take the lead, to beat a path for others to follow, to make mistakes…now they’re scarce. And as we all know, where there’s scarcity, there’s value.
What will 2010 bring?
It’s sure to be an eventful year in journalism and multimedia and I’ve already spelled out a few of my predictions for the year. But how can you prepare yourself for all the twists and turns? If you’ve already given up smoking, joined the gym and don’t need to loose any weight, here are 10 resolutions to make you a better multimedia journalist in 2010.
01. Learn a new web skill
You can’t live in fear of code, CMS, templates ‘and all that geeky stuff’ any longer: if you don’t know a bit of HTML the other 50 people going for your dream job will. Or maybe only one of them will, it doesn’t matter, they’ll still probably get the job.
There are two myths about learning web languages: 01. it’s really difficult; 02. it costs money. They’re both false.
If you’re still not convinced, think about this: society is moving increasingly online and news definitely is. How much of a handicap is it to be unable to speak the language of the web? It’s like moving to France without knowing a jot of French. And then trying to get a job on Le Monde.
Four things you can learn:
02. Read up on business
I’ve said several times in recent articles and videos, as have many others, there is potential for journalists to employ business skills to create small, nimble journalistic ventures which return a profit. Even if most balk at that idea, multimedia journalists – especially freelancers – should tool up on business skills to maximise their profits.
Again, don’t be scared off by the unfamiliarity of the subject. Use the New Year to grasp the nettle and dive straight in. I’ve been reading lots of business books over the last three months, investigating how journalists can employ business knowledge in a news environment. The results will appear in a new e-book here in the spring.
In the meantime, study successful business people and find out how they made it work. And remember this, the most successful businesspeople often come from non-business backgrounds:
- Richard Branson (him off Virgin) left school with few qualifications. Despite being dyslexic, he set up his own magazine.
- Duncan Bannatyne (off that there Dragons Den) was a beach bum until he turned 30, when he started selling ice-cream, now he’s worth more than £100m.
03. Make audio slideshows
If you haven’t made any audio slideshows yet, pledge to make at least one in 2010. They’re great because they’re relatively quick and cheap to make (a second-hand SLR and audio recorder could set you back perhaps £300; Soundslide software is just £50) and the results can be stunning.
They’re also removed of the production distractions of shooting videos, so you can focus on telling a great story.
The weekend audio slideshow challenge:
- Got a free weekend on the horizon? Start thinking of story ideas near you. All you need is one or more people to interview, and a setting with the opportunity for great photographs and great sounds. Set it up. On Saturday morning go and record the story and take lots of pics.
- On Sunday morning go through your material and craft it into a story on paper. Then edit the audio together using Audacity (free software) and create a slideshow in Soundslide.
- Sleep on the results, and after making changes, upload the final piece on Monday morning. Use social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to share it. And you could even try to pitch it to a paper.
- Repeat as many weekends as possible.
04. Learn a new design skill
I think New Years Resolutions should be about learning new things, not prohibiting things (can you tell?). Here’s another.
A journalist with a great visual eye makes for a good multimedia storyteller. Composition, colour are really important, especially if you’re working in video or photography. But there will be more calls for interactive designers in the future. People who can create stunning data visualisations using Java and design software.
If none of the resolutions appeal to you so far, think about learning how to use Photoshop (or even cheaper, its open source equivalent GIMP); of how about Illustrator or DreamWeaver? And start bringing in some design blogs into your blog reader. I gave some suggestions in my best of the blogs post.
05. Pick up a microphone
This is an appeal to make 2010 the year you take audio seriously. If you’re shooting video or audio slideshows, audio is half of the magic, and coming back with poor sound quality shouldn’t be acceptable.
Spend some money on a decent microphone and spend some time learning how to use it properly.
06. Have personal projects
Life shouldn’t be all work, work, work – even if we are lucky enough to call journalism our job. Devote time to personal creative projects. They’re a fantastic way to keep your creativity vitalised.
Make it the part of journalism you love the most – writing maybe, or shooting video, or designing graphics…and give yourself a project just for the hell of it. It’ll keep you in a happy place I promise.
Ideas for personal projects
- Create a tumblr account and use it to post your own creative bits and pieces
- Start writing that novel or screenplay. Go on, just write the thing!
- Design a new range of awesome posters
- Create an audio portrait of an interesting area or neighbourhood over the space of 6 months
- Start creating blogazines instead of boring old blog posts
07. Aim to double your blog readership or website hit rate
Challenge yourself to create a website that really sells you and gives value to readers. The key, as all the blogging mavens tell you, is creating great content. Make 2010 the year you stop posting funny videos or rants about something you read in the paper, and focus your content.
What value can you share with other people? What do you know about that other people will want to know about it? If you’re a journalist, there’s a good chance there’s something you can share.
This very post is a good example. I was close to writing a “my goals for 2010″ post, and bore you all with my plans for next year. Then I thought I could add much more value to your day by coming up with this list.
08. Devote time to storytelling
One of the things I learned in 2009 was about the importance of storytelling, how most storytelling nowadays is crap, how many of us think it’s something we’re born with or that it’s easy.
Storytelling is in fact a craft in itself: choosing the characters, developing a narrative, conflict and climax. Take time in 2010 to learn more about this mysterious and under-appreciated art. A good place to start would be to get hold of a copy of Robert McKee’s excellent book Story. He’s been quoted all over this blog in 2009.
09. Collaborate and hookup
One of my aims for 2010 is to collaborate more. Teaming up with other people, especially those who have strengths where you have weaknesses is really fulfilling. Collaborating also gives projects a better chance of getting funding and of getting finished. So don’t go it alone in 2010.
At the same time, talk to more journalists, and collaborate on ideas for the future of news. More than 150 people have joined the Future of News Meetup Group I created in 2009, and in 2010 we’ll be meeting every month to thrash out new, positive, tangible ideas on what the news landscape will look like.
If you’re in London, make sure you sign up and get involved. If you’re not in London, then create your own for your area!
10. Be audacious
2009 was a rough year. And the signs are 2010 won’t be any easier, especially if you’re a journalist. But make a decision now not to get battered around by the waves of the economic storm. Your future doesn’t have to be shaped by events around you, just you, your ideas, and whether you’re prepared to turn them into reality.
“If you don’t find what you’re looking for, be it, create it.”
Whatever your resolutions and goals are for next year, make them audacious. Make them big and make them exciting. If they don’t excite you or scare you a little bit, what hope do you have of making them happen?
And a final resolution for you….keep reading this blog! It’s been great to have all your comments and feedback in 2009; there will be lots more practical advice about multimedia journalism in 2010, including two ebooks before February. To make sure you don’t miss out, use the form to the right to subscribe to future posts.
Whatever you have planned for 2010, I hope it’s awesome. Happy New Year!