Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 6, 2007

Now I try and keep an eye out for these sort of things, and I haven’t found a genuinely surprising and stereotype-overturning piece about anywhere or anything in Africa since the excellent Inside Africa films I blogged about ages ago.

In fact the only people out there fighting Africa’s corner are the armies of bloggers like E.K. Bensah and Sociolingo – if you read their blogs (and I strongly urge you to do so) you’ll see a different side to the continent; a far cry to the famine, disease and war western newspapers and broadcasters would often have us believe.

Which is why it’s such a great surprise to see “Kenya’s Mobile Revolution” coming up next week on Newsnight on BBC 2 in the UK.

As part of BBC Newsnight’s Geek Week 2.0, they’re showing a film made by their tech reporter Paul Mason. He travelled to Kenya to see how mobile phones are literally changing every aspect of people’s lives.

Mobile Phone in KenyaTwo mobile phone companies have created an 80% network coverage of the country – which I’m sure is better than in the UK! – and even the Maasai nomads in the Rift Valley are texting each other. Even more, mobile operators are pioneering services yet to appear in Europe, like being able to send someone else cash with your mobile.

More and more people are getting them and Paul Mason reckons the mobile could be a democratising tool in a country where the ruling elite’s rife with corruption.

It’s beautifully shot, insightful, and crucially Mason answers the big question for us: “so what?”

When I was last in Ghana back in 2003, I noticed people were using mobiles; hawkers sold mobile phone covers on every street corner. Ironically, I refused to take a mobile phone out there, but if I had, I would have had constant coverage.
So if you’re in on Monday night, watch it. If you’re not, Sky + it. But being the techno-savvy lot you are, I’m sure you’ll watch the online preview now available. It’s 18 minutes long but well worth it.

Click here to watch the online preview


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“Never a better time to be a journalist”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 31, 2006

An interesting article from November’s Press Gazette caught my eye last week.

Andrew Neil: ‘It’s Never a Better Time to be a Journalist’ (November 9 2006) gives an insight into what Neil thinks jobs for people like me will be in years to come.

While some are pessimistic, especially for the poor sods training to be print journalists, the Scottish ex-editor’s not so negative…although he thinks big changes are afoot.

“In the age of the internet and 24-hour television and radio news means that journalistic ethos will soon have your newspaper belly up and in the graveyard.”

This was his most interesting idea:

“The journalists of tomorrow will write for newspapers, contribute to magazines and podcasts, work for TV production companies, write their own blogs, because you wouldn’t give them a column – and then they will sell the blog back to you at an inflated price…

“The journalist of the future…will  have more than one employer and become a brand in their own right.”

A brand in our own right? So is this future one of the permanent multi-platform freelancer? I don’t think that would be so bad.

And I think we can see the branding idea beginning around here too…perhaps before long there’ll be Chris Doidge Ltd, Rachael Canter Inc., James Laidler Corp and Adam Westbrook Inc (as scary as that sounds!)?

Suddenly 2007 sounds quite exciting…

Local TV on the way?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 20, 2006

Interesting article in the Press Gazette this week: the Newspaper Society’s apparently criticised a report saying that the BBC’s Local TV project won’t damage the local press industry.

The BBC’s Laughton Report investigated the impact of the BBC’s uber-local TV project, piloted in the West Midlands about a year ago, a daily 10 minute programme of news focussing on small areas. It concluded there was:

“no statistically significant impact on newspaper circulation figures in the region” and that “Daily recorded 7-10 minute bulletins and on-demand news items and features are unlikely to have a significant impact on other players in local markets.”

BBC Local TV imageAs a result, the BBC is apparently planning a full roll out of 66 Local TV strands across the UK pending a Board of Governers’ decision. The Newspaper Society doesn’t agree though and is inherently threatened by the BBC’s plans.  

As indeed all newspaper hacks seem inherently threatened by anything that doesn’t use endless reams of paper and utilises that magic substance they call ‘electricity’.

As a wannabe VJ at Uni in Warwick, near Coventry, I near soiled myself when the pilot began in my area. It was for the most part successful (i.e. interesting) and was a mixed bag of crime, council news and silly stories. The production quality was at times questionable, but overall good.

I hope it rolls out next year, and I don’t think it’ll threaten local papers, just offer them stiff competition. Most local papers have a regularly updated website anyway.

But Joe, a colleague on my BJ course here at City, made quite a good point about the Local TV idea. It would seem there’s an inherent contradiction within the scheme. On the one hand, it makes news as local as it can get – daily 10 minute chunks of stuff at the end of your road; the people who tend to dig this sort of stuff are in their autumn years, and wary of new technology.

BBC Local TVOn the other hand, Local TV is the most hi-tech form of BBC journalism: a mix of online and “press the red button now”, not to mention it’s use of Video Journalism.  Who digs this? Young people. But they hate local news.

So there’s a dodgy contradiction here, which might stop the scheme creating a successful identity for itself.  But it’s a natural, inevitable conclusion in the hi-tech newsworld, and ought to please people who feel their half-hourly dose of regional TV is as local as Newsnight.

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At the Frontline

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 17, 2006

Frontline Club logoWent to a very interesting awards/debate event at London’s Frontline Club last night, after an invite from the lovely James, Rachael and David at Westminster Uni.



Hosted by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, it began with the Kurt Schork Awards, highlighting brave freelance journalists like Kurt himself who was killed reporting from

Sierra Leone in 2000. One award went to Steve Vincent who was killed recently in
Iraq and there was a touching moment as his widow accepted the award from Kurt Schork’s widow, which really brought home the sacrifices some people choose to make.

Then came a debate on the impact of new technology (such as DV Cams and VJs) on local freelance journos around the world. Some were worried that the accessibility of equipment would water down journalism, and others that the equipment’s too expensive for local journalists anyway. But I reckon the flood of “citizen journalists” (if the flood ever happens) will only strengthen the need for accurate, well trained journalists (cough-cough!).


But I remembered something the venerable Emmanuel Bensah said a while back when I got excited about new technology:

Video journalism is all exciting, innit, but I have to say that I espouse a visceral belief that journalists are far from dead. In the long run, these are TOOLS, TOOLS, and TOOLS, NOT substitutes. When all else fails, we need our journalists to do the quintessential work of, erm, journalism, no?”

I also got to meet David Dunkley-Gyimah who runs the ever expanding View Magazine site. He’s riding the new media wave big time, and apparently View Magazine’s going to make Minority Report look like Postman Pat before long. Brilliant.

Ruud ElmendorpDavid also mentioned that Ruud Elmendorp just won the International TV Award at the Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. Ruud works freelance in East Africa and his reports are a much needed alternative side reporting in Africa. Definitely check out his excellent report where he meets the imfamous Joseph Kony. Great to see he’s got some recognition.

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Yoogle Tube

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 11, 2006

Quick one tonight: with so much coverage of Google’s acquisition of You Tube, it’d be a shame not to pass brief comment.

First off, if you haven’t already, check out “A Message from Chad and Steve”, the founders of You Tube giving a post-deal piece to camera.


First off, I’m amazed anyone called Chad could make over a billion dollars, let alone get out of bed. Secondly, this great comment came from an unimpressed viewer:

Perhaps with 1.65 Billion dollars they will be able to afford a directional microphone for their camera or noise reduction software for their editing system.

Well said Charlie.

And a final piece of brilliance. For anyone who didn’t get today’s Metro (yes I read all the coolest papers), check out the video CV of Aleksey Vayner. The Yale graduate sent this video along with an 11 page CV (!!) for a job at financial firm UBS. The film’s called “Impossible is Nothing” and includes great mantras such as

‘As a world-level athlete in several sports, I have developed an insatiable appetite for peak performance and continuous learning. My trainer and world martial arts champion often said, “Impossible is just someone’s opinion.” I live by those words.’

Vayner gives us his philosophy over footage of him lifting weights, playing tennis and smashing bricks. Unsurprisingly, someone at UBS found this so pant-wettingly funny it made its way onto You Tube.

Aleksey says “Ignore the losers”…so don’t feel obligated to watch.

Current TV comes to the UK!

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 8, 2006

Exciting news from the media world this weekend: Sky’s announced plans to launch US network Current TV in the UK and
Ireland in spring 2007.

…..well I’m excited anyway.

And you might not be dribbling away like me because you probably haven’t heard of Current TV…so allow me to enlighten you.Current TV wall

Launched last year by the 21st century’s own version of Captain Planet, Al Gore, Current TV is
America’s first “user generated” network. This means that around 30% of its output is produced by its viewers, ordinary peeps like you and I.

Some are professional film makers, some journalists. But they all have a story and a passion to tell it.

Each film (or “pod” as they’re known as) can be between 1-10 minutes long or thereabouts.  First users upload their films where they’re watched and voted on by other viewers. Those deemed good enough for broadcast are given the “green light” and it enters the network’s schedule to beamed across

A quick peruse on the site reveals coverage of a hunger strike to call for the recall of US troops in Iraq, the story of a young Brazilian emigrating to Europe and a film about an oil spill in the

It’s great because anyone can make a film as long as they’re interested in the subject. So events that would be ignored by network media gets due coverage; issues big business would prefer we didn’t know about get exposed. In other words Current TV does what good journalism should do but often doesn’t.

And the fat cats are sitting up and taking notice too. Current has the one thing big business gets hot and sticky about: the attention of the 18-34 market. Young people make these films and young people watch them too.

So I’m excited about Current TV coming over here. Partly because it’s a great chance for young British filmmakers to get stuff on air and because it’ll be fascinating to see what us lot will make programmes about.

Oh and did you know they pay up to $1,000 for pods that make it to the air?

Al Gore’s excited too, he said the UK deal is: “a big step in fulfilling Current’s mission of sparking a global conversation among young adults


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.