Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What Simon Cowell can teach you about the future of news

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Freelance, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 26, 2009

Wanna big life? A big successful career? Wanna create something that makes a difference in the world? Maybe reinvent news?

The answer, we’re all told, is to think big.

“Your vision of who or where you want to be is your greatest asset” wrote Paul Arden, himself a successful advertising guru. For proof, look no further than two sheets of paper published by the Guardian newspaper today.

Named “the scribbled note that changed TV“, it is the result of a meeting between three people in 2001: TV executive Alan Boyd, and two music producers, Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller. Over an hour they discussed an idea for a new TV show, initially called Your Idol.

Image & Graphic from GNMIt’s a fascinating document for those of us who’ve followed Your Idol, into what became Pop Idol, American Idol, and now X-Factor. But it’s more interesting because it teaches us something about the power of thinking big.

Look at some of their notes:

“Gone With The Wind…never before have 50,000 people been auditioned”

“Arena, big space…multi camera”

“Nation’s No. 1 show”

These guys could have just pitched another reality show to be made in the style of Come Dine With Me or Celebrity Masterchef; and it would have had all the cultural resonance of those forgettable formats.

But they had an ambitious dream to create a product so big, it rivaled Gone With The Wind.

Their success shows the power of having an almost overwhelming dream to change the world. I once sat in on a talk with Alan Boyd in 2006 at City University: he claimed American Idol had introduced the concept of text messaging to the entire US, who until then just phoned each other.

When you have goals and a positive outlook, you have something to aim for. Having goals which get your heart racing is key to building momentum – because then you can’t imagine not achieving it…and you’ll do whatever it takes to get there. Cowell & Fuller had not met Boyd before this session, but somehow they got themselves in front of him.

So, as much as I’m loathed to hand something to him, take a leaf out of Simon Cowell’s book. Think big.

With the future of news & journalism still uncertain, this attitude is so vital in making sure we create an exciting future for it. I like to think someone reading this blog might have just the idea which will blaze the trail for the next 50-100 years: if that’s you, don’t settle for second best. Aim high!