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Questions on use of social media during London riot coverage

Over on his blog, Andy Dickinson, who teaches digital and online journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, reflects on a question he posed via Twitter last night, while monitoring activity on the platform in relation to the violence taking place in London and beyond.

He said his question was prompted by Tweets from journalists outside London stating that nothing was happening on their patch. But other Twitter users were quick to cast doubt on his statement.

His blog post details the points made, but one of their points was that the value of what a journalist reports is not always about news but the provision of information. That, as a trusted source, journalists could let the online community know whether or not there was substance in rumours circulating on sites such as Twitter, that violence was building elsewhere.

Ultimately Dickinson “held up his hands” (via a hashtag), and his subsequent blog post today (9 August), reflecting on the issue, and some elements of the argument he still stands by, gives some food for thought about the use of social media by journalists in these sorts of situations.

Despite protestations of its importance ‘no news’ statements like that would never make the front page or head of a bulletin.  As Neil Macdonald pointed out that they where [sic] more information than news. Journalism as a source of information – very valid.

A few tweets did quote authoritative voices – police etc. That was better. Some proper information in there. Many did not.

Online video journalist Adam Westbrook also offers his thoughts in this blog post, on what he calls the “messy” situation for the media using social media/user generated content. He got caught up in the so-called “mess” when retweeting video footage which was originally linked to the wrong location.

On the plus side, I do think real-time web’s ability to self correct is extraordinary. My blunderous retweet was corrected within five minutes. If you don’t mind taking stern words from other users, it’s a rock solid facet to the platform.

However, Twitter being used by journalists, who (hopefully!) question sources and try to verify, is one thing. But non-journalists aren’t necessarily as skeptical of information. A rumour to a journalist could be read as fact by someone else, especially people who are scared.

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#media140 – Get messy with mobile journalism, says Adam Westbrook

April 13th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Events, Mobile

Quantity over quality – that needs to be the mindset for mobile journalists, UK online video journalist Adam Westbrook said today at the #media140 conference in Barcelona.

While there are similarities between video journalists and mobile journalists, being the latter, by its nature, is about being in a particular place, he said, and the ability to get information out quickly, and in volume.

You need the drive to be where the story is and once you’re there to get as close as you can. You’re not restricted to being close to the action. There is also the mindset of speed … You have to have an ‘always on’ mindset, always carrying your gear with you and always be looking for a story. Switch on and get your phone out and get some coverage straight away.

Because mobile journalism is still so new, you also need to be very willing to experiment. This runs across all spheres of journalism. It is about getting messy, in a way, there is no roadmap, there is no path.

Westbrook opened his presentation with the great example of UK journalist Alex Wood and his colleagues’ coverage of the G20 summit in 2009, despite being kept in a containment area. Unlike the mainstream media, unable to get their tapes out of the area, Wood’s team were able to connect to wifi and report on what was happening using their mobiles.

They sent Tweets and uploaded photos from their phones. For Alex and his colleagues its became quite a landmark moment for their journalism. Because they were mobile they had the advantage over the mainstream media. It really shows the potential that mobile journalism has.

Another practical advantage was illustrated in a photo Westbrook showed next, of a broadcast team filming an interview with numerous members of crew, a camera, autoprompter, lighting and “miles of cable”.

In comparison, the typical mobile journalism setup consists of a camera which doubles up as a phone, a high quality microphone, a mifi connector and a small tripod, he said.

Technology has allowed mobile journalism to happen as it does. Also the infrastructure has improved, there’s wifi in more places and high speed broadband.”

So what could the future hold for mobile journalism? Westbrook’s ideas were:

  • Location based news
  • Geo-tagging
  • Mobile moving mainstream
  • More citizen reporting
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#VOJ10: The realities of multimedia journalism

June 11th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Events

I’m in track 2 of the POLIS/BBC College of Journalism Value of Journalism conference and we’re discussing innovation in journalism, the importance of content and the practicalities of being a multimedia journalist.

It features multimedia journalist and notonthewires co-founder Alex Wood (chair), freelance multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook, CNN journalist and notonthewires co-founder Dominique van Heerden, freelance and former BBC video journalist Angela Saini, and multimedia lecturer and VSC Creative director (and also notonthewires co-founder) Marcus Gilroy-Ware.

Once they introduced themselves, we’re onto the practicalities of the jobs.

Saini, who said she got fed up of the daily pressure of being a VJ, says she’s come full circle and is now spending time on separate radio or print projects – which are of better quality. She also notes that we haven’t yet got an editorial layer of people who have actually been VJs on the ground, who understand the realities of the job. The most successful multimedia journalists are the ones who know their subject inside out, she says. It’s key to be niche. As for the freedom now she’s not a fulltime VJ: “I do much meatier stories… than I did before…”

Someone asks whether there can be too much focus on technology. “What does it enable us to do?” says Gilroy-Ware, answering with a question. There’s too much emphasis on products, he says. Saini adds that she doesn’t see herself as an innovator per se (she’s only just got on Facebook and doesn’t use Twitter) but she’s in the multimedia field. The younger generation don’t feel a pressure to do tech; they do it because they enjoy it.

Adam Westbrook, who has written an e-book on making money online, says he sees enormous potential in self-publishing. But Saini points out the obvious: that her money is still made from the big organisations.

Some very interesting experiences and contributions from the audience: are we misleading students by encouraging them to get in…? Do traditional news orgs understand how multimedia can/should be used…

And someone asks just what is notonthewires; business model etc…

Giroy-Ware says it’s about multimedia journalism being taken seriously: “really embracing the bottom-up cultural change that needs to happen in the news industry.” Van Heerden says it’s about pairing up with big partners. Gilroy-Ware talks about Steve Jobs’ ‘Beatles’ business model and says they’re also looking to the ‘band’ element as a possible commercial opportunity.

Meanwhile a ‘Is Content King?’ poll is running behind the panel, up on the screen, powered by UltraKnowledge. Participants can “#ukn5yes” for YES or “#ukn5no” for … NO. The yeses are leading… (I personally find this one a bit tricky to answer, and don’t know what it really means, but that’s probably for another blog post)

Gilory-Ware says ‘make the journalism you want to make’ – chances are others will like it too. It’s a nice positive note to end on, but I have a feeling not everyone would agree with that.

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#fong: New business bootcamps for journalists from Adam Westbrook

June 4th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Business, Events

Freelance multimedia journalist Adam Westbrookauthor of this book and this blog, is planning a series of ‘bootcamps’ to come up with new business ideas for journalism. The idea for the meetings, which Westbrook will host in his own London flat, follows the success of the Future of News Group – a network and series of events set up by Westbrook to discuss, debate and find new ideas for journalism and journalists.

The first Future of News Business Bootcamp will focus on making money from reporting on the developing world and human rights and will run on Tuesday 22 June. The group is limited to six people and the deadline to apply for a place is 11 June. To secure a spot, you need to email a pitch to Adam Westbrook explaining why you need to be at this bootcamp, what your interest in this niche is and (in one line) give an idea for how the niche might be made into business.

“The meet-ups have been running for about six months now and the group has more than 300 members so it’s been going really well. When I set it up I wanted it to be a forum for actual new ideas to emerge, rather than more talk about the future of journalism. The individual meet-ups have been great but I got the sense they’d reverted back to the speaker/Q&A format we see at all the other conferences. I thought of ways I could bring them back to the main mission of the group and realised smaller groups are often better for brainstorming and ideas. They’re going to be really focused sessions, diving straight into what the business models could be and how to package them into profitable products. Fingers crossed one of the bootcamps will bring up a gem,” Westbrook told Journalism.co.uk.

If the first session goes well, Westbrook says he’ll look into holding other ‘bootcamps’ for travel journalism, sport journalism, environmental journalism, local journalism and more.

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Future of News meet-up: Pick a big market, be your own marketing, wear red shoes

I get tired of bloggers and journalists (let’s face it, like me) who spend their time opining about the problems and challenges for journalists. Which is why I’m a fan of Adam Westbrook’s Future of News Group in London, which he founded to discuss the latest in practical solutions for the news biz instead of lofty theory.

So I came down to the latest #FONG meet-up – concerned with “entrepreneurial journalism” – on Tuesday night to find out more. Westbrook – who himself has a very healthy entreprenuerial streak – kicked off the session by admitting, with blunt accuracy, that “lots of us are coming round to the idea that we can be entrepreneurial journalists, but none of us have a bloody clue how.” Here’s Adam’s take on the event, but here’s what I made of it:

Pick a big market, be your own marketing, wear red shoes

First up was Emi Gal, founder of Brainient, a Romanian video advertising start-up – it adds a layer of contextual or affiliate-led ads over any video content. (I’m not entirely sure how this engages with Google/YouTube’s own increasingly profitable overlay ad programme, but that’s for another time…)

24-year-old Gal is a good person to listen to because this is far from his first attempt at making a start-up work. He founded his first business aged 18, a social network which became very successful, and then went on to found an online TV start-up, which he admits “failed big time”. Brainient was one of six winners at the Seedcamp start-up competition in 2009, which landed it $50,000 in seed funding, and Gal has since received more funding.

Gal has lots of advice for would-be entrepreneurs, though much of it is the kind of thing you will hear from other enthusiastic entrepreneurs: things like pick a good co-founder, get the right team, pick a massive market, figure out the “minimal viable product” that people will pay for. Check out coverage of this Techcrunch’s GeeknRolla conference for similar advice, particularly the excellent Morten Lund (funded Skype at an early stage, made gazillions, went bankrupt) and Rummble founder Andrew J Scott.

But for me the best advice Gal had for news professionals looking to either sell themselves of a product they’ve built is that “you are marketing, your product is marketing, your mum is marketing.” In other words, everything you do as an entrepreneur should contribute to the buzz about your business.

Being personable and memorable when meeting people is a big part of that: it sounds flippant, but Gal made a big deal of his vibrantly red shoes. But, he says, at least it makes him memorable.

But how do you fund journalism about human rights?

Up next was YooDoo, which provides advice and tools for new businesses. Tony Heywood and Nick Saalfield talked about what they do – I wasn’t entirely sure how they might specifically help news entrepreneurs but I’m sure they’ll offer help to some people out there and the service is free.

This was Saalfield’s harsh but accurate approximation of the print media: “Start feeling sorry for newspapers and publishers. They’re badly managed, they work very slowly, they’re fragile and not very agile.”

I was more interested in the debate that started after their talk. Deborah Bonello – aka @thevideoreport – founded Mexicoreporter.com and carved out a niche as a multimedia freelance journalist (she spoke at the Frontline Club alongside Adam last month at a great event on freelance journalism).

Bonello hit the nail right on head by describing the economic barrier for anyone wanting to make a living from original content: the FT can make money from writing about stock markets and emerging markets; Gizmodo sells ads by writing about gadgets – this is all actionable content, stuff that will inspire readers to click on an add or affiliate link and buy something.

But what about reporting focusing on human rights? Who’s going to click on an ad surrounding that? She said:

The problem is, if you’re not writing about the decisions about why people make investments, [but about things like] immigration, or culture, art… there’s not that same market for people that might like to pay for that.

As she so rightly says, “as journalists we’re taught to questions the powers.” The plan for most people who go into the industry – I would say – is not to think about how to give the capitalist classes exactly what they need to make more money.

Here’s what content entrepreneur Evan Rudowski said on paywalls on PCUK in February:

The paid content opportunity is greatest if the content is unique, actionable, targeted at a relevant niche, frequently updated and from a credible or trusted source.

Availability of free alternatives can be a limiting factor, but not the determining factor – there are barrel-loads of free content about wine, for example, but plenty of people are nevertheless willing to pay FT wine columnist Jancis Robinson £69 a year for her unique expertise.

So “actionable” is one of the things journalism needs to be to be profitable. But could you tick the other boxes on Rudowski’s list and still make a living? Or, more likely, is there a public or charitable solution to this problem that takes news production out of the corporate, profit-driven, assembly line model?

I have no “bloody clue” either but I’m looking forward to more FONG meet-ups in the hope of getting closer to some answers.

Patrick Smith is a freelance journalist, event organiser and formerly a correspondent for paidContent:UK and Press Gazette. He blogs at psmithjournalist.com and is @psmith on twitter.

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Next Generation Journalist: how to make hyperlocal work

May 19th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Business, Hyperlocal, Niche

This series of 10 moneymaking tips for journalists began on Adam Westbrook’s blog, but continues exclusively on Journalism.co.uk from today. Adam’s e-book, Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism will be available to download in full on 20 May.

08. set up a hyperlocal website

OK, so setting up a hyperlocal blog is hardly a new way to do things in journalism. But making money from it is pretty new and, seemingly, still pretty rare.

In the UK for example, only a handful of hyperlocal blogs, such as Ventor Blog, SR2 and SE1 are getting the sorts of eyeballs and ad revenue to make a living.

Thing is, hyperlocal is an important and (if done correctly) profitable niche for the next generation journalist; we’re just not going about it right.

Setting up a blog, writing loads of local content and hoping to bring in local ad revenue alone is a tough gig. At first you’re unlikely to get the hits you need to bring in enough cash. Google Adwords is becoming something of a byword for false promises of cash among website owners.

If you want to maximise your advertising revenue, a product like Addiply is a really good bet, and is it seems to be bringing in better results for those who use it on a local level. Advertisers could expect to pay around £30 a month, although it varies from site to site.

But I really think for a hyperlocal website to work – in fact, for any web based content product to work – the ultimate aim must be to make ad revenue as small a slice of the pie as possible.

The less your business relies on ad revenue, the less vulnerable you are to the inevitable ups and downs of the market.

Other ways to make hyperlocal work

Have a look at yesterday’s post on my blog, where I talk about a local news success story – thebusinessdesk.com.  Set up by David Parkin, it now has three regional business sites in Yorkshire, the North-West and Birmingham.

Parkin told last week’s Local Heroes Conference he expects to turnover £1 million this year.

Where does the money come from? Ad revenue yes, but that’s only a part of it. Firstly, thebusinessdesk.com has a niche (local financial news) and a wealthy target audience (business people).

It has a mailing list of 37,000 subscribers who get a daily email of business news, which is sponsored. They have an iPhone app and run events.

It’s a successful model – and one which needs to be employed by hyperlocal bloggers. Don’t just process listings, and re-write press releases; become a major part of your community. Become a leader in your community.

Be the voice for those whose voices don’t get heard. Run regular events so you can meet readers face-to-face. Run pub quizzes and pocket the profits.  Sell products, take a slice of restaurant bookings through your website, charge for listings. Don’t just maintain a website – build a mailing list and send them news direct to their inbox. Get that mailing list sponsored by local businesses.

If you’ve got any good stories about how you’re making hyperlocal work, I’d love to hear them.

Interested in niche and hyperlocal? Looking for new ideas for specialist journalism? Attend Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming event: news:rewired – the nouveau niche. Follow the link to find out more.

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Next generation journalist: make no new content!

May 18th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Business, Online Journalism

This series of 10 moneymaking tips for journalists began on Adam Westbrook’s blog, but continues exclusively on Journalism.co.uk from today. Adam’s e-book, Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism will be available to download in full on 20 May.

07. aggregate the news

If you get a chance, watch this short documentary by Kate Ray about web 3.0 – what might eventually follow what we now call Web 2.0.

In it, journalism professor Clay Shirky says this:

“If I was going to set up a news business tomorrow, it would be a business designed to create not one bit of content.”

Problem with the internet these days is that it’s too big. There’s too much stuff, thanks to all those pesky bloggers, flickr users, tweeters and facebookers. How do we find what we want among all the noise?

Cue a potentially profitable window for the Next Generation Journalist – aggregating, filtering, sorting, editing content for a particular group of people within a particular niche.

Some of the most popular news websites on the net do this very well already: sites like Mashable and TechCrunch (and of course Journalism.co.uk!) aggregate hundreds of articles every week, as well as adding their own, and make money in the process.

These three sites have something else in common, they all serve very particular niches, niches with new content flooding the internet everyday. There is a demand among the people within each niche for a collection of the best, the newest and the most interesting.

So here’s the business idea: you identify a profitable niche, with a well defined target audience, where the airwaves are constantly being filled with news, comment and analysis. You set up a site to aggregate this content, a process you can do yourself at first and eventually automate with software like Yahoo Pipes. You build a mailing list of subscribers, to whom you send a daily or weekly newsletter summing up the big stories, perhaps adding some editorial content too. Of course, your newsletter is sponsored, bringing in more cash.

From there, events, products, and a whole host of other tricks, all covered in Next Generation Journalist.

Aggregating the news….

  • solves a big problem within a defined target market – organising relevant information
  • if done well, can turn your website into the go-to place for news on a particular subject or issue
  • can eventually become a mostly automated service, freeing up time to pursue other projects, while still generating revenue

There’s just two days to go until the ebook goes in sale. If you’re signed up early, there’s a discount to be had…

Working in a niche or interested in doing so? Looking for new ideas for specialist journalism? Attend Journalism.co.uk’s upcoming event: news:rewired – the nouveau niche. Follow the link to find out more.

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Next Generation Journalist: leverage your expertise

May 17th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Business, Training

This series of 10 moneymaking tips for journalists began on Adam Westbrook’s blog, but continues exclusively on Journalism.co.uk from today. Adam’s e-book, Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism will be available to download in full on 20 May.

06. become an ‘infopreneur’

The business model for journalism has always looked a little bit like this: 1) research and collect information about things the public want or need to know about 2) publish that information and sell it to them or 3) charge advertisers to promote their products along side that information.

In other words, journalism has always been about making money from information or expertise. In the new digital information age we should still be exploiting that model. But we’re not.

What is an infopreneur? Put simply, it’s someone who packages and sells information. You’d think that would come naturally to journalists. Instead journalists have struggled to profit from their information in the digital age.

The Next Generation Journalist sees opportunity in the affordability and ease of finding and publishing information online and exploits that.

The internet and the ‘information economy’ we find ourselves in means two things:

  • 1. finding things out is easier and cheaper than it ever has been.
  • 2. packaging and publishing that information is equally cheap and easy

The Next Generation Journalist uses both of these facts to develop exciting new entrepreneurial ventures.

Becoming an infopreneur…

  • is easier than it ever has been in history
  • allows you to build a brand and reputation as a leader in a field you are passionate about
  • enables you to package your expertise in different ways for money

But I’m not an expert!

That’s the natural first instinctive reply. Here’s the amazing thing: it is actually quite easy to become an expert in certain areas. Firstly, the word ‘expert’ is a relative term, it requires you to know more than most people in your field and to develop strategic contacts, but no longer requires a qualification or letters after your name (except, of course, for things like medicine and law).

Secondly, the process requires you to research key resources and share that with the world on a blog or website, build a community (that’s really important), and then start to produce products for that community. Those products can be ebooks, audio downloads, week long e-courses, or physical products like books or DVDs.

Nick Williams, who launched Inspired Entreprenuer, a website built on the same principal, says journalists are perfectly placed to enter this field.

“Many journalists are fantastic at being able to grasp large areas of information…and being able to distill them down to their essence” he says. “Those skills will really be in demand in the world to come.”

Click here to find out more.

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What next for the new generation of journalists?

First, a bleak piece by Ed Caeser in the Sunday Times on the realities of a career in journalism. According to Caeser:

Today, you’ll need luck, flair, an alternative source of income, endless patience, an optimistic disposition, sharp elbows and a place to stay in London. But the essential quality for success now is surely tenacity. Look around the thinning newsrooms of the national titles. Look at the number of applicants for journalism courses, at the queue of graduates – qualified in everything except the only thing that matters, experience – who are desperate for unpaid work on newspapers and magazines. Look at the 1,200 people who applied in September for one reporter’s position on the new Sunday Times website. You’d shoot a horse with those odds.

It includes quotes from members of what he calls the class of 2008: the under 26s nominated as Press Gazette Young Journalist of the Year two years ago.

But the piece lacks examination of new paths and opportunities in journalism. Adam Westbrook fills in one of the gaps on his blog:

Caeser gets one thing right: he realises journalism is changing. The advice he has sought, however, is for an era in the industry heading towards the grave. He is stuck in the mindset that to have any career worth having in journalism it has to be working on a national newspaper or big broadcaster (…) there is no mention of entrepreneurial journalism. Caeser hasn’t even thought about it.

The very concept that the next generation of journalists might take control of their careers, become the chess player and not the chess piece seems alien to him; that these ‘poor saps’ might see opportunity where he only sees despair.

So here’s my advice: if you’re just starting out in journalism don’t read this article. While you’re at it, don’t make yourself ill eating nothing but Supernoodles for a month (as I once had to) just to afford a shitty flat in Clapham. Don’t spend hours squeezing the desperation out of a desperate email to that sub on the Guardian you chatted to briefly at some conference somewhere. And don’t think you should give up just because you live in the North of England, or you’re poor, or because Ed Caeser says you should.

Instead, do this: Start looking for the brave, exciting new opportunities presented by this wonderful digital age we now live in.

Read Adam Westbrook’s post in full at this link…

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Next Generation Journalist: Ignore the mobile app market at your peril


This series of 10 moneymaking tips for journalists began on Adam Westbrook’s blog, but continues exclusively on Journalism.co.uk from today. Adam’s e-book, Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism will be available to download in full on 20 May.

05. develop news apps for mobiles


By the end of last year more than 41 million smartphones had been sold worldwide. That’s 41 million potential customers if you can create the right product, which is why it’s one of the new career paths the Next Generation Journalist would be stupid to ignore.

The iPhone, iPad, Nexus, Blackberry and Android: there’s no doubt the mobile market is a massive one. And it’s one we’re already seeing many journalists step into. Larger organisations like CNN, the Guardian and NPR have all developed popular apps for users. We’re also seeing smaller startups move into this area too.

Apps don’t just have to deliver hard news, they can also provide useful public services such as crime data.

The business model might work like this: you take publicly available information like crime stats, authority information, traffic data etc., craft it into a useful and easy to use app and sell it. If it adds value to peoples’ lives, they’ll buy it, and that is the test your idea will have to pass.

Apps also benefit from a double sell: you can charge users a small amount for the app itself, and then if you’re providing fresh content within it, you can charge a subscription fee to use it too.

Developing apps for mobiles…

  • gives you experience in an area hardly any journalists are familiar with
  • can be satisfying to work on as a journalist if you create the right product
  • can potentially make a lot of money (it’s a huge market don’t forget)
  • once the product is created and on sale, it brings in money with zero effort (allowing you to pursue other work)

The key point I get across in the ebook is that you don’t need to know code to make an app. If you have the killer idea you can outsource the design and the coding parts to either specialist companies or talented individuals.

Click here to find out more.

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