Tag Archives: multimedia

Writing as a microbusiness: An interview with Adam Westbrook

 

Today I am pleased to host an interview I conducted recently with UK journalist Adam Westbrook. Adam, a reporter who also works as a video producer, an instructor, blogger and the owner of his own series of writing-related microbusinesses (the concept of which will be explained in a moment), is one of the best documentarians of the entrepreneurial spirit manifested by today’s most successful nonfiction writers.

Adam is confident, focused, and excited about the future of journalism. After you read this interview, and perhaps some of his blog, you will be too.

Tell us a little bit about your background as a journalist.

After training at City University in London, I started my career as a radio reporter working in different cities in the UK. Over the next three years I covered all sorts of domestic and international stories and spent a short time reporting from Iraq.

At what point in your career did you realize that the journalism industry was undergoing substantial changes? How did you respond?

When I was training it felt very much like we could see storm clouds on the horizon, but none of us could have predicted how much the industry was going to change. In my years as a reporter I continued blogging about my work, and eventually started getting more involved in social media. It was around this time (in 2008-09) that I found my work online excited me more than working in broadcast news.

Then later in 2009 I decided to take a leap and quit my job to become a fully independent multimedia producer, and haven’t looked back.

You spend a lot of time on your blog writing about how journalists can (and should) create microbusinesses or other entrepreneurial ventures. Why do you think this is important?

I don’t necessarily believe everyone should start their own ventures -it is not for everyone. But at the same time, creating and publishing content on the web has become so much cheaper and easier, and the audiences bigger, that it seems to me to be a shame not to explore its possibilities. It’s also far more exciting (I think) than mainstream media because the rules haven’t been written yet, so there’s great scope to create the work and career suited to you. Meanwhile, starting a business involves a much lower overhead, and more people are finding it brings them freedom and creative satisfaction.


In your mind, how might the approach taken by a proprietor of a journalistic microbusiness differ from the way an old-school freelance writer looked at their sources of income?

As a freelancer, despite how much freedom you have you are still selling your time in return for money. So you are at the mercy of client wants and needs, and you are only making money for yourself. Entrepreneurship is about creating a product or a service that does not involve selling your time, but something else (that is) distinct from you; it also has the potential to generate wealth, jobs, etc.

If you’re just starting out, a freelance business is much easier to set up, so it’s definitely worth beginning down this path, but if it’s career freedom you want, you should investigate product or service ideas alongside.

What skills should writers trained to write for print consider adding to their professional toolkit at this point in time? How can they leverage what they already know?

There are so many, but don’t worry about becoming a “jack of all trades and a master of none.” If you want to make a living writing online, you ought to have an understanding of online publishing – so learn how to self host a WordPress blog and do some basic HTML. The great thing about the web is it is so easy to learn new skills, whether its video, data, graphic design or web design. I wouldn’t say professional training is necessary either. Just start practicing and get your questions answered online.

Why did you choose to make one of your latest projects, Inside the Story, a fundraiser for Kiva? How did that end up fitting into your professional/business plan?

The Inside the Story was a project idea I had running around my mind for a while, and when a gap came up at the start of 2012 I thought I might as well get busy and do it. I always imagined the book raising money for a good cause, and in retrospect it wouldn’t have been possible to get the caliber of contributors on board if it had been for my personal profit. In terms of my ‘business plan’ it didn’t cost me anything but my time, which I know how to use well, and was a good profile raiser. But mostly, I believe that generosity is a really important part of business online: you have to give lots away. It’s what I do with my blog every week too.

You’ve talked a lot on your blog about building a “portfolio” career. What did you mean by that, and how important is it in terms of managing one’s career as a journalist these days?

A portfolio career basically involves having more than one form of income to support you. Again, it’s made possible by the time and energy savings of working online.  So I make most of my income as a multimedia producer making films for clients; but I also lecture in journalism, do training and consulting and sell books. It’s got better variety and means you’re not reliant on just one job. Every business has a by-product, and there are always other ways to make money from the skills or products you already have.

Want to learn more from Adam Westbrook? He offers several e-books on journalism topics, including one that’s free!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for December 4, 2010

Photo courtesy SXC.

How to Write the First Draft – 6 Writing Tips From Writers
Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, author of the Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog, shares advice from other writers on how to get words on the page. From “avoid editing” to “write for yourself first,” they’re all great words of advice.

Top Ten Signs of a Writer | Fuel Your Writing
While I might re-title Susan Hart’s post “Top Ten Signs of an Editor,” I have to agree with almost all of her signs. I, too, mentally correct people’s grammar in social settings (#10), freak out over typos on menus, signs or marquees (#9) and get writing ideas approximately every 10 seconds (#5). Very funny and very true post!

The news ecosystem: Finding your niche | #wjchat
This Nov. 3 #wjchat on Twitter, hosted by Robert Hernandez of WebJournalist.org, discusses digital news outlets finding their niche on the Internet and how they handle attribution, criticizing the coverage of other news agencies, etc. Format is a little hard to get used to (since this is an archive of the chat), but worth it. Very interesting conversation and lots of participants worth following!

Keep your writing fresh | WordCount
Michelle Rafter, who’s worked both as a freelance writer and an editor, discusses SPECIFICS for freshening one’s writing. My two favorite tips: find real-life examples, and challenge your assumptions.

Telling Stories in Different Mediums (and answering other questions about journalism) | Knight Digital Media Center
Jeremy Rue, a multimedia journalism trainer and instructor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, shares answers to questions posed by a researcher at the University of West Scotland about the impact of multimedia reporting on journalists and journalism today.

8 Creative ways to use RSS feeds | 10,000 Words
Mark Luckie lists creative uses for journalists to make use of RSS technology — everything from creating a book from one’s blog posts (note to self: work on this!) to creating an interactive timeline to having an audio-reader read one’s favorite blogs to them.

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Take a sneak peek at the new Write Livelihood!

Photo courtesy of SXC.

The initial transformation of Write Livelihood from a blog only to a blog/portfolio site is done. I’ve added an augmented biography tab, as well as tabs for my professional portfolio, a list of services I offer and some helpful resources for writers and editors.

Please take a look around and let me know what you think of the site, what questions you have, and what you think of the ongoing tectonic shifts occurring in media today!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for July 11, 2010

Photo courtesy Dora Mitsonia via SXC.


Concerning the ‘Interview’ | Glassdoor.com Blog

Blog post that summarizes the best sections of a newly published manuscript by Mark Twain, who probably wrote it around 1890. It lampoons the journalistic interview, saying “True, he (the journalist conducting the interview) means well, but so does the cyclone.”

Change This – THE FASCINATION FACTOR

Mark Levy, the founder of Levy Innovation, a marketing strategy firm, publishes a very persuasive “manifesto” that argues that writers should focus on what compels them, and not just market trends, when writing books and book proposals.

Small museums provide great sources for writers « The Writing Loft

John J. Gillmore discusses the joys of tapping small, specialized museums for research projects related to articles or books.

Enhance Your Travels by Keeping an Illustrated Journal | BootsnAll Travel Articles

Cynthia Morris provides a quick list of reasons to improve your experience of your trip and the memories of it afterward by using journals to record words and images related to your travels. The post is also a good argument for why anyone, traveling or not, might want to keep this type of journal.

Live a Writer’s Life with your Kids

Guest post on Imagination Soup blog by Jennifer Cervantes, author of Tortilla Sun, on ways to engage your children in writing-type activities with you.

Nieman Reports | News-Focused Game Playing: Is It a Good Way to Engage People in an Issue?

Nora Paul and Kathleen A. Hansen, winners of a Knight News Center grant to explore new ways to help readers/viewers engage with complex news stories, discuss their pilot project that had audiences play online games and engage in other activities to better understand an issue in the news.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for April 24, 2010

Photo courtesy Mike Homme via SXC.


The Importance of Words in Multimedia Storytelling – Nieman Storyboard
Jacqueline Marino discusses the tension in journalism between focusing on usability and brevity in online projects and using words along with multiple media to tell a long-form narrative in web-based projects.

The Most Important Job for Writers – Being Sticky, Concrete, Memorable
Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, writing on her Quips and Tips for Freelance Writers blog, demonstrates why stories help nonfiction articles be sticky, concrete and memorable–and why those three qualities are invaluable for any piece of communication a writer might undertake.

How to Use Evernote to Organize Your Writing | Fuel Your Writing
Suzannah Windsor Freeman discusses how she uses this note-digitizing tool to simplify her writing and organizing.

AfterWORDS: The Art of the Start
From Creative Nonfiction, Issue 38. A sampling of first lines from nonfiction books shows there are as many possible approaches as there are stories to be told.

Creative Nonfiction (cnfonline) on Twitter
This is a daily Twitter contest hosted by Creative Nonfiction magazine. Participants should use the hashtag #cnftweet.The publication will print winners of its daily contest in forthcoming issues, and daily winners are posted at the account’s “favorites” page: http://twitter.com/cnfonline/favorites.

The Editor and the Curator (Or the Context Analyst and the Media Synesthete) | Tomorrow Museum
Joanne McNeil explains the differences between curation and traditional editing and why she thinks that calling online journalists who edit “content curators” is a misnomer.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for April 14, 2010

Photo courtesy of SXC.

How Journalists are Using Social Media for Real Results
Mashable.com writer Brenna Ehrlich reports on how journalists are using social media for crowdsourcing, trend tracking, identifying leads and sources, and other research activities.

The Public Editor: The Danger of Always Being On
Clark Hoyt of the New York Times discusses the missteps that his paper is dealing with as they integrate videos, tweeting reporters and other new-media into the reporting of the day’s news. He writes that “several stumbles in the past few weeks have demonstrated some of the risks for a print culture built on careful reporting, layers of editing and time for reflection as it moves onto platforms where speed is everything and attitude sometimes trumps values like accuracy and restraint.”

Twelve Cool Tools for Writers and Others
Laura Spencer, posting on the FreelanceFolder blog site, offers a dozen tools for enhancing your writing productivity.

20 Hi-Tech Tools and Resources for Writers
Education writer Karen Schweitzer, guest blogging for The Writer’s Technology Companion, offers a list of useful (and mostly low-cost) online/mobile tools for writers. Everything from open-source word processing software to an Internet radio station for writers is covered.

Media tycoons wanted: Make your own newspaper
Interesting BBC story about The Newspaper Club, a company offering short-run printing for interested parties using the large presses run by major newspapers during their off-hours!

Bonus Links!
Two posts showing the view from the other side of the editor’s desk …

How to Get Ahead With Reporters | The Spin Within
Financial reporter turned publicist Lisa Fasig offers 10 tips drawn from her years as a journalist on how to help keep reporters happy and writing fair and balanced stories about your company or cause.

5 Ways to Better Engage Reporters | American Express OPEN Forum
Amy-Mae Elliot provides a handful of very simple, easy to implement tips for corporate PR departments to help make their company friendlier to reporters. Very good!

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Feed Me, Digital Edition: RSS feeds for tracking the online journalism revolution

Photo courtesy SXC.

If you’ve followed Write Livelihood for the past few months, you’ll notice an increased emphasis on links to information on writing for social media, the future of journalism, and the convergence between print and digital media. Although I seek to cover the entire enchilada of issues–from craft to personalities–related to nonfiction writing, those three issues seem to be an increasingly important part of the “filling.”

As I learn more about the impact of online developments on traditional journalism, I find myself turning to a small cadre of sources for information and inspiration. These four blogs/websites are well worth plugging into your RSS reader in order to keep up to date about what’s happening to professional writing and content creation today.

Word Count: Freelancing in the Digital Age

Michelle Rafter’s blog is a new one in my RSS feed, but I like that she covers freelance writing and editing. Much of the coverage I see on how the Web is changing journalism focuses on newspaper reporters and editors losing their jobs. Which is of course important, but it doesn’t help the thousands of freelancers find their way in a shifting media environment.

Michelle mixes thoughts about the state of digital media with pointers on how to interact effectively with editors (yay!), recommended reading, and tips on the basics of the writing craft. Recent posts have covered how to write first-person profiles; how readers can participate in selecting what topics the Online News Association offers presentations on at its 10th annual gathering; links to free or low-cost classes freelancers can take to pick up skills they need to create content online; and tips on how to get editors to respond to you faster.

10,000 Words: Where Journalism and Technology Meet

Mark Luckie’s blog is new to me, but already I’m in love with it. The author of the Digital Journalist’s Handbook, Mark mixes news about where multimedia journalism is going with plenty of how-tos. Best of all, he practices what he advocates–most posts are liberally sprinkled with photos, illustrations, infographics, videos and slideshows that demonstrate his assertions. He also frequently provides lists of journalists to follow–which is helpful for those of us looking for role models in this new media landscape.

The Center for Social Media (at American University)
The Center, located within American University’s School of Communications, says its mission is to “investigate, showcase and set standards for socially engaged media-making.” It covers topics such as fair use, copyright issues in YouTube mash-ups, how different communities of producers gauge the impact of their media projects, the future of public media and photojournalism, and much more.

I like following the RSS feeds from the center because the organization is charged not only with keeping tabs on new media trends, but also questioning them. The academic environment in which they’re located also assures that their website has a hefty resources section, which provides information on fair use and copyright, documentary film research, audience engagement and social media distribution strategies.

Nieman Journalism Lab

I was originally drawn to this blog/site because of the Nieman Foundation’s reputation in running the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University. I like the combination of academic rigor, real-world sensibility and fundamental optimism that this blog offers.

As the “about” page of the blog says,

“The Nieman Journalism Lab is an attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age.

The Internet has brought forth an unprecedented flowering of news and information. But it has also destabilized the old business models that have supported quality journalism for decades … We want to highlight attempts at innovation and figure out what makes them succeed or fail. We want to find good ideas for others to steal. We want to help reporters and editors adjust to their online labors; we want to help traditional news organizations find a way to survive; we want to help the new crop of startups that will complement — or supplant — them …

“We don’t pretend to have even five percent of all the answers, but we do know a lot of smart people. Primary among them are our readers; we hope your contributions will make the Lab a collaborative exchange of ideas. Tell us what’s happening around you, or what should be.”

That last point is worth highlighting as well. Too often, reader input on what’s working and what isn’t is an afterthought, even in an age of “user-generated content” and other interactivity with one’s audience. The fact that Nieman puts it front and center in its mission means it’s providing an example for other news media organizations to follow.

The question to you …

What are your favorite blogs/RSS feeds for information on the online-inspired transformation of journalism?

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