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August 24 2010

13:06

The New Online Journalists #10: Deborah Bonello

As part of an ongoing series, Deborah Bonello talks about a career that has taken her from business journalism in London to video journalism in South America, and a current role producing video at the FT.

What education and professional experience led to your current job?

After I graduated from Bristol University in 1998 (I wrote for my student newspaper Epigram for most of my time there), I moved up to London and started working for Newsline, an online news service run as part of the media database product Mediatel.

A year later I was taken on by New Media Age as a reporter, where I got to watch the dot com boom become the dot com crash and work with the then-editor, Mike Butcher, now the editor of TechCrunch Europe.

From there I moved to Campaign to edit their Campaign-i section, and when that got cut because of budgets after a year I spent the next few years freelancing on media business magazines (Campaign, Media Week, NMA, FT Creative Business) and watching how the traditional publishing industry took on the internet.

By then, I was fed up of London and business journalism, so I headed off to Latin America. After a year in Argentina as a print only journo, I moved to Mexico to launch NewCorrespondent.com, an experiment in digital journalism, with help from Mike Butcher.

The idea was to use free online tools – YouTube, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, BlipTv and more – to publish multimedia journalistic content. NewCorrespondent.com became MexicoReporter.com and three months became three years. After my first six months of running the site in Mexico, I got taken on by the Mexico bureau of the Los Angeles Times, started shooting video and got trained in it by some of the best in the business (Scott Anger and Tim French). I contributed daily written and video dispatches to their Latin America blog, La Plaza, as well as latimes.com and the newspaper.

MexicoReporter.com became a go-to for English-speakers living in Mexico, as well as people around the world, and it was through the site that I also got commissioned to produce video pieces for the Guardian and Al Jazeera, amongst others, as well as for radio comment on breaking news such as the swine flu epidemic, violence against journalists and escalating drug-related violence in the country. The video caught the attention of the FT, and as the Los Angeles Times took their foot of the video pedal, it seemed like a good moment to move. I am currently working as a video producer and journalist in the FT’s London office.

What does your job involve?

I film, produce and edit video news, features and interviews for the Financial Times website, sometimes working as a one-man-band shooting operation, sometimes working with in-house camera operators and our correspondents around the UK and abroad.

Where do you see your career/job developing in future?

That all depends on how video journalism develops, but I am very excited about the potential of online journalism and video. TV and video are converging, which means new program formats and genres are emerging all the time, and everyone is experimenting with different styles of telling stories in video and multimedia.

I am especially interested in how the costs of technology have come down so dramatically that we should see a new generation of visual and text storytellers base themselves abroad at a fraction of the cost, tapping into the need for reduced costs in foreign reporting that the traditional media so desperately needs to survive to keep that content strand going.

Right now, if you’re a journalist that isn’t using new technologies to tell stories, you’re edging yourself out of the job market. Rather than the end of journalism as we know it, I think multimedia signifies a brave new world where our old disciplines still count but can manifest themselves across so many different platforms and media that your work is as creative and innovative as you want it to be. We just have to make sure we keep our eyes on the journalistic disciplines, and use technology as a means to an end rather than just for the sake of it.

In the long-term, I see myself based out in the Spanish-speaking world as a multimedia foreign correspondent.

May 19 2010

12:34

Future of News meetup: 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 and event organiser, and formerly a correspondent for paidContent:UK and Press Gazette. He blogs at psmithjournalist.com and is psmith">@psmith on twitter.

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