Self-help meets journalism: the Next Generation Journalist reviewed

It had to happen. Someone was always going to write a self-help book for journalists in these difficult, interesting times.

Adam Westbrook’s e-book ‘Next Generation Journalist: Ten ways to make money in journalism in 2010′, starts out with some big claims: ‘This is a unique book,’ Westbrook writes. ‘It collides disciplines and ideas that have never been put together before. I’ve combined the craft and skills of journalism with entrepreneurship, life design and career theory.’

In reality, the book offers a mix of upbeat ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’-style inspiration with some supremely practical tips for making a living out of 21st century media. Like the best books in its tradition, there is some genuine wisdom for those who want to hear it, and his grasp of the range of opportunities and platforms out there is impressive.

Westbrook’s ‘ten ways’ range from developing a portfolio or, as he calls it, an ‘artisan career’, to setting up a hyper-local website. They blur traditional boundaries of what is considered to be journalism, presenting the old alongside the new: there are well-established approaches such as doing corporate work for organisations, and news aggregation and cutting edge stuff like developing smart apps for selling news stories.

A lot of the advice is basic. For example, to find new clients, Westbrook advises: ‘Research: do your research on the organisations you’re interested in. Who would you need to contact? Find out their name and email address.’

How useful is all this? The answer probably depends on who you are. If you’re newish to journalism and the whole dirty business of making a living, a lot of the ideas gathered here could be really helpful. If you’re more seasoned, particularly if you’re deep into building an online hyper-local news business, and realising just how much work and time lie in the way to success, it’s bound to be less so.

But along the way, Westbrook offers some nice observation of the new journalistic characters and practices to have emerged in recent years, such as Freedom of Information Supremos, and ‘nodes’ – ‘clusters’ of freelances who collaborate to share brands and work.

Above all, the central character that Westbrook describes – and indeed embodies himself – says a lot about the likely future of journalism. ‘The Next Generation Journalist,’ he tell us, is ‘the multimedia storyteller, entrepreneur, and technical all-rounder, who isn’t threatened by the decline in value of news, or the lack of jobs, or the slashing of budgets brought about by the digital revolution.’ Encouraged by the cheapness of building an online profile, s/he is happy to embrace risk, and just try things that may or may not come off: ‘All this means you can be OK with failure, because it won’t cost you much.’

It’s a compelling picture, particularly for the recent graduate with supportive parents and without too many debts, or for someone who’s just received a healthy redundancy package. But for others, for whom the rent/mortgage/kids means the clock is ticking loudly, I fear it misses a crucial economic point.

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