• Day 5 – Audio as a tool of journalism

Sound as a reporting tool

Your students should be using audio as part of their reporting procedures. Sound as immeasurably to the experience of the website user. Some sites such as NPR.org (National Public Radio) make sound reports the centerpiece of most of their reporting. NPR is particularly good at this and produces some of the most sophisticated audio journalism in the world because of the radio tradition from which it comes.

Your students can use sound just as effectively even though their reports might not be as sophisticated. Just including the voice of a source — answering a question for 15 or 20 seconds — will enhance that report and give the readers an added dimension of information.

Audio journalism

Audio journalism is reporting news and information with sound.

Doing this was once the exclusive domain of radio, and truthfully, it wasn’t much of a kingdom. Except for National Public Radio and the efforts of a few isolated individuals and organizations, radio journalism for more than 50 years has been a vast and neglected wasteland. Even where radio journalism was good — and on NPR it could be very good — it was still confined to the medium and restricted by time, programming constraints and geography.

The emergence of the web as a dominant news medium has freed radio journalism — what we can more properly call audio journalism — from those restraints.

The advantages of learning and using audio as a reporting tool are legion:

  • It is easy to produce. The equipment necessary for recording can fit into your shirt pocket. The software (Audacity is among the best) is simple and can be mastered quickly.
  • Sound can take a story beyond text (just as pictures can). Sound gives readers/listeners to a story an added dimension that nothing else can duplicate.
  • Audio literally gives sources a “voice.” By using sound rather than text, their words, tones and inflections can be heard, not just described. Ambient sound can give these voices added context that increases the richness of the reporting.
  • Sound allows listeners to “see” with the best lens of all, the mind. Sounds fires the imagination and allows listeners to draw their own pictures. This quality is particularly valuable and powerful in this age of video and television.
  • The idea of audio journalism at this point is largely unexplored. That means that the people who get into it now have an opportunity to define the form. The next generation can experiment and be creative without having the burdens of “tradition” or the concept of “best practices.”
  • Audio is a presentation form that allows the audience to multitask. Reading text and watching video demand the full attention of the visitor. Audio lets the audience do something else in addition to taking in the information. As the demand for consumer time increases, this will continue to be an important consideration for the web journalist.

Finally, audio journalism is important because it is the dominant form of information distribution on The Next Big Thing in Journalism: mobile journalism. Despite all the current attention to texting, web site scaling and video on cellphones and hand-held devices, people generally use these devices to talk and to receive sound, either from other talkers or from audio producers.

Recording and editing audio

Recording

Tools and equipment. Basic recording equipment is inexpensive and simple to use. Every journalism student must have some kind of ditigal recorder and must be aware of its capacity.

The importance of sound quality. Sound quality does not have to be an obsession because of the good equipment that is available. Still, journalism students must learn to make their equipment produce clear, understandable sound on all occasions.

Ambient sound and music. The qualities of ambient sound and music can enhance the reporting. They are special products of audio journalism that cannot be duplicated by any other medium.

 

Editing

Putting audio files together for presentation. Editing audio can be as simple or as complex as the reporter and editor choose to make it. Some audio reporters, such as NPR’s science reporter Robert Krulwich, develop their stories through complex and highly sophisticated editing techniques (see Darwin’s Very Bad Day, for example). Our goals for beginning journalism students are more modest. Simply producing a clear, coherent recording would be enough.

  • Multiple tracks. Student should have some basic understanding of mixing sound tracks.
  • Importance of beginning and ending. Writing good introductions and planning the sound story from beginning to end is basic to good audio journalism.
  • Standard constructions and techniques. Students should learn the standard techniques of audio editing as the well as the terms, such as fades, cross-fading, establish music, segue, transition, voice out, music up, and voice wrap.

 

Audacity

The one piece of software that students should learn for audio journalism is Audacity.

While editing sound has a wide array of possibilities, it has been rendered simple and easy by Audacity, a free and downloadable piece of software from SourceForge.net. Audacity comes with a set of tutorials, the basics of Audacity can be grasped in just a few minutes by those who simply use the software. Audacity allows users to add and delete portions of a soundtrack and to place new soundtracks into a file. Its visual dashboard (below) includes all of the tools for basic sound editing, and it is likely that student will be able to learn the program to create audio files very quickly.

 

Additional readings and links

Audio journalism I: Defining the field – the power and importance of sound, JPROF.blogspot.com

 

Discussion questions

Take on one of these and post a response on our forum:

1. In what stories is sound necessary, not just desirable?

 

Teaching tip

Record a class break. Have one of your students stand in the hallway during a class break and record the sounds that are made. Record at least two minutes of sound. Then play that recording for your class. Have the students list all the different sounds they hear. What sounds do they recognize? Which sounds are a mystery? What do they learn by simply listening to the sounds? Explain that this is called “ambient” noises — sounds that occur naturally. Would this ambient noise make an interesting background for a news report or a news interview?

 

News site management assignments

Change the theme. The JeffersonNet system that the Interscholastic Online News Network uses provides a limited number of themes for sites. (Eventually, we will have a wider array of themes for sites to use.) You should experiment with the themes that are available and see which one you like best for your site. Changing the theme is easy, and you and always change back to the original theme without losing any of your important pictures or stories. On the left of the dashboard of your site, select Appearance >> Themes. When the gallery of themes appears, activate one of those that you are not using. Then take a look at your site and see what you think.

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