Audio journalism

If you want to know what's going on in the world, you actually have to get out into the world. You can't do it from behind a desk. - Kaj Larsen, former investigative journalist for CNN

News companies around the world have cut costs by eliminating their investigative journalism departments. Sadly, this has been deemed less important, less entertaining, and less profitable than talking heads and techy gimmicks. Reporters like Kaj are no longer needed (or are just expected to do the same job with Skype and other web tools).

Alex and Cam think this is happening due to the democratization of content via new and social media. Everyone can deliver stories to the public (relatively for free).

imageThis means that someone around the world may be getting their news on life in Boston from you. Whether or not you let this exposure affect you, it's undeniable that you have the power and potential to become a citizen journalist.

Citizen journalists can communicate through various means: blog posts, videos, photo essays, you name it. The medium of audio is a powerful and popular one, used most notably by the National Public Radio (NPR). Using audio in this manner is called audio journalism.

5 reason for audio journalism

According to some, there are five reasons for audio journalism:

1. ACTUALITY: the feeling of being there
2. DEBATE: the opportunity to interject, the tone of voice, another level
3. EMOTION: the tone of the voice communicating more than words alone
4. BACKGROUND: in other words, next to an edited text interview the journalist can post the interview in full (what is sometimes called ‘wild footage’) much more quickly than if they were to transcribe the whole thing
5. PODCAST: it’s about convenience – time shifting, people not having to visit your website*

*Meanwhile, there are others that say the podcasting format isn't working (and was even dead on arrival) due to the need for a consumer to find them, subscribe (a word people fear because of money), download, upload to devices, and then listen to.

Do we agree with these merits of audio journalism?

How to record an audio interview

If you decided to exercise your ability to become a citizen journalist with audio, you need to gain some specific skills in the production of audio content. Here are some tips:

  1. imageBrief your interviewees so they know what to expect
  2. Choose your location carefully, as background noises can ruin your interview
  3. HOWEVER, your location can also get across a particular place if done correctly, so experiment...
  4. Use your iPhone and Voice Memos (or the app you prefer) to record toward the voice piece at the bottom of the phone. Before you record your first interview, test how far away your mouth needs to be to pick up the sound without being too loud.
  5. Record any interesting sounds that you might use later to switch between interviewees or show that time has moved on
  6. With intros and voiceovers (which can be recorded later), make sure you set the scene
  7. Include you asking your questions in the interviews. This is one way to display your skills as an inquirer and a critical thinker.
  8. Get used to not interrupting...this is harder than it sounds (from Audio Journalism)

The art of interviewing

Those who work in audio journalism have to learn the art of concise, direct questioning. If you ever get the opportunity to have 30 seconds of an important person’s time, you'll realize this is a rather important skill.

Tips from others: Be easy and relaxed. Don't panic if there is a pause, and don't feel the need to fill it with inane babbling. Write down questions beforehand and stick to them in your interview.

What do you think makes a strong interview?

From your mouth to public ears

imageOnce you've recorded an interview, how do you prepare it for public consumption? An easy workflow from Voice Memos is using GarageBand to create podcast projects. This supports the creation of new, enhanced audio podcasts that are easily consumed on the Podcasts app and iTunes.

Other apps or websites like SoundCloud simply present audio content in a player for instant enjoyment and also allow the creation of series and embedding to other sites.

What's your favorite way to distribute audio content, especially spoken word on important topics of public concern?

The ethics behind audio journalism

Here is some guidance on the ethics behind this style of reporting. There are more guidelines besides the following, so if you're interested in digging deeper, learn about some general guidelines for journalism.

The golden rule is to never change the meaning of what the interviewee said. This obviously applies to all journalism.

The Do’s: you CAN edit anything that smooths out the interview and tightens the soundbite.

  • It’s okay to cut out verbal stalling. Ums, ers, “can I go back and say that in a less slurred fashion” and “ooh this a great packet of crisps” can all go.
  • Extraneous words can be edited out. In candid speech, people tend to overuse words such as “like” and “kind of” and “you know” which can slow down the audio.
  • Eliminate reiterations. As people think, they repeat sentences and this is often unnecessary. Make sure this doesn’t result in a jarring final edit, as it requires some skill to do well.
  • Always identify the speaker if it’s an interview piece. Either through captions or actually within the audio.
  • It sounds obvious, but let the interviewee know beforehand that they have to answer fully. So not “yes, I thought it was brilliant actually…” but “yes, I thought the Walkers foray into condiment flavoured crisps was brilliant actually…”

The Don’ts

  • Never tell the interviewee or narrator what to say. It’s unethical to force opinions on anyone.
  • Don’t forget to make sure the interviewee or narrator gives full permission for their audio to be used. Written and signed.
  • You cannot dub other questions in other than the ones you asked. This is often used on pirate radio interviews and is bad practice. Even if the wording is slightly altered, it could change the semantics of the person’s response. Similarly you can’t use someone’s narration out of context with the one given by you in the recording.
  • Avoid re-asks unless the interviewee chokes on a question and cannot answer it.
  • Do not change location. Different background levels will sound bizarre. (from Audio Journalism)