Archive for April, 2009

Audio Story

I did my story on “Shamrock Shootout,” a philanthropy event organized by the Kappa Delta sorority this past weekend.  Teams pay to participate in a basketball tournament and all the money goes toward the Children’s Trust Fund.  This year’s event raised over $5,000.

I had initially done a story on what it’s like to actually live on a boat in Seattle.  The engine drowned out the entire piece and I decided to scrap it.  Combined with the problems and frustrations of the first audio assignment I vowed to keep round two fairly basic.   My goals were simple –  conduct basic interviews on the topic, record quality ambient sound that contributes to the story and efficiently edit and convert between file types.

While it’s not an amazing story by any means, I am still pleased with how it turned out.  I feel like I can perform any of the simple edits necessary to constuct an audio piece.   On another note, I was reminded of the importance of using headphones to verify audio levels.  While it seems rude to have headphones while interviewing someone, it’s much easier than asking them for a 2nd interview.  Also, I am fully aware that I don’t have a future in radio and the voiceovers need work.  If I were to do it again I might ask someone else to do them or at least rehearse a little more.  Another idea for the future would also be to capture more content.  Interview extra sources.  It may or may not be useful but it’s better be able to make that decision in the editing room.

Use multimedia and use it well

“Blogs without art are lame.”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement from Journalism 2.0.  Technology allows even the most amateur blogger to post good quality multimedia content.  Both audio and video are fairly easy to capture and can add emotion and depth to a story far beyond text.  Briggs offers a few key considerations before incorporating audio or photos into a blog.

Audio

  • Record and edit in a loss-less format (.wav)
  • If it’s for the web, convert to .mp3 before publishing
  • It’s important to choose the most appropriate mic for the story (lav for individuals or to limit ambient sound)
  • Record natural sound! It helps bring the listener to the place
  • Be wary of excess natural sound so it doesn’t detract from subject
  • Use a standard file naming format to stay organized
  • Make sure files are in stereo
  • Note time points during an interview for quick access to a good quote
  • Podcasts are a great tool for beat reporters
  • Never edit an original file!

Photo

  • Pixel = visual data
  • Digital cameras mean you can take lots of photos to try to get one good one
  • Move around to experiment with different angles
  • Most computer monitors work with 72 ppi
  • If you need to print a photo it should be 300 dpi
  • 3.2 megapixels translates to a good 5×7 photo
  • Just like audio it’s best to capture and edit in loss-less formats and then compress before web publishing.
  • Be aware of lighting! Too much sun often leads to poor photos
  • Focus on what the picture needs to tell.  Eliminate extraneous details.
  • Never edit an original file!

Worth 1,000 words

As a travel-enthusiast I can fully appreciate the amazing ability of a photo to whisk the viewer to a foreign land.  Here are just a few examples of good uses of photos in different kinds of stories.

Slideshows

  • I’m not a big fan of the layout of this site but the photos speak for themselves.  This is a series from the L.A. Times detailing the effects of Mexican President Felipe Caleron’s war on drugs.
  • Great combination of audio and photos to form a slideshow on the recovery process after Hurricane Katrina
  • Photo slideshow with simple but informative captions on the cocaine trade in Peru.

Individual photos

  • This shows how one photo can captivate the attention of the world. Steve McCurry shot this portrait for 1984 story in National Geographic  and Gula’ face (rather, eyes) became a symbol of the conflict.  She even inspired a follow up search and article in 2002.
  • This picture was featured in over 100 newspapers and led to later stories.  It created a character for millions of readers.
  • On a less serious note, this photo from The Seattle Times is fun and well-suited to the story.

No need to copy/paste from Word

At some point everyone has probably tried to copy and paste a document from Word only to find an ugly jumble of code.  Luckily, there is no need to compose a document in Word and then copy to a blog.  WordPress has its own spellchecker but for some reason it’s not activated in the default mode.  To activate spellcheck, simply click the ABC icon on the toolbar above your text (it’s just write of the hyperlink tool).

Don’t forget the audio

As multimedia journalism increases in popularity many journalists are becoming jacks-of-all-trades.  While video is a captivating form of storytelling, it’s important not to forget how much can be accomplished with sound.  Some stories lend themselves perfectly to audio.  This piece from NPR is a profile of musician Bela Fleck and his trip to Africa to visit the roots of banjo music.  Voiceovers are interwoven with various interviews and music samples.  The editor did a great job adding flow to the story by alternating between the narrator, interviewees and music. 

This is unique program from UpFrontAfrica.  Two announcers discuss the main topic, genocide in Africa, while incorporating outside sources.  They utilize audio comments from listeners and interviews with experts to get a variety of opinions on the topic.  Relevant music makes a heavy topic more lively and also helps bridge the gap between news and entertainment.

Here is an example of a very simple profile piece that accomplishes its goal.  The quality of the audio isn’t great; however, the reporter takes short clips from two different interviews and combines them with voiceovers to weave a story that’s very easy to follow.

A mere photo just doesn’t do it

Good vs. Bad multimedia news

I’ve been on the hunt for some examples of how news can use/abuse/ignore multimedia.  It was hard to quantify what constituted “good vs. bad” but my thoughts centered around how the use of multimedia enhanced the piece.

The Good:

1.   This article from Brave New Traveler is a great example of a story that lends itself to including multimedia.  A print version would not accomplish nearly the same effect.  Having links to the videos of each “travel song” allows readers further their involvement and enjoyment of the story.

The author also effectively uses Flickr photos to tie visual elements to the text.  In standard blogging form, there are embedded links throughout the story to spark readers’ interest.  The piece demonstrates news as a conversation with 37 comments and responses by the author.  And of course, it ends with links to Digg, Yahoo Buzz!, Stumble it, Twitter and a quick link to share with friends.

My favorite part is that its such an “easy” multimedia story.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, the author employed  user-created content from YouTube and Flickr.

2.  This story gave me a more accurate view of the warfare in Afghanistan than anything I’ve seen from mass media.  The best part of this story is the raw power of the images and video.  Palu’s narration provides the incredible depth that can only come from a journalist who had spent a great deal of time as a first-hand witness.

It also shows an important new trend in journalism – the jack-of-all-trades.  I believe that the days of a reported and photographer venturing together into the field are disappearing.  The 21st century journalist will need to be a multimedia master.  There is no reason why one person can’t perform interviews, shoot video, take pictures, write copy, edit, and publish the final product from the field.  Palu’s story is a great example of the future of multimedia reporting from the field.

3.  This piece shows how mass media are using multimedia to enhance stories.  One of its main strengths is the variety of footage and sources.  The  clips incorporate video, still photos, interviews and a narrator’s voice over.  Dividing the clips according to their content gives the story “chapters” and makes it feel more complete.  As an added bonus, a detailed graphic explains the complex flow of Mexican drug trafficking.

The Bad:

1.  This article from The Seattle Times doesn’t even include a photo and would be much stronger with multimedia.   While the print version may suffer from space limitations there is no reason not to include photos in the online version.  Besides photos of the sweep it would also be interesting to see a video interviews with some of the officers involved as well as victims of recent crimes.

2.  Here is an example from The New York Times where a multimedia would really boost the story.  The victims were subject to a situation that’s very hard for the average reader to relate with.  A video interview would provide a first-hand account and convey the intense emotions of the captain and his crew.

3.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, this example from The New York Times is very rich in multimedia.  However, the complex layout makes it tough for readers to understand without investing time.  The combination of text, mouse-overs, animations and graphics is a lot to take in simultaneously.

I have to say that I spent a lot more time viewing the stories that effectively utilized multimedia than those that didn’t.  While I love to read and would never deny the power of the written word, using photos, audio and video adds elements of depth and style that make stories…well, stories.  One of my surprises was realizing that using multimedia doesn’t have to mean investing tedious hours in front of a screen (see example #1).

News orgs I’m following

Here are some news orgs I’ve following on Twitter…

The Huffington Post

El Pais

Online News Assoc.

The Onion (news doesn’t have to be depressing)

Grist

BBC Earth

CNN

The New York Times

The Seattle Times

AlterNet

Democracy Now