“What do we do now?”
That was the question after I gave my first audio training to reporters at The Eagle today. We started with audio, because I continue to read and believe, it’s the first and most important skill we can develop. People may forgive bad video, some dangling participles, average photos. But hurt their ears and they will turn you off.
Editors lured them there by offering free food over the lunch hour and telling them learning this would be required. I went over the basics: getting started, recorders, microphones and a quick run-through of how to edit in Audacity. Afterwards, my colleagues were complimentary and said it was useful. I was just glad no one fell asleep.
Still, that’s the question sticking with me tonight: “What do we do now?”
Actually, she had more than one question: “Who do we talk to when we want to do this? Which editor do we go to?”
I thought I’d made this clear. But just in case, let’s review. This new era simply provides new tools. We’re not reinventing journalism, although it may seem like it at times. We’re just putting new tools in our pocket to use in telling compelling stories and doing our reporting.
What you do is record everything. Most of it will end up like scribbles that never make the page on a notebook. But when you think you have something interesting, put it out there. Talk to photo about getting pictures to illustrate the audio. Talk to the photog assigned to the story. Work together. Make a team. Put a summary of the audio you hope to get in your story budget line.
Which editor do you talk to about the story? Make getting audio a part of what you do. Plan for it as you would questions for an interview, a lead, a nut graph (note to any editors reading this: for the record, this does not mean that I do now, or ever recognize the existence of what you call a “nut graph,” though all my stories seem to have them).
If there’s not a photog assigned to the story, take a point-and-shoot. Shoot some video and have someone help you put your audio under it.
Photographers and visual journalists across the country are embracing on-line, multimedia story-telling. It’s what our audiences want.. In a way, it’s becoming their world. And bless them for it. For years, they’ve made people want to read my stories, because of their powerful shots, so the more tools they get to do what they do is fabulous.
But I want to also believe there will always be room for good reporters who can ask great question, elicit thought-provoking quotes and get people who otherwise wouldn’t talk to pull their heart out and put it in your pocket. There should always be room for people who can sift through mundane libraries of documents to mine the gems that reveal corruption and malfeasance or merely inform us a little more about the human condition.
Only now, we’ve got more tools. Instead of just scribbling notes, we can pull out a microphone and digital recorder and hear the inflection and emotions that we’ve been trying to describe. We can capture the sounds of the experience. And we can edit them into stories that can accompany photos, videos, interactive graphics – everything we’ve been relegated to doing with words.
Some of the best examples I’ve seen of slide shows, video and interactive journalism have been when reporters take over the audio, work as a team with the visuals department (formerly photo) and produced some really wonderful work. As I said in my brownbag, you’re going to have to change the way you work. No more going out, doing interviews, then telling photo about it two days later. You’ve got to plan. You’ve got to work as a team.
What do we do now?
Go out and record. Document. Throw away the damned notebook and use the full dimensions now at your disposal to report like you never have before.
Then go back to your editor, if you can find one not in a meeting – I always say editors are like cops: there’s never one around when you need one. But when they get out of their meetings, just say, “You ought to hear what I’ve got.”