Tips for How to Create Great Audio News Pieces

As silence can speak volumes, so can sound when properly recorded and mixed

RCA 44

RCA 44 (Photo credit: Wired Photostream)

Story by: Jamie Soule

Last week, I explored Poynter’s News University online and enrolled in its “Telling Stories with Sound” one-hour program to learn, well, how to tell stories with sound.

The class features an interactive course in which I will eventually create an audio news piece with various sounds I collect throughout the presentation. The basic format was a chronological examination of recording a story for audio purposes: planning, out in the field and in the studio.

The most important note I took away from the first section, planning, was this: “Producing an effective narrative starts with extensive planning.” Basically, when you’re going to make an audio piece, you can’t just go out and start recording—you have to plan what you are going to record, and that happens at every step of the recording process.

Planning

Before even deciding what to record, you have to decide if the story is even viable to be an audio piece. The course suggests brainstorming and making a list of all the possible sounds that could be recorded for the story. Then, scouting the location will help narrow down the list of sounds as well as providing an opportunity to test out equipment, which is very important.

After preparing for actual recording, it is vital to make sure there is a backup for failed technology, such as extra batteries or recording discs prior to recording. Knowing the environment and what types of microphones to use is also important, and this course features a few slides of different types of microphones and their specialties.

Recording

The key thing to keep in mind is that you want to create a narrative. Therefore, choosing the right people to talk to is a must. You want someone who is going to give you descriptive, meaningful answers to your questions, so word them in a way that will optimize open-ended answers from your speakers.

Another important note this course touched on that I found helpful is collecting extra audio, specifically natural, ambient and supplemental sound. There is a distinction between natural and ambient sound. The way I think of it is: Natural sound is action noise and ambient sound is background noise. Both of these can make or break an audio piece, all depending on how it is recorded and used; the most important thing to keep in mind is the quality of the recording. Aside from natural and ambient sound, supplemental music can also help an audio piece.

Editing

After what seems to be the daunting task of recording audio for the story, which is only half the work, all of that sound must be edited and spliced together in the studio. The process can be a work of art if given the time and thought. During this time the narration and voiceovers for the script is recorded, of which the course highlighted a few tips:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid wearing jewelry and clothing that makes noise
  • Avoid “popping” p’s
  • Pretend you’re telling the story to a friend (for a conversational tone)

Though I had some technological complications with getting the final activity to work correctly, the overall course was very informative and helpful.

What’s in her bag (unpacked)

What’s in her bag (unpacked) (Photo credit: tychay)

In today’s era of backpack journalism, it is essential for journalists to be able to work with all types of technology that can be included online, which includes audio.

The greatest point about all of this is that this course was 100% free, one of those great trends on the Internet these days.

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