Week 3 Audio

You will need to bring an audio recorder & headphones and have adobe premiere installed.

  • M: am 1-hour Seminar: The Power of Audio
  • M: pm Workshop: equipment + technique (recorders / microphones / audio formats / proximity / levels + monitoring)
  • T: am. Seminar & exercise: Reporting + recording for audio journalism — interviews & ambient sound & writing for audio
  • T: pm 45 mins seminar: finding story focus / 15 min Seminar: reporting process / 1-hour Exercise: Report a feature
  • Workshop: Editing in Premiere, uploading to an audio sharing site, embedding online.
  • T: Eve Theory Seminar

This weeks learning outcomes — Students will:

  • Understand basic audio technical principles such as file formats and microphone patterns to record clean quality audio using an audio recorder.
  • Be introduced to various forms of audio journalism and storytelling across different platforms — including stand-alone audio news, features, documentaries and podcasts. They will also consider how audio is used in broader multimedia journalism practice both as an intrinsic part of video journalism and other online mixed media reporting.
  • Learn how to write clearly and concisely for the ear, and how to use professional software Adobe Premiere to edit audio. Finally, students will learn how to upload audio files to the web and embed audio into a web page.


2–3-minute audio news feature on the topic of noise pollution, show us a deeper or more human perspective of this issue beyond the news and stats. (Include a single thumbnail photo) and embed into your digital page using www.soundcloud.com. This week you are reporting for an NPR-style (NPR’s morning edition) news feature segment with multiple voices and rich natural sound. Students will need to present a story angle and nut-graph in class on Tuesday. Do not record a host intro, instead write a short text para intro above your embedded audio file to introduce the topic and hook people in. Don’t forget SEO in the intro to make your audio searchable.

Please check out NPR’s morning edition — NPR’s Morning Edition prepares you for the day ahead, with news and feature stories. You should be modelling your audio feature assignment this week on their shorter segments like those we listen to in class — you’ll notice that some segments are longer and some shorter.

Be sure to include:

  • A headline
  • You do not need to include an audio anchor lede. Instead write a short summary paragraph in text, introducing the story.
  • A picture – you can upload this to SoundCloud when you upload your audio file
  • Interviews and at least 3 quality sound bytes (quotes) from multiple sources representing different perspectives
  • 5 or 6 quality ambient sounds recorded in the environment where the story is taking place (get your recorder close!).
  • Information, facts & data to support and contextualise the story.
  • Narration, or voice over to weave your story together
  • Your story should have NEWS VALUE, have a STORY FOCUS, and answer the basic WWWW&H questions relevant to your chosen STORY FOCUS. Your story should have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Embed your audio report to your blog using SoundCloud
  • Publication – NPR’s morning edition

Class notes & Assignment resources:

I often find students overlook audio, both regarding building their technical proficiency and in thinking about audio as a powerful storytelling tool. Audio is a unique and powerful medium, whether you use it stand alone, part of a mixed media story or of course as the critical 50% of video. You’ll be getting some technical tips, but you’ll also have to do some testing and experimenting with your own equipment set up. It’s critical to be familiar and in control of your own recording set up. This takes practice. Once you get to a great interview you want to be focusing on the people you are interviewing and the story, not your equipment. Like writing, there’s only so much we can teach in the classroom — if you want to be an effective audio storyteller, you’ll need to listen to plenty of audio. Audio should be a part of your news diet. If you are new to audio journalism I recommend listening to either NPR’s morning edition or BBC’s Daily commute to get a sense of traditional news radio formats; I’d also recommend listening to longer form audio and storytelling podcasts such as BBC World’s documentaries and This American Life. You can find all of these online or subscribe via your podcast app.

Power of audio

Audio is an intimate medium that makes strong use of the senses and imagination. We’ll take a look at traditional broadcast radio but will focus on digital audio. Like radio, online audio covers journalistic content of all genres and is distributed on various platforms from apps to online audio streams of radio stations to podcasts or embeddable audio from audio hosting services like soundcloud.com. Audio journalism caters for both niche or broad audiences. Podcasting is a significant growing trend, The New York Times launched a podcast team earlier this year to produce new shows “backed by advertising and designed to draw broad audiences”.

Read and watch a little about the form and growth of podcasting — in the articles and video below.


1- Via NYT. “From the moment the very first pods were cast, people have been calling podcasting either the world’s next great media revolution or another failed byway in digital experimentation. The truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. In other words, there is a lot about this business that still needs to be worked out. This will most likely happen eventually. Podcasting is destined to be huge, both as a medium and a business. “It’s the future of radio,” Mr Turck of Panoply said. Just don’t expect that future to come tomorrow.”

2- This video has some great tips from stellar interviewer Anna Sale of Death Sex and Money Podcast. Anna talks about the craft of radio interviewing with Rob Rosenthal, producer of HowSound, a podcast about audio storytelling from PRX and Transom. The event is sponsored by the Literary Reportage concentration and is part of its Exploring Audio Reportage series.

3- NPR (America’s National Public Radio) has been in the podcast game for ten years. Its history in the podcast space is an interesting gauge of how much times have changed — for producers and consumers too. Between NPR and all of the public radio stations who contributed shows to those first collections in the directory, it took about a year and a half to reach 80 million downloads. Last month, we had 76 million downloads for just those programs NPR produces or distributes, and public radio stations are seeing record high listening on their shows.

4 – So you want to start a podcast? Via the Columbian Journalsim Review “Podcasting is still a nascent medium, without standardized ways to advertise, track listeners, or make money. Modes of production, promotion, distribution, and hosting are continually in flux. This article outlines some distribution models for journalists hoping to get into the game. Also from the CJR is The economics of the podcast boom

5 – Podcasting: Fact Sheet by Pew Check out this podcasting fact sheet full of data from the Pew Research Centre.

6- Podforum.org is a collection of great audio stories and podcasts. Podforum.org — Audio stories are everywhere. We collect the best here.

Audio journalism forms

Audio + radio reporting covers everything from spot news to features and documentaries. There’s traditional broadcast radio, Check out www.mediastorm.com’s or Duckrabbit‘s early work for web originated audio visual slideshows. Now, however, they both mainly do moving image.

Listening exercise

Check out the radio news feature below. First listen to and then read the story. Before you read answer these questions:

Dr. Kamara is drenched with sweat after removing all of his PPE. The suits are so hot, workers can lose 1 to 2 liters of fluid in one hour.

Listening exercise

Check out the radio news feature below. First listen to and then read the story.

Compare the listening and reading experience. What was powerful about the audio and what were the weaknesses? You’ll notice that too many numbers are hard to digest in audio — so remember to be highly selective and use the most relevant and powerful stats only.

Before you read answer these questions:

  • what the story about?
  • whose voices did we hear?
  • what general information did you learn?
  • what facts / details did you learn or remember?
  • what images did the piece build, how did it work your imagination?
  • ambient sounds? atmosphere?
  • How did the story lead in?
  • What were the main points covered in the main body?
  • How did it wrap up?

(This is the report we listened to in class below)


Now listen  to this longer form piece:


It’s a BBC documentary on China’s ‘Doomsday Cult’ from Carrie Gracie — BBC’s China Editor. (One of my favourite China correspondents). Follow her on twitter @BBCCarrie. Again think about how well this story is suited to radio. Sometimes the most important question as a multimedia journalist is, what’s the story, and what’s’the best way to tell it. This story would have probably been impossible to visualise due to limited access, it could have been written of course — but hearing the voices of those impacted and ambient audio really transport us.

Here’s are two more features I recommend, they’ll also give you a feel for your assignment client – remember your assignment this week is based on a short news feature for NPR’s Morning Edition.



You’ll also want to listen to longer form features, documentaries and podcasts, there are stacks, you’ll find a whole host in the Power of Audio section above, if you are new to podcasts I’d recommend starting with This American Life, Planet Money and BBC documentaries.

Equipment + Technique; recorders / microphones / audio formats / proximity / levels + monitoring:

You might not want to do stand alone audio, but you’ll still need solid audio skills for video work. Good audio adds a whole other dimension to video – take a look at this short film that “Uses the sounds of street life in Kano in order to create a vibrant and organic soundscape”.

Aisha’s Song from Grain Media on Vimeo.

For technical information head to the audio section onwww.multimediatrain.com. Start with the page below and work your way through the technical sections.

Something that has changed since we madewww.multimediatrain.comis the ease of syncing audio in post if you are recording video and audio separately. You used to have to do it buy hand or with plugins like PluralEyes. Now software like Final Cut ProX and Premiere CC do it for you. You can come back to these resources in the video week, but you might like to take a look now.

Reporting + recording tips for audio journalism

This section should help you approach your story and plan your story — you’ll notice structure follows many of the same basic principals as text. But of course, there are some important differences. We’ll also take a quick look at interview technique and tips for best practice for reporting and recording.

If you only go to one link in this section it should be the one below, it’s from the amazing people at Transom.org — an experiment in channelling new work and voices to public radio through the Internet, for discussing that work, and encouraging more.

“One of the most important parts of the workshops I teach at Transom is listening. We listen to radio stories at the beginning of nearly every class. Listening is essential for developing a critical ear… Dead Animal Man” is so full of radio goodness; I can’t imagine I would ever not play it in class.”

Now, listen to Transoms breakdown analysis of “Dead Animal Man” by Ira Glass. The story is a profile of a Baltimore city employee who, as the title suggests, picks up dead animals for the Department of Sanitation. The minute by minute breakdown looks in detail at what Ira’s doing in terms of production and storytelling.

Planning & reporting your story…

  1. Find the story, research, find the focus  — the question/ Idea. Then do a little more research and tighten focus. If you don’t know what your story is about — how will your audience?
  2. Plan & structure. Which sources / locations will you use? Which questions (WWWWW+H) will you ask? How will you get good bytes that deliver information and emotion?
  3. Report and record, you’ll need interviews / sound bites, wild tracks (10 sounds), room tone for interviews


Don’t forget to record room tone + ambience for smooth cuts…

4. Transcribe + select, start by transcribing interviews — try www.otranscribe

After you’ve finished reporting, it’s time to log your tape. This means listening to everything you’ve recorded and writing it up. You should transcribe quotes you know you are going to use in full, note who’s saying what. Use Timecode!! You don’t have to log the soundbites or sections you know you won’t use. Just give a reference to what’s being said and a timecode. Name your ambient sounds

5. Reformulate your nut graph. Once you’ve done this, selecting bytes and information will be easy

6. Choose your sound bytes

Remember — don’t just choose bytes purely based on the information; consider how it’s said and how it will fit into your story structure, does it describe something, make you laugh or cry? Your actualities should advance the story and make it interesting.

7. Write script + transitions (narration). Structure a beginning, middle and end. Slot in your bytes + write your narration

Struggling starting to write? Use these questions to kickstart

  • After all your research & reporting what is the lede & nutgraph? — the dominant point you want to communicate? What’s your story about and why is it important?
  • What facts illuminate or help develop this theme? (Give me data + attribution)
  • What is the principal impression you want to leave with the viewer? (What are you saying)
  • What is the most significant or interesting part of the story? (What made you sit up)
  • What is necessary for understanding this story? (Give me context)
  • What can I leave out? (Yawn)
  • Still stuck? Call a friend, your mum — and tell them about your story — go from there
  • Got a basic script now check these pointers below… (Taken from B Sides ‘How to Write a Radio Script)
  • Be conversational. Your narration should sound as natural as possible, like you’re telling a story to a friend. This is not the same as trying to imitate spontaneous speech. Instead, this means writing in a style that sounds as relaxed as possible. Use phrases and words you normally use. When you read your narration aloud, do you sound like yourself?
  • Be visual. Give your listeners a chance to imagine the people, places and things in your story. Create a sense of scene; describe people; include interesting sounds. Avoid a story that’s just a series of talking heads or facts.
  • Be concise. Long sentences usually don’t work too well in radio
  • Beware of too many numbers — or give comparatives
  • Be energetic. Use the active voice. Use punchy verbs and contractions. Mind your tenses — don’t switch back and forth between past and present. Most radio stories are done in present tense.

8. Edit — Edit + bring in your ambient sounds

9. Write your intro and don’t forget to make a picture! Music (no thanks — not this time, unless it’s actually part of the story of course!!)

Writing for audio

Writing a Radio Script gives a good quick guide to writing a script for a feature radio story, “Writing for radio is different than writing for print. You’re writing for the ear, not the eye. Listeners have to get it the first time around- they can’t go back and hear it again (unlike re-reading a sentence in a magazine).”

Editing + uploading


Last but certainly not least. When editing audio you have a lot of control of how you cut up quotes. You will want to trim things for uhms and ahs and sometime even want to cut into the middle of a byte to make it more succint. When editing interviews the most important rule is: NEVER change the meaning of what the interviewee said.

Maybe the second rule is that It’s not okay to tell someone what to say. It is okay to re-ask or rephrase a question to allow someone another chance to collect his or her thoughts and answer it again. Often, they are clearer and more succinct the second time around.

Finally for news NEVER use sound you did not record yourself at the scene or while doing your research. In news, it is not okay to use canned sound effects, sound from previous reports, or fabricated sound. So put the sand shaker down.

Here are some good guidelines:

And from NPR on attribution Attribution

Want some more links for later?

  • Check out BBC academy search term radio
  • There’s a whole host of incredible resources on the ‘This American Life’ site below…
  • Make Radio | This American Life
  • Transom is an incredible resource Transom
    Want to make a radio feature? Listen to this great podcast from the BBC — “There are many different ways to make a world class radio documentary. Creating a good radio feature is all about the art of shaping sound to tell compelling stories. Done well, they can provide intimate insights into somebody else’s world, painting vivid pictures in the minds of your listeners.” Making radio features