Teaching Examples

New — Soundslides Plus
June 15, 2007, 1:32 pm
Filed under: audio, journalism, photojournalism, slideshows, tools

The fabulously popular Soundslides program is now available in two flavors: regular and Plus.

The regular product is still $40. The Plus version is $70. Both flavors are available in Windows and Mac versions.

Plus provides a bunch of extra visual features that photographers have been clamoring for, but which beginners probably do not need. If you’re an educator buying Soundslides for 100 workstations, for example, you might be okay with the regular version. (Make sure you contact Joe for education pricing if you’re buying that many licenses!)

If this is all new to you, here are some great examples of what the regular old Soundslides can do (my current favorites):

  • Guitar Lessons at the Central Area Senior Center: An 81-year-old Seattle woman loves taking guitar lessons. No narration, nice story, several interviews skillfully edited together.
  • Cockfighting in Puerto Rico: Awesome photos, wonderful audio that puts you at the scene.
  • Nutcracker: A fresh photojournalism grad tells us the story of a production of the Nutcracker ballet. She produced this while on an internship at The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun. Notice the variety in shots, scenes, lenses, etc. Notice too the excellent editing of the pictures to match the content of the audio.
  • After the Riots: A Soundslides about the housing projects in Paris, by the British newspaper The Guardian. Exceptional storytelling and great use of sound.

Some people will tell you that Soundslides are boring. I offer these four examples to prove that it’s all in the storytelling.

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Truth in audio: Have you crossed an ethical line?
June 8, 2007, 2:34 pm
Filed under: audio, journalism, online, reporting

Melissa Worden asks about ethics in gathering and editing audio. I am asked these questions a lot when I do training.

Worden found (and quoted) some excellent resources.

Here’s what I tell students:

  1. The cardinal rule is the same as in written journalism, when you write quotes into a story: Never change the meaning of what the person said. Never misrepresent what the interview subject meant.
  2. Truth is the paramount yardstick against which you must measure your work. Ask yourself: Is it true? Or have I distorted the truth?
  3. Never tell anyone what to say.
  4. You can ask someone to repeat what he said.
  5. You can say, “Would you tell me that story again, please?” This is useful if the first time, the subject rambled and skipped around a lot. She will be more coherent the second time.
  6. In editing, you can cut out “um” and “er” and stutters and repeats. Radio journalists recommend this practice. We do it in writing too.
  7. If you have a sound bite at the end where, for example, the person states her name and occupation, it is okay to cut that from the end and move it to the beginning. (It does not distort the truth.)
  8. It is NEVER okay to use canned sound effects that did not come from the scene. For example, you would NEVER take a clip of some cows mooing and add it to your interview with a farmer in his cornfield. If you didn’t get that farmer’s own cows, from where you were standing in that field, then you can’t use any cows.

The harder issue is time differences. Worden asks:

… if you record a prayer one night when you’re visiting a church group but you get the best photos the second week you visit that same group, is it OK to use that original recording?

The example I use comes from my book (Flash Journalism), and it was given to me by longtime multimedia journalist Regina McCombs at the Minneapolis Star Tribune: The photographer returned from shooting a kids’ tuba class with great pictures but no audio. The tuba class meets once a week. The online producer went to the tuba class the following week and gathered the audio. Same kids, same class — same tubas. Different week.

I think the ethics of the tuba example are no problem. The church group is a little trickier, in my opinion, because maybe that was a special prayer that does not match the photos you have from the second week. On the other hand, if it is a prayer they say every week, and the same person is praying in the audio and in the photo — then it seems true and honest to me.

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Basic kit: Gear for the multimedia reporter
June 7, 2007, 2:35 pm
Filed under: audio, journalism, journalists, multimedia, online, reporting, video

You’d think everyone would know this by now, for cryin’ out loud! But I see posts to Listservs and discussion forums from people who still haven’t figured it out (and who apparently don’t know how to do a Google search!).

Audio hardware:

  1. Audio recorder: Olympus WS-300M, or DS-2 (or the discontinued WS-200S) — these are less than $100 each.
  2. Microphone: Electro-Voice 635 A, A/B or N/DB (search B&H for these) — about $100.
  3. Microphone (cheaper): Nady SP-5 or SP-4C (search Musician’s Friend for these) — $10 to $20 each.
  4. You’re going to need a very specific cable to connect a proper microphone to an audio recorder — a female XLR to male mini, 3 to 4 feet long for face-to-face interviews (about $8). For meetings, panels, etc., you’ll like a longer cable.
  5. For a different type of microphone (shotgun), see this comparison. I have an Audio-Technica AT835b, and it’s great. Koci loves the Sennheiser ME-66. You should be able to find one of these for less than $200.
  6. A more expensive audio recorder (that you can use face-to-face without a mic): The Edirol R-09 can be found for about $350-$400.


I covered point-and-shoots in an earlier blog post here. Reporters can start shooting video with these, and in many cases, the quality will be BETTER than that of a cheap video camcorder. See for yourself.

Video gear:

Someone else will have to fill your ear with the looong debate about video cameras. Andy Dickinson recently summarized it — and offered sensible wisdom too.

Phone and laptop/notebook computer:

These are obvious, and there are too many models to discuss. If the laptop has wi-fi (and why wouldn’t it??) you can scoot into a Panera Bread and upload from there. Or buy an Internet-anywhere card from a mobile service provider.

The capabilities you need on the phone depend on the other stuff you’re carrying.

Some folks advocate ditching the computer and doing everything with a PDA phone. I never want to edit a Soundslides on a PDA, thank you very much. But I sure do love having the full Internet (Google Maps!) on my BlackBerry.


  • Audio: I linked to a two-part guide to Audacity, which is FREE, in an earlier post. Separately, I also wrote a rundown of all the options for audio editing. Practicing multimedia journalists left helpful comments on that post.
  • Photos: Of course this means Adobe Photoshop. I never thought I needed to say that, but a recent experience in training made me realize that some people are not aware that every photojournalist has and uses Photoshop. If you need a free photo editing program, look at Picasa or Gimpshop (thank you, Dave!). Be mindful, however, that professionals use Photoshop.
  • Slideshows (with audio): Soundslides, of course. There is no debate.
  • Video editing: To start with, use iMovie if you’ve got Mac, and Windows Movie Maker if you have Windows. These are the entry-level video editing programs. If you want to move up, and you have Mac, then Final Cut Pro is the obvious choice. But if you have Windows, you’ll get into another looong debate! Gannett, for example, is in love with Avid. (I think that’s a VERY expensive choice, but what do I know?) Other options include Adobe Premiere and the relatively cheap Sony Vegas product line. (Note that I have linked each software title to its entry in Wikipedia, for a succinct description in plain English.)

As for Flash — Flash is NOT BASIC. The first people in your newsroom who should be thinking about using Flash are the graphic designers, the news graphic artists — NOT the reporters!

One File to Rule Them All

Download my No-Fear Guide to Multimedia Skills (PDF, 735 KB) for a tidy illustrated package (five pages) of this information. It’s got audio recorders, mics, and point-and-shoot cameras.

Related posts:

PLEASE feel free to leave a comment that adds to, contradicts, questions or expands on this information.

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Part 2 of the quick-and-easy guide to audio editing
June 6, 2007, 5:08 pm
Filed under: audio, online, reporting, training, tutorial

Okay, it’s finished, and online now:

Editing Audio with Audacity (Part 2) (PDF, 193 KB)

Download it, print it, share it with your friends. You will be initiated into the secrets of multitrack editing in Audacity!

Part 1 is here:

Super-Fast Guide to Audio Editing (PDF, 236 KB)

As always, I BEG YOU for comments and suggestions. I received a few great suggestions for Part 1, and I will incorporate them just as soon as I have time!

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It’s here! Soundslides Plus
May 24, 2007, 6:13 pm
Filed under: audio, photojournalism, slideshows, tools

Joe Weiss posted this about two hours ago:

It’s not just an update, it’s an entirely new version of Soundslides — the long planned pro version. New features include image movement (pan & zoom), built-in lowerthirds, thumbnail menus and the ability to create traditional (non-audio) slide shows.

Even though it will cost more than plain Soundslides, that’s okay, because the plain version “will continue to exist,” Joe wrote.

There’s a new 1.6 update on the way for the plain version. It will include individual transition control. W00t!

This announcement is a wee bit premature because you can’t actually get it yet … but almost, says Joe.

Update (May 25): Download here! This link is good only until sometime in mid-June.

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Telling the story: When you don’t have it easy
May 16, 2007, 4:48 am
Filed under: audio, journalism, multimedia, storytelling

I finally got my hands on a copy of “Telling the Story: The National Public Radio Guide to Radio Journalism,” published in 1983.

In general, the more powerful the event, the easier it will be to do a story, because strong stories tell themselves. If you are working on a story about prison conditions and a riot breaks out, your only problems are getting to the riot, recording the right sounds, asking the right questions of the right people and getting out in one piece. But if the prison is quiet, you will have to look for the events that evoke prison life — perhaps the slow movement of a new prisoner through a tough entry procedure, or the sounds of the night lock-up, or the sermon at Sunday chapel, or the conversations of guards and prisoners about past events. (Chris Koch, p. 3)

It’s hard to teach this stuff. You can go out and interview one or two people, edit the audio nicely, and put it together with some photos — but have you told a story? I’m teaching a new course in the fall and I want to make sure we are continually reminding ourselves that the ultimate goal is to tell a story.

While we want to prepare students to cover real breaking news well, I think it’s important to admit that the bulk of daily journalism is NOT breaking news. If it’s breaking, like Koch says, you have to hustle your butt to the scene, try to see and hear everything, gather as much video, audio, photos and notes as possible, and get out in time to post to the Web, edit tape, write a story for tomorrow’s print edition.

But most stories are harder than that — even though they are easier in the sense that the reporter is not under the same pressure.

You can waste time trying to do news stories on vague ideas…. [P]ieces about poverty, poor education, crime in the streets, corruption, inflation, freedom of speech and other abstractions…. If journalists are interested in these things and want to do stories about them, then they will look for events. (Koch, p. 3)

In contrast to trying to tell a story without any events, sometimes we settle for relating events without telling a story.

I see this both with students’ work and in regular daily journalism. The subject might be interesting, but at the end, the reader or viewer is left with a kind of “So what?” feeling.

To combat that, we’ve got to be able to summarize the story and also why it matters. Okay, here’s a person who does an interesting job. You photograph, you gather audio, you have an interesting two minutes. About what? If all you can say is, “It’s about these two furniture makers and what they do,” I think you should admit that that’s not really a story. If it’s about how they quit their stockbroker jobs in the big city to move out to the countryside and pursue a dream — then THAT might make a story.

I say “might” and not “would” because it all depends how you tell it. If the heart and emotion can be seen and heard, then it’s a story. But if it’s flat and matter-of-fact, it may all come to nothing.

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Seeking feedback about tutorial
May 15, 2007, 12:24 pm
Filed under: audio, online, reporting, training, tutorial

On Friday, I posted a shiny new tutorial (PDF, 236 KB) for Audacity — a free audio editing program that works on Windows, Mac and Linux. About 130 people have downloaded it so far. I’m very eager to hear if any of you tried it, and if you did, how was it?

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