Teaching Examples

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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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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Tutorial: Getting started with Audacity
May 11, 2007, 4:44 am
Filed under: audio, online, reporting, training, tutorial

Audacity is a free audio editing program that runs on Windows, Macs and Linux. There are already a lot of tutorials online for Audacity, but of course I think mine is the best. It’s heavily illustrated. And you can print it.

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

Don’t forget, the Audacity manual is online if you want to go further!

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Fire season, and the blogs that cover it
May 10, 2007, 1:31 pm
Filed under: blogs, news, online, reporting

Where I live, in north-central Florida, our eyes are burning, our throats dry, our sinuses ravaged. Smoke fills the air. The smell permeates our homes and offices. Monday night, ashes flew like snowflakes about the campus. (See photo, photo, photo.)

Kay Day is covering the story in her blog, complete with maps and resource links.

At the Los Angeles Times, California fires are also being blogged.

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Skills a young journalist should acquire
February 7, 2007, 1:56 pm
Filed under: journalism, journalists, reporting

Ryan Sholin, who is walking the walk as an online journalist, employed by a daily newspaper, answered a question posted on his blog from an up-and-comer. The question: “How many skills do you think an online editor/reporter needs?”

Ryan answered, in part:

  • I would want someone who knows enough HTML to write their own Web update into a content management system without needing training.
  • I would want someone who has no fear of a digital camera, a video camera, or an audio recorder.
  • I would want someone interested in using databases, maps, and public records as source material.
  • I would want someone who knows how to tell a story.

The great reply does not end there. Click on over and read the rest.

The list above is wonderful is its brevity and utility. These are the immediate needs, the essentials for a reporter today.

Now, keep in mind that the list here is just for a REPORTER. That is, anywhere — not online. Ryan has more for those of you who want to be “some sort of online news employee.”

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