Teaching Examples

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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The no-fear guide to multimedia skills
May 22, 2007, 12:15 pm
Filed under: journalism, multimedia, online, training

I gave a 90-minute talk at the National Writers Workshop in Wichita, Kansas, on Saturday. You can download the handout and get all the relevant links here. This was the program text:

The No-Fear Guide to Multimedia Skills

Confounded by audio? Scared to death of video? Wondering if you’ll ever master multimedia packages? Take a deep breath and relax, and check out this special 90-minute session, where you’ll find that it’s way easier than you fear, and nowhere near as expensive as you think. We’ll cover the tools and techniques you need to start producing quality audio and video, quickly and economically, and use them to build packages that will generate traffic and bring readers back for more.

The talk was broken into three equal parts: audio, Soundslides, video. The audience was primarily newspaper reporters, as well as a group of journalism educators.

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Video storytelling tips from a veteran reporter
May 21, 2007, 1:31 pm
Filed under: journalism, storytelling, training, video

When Ken Speake was a young TV reporter, he received a bit of criticism from an older, wiser journalist: “You don’t have a style.” To improve, he was told to choose two reporters he really liked, then watch and analyze everything they did for two weeks.

At the end of the two weeks, he reported back to his mentor, who gave him his next task: “Now copy them.”

In this way, young grasshopper, you too can improve.

I was introduced to the work of Ken Speake in a column written by Al Tompkins a few months ago. What I didn’t learn from the column was how humble — and how sincere — Speake is. What’s more, he’s a natural teacher. If you get the chance to see him, go.

Preparation. Everyone tells us about the importance of luck and hard work in journalism. A veteran such as Speake adds that it’s vital also to prepare yourself — so you know how to make the most of your good luck when you find it. Learn, study, think about options. Not prepared? All the good luck in the world won’t help you.

Curiosity. After years and years on the job, a journalist can think, “Ho hum, another state fair, another this, another that.” Speake advises you to find something in the story about which you can be curious. Work at it. No matter how boring the story is, instead of plodding through it with your mind on finishing it and getting rid of it, think hard and come up with an angle that makes you ask questions for which you don’t already know the answers.

“Everybody sees the ‘normal’ story,” Speake said. “I don’t want to do the normal story.”

Details. After showing a story about a crime scene investigation in an open outdoor area, Speake answered some questions about the variety of shots showing, for example, a police officer finding a bloody leaf and placing it in an evidence container; a checkered cloth stuffed inside a brown paper bag. These gave an unusual behind-the-scenes feel to the story.

“Detail makes all the difference in the world,” he said. Details not only allow the viewer to feel like an insider; they also add to the reporter’s credentials. That is, you are more believable when you supply important details.

Awareness. “Be aware of your surroundings,” Speake said. This means using not only your eyes but also your ears. “The best photographers shoot with their ears,” he said. The real story might not be where the camera is pointing — what you hear can tip you off to that.

I was struck by Speake’s obvious enthusiasm for the work he did for three decades. “Sound is so cool,” he said gleefully. He showed the same enthusiasm for a change in his job requirements — when he was asked to write his stories for the KARE-11 Web site. Instead of looking at it as a chore, he said, “I was excited to be able to add so much detail.”

Many in the audience seemed to be inspired by the examples Speake showed us. There were several questions about how he managed to produce such interesting stories.

One technique that came out was a real spirit of collaboration. “It’s important, when you start [at the scene], to talk it over with your photographer.” Speake gave a lot of credit to the photographers who shot the stories he showed (he didn’t shoot any of the examples he showed us), but he also made it clear that he didn’t expect a reporter and a photographer to go their separate ways. Sometimes one of the two must explain to the other exactly what he’s going after — and sometimes it won’t be completely clear until after the script is written. He also did not expect his photographer to be a slave to the reporter. It sounded to me like they were equal partners.

One of the most telling details Speake shared was this:

“I never know how I’m going to be able to tell the story until I go over the tape.” This might happen in the car, driving back to the office; he’s replaying the footage and watching it on the camera’s little monitor. What struck me about this statement was the openness, the flexibility, that it revealed. When he was out on the scene, interviewing people, discussing options with the photographer, Speake surely had a lot of ideas about the potential for this story. But in the end, he must defer to the visuals. He has to consider what the pictures show before he writes, before he thinks about what to write.

I’ve never had any broadcast journalism training. Luckily I had a good dose of film studies, so I know a little about framing shots and advancing the action visually. But this partnership between the audio and the visual, this mutuality of word and image, this way of choosing how to tell the story — it’s new to me, and very challenging. But it’s so cool.

Listening to Ken Speake, I had a series of tiny breakthroughs. Some things about video storytelling make more sense to me now, thanks to him.

One of the best things I gained from his talk was a new appreciation for how standard practices and “following the rules” might be responsible for some of the things that are so annoying about so much broadcast news video. Apart from the endless stories about crime and highway accidents on the local TV news, there’s that awful tone of voice so many reporters use. They “punch out” certain words in such an artificial, mechanical way, it seems as if they don’t even know what they’re saying. They sound inhuman.

Speake’s narrations had none of that. He stressed that video is more intimate than print, and you must “write the way people talk” in a broadcast script. He also emphasized the need to make a connection between what’s in the video and the viewer’s real life.

I don’t get that from most TV news stories. But Speake’s stories showed us that it is possible.

(Ken Speake spoke at the National Writers Workshop in Wichita, Kansas, on May 19, 2007.)

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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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Writing for the Web: A guide for TV journalists
May 13, 2007, 2:39 pm
Filed under: online, television, training, writing

Cory Bergman of Lost Remote tells us, step by step, How to Write for the Web:

On the web, you’re writing for the motivated reader. Users impatiently scan headlines for anything that jumps out at them, and once they find a story they like, they click it. Once they’ve made that decision to read a story, they expect more details than they typically see in a 90-second TV piece — not as many as a newspaper story, but more than television. In a nutshell, web writing should be tighter and more conversational than print, but more detailed and a little more formal than TV.

He goes on to explain 11 steps concisely.

A commenter named Jason added this good tip:

I always log my tapes in my package slug in the newsroom software (that way the total log is saved as a prior version). When I write my web version of the story, I copy the entire log into MS Word, and start writing from scratch.

That helps me get details into the web story that were omitted for time, flow, or storytelling reasons in the TV version.

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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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Three microphone tests for low-cost audio recording
May 9, 2007, 4:28 pm
Filed under: audio, training

Here are the three microphone tests I referred to in my earlier post. If you do not see the audio players below, you need up upgrade your Flash player.

The first is the $20 lavalier mic (54 sec.). It’s a bit LOUD, so turn down your volume. (See note at bottom.) I could have fixed this in the editing, but I wanted to show the raw differences in the three mics. Also, you’ll note how you can really hear the water sprinkler in this one. I sat close to the sprinkler just to see how much ambient noise each mic includes.

The one below is the $10 Nady mic (2 min. 14 sec.). This was recorded in the same spot as the lavalier, using the same recorder and the same settings.

The one below is the EV 635, a $100 mic (1 min. 8 sec.).

The WS-200S recorder saves files in the WMA format. I transferred the files to a Windows computer using the recorder’s built-in USB connector. I opened each one in Adobe Audition and cut out a bunch of extraneous mumbling and blather (me talking to myself). Then I exported each one using the same settings for a mono MP3 file at 22.05 kHz. I didn’t perform any adjustments or normalization on any of the files.

For all files, I sat in the same spot outdoors. The files were recorded one after the other, as three separate files.

Note: After digging around in the cryptic menus in the Olympus WS-200S recorder, I found a Mic setting that can be changed from “Hi” to “Low.” Changing it to Low gave me a 100-percent-better result with the cheap lavalier (32 sec.):

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