Audio: The Foundation of Multimedia Reporting

 Audio: The Foundation to Multimedia Reporting

NPR reporter Hansi Lo Wang and Producer Asma Khalid took the audience through a detailed depiction of what it’s like to work in radio during NPR’s Audio Cut workshop.

The session opened with a NPR piece Khalid worked on with Steve Inskeep during a visit to Pakistan after Osama bin Laden’s death. The rich natural sound of motorcycles puttering through a bazaar and the emotional actualities left the group groaning in disappointment when it was shut off abruptly so the panel could begin. The piece represented the theme of the discussion: tracking crisp voice overs while adding many layers of natural sound and ambient noise.  

After explaining the different tools a successful radio reporter/producer would need they moved on to technique. Both Khalid and Wang agreed on two big no-no’s: never leave for assignment without headphones and you should never ignore mic levels. That being said, they stressed the importance of making sure all your equipment and levels are set before starting the interview. The key to getting great actualities is having an interviewee who feels very comfortable while they are talking to you. Fiddling with audio levels during an interview will not only make actualities sound unbalanced, it can interrupt the flow of conversation and make it more difficult to have an engaging conversation with the interviewee.

Once the levels are set and your guest is comfortable there are still things that could go wrong and get in the way of getting that perfect interview. The presenters told the audience to not be afraid of asking an interviewee to repeat themselves, move to a quieter location or even to stop talking until a noisy bus passes by. They assured us people don’t usually get offended so it would be better to be forward than to worry about being polite when clear bites and accurately depicting a story is on the line.

After getting clean actualities it’s time to get great natural sounds to layer underneath the track. Using omnidirectional and shotgun microphones one can pick up the sound of cars passing, feet running, music playing etc. that can give depth to the piece. Wang said even after getting ambient sound there is still something that needs to be recorded…the sound of absolutely nothing. Recording one minute of silence in the room can give background noise that can be played under the reporter’s track. Since the interviewee’s bites aren’t recorded in a sound proof booth it can be a bit jarring to transition to the reporter’s track and back to the interviewee’s that has natural noise in the background. Laying the recorded room noise under the reporter’s track can make it easier to listen to both interchangeably.

Khalid closed the session by sharing another NPR story about young Chinese athletes only this story had still photos that matched with the story and the sound of kids doing handsprings off the ground. Although radio calls for only one of the senses to be used doesn’t mean it can’t be a visual medium.

-Danielle Kreutter

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