Revisiting my radio speaking days with audio reporting

I’ve read over and over and over again about how smell is the sense with the strongest tie to memory. I don’t think the scientists who tout that fact are wrong, not by any means, but I’m curious what their findings would be about sound.

Sound, like smell, has the ability to snap you back to a moment in time. One Beatles song and I’m in the car on the way back from my junior prom. The opening notes of Bohemian Rhapsody send me flying back to sixth grade, shouting the crazy lyrics with my five best friends. The first strains of the camp-like intro to the Tefilah bring tears to my eyes during services, reminding me just how homesick I’ve been for the synagogue I grew up in.

Sound is powerful. In it we can lose ourselves for minutes or for hours. And it has the unique ability, like visuals, to show rather than tell. These are things I’ve always intellectually known. But because sound is not my primary medium for reporting, it’s easy to forget.

This week, I’ve been working on an audio slideshow and NPR-style radio story. Both projects require me to step into the complicated world of sound editing, and after hours of work, I’m amazed that I only produce a minute or so of product. But boy, is it fun. Maybe I’m just taken with my new skills, but it just sounds so polished! I can imagine hearing it on the radio, and while I’ve been publishing text stories for years now, I’m surprised by this.

I love how the sound is able to add context and background to a piece just by virtue of what it is. You don’t need anyone to explain why a story about instruments needs music, or why a story about cooking is made richer by hearing pans clanking or food sizzling in a pan. In a way, the sound paints a picture, a concept we explored in Thursday’s class on writing for the ear.

In addition to a whole host of writing strategies, A reporter working with audio has to be aware of what kinds of images that sound brings to mind. Does it illustrate the right image, or take the reader in the wrong direction? It’s similar with voice; is your narration adding to the story, or are you being lackluster without realizing it? The pitch and speed of your voice make a difference because those aspects can communicate different things to your reader. Ending every sentence in upstyle makes you sound inquisitive or unsure. Talking quickly can add a sense of urgency or be just plain confusing. And all the sound, voice and natural, has to flow together in a logical way to tell a story that is engaging and accurate.

The voice coaching and writing techniques take me back to my high school speech team days as a radio speaker, only now I have to create the content, not just voice it. I’m finding that although I’m slowly embracing the individual aspects of audio reporting — recording good quality clips, sorting through the sound files, building the tracks — putting it all together into something resembling journalism is a new challenge. Before, it was about demonstrating whether I could do this task or that task, but now, I have to do those things (and do them well) and turn it into a cohesive story, much like I would with text.

I’m looking forward to the day when it doesn’t feel like as much of an undertaking, but something tells me it’ll be a while before I get to any level of autopilot.

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