The Ivory tower dispatch: defining multimedia journalism

This week in the ivory tower I’ve mostly been looking at multimedia.

I’ve been building on the idea that, regardless of the approach you take (the fast/slow journalism split I created last week) , chunks of multimedia are going to be you building blocks.

Of course there are the practicalities to consider, but I spent a bit of time thinking about the broader context and what that meant in terms of roles within a digital newsroom.

Something that’s become clear in my pondering and looking around is that there is a belief in two distinct forms of journalism – audio journalism and video journalism.  These are not just variations on a broadcast theme. The rhetoric being used clearly indicates a belief that they are new forms of journalism and that was all a bit worrying.

Audio Journalism

Even though a large part of the audio on the web is produced in much the same way as broadcast (a kind of pre-medium specifics is you like) proponents of Audio Journalism  identify two forms of content as core to the definition:

  • Podcasts
  • Audio Slideshows

The form of podcasts is pretty flexible and there is no one clear format – short, scripted and snappy or round table – that’s been agreed on. In fact the development of the different styles suggests that the form has outgrown it’s platform-derived title. They are different from broadcast in a number of ways not least in the business model. The big challenges now are metrics and return on investment. The battle ground is tablets where app delivered podcasts can be monitored more effectively   So, podcasts clearly provide the established framework – the mode and form – that helps set audio journalism as a definition.

In that sense podcasts are the solid, practical output. So it would all be a little technologically deterministic if it wasn’t for the intellectual weight that Audio slideshows  add to the definition.

Benjamin Chesterton’s take on Audio slideshows (as reported by Kevin Marsh) in response to the question “Why would you choose a slideshow when you could use video?”

with moving video, the viewers eye is centred – broadly, locked to the framing of the video camera. With still images, the eye roams. It stops and moves and stops and moves. Frozen gestures and expressions kick off a cognitive process – thinking – that moving images simply never do.


Something similar is true of good audio. The best audio blends reportage (‘being me, being here’) with the kind of aural cues that make audiences think and wander off down their own pathways while still engaging with the sound.

Put the two together – great audio documentary and great still images – and you have something that is potentially MORE than great storytelling.

It works on a whole different cognitive level to video.

It’s a take on audio slideshows that I’ve seen echoed around the audio journalism community. The claim of a more cerebral and deeply cognitive experience is quite seductive and calls on much of the deeply long-lived and traditional practices of photojournalism and image editors; the power of an image. But am I being cynical in seeing a reading of video as shallow and surface? Are we seeing a similar rhetoric to the slow/longform journalism? Video is surface and temporal. Pictures are deep and connected.

It’s a hard position for me to feel any real affinity for and one that often feels laboured (not by duckrabbit I might add). When I see advice on the five shots that make great slideshows I see a version of the 5 shots you need to make a good video package. In my view neither is better or worse, but with more in common than the broad demarcations suggest.

The discourse that’s used to define audio journalism is one that’s familiar to me as someone who has had more than a passing interest in online video.

Video Journalism

I’ve watched the concept of video journalism shift from a technical revelation, a rush to embrace a new platform, all the way through a new business model, via snake oil, to be a kind of new wave of film making.  It’s clear that it’s supporters feel it’s something different from broadcast.

The films are often authored, they are commonly open about a bias or particular viewpoint, they often cover stories away from the mainstream. But in form they are often best defined by their difference from standard broadcast fair than any general innovation.

That’s not to say there isn’t some compelling, editorially excellent, important and often, downright beautiful stuff going on out there. But beyond experiments with the form – none linear narratives and presentation – there’s little innovation. Maybe a good deal of disruption, but not innovation; using afterFX in a documentary is not innovative. It makes the claim for a new form of journalism a little hollow especially when a lot of it reflects such good journalism.

I know that the biggest regret of many VJ’s (unless your selling the dream not living it) seems to be that it isn’t taken seriously by broadcast journalism. I can see their point. The shocking lack of strands for documentary has pushed the good stuff online – it was only a matter of time.

Things are changing for VJ’s in that respect; without mainstream broadcast (which is their loss). But in my travels I still found pockets of identity crisis and concerns about a lack of recognition – why is that so important if there is a new (and better) form of video journalism I wonder.

Multimedia journalism

The concern over recognition is one that spreads beyond audio and video to those who prefer the title multimedia journalist (they chose the title rather than it being their job description).I was genuinely saddened to read Mark Kelly’s blog about his experiences of trying to do video in a newspaper context, bemoaning the ‘sea of crap’ he has to work with

I believe we’re about to see a huge surge in mobile phone footage shot by print journalists. And we all know what happens next, multimedia producers like you and I get given the footage and asked to turn it into something usable. But you can’t polish a turd can you?

It’s clear Mark has a deep commitment to producing quality stuff, but In another post he explains the exit route and maybe reveals the problem all in one:

Interestingly the majority of multimedia journalists are actually broadcast journalists who’ve ve set their sights on a future in TV and are working for online platforms as a way of gaining experience, a good plan given the growing number of channels and the lack of quality content available.

I suppose there’s nothing worse than being a frustrated broadcast journalist having to lower yourself to working with newspapers, apart from maybe being the newspaper journalist in that equation.

One commentator thinks the world of broadcast will have more respect for his skills:

Fortunately I’m leaving newspapers for the world of broadcast. There, they seem to recognise the breadth of talent, creativity and man hours that go into something worth watching. Maybe newspapers will learn that one day too.

The people who march under the video journalism banner would maybe have some different advice for them.


So why was all that worrying. For me it’s encapsulated in the plight of multimedia journalists. In trying to define themselves as different from the (traditional) norm they exclude themselves from all the groups. Perhaps it’s the environment that doesn’t respect the skills that pushes that banding together – maybe one day there will be a union!

But mostly all of the debates and definitions around multimedia (and you can use what term you like here – audio, video, multimedia, visual journalist) reminded me a lot of a section from Life of Brian (some bad language here)



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Creating audio slideshows using slideshare (and more)

I’ve just been putting together a workshop which fits around some discussion about audio journalism and audio slideshows in particular (more about that in the Ivory tower dispatch later this week).

In trying to put something practical together you soon get to see the limitation of the form within the kind of ‘freeconomy’ that exists for most web output.  Publish on a blog for example and the lack of ability to upload and embed files means daddy of slideshow builders, Soundslides, brilliant as it is,  is often a closed book unless you go the route of exporting to video.

There are work-arounds. You could use Dropbox to store the files and then generate  some embed code, but good luck embedding in wordpress!

So I was interested in exploring ways to pull together an audio slideshows together that gave you editorial control but didn’t require too much expensive software. So, that rules out but doesn’t dismiss using video editors as the platform to create the slideshow. I know a lot of people who use things like FCP to create image movies. You certainly see the influence of that with the greater prevalence of mixed-media stuff that’s coming out now. But  image movies miss that navigation you get with Soundslides so…

These are couple of solutions I worked through.

The Slideshare option.

[slideshare id=14664697&doc=examplepresentation-121010032816-phpapp02]

  • Record your audio using something like Audioboo or soundcloud.  I chose these platforms because they had nifty apps for my iphone so I could record the audio and back it up at the same time. There’s nothing stopping you using native audio recording apps.
  • Create a PowerPoint file containing the images, in order, for your slideshow. Because I’m using Slideshare, PowerPoint is pretty much required. What’s nice about is the collection of tools you have to add text etc. The slides don’t need to be a set length etc. They only need to be in order.
  • Upload the finished PowerPoint to Slideshare. 

  •  Upload your audio to Slideshare. Locate your presentation in your list of slides on slideshare. Then click the Add Audio. You can either link to an online file or upload one. One of the original reasons I used Audioboo was because it was easy to get a direct link to the MP3 file (just add .mp3 to the end of the url) but Slideshare didn’t seem to like the link and wouldn’t pull the file from AudioBoo directly, so I uploaded a version that I download from Audioboo!

  • Use the Slideshare editor to match your audio and slides. This is, and I’m not underselling this part, a bit frustrating. The editor uses a kind of windowed timeline which makes moving things around a bit of a pain, but it’s not a deal breaker. Some clicking around and you’ll get the feel of it. However its biggest failing is the patchy preview which is unpredictable. I often found it easier to save and check it in the normal view.

Hey presto! You have an audio slideshow. Embedding in blogs is pretty easy and there is a tried and tested shortcode for blogs.

The Windows movie maker option

The second option I toyed with was the video route. I know, I know, I said I ruled out the video route but WMM is free!

I’ve blogged before about using WMM to create slideshows before, so I won’t go in to that process other than to flag up two things:

  1. I used Powerpoint to generate the images in the slideshow. I just saved the presentation as a JPEG and it gives the option to save each slide as a separate image.
  2. I had to convert my audioboo MP3 to a WAV format. WMM doesn’t like the variable bit rate of the MP3 and syncing sound to pictures was impossible. I used Audacity to do this.

Once I had created the movie I uploaded to Youtube.

The other advantage of youtube here (rather than the image movie fave Vimeo) is that it offers a chance to put some of the interactivity in to the slideshow. Youtube’s video annotations (which may notice on the video above) give you the chance to add a level of interactivity to the video and the captions option also opens up some possibilities for adding more depth.


Aesthetically the slideshows are not going to please everyone. The restricted aspect ratio of both forms might offend the more cinematically minded in the multimedia journalism community for example. But small amount of faff aside, they are easy and free solutions and the exploration of the form (which is more what I’m interested in) is still there.

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Android audio editing apps: no joy for Journos?

Android robot logo.
Image via Wikipedia

I’m currently putting together stuff for my Digital Newsroom module for this year.

One of the things I ask the students to do is to record and edit a short audio vox-pop*.We have a number of audio recorders of varying levels of ‘quality’ at the Uni and access to Audacity and Adobe Audition. But I don’t stipulate what the audio should be recorded on or how it’s edited. My line is always ‘if you can do it and submit it by banging nails in to a piece of wood, go for it”.

I want the students to explore the range of resources that are out there and I’m always keen to add to the list of possible tools and resources they can use. So Uber blogger and font of endless multimedia journalism info Mark Luckie couldn’t have timed his latest post better.

The post highlights 3 Unique ways to record, edit, and publish your audio. It includes Monle, a four track editor for iphone/touch which is useful if you use you phone to record your audio interviews. Which got me thinking about the students who might want to use their mobile to record audio but don’t have an iphone or touch.

Android audio apps?

I see a lot of iphones at work but I also see a serious number of Android based phones so I thought I would do a quick scoot around and pick one or two apps that none Apple users could consider. And the result…



Move along now, nothing to see.

Well, OK, there was one; ringdroid which, on the surface, looks pretty good. But that was it.

From my reading round its seem the stumbling block is  a dodgy audio api on android – delays etc. But I was genuinely surprised that there wasn’t at least an attempt to try. Maybe it’s too niche!

Iphone/touch is the platform of choice

I’m nervous of the eulogizing that goes on of the iphone/touch as the ‘tool of choice for multimedia journalists’ but I have to say that as an all in one device (the new touch in particular) it’s looking pretty good.

If you know about a good audio recording/editing app on Android or other mobile platforms for that matter, please let me know.

* Before the anti-vox brigade have a go I should say that this is part of a series of competency ‘tests’. I want to be sure that the students have exprimented with recording audio and vox is an easy ‘reason’ to record audio.

Update: has a nice article looking at the Monle and Hindenburg audio apps.

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Getting the best audio in the field

Two excellent posts around Audio in my reader this morning, both from B&H video.

The first, via Peter at shooting by numbers, is called Getting the most out of your wireless system. Many people are using wireless mics in their video set up as, if noting else, it frees your hands up from holding a mic. Good sound and flexibility are the key pros of a wireless set up. But level control and sound quality can be an issue, especially if you are using them with lower range cameras. This article does a great job of fleshing out the issues and offerening good solution.

The second article comes via Matt Jeppsen at Fresh DV. How to Use a Portable Audio Recorder in Field Production, goes in to a lot of detail. The main audience is at those looking to integrate a digital recorder in to a pro-audio set-up. I don’t think many newspaper shooters will be needing to sync timecode boxes to their audio rigs. But there is plenty of good advice.

Also worth checking out is there article on selecting a shotgun Mic. External Mics are my biggest recommendation when it comes to upgrading video kit. A good radio mic and a solid shotgun mic add so much flexibility.

In the UK we don’t have anything like B&H. I suppose specialist suppliers like Canford Audio and a multitude of the smaller gear houses around the country offer similar range and advice. But to have it all in one place and with such useful information. Well, I’m pretty jealous.

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External microphone and the N95

Many of you may remember the Reuters MOJO project a while back that had an Nokia N95 at its heart. One of things that most interested me about the thing was the special audio adaptor that Nokia built for them. I remember at the time thinking that it would be cool to have one.

I don’t know why this came back across my radar again but I stumbled on this video (via this post) that offers a nice easy low-fi alternative. It’s an idea that’s been around for a while but given that the N95 still seems to be the phone of choice for the mobile-j, I thought I would share in case anyone hadn’t seen.

Audio recorders resource

If you’re thinking about buying an audio recorder – and why not share some podcast love with your audience – then you should check out Brad Linder’s Blog. I’ve linked to it before, but it just gets better.

He’s been playing with audio recorders trying to decide which one to buy as a replacement for his Zoom H4 and is learning a lot as he goes:

So I’ve created a new label for field recorders. If you want to check my latest news and reviews on flash audio recorders, just click on the field recorders tag in the label cloud on the right side of your screen.

Go and check this out.