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Module 5: Digital Media and Methodology

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Blogs, Audio and Podcasting

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Blogs, Audio and Podcasting

How to Blog

Many new media analysts have suggested that every reporter should have a blog.

That may not be feasible, but scores of successful journalist blogs are currently online, allowing the blogger/reporter to cultivate a community with readers to test ideas, receive feedback and publish in the
timeliest manner possible.

Blogging

A good blog helps a blogger/journalist enhance his or her authority on a beat by
adding the ability to publish information outside of the traditional news cycle.

Blogging

The rules are different with a blog. You can play off other information you find
online, even linking to stories and blogs that might be thought of as
competition but, in reality, are essentially all part of the virtual community conversation on a given topic.

A good blog is an ongoing conversation. It is facilitated by you, but, if it works,
it may be dominated by your audience. If that happens, you win, the news organization wins and, most importantly, the readers win.

Blogs, Audio and Podcasting

How to Blog

You should read blogs in order to write an effective blog. Finding the right ones to read will take a little searching, but is worth the time. Find blogs that cover the same subject matter as your beat and make a regular habit of checking them for updates.

Blogs have changed forever the way information is disseminated in our society.

They’re fast. They’re interactive. They’re freewheeling. They can be dangerous.
They are already powerful and growing more so every day.

Characteristics

Blogs usually share some common characteristics:

• A frequently updated online journal, written in a conversational style, with entries displayed in reverse chronological order.

• Links to other news and information found on the Web complemented with analysis from the blogger.

• A link that allows readers to post their own thoughts on what the blogger is writing about.

How to Blog

The narrower the topic, the better. Not only will your audience clearly understand the subject matter covered, the blogger will have a better chance to present his or herself as the best source of timely information on that particular topic.

The goal in blogging is to write tight and be quick: Get to your point immediately and get out of there.

Think of blogging as an e-mail to someone you know. You can be economical with your words but much more conversational than you’d be in a news story.

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Connect

For your most loyal readers, you are the middle man between them and the sources of information they’re trying to follow. Anything you can do to connect readers directly to the source will build credibility for you and make your readers want to return to your blog.

If you find a report online that will be the focus of an upcoming story, link to it with a blog post and simply say, “This is interesting. I’ll be writing about this soon.” And be done with it.

Handling Comments

First, you should not start a blog unless you’re willing to allow comments. Some mainstream news blogs don’t allow comments, severely undermining the medium’s community-building function.

Second, you should embrace comments as a valuable reporting tool and not disdain them as many traditional journalists do.

You can also cultivate comments by adding your own comments to any discussion that needs clarification, redirection or simply a vote of confidence.

Post Once a Day

If you can be short with your posts, you can easily add at least one every day. That’s an important minimum to hit if you plan to build an audience. Ideally, you will post even more frequently. After all, if your beat is worth covering, there should be enough action to support this frequency.

successful journalist-bloggers have found ways to make the blog work for them, saving them time instead of simply becoming an added time burden. You can use the blog as a notebook, compiling your notes and story ideas. It can help organize your thoughts and if you build an audience, the leads and feedback you receive will forever change the way you approach your beat.

Terminology

There are terms bloggers use to describe the mechanics of the medium and it’s important to know what they mean.

Post: to make an entry on a blog
Permalink: A link available on each post that allows direct access to that post
Trackback: A mechanism for communication between blogs
Blogroll: A collection of links usually found on the sidebar of a blog
Linkblog: A blog comprised of links to other online sources
Vlog: A blog that features video commentary as its primary medium
Moblog: Blogging from a mobile device

Most blogging software makes adding a photo to a post as simple as adding an
attachment to an e-mail.

Blogs, Audio and Podcasting

How to Blog

Would you read a newspaper or magazine that had no pictures, graphics or art of any kind? Of course not.

Don’t expect readers to flock to a boring blog without artwork.
As a reporter/blogger, you will likely be covering subjects that have been covered previously, so reusing photos should be easy.

Reasons
If you are considering a blog, do it for the right reasons. You need to be passionate about your blog — just as you are passionate about your craft or your beat. If you’re not, you’ll be wasting your time.

Most reporters, editors and even photographers — once they get started — wish they had more time to spend on their blog.

For some it becomes the cornerstone for all their work.


Using Audio

A challenge for many reporters is to capture in words a story’s particular sights and sounds.

With the advent of smartphones and cheap digital audio recorders, reporters can bring readers closer to the story by enhancing their reporting with audio clips.

It’s helpful to have an understanding of digital file formats. You’re probably familiar with some of the formats, like MP3 and Windows Media. It’s not necessary for you to know the technical differences, just know what you’re dealing with.

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Microphone Types
While using an external mike can be an extra nuisance during an interview, the
added sound quality is well worth the effort. There are basically two types of external microphones: A standard mike with a cord, and a wireless or lavalier mike.

A standard mike with a cord is helpful if you are interviewing more than one person at a time.

A wireless or lavalier mike consists of a battery pack and miniature mike on a cord that clips on the person you want to record.

Editing Audio

It’s unlikely you’ll ever publish an entire interview session online. Just like you don’t publish entire interviews in text, you need to edit your audio to make sure the best stuff is not obscured by less compelling, less important or repetitive content.

Editing audio is remarkably similar to editing text, so you shouldn’t be intimidated when approaching this task. There are numerous different types of audio-editing software available on the Internet, some with more functionality than others. For example Audacity is widely available and free to use.

Audio Clips

If you are a reporter, interviewing people is what you do. You can transcribe the best quotes for print but does that really provide a thorough and complete report? Did someone say something with emotion or feeling or uniqueness that doesn’t transfer to text? Most news articles can be improved with the addition of audio clips.

A newspaper reporter can easily produce audio clips on more than half of the stories he or she turns in, based on the subject matter alone. That may sound too ambitious if you haven’t edited and published audio for the Web before. But once you do it a couple of times, it will become second nature.

MP3 Format

Your goal should be to provide audio clips in MP3 format for your readers. Why? Because virtually any computer can play an MP3.

Programs like iTunes, Windows Media Player or Real Player can play them, too, but they can’t play the other proprietary formats. For example, you can’t play a Windows Media file in iTunes or a Real Media file in Windows Media Player, but you can play an MP3 on any of them.

Recording Audio

Recording Tips

When recording an interview pick a location for the interview that is quiet and has good acoustics. A person’s home or office is a good option; a coffee shop or restaurant is not. If the interview occurs outside, make sure it is as far away from traffic and crowds as possible.

Soundbites

It’s also a good idea to have some questions pre-written. While you may have interviewing experience, this is a different kind of interview where you also have to think about the equipment (sound levels), the environment (background noise) and the pacing of questions so it sounds good later.

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Soundbites
If the goal of recording is to produce an audio clip to accompany a news story, consider waiting until the end of the interview to do the recording. That way you can conduct the interview just as you normally would, then ask the subject to address a couple of the most salient points for the recording.

Another technique to speed up the editing process when recording the entire interview is to mark the points where the interviewee relays the best information. Most journalists take note when they hear a quote or a nugget of information that will be especially useful.

Recording Tips

In an audio interview, try to use nonverbal cues. You may have developed a habit of audibly agreeing with what your subject is saying while they are saying it. When the tape isn’t rolling, this works to let the subject know you want them to elaborate upon an area, but when the tape is rolling, these interruptions can be disturbing to the listener and can cover up some of the subject’s key points. Remember, while the subject is talking, remain silent.

Listeners want to hear what your subject has to say, not what you think about the topic. So remember your job is to ask questions. Some context following
a subject’s response, like spelling out an acronym, is helpful. But try to keep
it to a minimum.

Recording Audio

You cannot control everything that happens when interviewing someone else.

However, you can have complete control of a voice-over or the narration that you will record for a video story or an audio slideshow.

For the best results when recording a voice over, do some planning and remember the following tips, write a script, warm up/prepare your voice, use operative words and maintain a conversational tone.

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Be Conversational

While focusing on operative words will help, don’t allow yourself to be too distracted by them. It’s more important to be natural and conversational as you speak. If it sounds like you’re reading a script and intentionally emphasizing some words but not others, the entire project will suffer.

So aim for a flowing, conversational reading of your script first, and then add the more complicated techniques of operative words.

Operative Words

What are the operative words? They are the words that would give the listener or viewer the gist of the story rather than the complete sentences in the script. Usually they are the classic who-what-where-when-why-how words — nouns, adjectives, adverbs, titles, names.

There are four ways to add emphasis to the operative words:

• Volume — Emphasize an operative word by making your voice louder
• Pitch — Change the pitch of your voice when you say an operative word
• Rhythm — Change the rhythm of your voice when saying an operative word
• Tempo — Change the speed of your delivery to emphasize an operative word
Warm Up

While it may feel weird, stretching the muscles in your face and mouth and humming or singing will help prepare you to be recorded. Open your mouth as wide as possible and move your jaw back and forth.

Then hum some deep notes and some high notes and sing a few bars of a familiar song. Your facial muscles and vocal chords need to be ready to perform, just as if you were about to workout or go running.

Write a Script

Having a detailed script that you can practice a few times before turning on the microphone will greatly enhance the quality of the finished product.

Crafting an effective script is quite different from news writing. The fewer
words the better as the purpose of voice-over narration is to amplify or clarify
what may be obvious on screen. Short, simple declarative sentences work best.

Choose words that are easy to say and have a good flow when put together.

Podcasts

Podcasting is the distribution of audio files over the Internet. The files can be downloaded to mobile devices or played on personal computers.

The term podcast, (Playable On Demand + broadcast) can mean both the content and the method of delivery.

Usually, the podcast features one type of show with new episodes available either sporadically or at planned intervals such as daily or weekly.

Setting Up a Podcast:

If you know you will have regular audio files on a specific topic to offer to readers, setting up a podcast will make organizing and publishing the audio convenient for you and your readers.

A good example is a sports writer who records interviews with coaches and players and wants to offer them to readers. Setting up a podcast will allow a reader to subscribe and receive new files as they become available.


Format

Podcast websites also may offer direct download of their files, but the subscription feed of automatically delivered new content is what distinguishes a podcast from a simple download.

In format, podcasts are similar to conventional radio programming with a host or hosts interviewing a subject, playing music or introducing pre-recorded audio stories.

Blogs, Audio and Podcasting

Podcasts

Many businesses and companies are producing podcasts, as it is a cheap way to advertise to groups with specific interests. Most newspapers are also podcasting, as a way of reaching a bigger audience, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and also for use as a compliment to their written material.

Many people who start a podcast, often have the intention of building an online community, where people can comment, discuss and give feedback on their programs. Podcasting with video files is also popular and is referred to as vodcasting. It is the same as an audio podcast, but includes video footage.