Month: September 2013

My first audio piece

Nothing makes for a great Sunday afternoon quite like listening to NPR in the car. Since I can remember, my family has taken weekend trips to Beaver Lake in Eureka Springs, Ark. On the Sunday drives back home my family would always listen to NPR– usually Prairie Home Companion if we hit it at the right time.

This Sunday I spent yet another afternoon driving and listening to NPR. This time I was alone and driving from my hometown of Kansas City back to Columbia, Mo. for the start of the next school week. I turned on the local NPR station right at the beginning of the On the Media Program, and I listed to a segment called “The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook.”

The segment caught my attention at first because of its interesting subject matter. The piece discussed the common mistakes most news outlets make when initially covering a mass shooting such as misreporting about the number of shooters and the identity of the shooters. As I continued to listen to the segment, however, I realized I was hearing the audio in a completely different way than I had in my previous 19 years of NPR listening.

The ambient or natural sound of police cars and ambulances jumped out at me when the story discussed past shootings. I heard the clarity of the voices in the interview and decided the reporter had remembered to hold the mic at a diagonal angle in order to avoid popping and hissing noises of the mic. I pondered which editing software the reporter had used and considered how long the 8-minute-long piece had actually taken to gather, edit and produce. In short, I gained a completely new appreciation of audio as a journalism medium.

This week I produced an audio story of my own for my 2150 multimedia class. I returned to Curly Eye Alpaca Farm, where I took pictures two weeks ago. I felt even less comfortable with an audio recorder than I did with a camera. I had at least held a camera before; however, the audio recorder was a completely new experience. I interviewed the couple who owned the farm, and felt uncomfortable by how close I needed to sit to them to get quality audio. About two minutes into one of my interviews I realized that the recorder was on standby instead of record so I had to start again. I also struggled to capture my natural sound at a proper volume. As intimidating as the experience was at first, I really enjoyed the assignment just as I had liked the photo assignment. The process made me aware of elements needed to capture any good story, especially an audio one.

Below is my audio piece about the farm:

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Overcoming my fears of multimedia journalism

StartupWeekend

University of Missouri students Zach Beattie (left) and Nick Droege (right) present their idea for Safe Trek Friday, Sept. 13 at Startup Weekend Columbia.

Today an original photo of mine was published by a professional news organization. Say what? Granted the photo (pictured above) is very dark, sort of out of focus and marginally interesting at best; however, up until this point I only had confidence in my writing and reporting ability as a journalist.

I joined a newspaper staff in high school partly because I liked to write, but also in large part because I knew I could write well. It is much easier to jump into an opportunity when you have a fair amount of confidence that you can seize said opportunity. Though I am very proud of a number of articles I have written since I first joined that first publication, seeing a photo of mine published this morning filled me with an equal sense of accomplishment. The multimedia class I am currently enrolled in (and writing all of these blog posts for) seriously terrified me at the beginning of this semester. What if after a semester of attempting to take photos and produce audio and video stories I realized I didn’t have the ability to survive as a well-rounded journalist in today’s ever-changing world of new technology? What if (gasp) I got a B or a C in a journalism class?

This past weekend something really neat happened though. I went out into the real world and simply attempted to do some of the very things that had been scaring me. I went to Startup Weekend Columbia to get quotes for a story I was writing for a technology and business publication called Silicon Prairie News, and I brought a camera just for fun. I also went to an alpaca farm for my multimedia class prepared to both try and fail –and possibly succeed– at capturing photos.

Most of the pictures I took this weekend weren’t great. Even some of my “best” pictures like the one above for Silicon Prairie News aren’t great. At a certain point while I was reviewing the pictures I had taken, bad and good, I also realized I didn’t care if most of my pictures were bad. I was learning, and that was success.

Now a few weeks into my multimedia class, I am excited to learn about all of those technology skills that used to scare me. I’m even considering pursuing convergence journalism which would require me to take advanced multimedia classes.

Sometimes success is simply not being afraid to be bad at a new skill.

Below are a few of my favorite pictures from my weekend shoot at Curly Eye Alpaca Farm:

Audio journalism: telling a story that has to be heard

This Friday, Sept. 13, the University of Missouri is hosting producers from StoryCorps, a non-profit that records and shares the stories of people across the nation. The organization has interviewed more than 90,000 people in 45,000 interviews since it started work in 2003, and has its own segment on NPR. I love the organization’s motto: “Every voice matters.”

The organization uses audio as its medium to tell stories. I can’t think of a better medium because audio listens. Different storytelling mediums all serve a purpose in the world of journalism. Print is great for timely news: The most important information is contained in the story’s lede. From there, the reader can find out greater detail according to their interest level and time availability. Video provides a great summary of events: After I watch a nightly news program, I feel informed of the day’s headlines and prepared for small talk about world happenings the next day. For the kind of storytelling found in the StoryCorps pieces audio, however, is most definitely the best medium.

A listener cannot fast forward through an audio clip without missing the story. There is no “skim” option for the ears. Every syllable, slang word and sound will be heard. I think this is why audio can be so refreshingly powerful. When I hear Patricia Lyons Simon tell her son, Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, “I love you,” my thoughts and my feelings react. I can’t help but tear up a bit.

Audio also allows a listener to pause in their thoughts. In late July, BuzzFeed picked up a video of an interview Fox News had with author Reza Aslan. The BuzzFeed article titled, “Is this the most embarrassing interview Fox News has ever done?, criticizes the way the Fox News reporter conducts her interview with Aslan. The reporter questions Aslan’s religion and how it relates to his work, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” The interview is loaded with controversial and arguably biased and ignorant questions asked of the author. Before I ever watched the video interview, which soon exploded on my Facebook newsfeed, I heard the interview NPR’s Terry Gross had with the author. The 44 minute interview is a night and day difference. The radio piece breathes; it’s a conversation. The author is free to explain his work and tell a story about himself and his research. Although much of the failure in Fox’s piece results from the way in which the interview is conducted, I would argue that the audio medium is also much better suited to a conversation with Aslan. In addition to all of the issues present in the Fox interview, the piece feels crowded, loaded and much too pre-planned. There is no story in the video interview, only a made-for-TV moment that lends itself to criticism by online viewers.

Although most of my experience is in print journalism, audio storytelling is a realm I am very excited to explore. I want to tell stories in the best way that I can. Not every story should be printed or filmed. Some stories need to be heard. I can’t wait to become equipped to tell a story that has to be heard in every sense of the word.

Looking at the world like a journalist

When did “How are you?” become a greeting? This might sound like a strange question, but really think about it. When was the last time someone asked you that question, aside from maybe your mother, and waited for you to reply with something other then “fine/good/great?”

Granted, there may be a few people in your life who take the time to ask you about your day (Cherish those people!), but my point is that we don’t ask each other nearly enough how we feel, think or dream. I realized this during an ice breaker game. I am a Peer Advisor on the Residential Life staff for the University of Missouri this year, and during one of our staff training “ice breakers” we all had to write two questions for the group on a sheet of paper. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • What is your favorite sound?
  • What are you most passionate about?

Some of the answers to the questions blew me away. I loved the way one of my coworkers described his favorite sound – The lively chatter you hear from a distance at a family gathering, and the sense of comfort and warmth you feel knowing that you are about to walk into a room of people you love. The responses taught me so much more about the people around me than any normal small talk conversation could.

The kind of questions my staff asked each other are the kind of questions journalists ask their subjects every day. We ask firefighters to describe the relieved faces of those they rescue and athletes to explain the rush they get after winning a big competition. We also ask seemingly everyday people the kind of “How are you?” questions most people never do, too. In high school I wrote a story about a well-known business sign holder in my town. The man held an advertisement sign for a local business and would get dressed up and dance on a sidewalk with the sign nearly every day. Around town, people recognized him as the “sign guy,” but no one had asked him why he loved a job which required such long hours of standing on his feet. I can’t describe the look in the man’s face when he explained that following a rough break-up, he hadn’t seen his two-year-old son since his birth; seeing young children smile at his dancing reminded him of his son’s smile.

The best way I’ve heard it described, is thinking about people as anthills. We see people on a surface level, unless we dig to reveal the complexities underneath. Artist John Koenig coined a word for this, called “sonder.” I love the way this video explains the universal story we all share.

Everyone has a story that someone hasn’t discovered yet. The best journalism finds a unique story in everyone. A great journalist recognizes the elements of the human condition we all posses. But what is stopping the rest of us from “being journalists” in our everyday lives? Let’s start asking people how they are with every intention to find out this time.