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.


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