CAMP 2018: Audio Reporting Basics Tip Sheet

By Ariel Worthy


Lisa Gillespie, Health and Innovation Reporter at Kentucky Public Radio (@LVGillespie)
Sara Jamshidi, publisher of Goltune News (@yazirum)
Shula Neuman, Executive Editor at St. Louis Public Radio (@shuneu)
Megan Kamerick, journalist in public TV/radio, print and online (@megankamerick)

The lead

You only have a few moments to draw a listener into a story; you’d better make them count. From capturing background sound to equipment check, putting together the perfect audio story is no small feat.

The Top Five

Collecting sound

  • Always get the room tone. When doing an interview, record the sound of the room, setting or environment for ambiance and background sound for your story. This brings listeners in more and helps with overall storytelling.
    • “If I’m interviewing someone about a haunted house and I don’t have the sounds of creaking doors and screams I haven’t done my job,” Shula Neuman said.
    • “At the end of an interview I’ll say, ‘Can we just sit here quietly for a minute,’” Lisa Gillespie said. “That’s helpful because when you’re putting your story together … if you don’t have the room tone for your narration, it will sound jumpy.”
    • “I always try to turn on my mic as soon as I leave the car,” Sara Jamshidi said. “Maybe they are just whispering or saying something that I need to use in my production and for the sake of using ambient sound. Maybe the best quote you get is through that unintentional recording that you captured.”
  • Check your levels. If your mic is turned up too loudly the sound will be distorted, and it will be impossible to fix.
    • “Always make sure you are in the high gre en, low red zone (on your mic’s levels),” Shula Neuman said.
    • On the flip side, your mic can be turned down too low and it can be fixed, but when trying to mix your audio everything can sound louder, including the background, which will make mixing and cutting audio difficult.
    • Wear headphones. Listen to what you are recording so later in the studio you know the level of your audio and mixing won’t be as difficult.

Writing a script

  • Write short sentences, use present tense and write like you talk.
    • “Remember that people are listening to your story and doing other things,” Shula Neuman said. “You don’t have their undivided attention like you do when someone’s reading. So, write clearly and concisely.”
  • The host’s introduction is important. If someone doesn’t hear what the story is about and why it’s interesting, they probably won’t listen to the whole story.
  • Don’t use fancy words when a smaller, less complicated word will work.
  • Contractions can sometimes sound the same as their opposite. Sometimes “can’t” has to be replaced with “cannot” to be understood more clearly in audio.
  • Talk how you would talk with a friend.
    • “You wouldn’t say, ‘You can’t do that, Lisa said. You’d say, ‘Lisa said you can’t do that,’” Neuman said.
  • Don’t always use a subject’s entire job title. Keep it simple to avoid losing time in your story.
    • “Do you really want to give five more seconds to the dude with the giant title?” Kamerick said.
  • If you’re stuck when radio writing, try these tricks:
    • Find someone to tell the story to and record yourself telling it to them. The natural way a story should be told will probably come out. You will hear yourself tell the story naturally without a bunch of jargon, and you will tell the story structurally: beginning, middle and end.
    • Find the best quotes, sound bites or actualities and line them up, then write from quote to quote.
    • If you run out of breath, your sentence is too long. Rewrite it.

Audio Production

  • Always make a copy of your audio and use the copy for the story.
    • “Always keep untouched, raw audio,” Kamerick said.
  • No matter how quiet the room was in an interview, use that room tone underneath just at the beginning and the end of the sound bite.
    • “Even if it was a quiet room, we’re still going to go in (the story) gently, and leave gently,” Shula Neuman said.
  • When done mixing, listen to your audio two times: once with headphones on and once in speakers.
    • “Most people are going to be listening in their cars or in their kitchens, you want to make sure that what you hear very clearly in your headphones is also audible in your speakers,” Shula Neuman said

Doing sensitive interviews

  • Always tell someone, like a friend, editor, your whereabouts and where you’re staying.
  • If in a foreign country or unknown environment, understand the condition of your sources, the government and the ethics of where you are.
    • Be professional and polite to your fixers!
  • Be mindful of your equipment.
    • If you have large, elaborate equipment it could scare a person off.
    • “I usually tell people in advance that I am bringing equipment, like I will be looking like a Ghostbuster, so it doesn’t throw them off,” Lisa Gillespie said.
  • Ask “Is there anything else you would like to add?”
    • “I oftentimes get the whole story after I ask that question,” Sara Jamshidi said.

 Other tips

  • Before starting your conversation, it’s best to sip water, specifically room temperature so you will have a nice, clear voice.
    • “I oftentimes ask my guests to sip water so that their sound will be much better when I’m recording,” Sara Jamshidi said.
  • Try tongue or mouth exercises that work for you, so you can best enunciate and avoid getting tongue-tied.

The Surprise

Coffee and cold beverages can affect the way your voice sounds. Don’t drink coffee before an interview or recording audio. But do drink room temperature water.

The Resources