Category Archives: Podcasts

5 uses of audio online

A quick note from the expertise that is a Paul Bradshaw lecture. There are certain pieces that work especially well in audio online:

1. DEBATE – record an event where some kind of debate is taking place. Audio suits conflict.

2. BANTER – oh, yes. Audio is perfect for this. Get a straight “man” and a funny “man” and you’re good to go. Set up and scores, Q&As – anything that relies on joking and interaction.

3. INTERVIEWS – this one goes without saying.

4. MONOLOGUE – reflection can also work well on Audio. This can work well with micropodcasting on services like Audioboo.

5. POTPOURRI – this is Paul’s term for any audio piece with a mix of items. See commerical podcasts which have around a minute of adverts like Jeff Jarvis’ Buzzmachine. It is more like a radio talk show.

 

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Get Your Podcasts Out

It’s time to sort the aural wheat from the chaff. In the words of The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage, who was nice enough to chat to us: “Finding a podcast that I like tends to involve wading through about a million hopeless, boring, crappy ones first.”

Very true, Stu.

Thankfully there are a few sites you can check to make sure you cut right to the good stuff without all the, you know, other stuff. The less good stuff.

First up we have the iTunes podcast chartlist which should be your first port of call for a topping ‘cast. All the genres, all the forms, this combines every podcast into one easy to read table. Perfect.

Want to see if your favourite comedian’s recorded a podcast? Check out the British Comedy Podcast Guide for a taster of what’s to come- they’re set to launch a full blown directory in early 2011. Which means any time soon…

While you’re waiting for the funny stuff, you might want to educate yourself on the tube. Whether you’re interested in grassroot politics, english literature or brushing up on your languages, The Podcasts for Educators, Schools and Colleges will be right up your alley.

FT columnist, author and presenter of Radio 4’s “More or Less” Tim Harford has recently sorted through shedloads of Economic podcasts on his brilliant blog. He’s done the legwork here so you don’t have to.

You can thank us later…

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Hello, Audacity

I keep hearing about Audacity so I thought I’d put up some links as a quick introduction for any audio-fans who, like me, have never used it. As ever, if you have any tips to help with future experiments in audio editing let us know.

Audacity is a free audio recorder and editor – find the site here and download the software for free. For audio journalists the most useful tools on Audacity are that you can: record live audio, edit MP3 files, cut and copy sounds, fade the volume up or down and remove static/hiss/hum and other background noises. It runs on Mac OS X, Window and GNU/Linux.

Audacity is opensource – their latest version is 1.3.12 and they also have a Wiki page where users can post and read tutorials, tips and troubleshooting help. These include everything from How to set up an ad hoc recording studio to  Making Ringtones. Also highlighted is the very thorough The Audacity To Podcast– a regular audio podcast about audio podcasting (with a focus on using Audacity).

I don’t think we’re quite up to removing noise and recording more than one podcast host so let’s take a step back.

After my success being talked through making an audio slideshow on iMovie by a kind American on YouTube, I thought I’d find a simple and straightforward tutorial for Audacity. The most obvious starting point would be to make podcast-grade audio material so here’s six minutes on how to do just that.

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The Big Question

If The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage could make a podcast, it would be about the X Factor. And it would be called ‘The X Factor Podcast’. Although known mainly for screen-based reviews, observations and trying to slip X-Factor references in wherever possible, the one thing everyone wants to know is, let’s be honest, what he thinks about podcasts. And maybe a bit about whale song. Thank the lord for the Audio Journalism blog…

Hi. What do you think of podcasts?

The Bugle is always a favourite. I also like the stuff Richard Herring does with Andrew Collins, and a few of The Guardian‘s podcasts. But finding a podcast that I like tends to involve wading through about a million hopeless, boring, crappy ones first. Why can’t all podcasts be good? Why?

Ok, if you could create one, what would it be?

Entertainment Weekly sometimes does a great podcast about American Idol, where they just pile a bunch of writers together and get them to pick each episode apart in a really snappy, witty way. I’d probably rip this idea off  but make it about X Factor. However, I think I might be the only person involved with The Guardian who gives even the remotest stuff about X Factor, so there’s a good chance the whole thing might just be me in a room by myself, crying. I’d call it X Factor Podcast. Because I have no imagination.

Have you ever made one before?

I attempted to a couple of years ago. The plan was for it to be a hard-hitting news satire thing but, in my opinion at least, it didn’t really work out. It was a bit flat and tedious and we didn’t research anything properly and I think I’d die of humiliation if people ever heard it.

You are locked in a small box and subjected to one continuous sound for 36 hours. What would your preferred sound be?

I’m tempted to say whalesong or some other kind of new-age bollocks, in the dumb hope that it’d make me relax and go to sleep. However, experience has taught me that whalesong gets a bit oppressive after about 45 minutes, so there’s a good chance I’d try to deliberately fracture my skull on the sides of the box to make it stop if this actually happened. Therefore, my answer is this: the continuous sound of everyone outside the box crying and saying how much they miss me. See? Needy AND vain.

So. Now you know…

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Audio Blog or Podcast?

All this talk of different kinds and lengths of podcasts on my last From Our Own Podcase blog, has led me to wondering: when is a podcast not a podcast? Or rather, when is a podcast an audio blog? I’ve heard this term audio blog being bandied about you see, but I’m yet to really understand what exactly it means. And surely 5 to 8 minute podcasts like Grammar Girl or The Ethicist deserve a different genre category to an hour long magazine-type show.

Of course, my first port of call was my trusty friend Google. Hmmm, not so trusty after all. The only advice I can seem to find is people clarifying the difference between a written blog and a podcast. Now forgive my cockiness but I think I, along with most of the population, have mastered this one. I kinda got that one was written and one was sounds. That’s why I don’t spend my time shouting my thoughts on audio journalism into my computer-thingemy-bob in the belief that they’ll be communicated to you.

Next up then was trusty (not to be confused with trustworthy) friend Wikipedia, who told me: “An MP3 blog is a type of blog in which the creator makes music files, normally in the MP3 format, available for download. They are also known as “musicblogs” or “audioblogs”. MP3 blogs have become increasingly popular since 2003.” This is all very well, but couldn’t this passage well be describing a podcast? Sigh.

Time to ask an expert methinks. So I turned to media and technology journalist, editor and chief analyst of www.themediabriefing.com, all round lovely chap and Dalston pub-aficionado Patrick Smith aka PSmith.

So what’s the difference PSmith?

“Hmm, blogging vs podcast…. I guess blogging has to be sequential, regular updates on something. Podcasts are longer and less regular. Also, most podcasts tend to be just edited versions of radio shows, or people chatting, e.g. the Ricky Gervais model. Blogging is very different to that.”

So would it be helpful to see an audio blog as the aural version of a written blog? Are audio blogs actually therefore less formal and structured than a podcast…more, like this blog, just pondering on ideas and, well, throwing them out there?

“The blog is just the platform, the tool you use. You can write anything you want on it. Some are personal, some are professional. It’s the same with audio blogs. I used to work for paidcontent.co.uk which started as a blog, but no one calls it that now – it’s a news website. Just think of blogging as a convenient mode of digital communication – the same rules of journalism apply, in my view.”

So there you go. If the same rules of journalism apply to blogs and audio blogs as they do to other forms of journalism, like news stories for example, it stands to reason that both forms of blog should certainly still be structured, well-thought out ways of informing the reader of something. The main deciding factor between podcasts and blogs is nice and simple then: the length.

So I’m officially categorising Grammar Girl et al as audio blogs. In fact, thinking about my own listening experiences, and reflecting on Patrick’s wise words, I reckon podcasts are the medium that allow more discursive discussions between people, but again only be dint of their length. Audio blogs still have to be just as structured to pack in all the facts into a quick, digestible snapshot into a certain subject area.

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From Our Own Podcase (continued…)

Did you know that there are weird auction groupees in America who compulsively bid on storage units whose owners have run into financial difficulties, usually only to find broken lawn mowers, porn magazines and dusty wine inside once they’ve paid hundreds of dollars for them? Did you know that in the Haitian voodoo tradition the souls of the newly dead reside beneath the water in rivers and streams for exactly a year and a day before being reborn? Did you know that the English are less likely to use a serial comma –a comma placed before the ‘and’ at the end of a list- or even that it was called a serial comma?

No? Then you need to delve into some of the truly wonderful podcasts I have been enjoying over the last couple of weeks.

After receiving a few recommendations from fellow podcases, I have been battling through the elements of a morning in the company of our friends from across the Atlantic.

The star of the show definitely has to be This American Life – not surprising as this hour long show, broadcast on a weekly basis in the US to about 1.7 million listeners, is apparently also the country’s most popular podcast.

As the show’s website admits, “it’s sort of hard to describe.” Each week’s programme has a central theme linking its four or five features together. This allows them to explore phenomena and human experience that might not be particularly topical, but are certainly fascinating and worth dedicating time to to really get a sense of the characters behind each story.

This week, I learnt about the storage auctioning mentioned above (and that Paris Hilton auctioned a unit containing previously unseen titillating pictures of herself), and about the first under water excavation of a Byzantine ship which started 50 years ago and is still underway. I also learnt that us Brits are the only country to have ‘last resort letters’ on every British nuclear submarine which are instructions from the current PM, never seen by anyone and destroyed when they go out of office, that tell the reader what to do in the event of Britain being obliterated by nuclear holocaust. The show then ended with a really fascinating account of someone who ‘woke up’ in a train station in India with no idea of who or where he was; he’d developed amnesia fter taking the Malaria drug Larium.

Each story’s designed to make the listener think about the people featured in an unresolved, thought-provoking way. Although the interviews and accounts are deeply searching, the show declines to provide any sense of answers to why, for example, people are addicted to the thrill of bidding on what they know is likely to be other people’s junk. In this way, This American Life was a refreshing break from current affairs podcasts- there aren’t too many facts to remember or new occurrences to keep up with, just the chance to contemplate the strangeness and varied nature of life.

In contrast with these sustained meditations, my other favourite podcasts this week have been short and pithy. One of them has also been extremely geeky and, as it is solely dedicated to quandaries on correct grammar usage, might not be to everyone’s taste. Grammar Girl is one of the helpful, if a little irksome and smug, characters populating a website called Quick and Dirty Tips. Advice can also be found here on law, maths, public speaking and money, among other topics.

Each podcast is around 8 minutes long and focuses on a certain contentious point of grammar, usually in response to a query from a listener. This week I have learnt how to write a dialogue, whether a space before a full stop is ever appropriate, and that the Cohen brother’s claim for their film True Grit, that people didn’t use contractions back then, is actually incorrect. They are surprisingly interesting and easy to digest as you walk along- an actually much less painful way of getting your ps and qs right than wading through books on these subjects. (Despite the best of intentions I’ve yet to complete Lyn Truss’ or even Bill Bryson’s forays into this area.)

If grammatical dilemmas fail to get you going, maybe ethical dilemmas will. New York Times magazine fans may already be aware of Randy Cohen’s article The Ethicist. The podcasts are simply Randy reading the articles in which he gives his opinion on ethical dilemmas presented by readers. For example, he advises a lady who is worried that she should report a recycling collector for slacking on the job, that she should consider that while she is staring at him reading a magazine she is not getting on with her own responsibilities (i.e. caring for her children), and that all humans necessarily have to take little breaks while they work. This is another really good podcast for when you’re in an easily distractible mood, or when there’s heavy traffic to contend with, as you get drawn into the dilemmas without having to concentrate on a sustained, complex explanation of something. The podcasts are only around 5 or 6 minutes long.

So this weeks podcast trialling conclusions? Well it seems again that they can work really well not only for a wide range of subject matters but also a wide range of approaches. This American Life is so successful because, with each story, they employ music and beautifully captured individual voices to make them atmospheric; to capture your imagination and absorb you in what’s being described. And lest we forget, you’ll always have a fascinating story or quirky fact to regale  and impress friends with.

Of course, geeky tips and moralising verdicts learnt from Grammar Girl and The Ethicist might be best kept to yourself at a dinner party…

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Tips from a start out multimedia journalist

Perry

We spoke to audio journalism fanatic Perry Santanachote who has been working as a multimedia journalist for two years in the US. She gives her essential equipment, Do’s and Don’ts and favourite podcasts and slideshows.

How long have you been working in multimedia?
I have been a multimedia journalist for two years.
What equipment do you have – what are your essentials?
For audio I use a Marantz PMD660 with a cardioid microphone and Sony MDR7509 headphones. I always carry a shotgun mic with a dead cat too, just in case the room is noisy or the wind’s blowing. I have a smaller Marantz 620 in my purse at all times. For photos I use a Canon EOS Rebel XTi. And I am addicted to my Sigma 18-50 mm MACRO lens.
A Flip cam is also always in my purse and has come in handy on several occasions.

What can audio journalism do that nothing else can?
Audio journalism encourages imagination like no other medium. In that sense, it’s actually the most visual form of storytelling. Ambient sound has the power to transport listeners and paint a vivid scene in a way that a photo alone can’t. And on the web, audio provides the narrative spine necessary for linear multimedia production.

Do you have any favourite audio journalists or pieces of work?
Do you listen to any podcasts – what are your favourites? 

  • On the Media
  • The Moth
  • Radio Diaries
  • World Vision Report
  • Public Radio Exchange
  • Transom
  • Third Coast International Audio Festival

 

Finally, what are your Do’s and Don’ts for producing audio journalism?
DO transcribe.
DO use short, neutral and open-ended questions.
DO always ask “how” and “why.”
DO know when to shut up and engage with your eyes.
DO wear headphones. Ear buds won’t do.
DON’T ever record in a gymnasium or a hallway.
DON’T forget to pack extra batteries.
DON’T waste time. Pre-interview and tell the interviewee exactly what you need.
DON’T produce a story if the character’s a bore. Ninety-nine percent of a good audio story is a good character.

Check out Perry’s website at http://perrysantanachote.com/

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