Tag Archives: Jenny Roper

What makes a good audio slideshow?

Having dabbled in making a couple of audio slideshows, we felt it was high time to collate some of what we’ve learnt along the way, and investigate how we could have improved our efforts further.

The central question which has pervaded our forays into this medium is, of course, why the audio slideshow? Because we’re not hi-tech enough for video? No. Because audio slideshows are much quicker to produce and are therefore the lazy person’s video? Hours of getting to grips with complicated editing processes in the computer labs says not. Because audio slideshows are the thinking person’s video? Now we’re getting warmer…

As soon as we started investigating the best slideshows out there it became apparent that this was a highly effective, contemplative medium that, like all of the best forms of journalism, could open someone’s eyes up to thinking about a topic in a different way. Whereas video has become a very common place medium, used to convey the facts of what is happening in the world in a very practical, perfunctory way, a slideshow elevates the subject matter to a slightly different status. In this way, creating a slideshow is a bit like portraying something in a photographic exhibition. ‘Here is something worth examining more closely, and contemplating in a more personal, more creative way,’ both an art exhibition and audio slideshow says. As Joe Weiss, creator of Soundslides (a rapid production tool for still image and audio web presentations), says when interviewed by Poynter’s Pat Walters:

for me, I do think … there’s a deliberateness in the editing [of still images], there’s a deliberateness in the visuals.

Indeed, audio slideshows are a great way of providing a little background to art exhibitions. I recently came across this great piece by the Guardian which sets children’s laureate Anthony Browne’s voice to some illustrations from this year’s Booktrust best new illustrators award. They are also great for drawing people’s attention to understated stories or issues, that the viewer might otherwise have overlooked, not realising the subtle interest to be drawn from them. A great example of this is The New York Times’ One in 8 Million series which each tell the personal story of a New York character’s life. I watched a really fascinating one on a wedding wardrober and his thoughts on the art and importance of male grooming.

In the words of Benjamin Chesterton, of audio slideshow specialists Duck Rabbit, audio slideshows are both a new language and a very old one. I agree; there’s a beautiful simplicity to this technique that really allows a certain story to be told in a clear and arresting way. I feel audio slideshows are real testament to the ‘less is more’ theory- a viewer is much more liekly to tune out if they feel bamboozled by stimulus overload.

The real beauty of the slideshow, several experts agree, is the way they make the viewer think for themselves. Again Chesterton encapsulates this better than I could:

with moving video, the viewer’s eye is centred – broadly, locked to the framing of the video camera. With still images, the eye roams. It stops and moves and stops and moves. Frozen gestures and expressions kick off a cognitive process – thinking – that moving images simply never do.

Something similar is true of good audio. The best audio blends reportage (‘being me, being here’) with the kind of aural cues that make audiences think and wander off down their own pathways while still engaging with the sound.

This is all very well, but how does one best arrest their viewer with a poignant and well-paced slideshow? Well, lots of practice is obviously key- it’s a lot about developing an eye and ear for what works. But here are some dos and don’ts compiled from my own experiments and those more well-versed in this field:


– source around 8-10 images per minute says Paul Kerley, also of Duck Rabbit fame, and the BBC’s slideshow guru

– have a clear relationship between what’s being heard and seen

– tell a story- even if it’s an interesting interview that you’re illustrating, be sure to edit it in such a way that there’s a thread running throughout that builds to a satisfying conclusion. If in doubt, remember the golden rules of GCSE story writing: have a beginning, middle and end.

– consider including captions underneath the images to specify exactly what’s going on. A contentious point this- some people say this is too confusing as the viewer won’t be able to read and listen simultaneously. If you do include captions, don’t just state the obvious and describe what the viewer can clearly see is happening in the slideshow.

– include background sound or ease the viewer in with an atmospheric sound which will set the scene nicely.

– do include a picture of the person who is narrating if they are relevant to the story being told.

– record a minute of the room you are recording in so that you can use the sound to add natural space between edits. VERY important this.

– include a good opening image to grab the viewer.


use too many photos- as discussed above, the whole point is that the viewer gets to contemplate each one for a decnt length of time and notice things they would miss in a video.

– use too few images as your slideshow will start to feel long and drawn-out and like it’s not really going anywhere.

– include any awkward transitions that distract the viewer from a poignant point being made. Don’t make transitions mid-thought but do use them to really emphasise that an important point is being. Think of the change as equivalent to the ‘clunk’ moment after a well-crafted drop-intro in written articles

– allow any background sound to drown out the narration.

– don’t use music or images you don’t have permission to use. Make sure music is royalty-free and only use your own images or those with creative commons on Flickr for example. Even then you must credit the photographer. Another good tip if you find a image you’re dying to use on Flickr, is to drop the owner a friendly email or Tweet- often they’ll be happy to let you use the image for some nice exposure of their work.

– have the subjects introduce themselves- you wouldn’t start a written article like this an expect to keep people hooked now would you?

– make you’re slideshows longer than 3 or 4 minutes.

Hope these are helpful. Let me know if you have any more top tips for us.



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Radiohead as you’ve never heard them before…

Fresh from a hectic fortnight of producing a magazine, us Audio Journalists were in need of a bit of light relief to get us motivated and inspired by audio journalism. Nothing could have done the job better than the Guardian’s rebuttal to Radiohead deciding, not content with being rated at 73 in Rolling Stone’s ‘The Greatest Artists of All Time’ poll, to publish a newspaper.

Lending a certain air of epic-music-making to the track, this is the audio slideshow at its finest… Rusbridger on keyboard brightened my day up no end. Enjoy!


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Broadcasting on Broadcastr

Got an hour so to spare or that you’d like to procrastinate away? Then Broadcastr, which I discovered only today,  is perfect for you. In its developer’s words, it’s a social media platform for location-based stories,’ and is highly, highly addictive.

Although the site’s still in its early stages with a few bugs to iron out apparently,  it’s clearly developed a firm following of people from around the globe who like sharing stories from their lives with others.

The site’s also working with Human Rights Watch to to encourage uploads from Egypt and other countries where eye-witness reports are in short supply. It’s also hoped that the site will be used even by those in countries where the internet has been switched off for political reasons, through a voicemail service for witnesses to leave messages via a phone when they can’t upload them directly to the website.

The beta site already includes eyewitness reports from the Brisbane floods; I listened to a really moving first person account of people attempting to rescue a man who had plunged into the floods to rescue his baby.

But the site is also a great way for individuals to share more personal, less dramatic moments in their lives, often giving a sense of the place that they live in or have visited. I agree with Roy who said on the comments section of the website: “The thrill of Broadcastr is to be allowed an intimate eavesdrop on peoples lives. Their emotions.” He also wanted radio stations to be banned to preserve the site as a forum purely for snapshots from people’s personal experiences.

As well as the Brisbane recording, I listened to another Australian broadcast, a humorous one this time, on how to avoid being eaten by sharks, one from a woman whose boyfriend proposed to her in a car park, an account of a traveller’s experience of Machu Picchu, and one woman’s really amusing account of ‘hooking up’ with someone on a boat from Finland to Scotland. It seems pretty much anything goes, even fiction I discovered reading the site’s comments- one lady had requested a ‘Fiction’ category.

So I thought I would have a bash, giving a quick account of one aspect of  living in Dalston, Hackney. I found the website pretty easy to use, although I couldn’t seem to see the bottom of the uploading window which meant I had to save it as a draft then go back in to edit it and pin it on, at the same time publishing my broadcast, then.

I also messed it up first time round by not uploading a picture. I couldn’t seem to work out how to change this so I deleted the original and created another. For some reason, the comments section told me, it takes two attempts to delete a post. The site is still a work in progress and they’re keen for all user’s feedback on technical issues or suggestions on how to make it more user-friendly.

To find my efforts just type ‘Hackney’ into the search box and ‘Unseen Hackney’ should pop up: http://beta.broadcastr.com/

Be sure to explore the site and listen to a few of the other (much better) posts too.


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Tips on using Adobe Audition

Right then, I think I’ve finally gotten to grips with how to use Adobe Audition effectively. I can’t take any credit for instinctive technical wizardry. Unable to access the help section of my software or find any tutorials on the basics online, I accosted a poor fellow student in my university’s radio room, who appeared to be using the programme without shaking and weeping. It’s really the kind of programme that makes more sense when someone shows you how to use it anyway…

The lovely Alexa was able to show me the main tool that I stupidly hadn’t figured out, which was the zoom. By pressing the plus and minus keyboard keys, you can make sure that any editing you do is fine-tuned.

The main thing I needed to do was edit out my questions to my interviewee and any digressions or hesitations he made so the story he told was coherent and captivated the listener. At first, I found Audition incredibly counter-intuitive. I felt like I needed two cursors, one to mark a starting point and one an end point.

After my tutorial however, I realised that there are in effect two cursors, you’ve just got to be careful not to accidentally move your first one after you’ve painstakingly marked out where you want to start cutting from.

Make cuts thus:

  • mark where you want to start cutting from. The best way to do this is listen to your piece and hit the space bar at the split second you want to cut from. This may take a couple of attempts if you are trying to catch someone between words as I was or edit out a tiny sound from the interviewer.
  • Then zoom right in and click your yellow cursor exactly over the white line which marks the point you’ve just paused at.
  • Then press play and wait until the moment just after you need to finish the cut and hit the space bar again.
  • This may again take a few attempt which can be time consuming as the programme will always play from where you last placed your yellow marker i.e. where your cut is starting from. The tip here is not to be tempted to move the yellow cursor to nearer to where you want to end the cut so you don’t have to listen to the same section again. If you do this, you’ll lose where you were cutting from in the first place. Instead use the fast forward button to cycle near to the point you want to designate as the cut finishing point. Or you can make a note of the time the cursors at displayed in the Selection/view bar in the bottom right of your screen but this is a bit fiddly.
  • Once you have your two points use your cursor to highlight from the yellow dotted cursor to white timeline, by dragging your cursor across to highlight the section. Highlight from yellow to white otherwise you’ll lose your starting point. Again, zooming in really helps otherwise it may look like your highlighting exactly from line to line when actually your a fraction out.
  • To check you’re happy with the section you are about to delete, use the loop back button in the bottom left-hand corner to listen to the section over and over- this is particularly handy for shorter cuts. Use the little yellow arrows at the top and bottom of your highlighted section to drag the section bigger or smaller.
  • Before you delete anything, go to Edit and check the Undo/redo cut is enabled. Also, in order to delete you must press the stop button on the lower left-hand corner. You would not believe how much time I spent wondering why I couldn’t delete bits. Then hit the delete button and listen to it back to check you’ve got it right. If not undo it and have another go.

And hey presto!: simple editing in Audition that even a technology-dunce like me can manage. To get it into an MP3 format so I could upload it on SoundCloud I had a bit more of a faff than last time I tried this. Turns out Switch Converter only works once before they want you to pay. Bah. I tried a whole host of other converter programmes: AVSAudio Converter, Smart Audio Converter and FoxTab Audio Converter. The last one I couldn’t get to work at all- the first two recorded a free trial over the start of my piece. Double Bah.

Then I discovered that good old iTunes can convert files. Simply go to Edit, Preferences, Import Settings and change Import using to ‘MP3 Encoder’ and Setting to ‘Good Quality’. Then just add your file to your library and it’ll ask you if you want to convert it. Yes!

And here is the humble result of countless (I’d rather not count them) hours of toil. It is The Independent’s defence and diplomatic correspondent Kim Sengupta paying tribute to a fixer, Nour al-Khal, who he worked with in Iraq. A fixer is someone who can be a translator, interview aid, guide to local culture, historian, bodyguard and driver; they are indispensable to foreign correspondents. As this story attests to, they must also be extremely brave.

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Filed under Adobe Audition, Audio editing

An All-American Audio Slideshow: How to make Mississippi Mud Pie

Just to confirm what your probably already knew, making a cake is a lot more fun than making an audio slideshow.

Having said this, wanting to experiment with the latter was a good excuse to eat the former. So I decided, as a change from the usual written form of blogging on my pudding blog Just Desserts, I would document the making of my Mississippi Mud Pie with photographs, and add narration on how I concocted my pie.

I’ve been musing for a while on what kind of subject matter best lends itself to an audio slideshow. One of it’s most effective uses I feel is to explain something. I watched a nice slideshow on the Guardian website a while ago, on the Hubble space telescope. Now I’m no astronomy nut, and usually find any kind of contemplation of space either quite tedious and inaccessible, or so overwhelming that I’ll ruminate on my own insignificance for hours. This audio slideshow is really nicely done though and uses the medium to explain things in a wonderfully simple, accessible way.

I realise pudding is quite a different topic to space exploration, but the same principle applies I feel. Any kind of cooking is always really tricky without pictures and I deliberately avoid certain recipes and cookery books on this basis. Having a picture or online tutorial to hand is really helpful for those “should my mixture be resembling vomit at this stage?”, and “what the hell is a double boiler technique?!” moments.

And let’s be honest, looking at lots of pictures of puddings and chocolatey goo is a lot more fun than just reading about them…Now try not to dribble on your computers…



Not only was making the pie a lot more fun, but it was also a lot easier than making an audio slideshow.

I’ve realised that it could have all been a lot easier though had I known just a few key things about using Windows Movie Maker.

The main one was not to  move computers (or shut down your computer and have a break) halfway through making your project as you have to import all of your pictures into the programme again and this for some reason caused havoc with a couple of pictures that I’d rotated. It’s also really annoying to have to click on every single picture and get the computer to relocate the file. So it really is best to do it all in one go and then Capture Video to turn it into a finished product. I didn’t realise this was even the final stage and so also couldn’t work out how to get the damn thing uploaded onto YouTube.

Because it took me so long to redo my slideshow, some of the timings weren’t quite as sharp as I’d have liked them. Windows Movie Maker is really easy to get it right with though. All you have to is drag the pictures to the length of time you want them to be showing for, then re-listen to that section to make sure you’ve got the timing just right.

Once you have captured your project, YouTube recognises the file type and the jobs a goodun. All you have to do is paste your YouTube link into your blog and Blog’s Your Uncle!




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The Art of Interviewing for Audio

While I would never want to be without my trustee Dictaphone, there are few things more likely to make me cringe than listening back to my recorded interviews. Who’s that squeaky five-year-old Northerner trying to ask grown-up questions? I always wonder.  In my head, my voice sounds about an octave lower and I’m speaking the Queen’s English.

But worse than this, is the discovery that I sound like a bumbling fool. Asking the same question in about five different verbose ways seems to be one of my special skills. Thank god I’m a print journalist.

But of course not everyone can get away with such interview verbal diarrhoea and those who work in audio journalism, or like me would like to at least become reasonably accomplished in the field, have to learn the art of concise, direct questioning. As any journalist who has ever been given precisely 30 seconds of an important person’s time will attest to, this is also a rather important skill for any journalist.

The trick, if listening to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour has taught me anything, is to make it all sound very easy and relaxed. And not to panic if there’s a silence and  fill it with inane babbling.

This is much easier said than done though. Literally:  saying something is often much more comfortable than leaving a silence. So I thought I would ask someone who has experience staying calm in front of a microphone for some top tips. Steve Peiris hosts the talk show Talk Hamburg in Germany and I pounced upon the poor chap in the City journalism department. The reasons for this interview were three fold: to get some tips from him, to practice my interviewing technique, and to get to grips with editing and embedding a sound file in this blog.

You may find this hard to believe once you’ve listened to the interview,  but I was actually trying to be less bumbly than usual. The difference in the pace and clarity of our two voices provides at least I hope a stark tutorial on how to and how not to do it. Steve hadn’t prepared any of his answers but still managed to achieve a clear, calm delivery.

Have a listen to the master…

The main thing I learnt from this was to prepare written questions beforehand and STICK TO THEM. Obviously this is always quite a good rule of thumb but matters even more here, where a bit more structure to my questions would have vastly improved this impromptu interview. And of course editing questions out is always an option- Steve was such a pro that most of the time he automatically restated the question in his answer (most interviewees might need to be asked to do this). For this to work I would have had to resist umming in agreement with his answers. Again, weirdly easier said than done.

To record the interview I used my Olympus VN-8700PC Dictaphone and then used Adobe Audition to edit it slightly (that’s right, there was even more bumble in there to start with). I then converted the file from a Windows Media Audio file to an MP3 using Switch Sound File Converter downloaded from the internet. Then I converted this to a SoundCloud which could be embedded in this blog.

I struggled particularly with Adobe Audition and couldn’t find any simple tutorials online to help me out. Does anyone know of any?

Stay tuned for my guide to using these programmes… once I’ve properly got to grips with them myself of course…

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Filed under Equipment, Interviews, Radio

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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Filed under Audio blog, Podcasts, Uncategorized