All stories can have a visual component, but some stories demand sound as well.
A couple weeks ago, seasoned multimedia pros Nancy Donaldson of The New York Times and Jim Seida of MSNBC.com spent three days running journalists through an intensive workshop to teach them how to gather and compose audio narratives.
Seida, who takes pride in his audio interviewing skills, shared his tips for getting great sound. From my notes:
- Wear your headphones. It’s the only way you know what you’re recording. Many an interview has been botched by sounds that you don’t notice but which register loud and clear on your recorder — like cell phone interference.
- Know your equipment. Read the manual. Practice using your gear. Carry spare batteries and know how to pull the dead ones out and put the fresh ones in. It sounds stupid, but you’ll look stupid when you’re fumbling around during the interview. Worse yet, you’ll be wasting the interviewee’s time and may get bad results because of it.
- Prop up your mike hand. If you’re holding the mike (you will be if you’re alone in the field) and doing an interview of more than a few minutes, put your elbow on something to reduce fatigue and keep the mike from waving around.
- Find the quietest possible place to do your interview. Seida says he once interviewed a man in a broom closet because it was the quietest available place and there were no alternatives.
- Ask open ended questions and ask them in pairs. This tends to cause people to give you a full-sentence answer.
- Make direct eye contact with your interviewee. Stay silent while the person is talking. If you want to react, use body language. Nod. Smile. And keep that eye contact going.
- Record the sounds around you at your interview location(s). In journalese, this audio is called “natural sound,” “nat sound” or “wild sound.” What you capture acts as B-roll and gives atmosphere to your story. If you know of other terms, please leave them in comments. I’d love to hear about them.
Seida shares more of his tips in “Gathering audio to go with your pictures.” It’s an excellent read.
If you want to improve your interview skills, I recommend a lot of reading. Check out:
- Two stories about John Sawatsky, senior director of talent development at ESPN and a former journalism professor: “The Question Man” from AJR and “The Art of the Interview, ESPN-Style” on NPR.
- “All I Did Was Ask,” by Terry Gross, host of “Fresh Air” on WHYY-FM in Philadelphia. (Amazon|BN|Powell’s)
- “The Interviewer’s Handbook,” by John James Brady (Out of stock, but available direct from author and on Google Books)
Photo: Cameron Maddux/Flickr