Adding Sound To Reporting Touches Hearts, Tickles Imagination

2 Apr

Audio works when it touches our hearts, tickles our imagination, intrigues our minds, says Carl and Eileen Ganter in their definitive essay titled, “Sound In The Story.”

Sound In Story Image

Sound In The Story

“Even before you learned how to fine-tune your photo exposures, you were developing your eye. Do that with audio. Do that with both ears, and everything in between,” Ganter says

A great way to begin developing that “sense of sound” is to enter the “Color Contest” sponsored by American Student Radio and This American Life’s Ira Glass. 

The theme of this national audio storytelling contest is “color” and students have until June 1, 2014 to create their audio package. You can find out more about the contest at the IHSPA’s website; however, let’s explore some things here that could not only enhance your chances in the contest but also could add an exciting new dimension to your school’s news website. Here are four keys to successful reporting with sound.

(1) Consider the Story Arc: Think of the audio story as a sequence of events occurring over three chapters or time frames. Chapters 1 and 3 are the first and last 15 or 20 seconds of the story. Chapter 2 makes up the middle which builds steadily and logically toward a suitable ending. Each chapter contributes something special to the story and all three work together to attract interest, build suspense or leave the listener with a sense of satisfaction.

Mindy McAdams, a multimedia professor at the University of Florida, breaks down the Story Arc this way.

  • Have a great opening. McAdams says that the storyteller needs a strong sense of what makes a particular story special. Once you sense this unique quality, “grab the (listener) at the very beginning with something unusual, unexpected, emotional, or otherwise “sticky.” In short, make the listener curious in those opening seconds of your audio story. 
  • Dive below the surface, and stay there. If you are curious enough to keep asking questions, McAdams says, then you will find the real story, the interesting story. Put the pen down. Forget about the technical aspects of recording an interview for a few moments and truly listen. Because if you listen well, says McAdams, you will follow up with sincere questions and these questions will reveal what’s good and what’s special about your audio story.
  • Construct a story arc, and don’t ruin it with a weak ending. McAdams suggests that a good story should build quickly to a climax — a high point — about 70 to 90-seconds into the audio piece. This is roughly three quarters of the way through a 2-minute story. Then, bring the story to a conclusion with an observation or anecdote that either makes the listener think or feel good.
  • A good ending is not redundant of what went before. McAdams points out that the ending should be “completely in tune” with the very idea of storytelling — at the end, says McAdams, “I should have a feeling of satisfaction, or wonder, or regret. I should care.”

McAdams uses a segment from “The Annoying Orange” to demonstrate the Story Arc. Even though this is a video, just shut your eyes and listen. You will quickly be drawn in by the opening. The middle of the story arc establishes the story line and at about the 1:12 second mark, you will sense the climax of the story. At 1:24, you will hear the resolution and at 1:28, the end.

(2) Make My Day: Every story is different. When you approach each one, Carl Ganter reminds reporters, “don’t jump to conclusions.” Once you’ve collected the audio from your sources, observe it, analyze it, listen to it carefully and finally, feel it. Let the story unfold naturally, keeping the story arc in mind. Be open. Chances are, Ganter says, the story isn’t what you thought it was. “Chances are, it’s more — and better.”

(3) Don’t Tell Me, Show Me: This is a much-used phrase in Reporting 101 class. But it’s of particular importance as you create a “virtual reality” for your listener. Make your experience as first-hand as possible by allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions. Let your sources communicate their own stories in their own words. Why narrate that “she was happy” when you can show it with her laughter?

(4) Paint a picture with sounds as well as with words: Include what you hear on location. In the video world, natural sounds are called “B” roll and might include a simple rooster crow to indicate a place, a time or a mood. The “show me” state-of-mind requires that reporters be keenly observant with all your senses. I’ve included a helpful link here that provides more tips for getting good natural sound.

Here’s a great example of how natural sound (B-Roll) can mix with the narrative (A-Roll) to create a multi-dimensional story. It’s called, “Riding Out The Storm.” (Close your eyes and listen carefully to the mix down).

In addition to the video above, here are four videos from NPR’s Ira Glass who produces and hosts This American Life. Glass will determine the winner of “color” audio contest.

Ira Glass on Storytelling 1 (5:23)
Ira Glass on Storytelling 2 (4:02)
Ira Glass on Storytelling 3 (5:19)
Ira Glass on Storytelling 4 (2:46)

If you are planning to submit your own “color” story for the American Student Radio contest, I would suggest you check out ASR’s Resource Page. There are lots of helpful tutorials about recording sound with the iPhone and using Adobe Audition to edit your final MP3 or WAV audio file. I’ve also added a blog here that describes the 10 best iPhone apps for recording audio. I’ve had good luck with a free app called Rev Voice Recorder. I also like “iTalk” by Griffin Technology.

If you are more comfortable using Audacity as an audio editing program, I’ve included some tutorials for that program as well.

Audacity_Guide 1
• Audacity Guide 2

Further, I would suggest you take a few minutes to check out for even more tips and ideas about interviewing and recording a professional story.

One more point. You already know that pictures and words can leave a false impression especially if images or quotes are used out of context. Audio can be a powerful tool for story telling or it can leave a false impression (usually unintentional but that’s no excuse). 

I always began the audio section of my multimedia classes with a review of “Truth In Audio.” Probably not a bad idea to review these goals from time to time just to keep them fresh in your mind. 

Let me end with this final cool quote from “Sound In The Story” (Poynter Institute for Media Studies):

“When photography, video and audio are crafted to work well together, it’s possible to suspend and defy time. You can escape the rules of the universe if you can enter the mind and heart of another human being.”


2 Responses to “Adding Sound To Reporting Touches Hearts, Tickles Imagination”


  1. Indiana High School Press Association - April 9, 2014

    […] radio should check out Dennis Cripe’s recent blog with multiple resources and lesson ideas.   Make sure you also visit the American Student Radio link below that can give your students […]

  2. ‘Tell Me A Story’ Radio Theme Guides 2014 State Convention | Diana's Blog - April 9, 2014

    […] offer sessions across media platforms, anyone who wants to learn more about radio should check out Dennis Cripe’s recent blog with multiple resources and lesson ideas. Make sure you also visit the American Student Radio link […]

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