Sound Storytelling

Audio has been a staple in journalism for more than a century. Audio stories can engage listeners with rich, personal narratives. Sound can paint pictures of the human condition that reach listeners on deep emotional levels. And it can add depth and dimension to other story forms. Although talk news is most commonly associated with radio, audio is a versatile story form that is common on other platforms as well. Audio stories can certainly stand alone on the radio or online.

Likewise, audio can be combined with video, photo presentations, information graphics, and animations. In all cases, audio narratives should provide rich descriptions that are written for the ear, not the eye. They should be comprehensive and visceral, fair and balanced, and produced with technical and editorial accuracy. As such, all journalists must know how to develop audio story ideas, record interviews with subjects, write scripts for narration, and read on air. Likewise, journalists should have a clear understanding of all of the ways audio appears as a storytelling device in news.

Topics Covered

Developing the audio-only story
For a typical audio news package, a reporter may conduct multiple interviews, gather natural sound from news scenes, and record himself reading an introduction, transitions, and a conclusion. Pulled together, these elements comprise a news package and can be offered as a radio segment, online news report, or podcast.

Combining audio with other media
Audio is commonly combined with three types of media: video, photo presentations, and information graphics. When done well, some of the most effective and popular multimedia presentations combine visual narratives with audio voiceover.

Developing a narrative arc
The journalist’s job is to identify the most salient aspects of a story and allow them to naturally unfold. Thus, establishing a narrative arc has as much to do with how you conduct your interviews, whom you talk to, and how well you collect the facts as it does with what you do in the editing room.

Interviewing is truly an art form. And each of your subjects will likely have different personalities and different thresholds for opening up to a reporter. The interviewer should, therefore, assess each interview scenario individually, adapt to each subject’s personality, and put interviewees at ease so that they feel comfortable during the process.

Finding your voice
Ever listen to a great audio story and wish you had a better “on air” voice? Ever tried voicing your own audio and cringe at the sound of yourself? Don’t worry; you are not alone. With practice, you can master multiple techniques that can help to improve the quality of your audio recordings.

Ethical considerations
Journalism rests on the foundation of a few key principles: obligation to the truth, loyalty to citizens, discipline for verification, and responsibility to present fair and balanced coverage. And perhaps the most important rule for any journalist is never to alter the meaning of information. Recorded audio should never be manipulated in any way that’s misleading.