Teaching audio slideshows in the newsroom

Richard Koci Hernandez, an Emmy-winning multimedia photojournalist who just left the SJ Mercury News to work at Berkeley, said the switch from the newsroom to the classroom was easy. "I was already teaching in the newsroom, so it was a seamless transition," he said via a recent e-mail interview.

Newsrooms are a place where people are constantly testing their boundaries and learning new skills. And their teachers? The Web gods of the newsroom who taught themselves through online tutorials, books and seminars.

And the better the teacher, the better the quality of your content and your Web site.

In a college atmosphere, audio slideshows will probably be the starting point for any online editor who is trying to teach multimedia basics. Here are a few tips for how to do it without going insane:

Understand it

Teachers can't teach if they don't know what they're doing. Make sure you know the basics first. Write out everything you know about audio slideshows. Take a look at a few of these resources:

Be clear

Don't just briefly explain the concept to your new multimedia reporters. Sit down and really show them what an audio slideshow is. For the little extra time you spend initially explaining the assignment, you'll save hours and hours later.

  • Remind them of the basics that may come naturally to you by now (e.g. don't talk over your interviewee, bring extra batteries, hold the mic 6+ inches away, ask open-ended questions).
  • Show them what an audio slideshow is. Give them samples of the best quality so they aim high (great resource: interactivenarratives.org)
  • Give them your specific expectations for quantity (e.g. 30 photos and 3 minutes of audio)
  • E-mail/write out tips/expectations for them. They won't remember it all, so it's nice to have a go-to sheet

Start simple

Assign fluffy, arts-related audio slideshows to take your reporters' multimedia virginity.  Interviews/photos are generally easier to get, so the focus is more on the production end. Make sure it's not a time-sensitive slideshow. There is nothing worse than trying to teach someone Garageband/Audacity on a deadline (ok, actually there are... just thinking about teaching Flash gives me a headache).

Go with them the first time

Or let them go with you when you're covering something for a multimedia piece. Let the reporter get comfortable with the process of recording audio that will be used beyond simple transcription.

  • If they have questions on the spot or technical problems, they have the comfort of turning to you -- their teacher -- for advice
  • If you notice the reporter doing something wrong, you're there to offer immediate feedback (but try to remain a mere observer. Don't be too intrusive on the reporter's space).

Editing: No such thing as too picky

Teach it right the first time. Don't think that a reporter can get away with sloppiness the first time around. It's hard to break a bad habit later.

  • Show them shortcuts in the audio-editing program you're using
  • Drill your stylistic preferences into their brains (e.g. Do your audio slideshows use a title slide? An ending slide with your news site's URL? Do you fade the sound between speakers/ leave silence?)

Let the reporter control the mouse/keyboard

  • It will be hard to not take control (you can do it 10x faster anyway, right?)
  • Let the reporter stay in control. The more control he/she has the first time, the easier it will be (psychologically) to do an audio slideshow alone the next time around

Be patient

  • Reporters who haven't touched an audio editing program before are going to be intimidated
  • Give constant encouragement (even if they're screwing up). Say "You're learning fast, but one recommendation would be...)
  • They will ask you the same questions over and over if they're not comfortable with the program yet. After the first few times, answer with: "You tell me..."
  • Be available while they're editing.
  • Keep smiling. Don't get grouchy or upset.
  • When they're done, tell them "good job" and then go over how to make it better for the next time