Best advice for Soundslides

I was asking around recently, among my friends at other j-schools who teach photojournalism. Yes, they are still teaching Soundslides. The No. 1 reason is almost unanimous: It’s a great transition from making stills to making video. I think it also helps — a lot — with teaching storytelling.

Right now I’m in the midst of a four-week module where I teach green young journalism students to tell a story with Soundslides. Fortunately, they’ve just finished four weeks of gathering and editing audio. Unfortunately, most of them have no experience with photojournalism.

Gathering Audio. Part 2: A Practical Guide. Brian Storm and Jim Seida wrote this guide years ago, and I think it’s still the best. I was just re-reading it earlier today, and man, it rocks. It’s 4,000 words, or about 10 pages single-spaced, and I would bet most of my students don’t take the time to read it — even though I assign it every semester. What a pity. It’s like gold.

So I’m blogging it here in case you’ve never read it. Or maybe you read it a long time ago and forgot how great it is.

Which should I work on first, pictures or sound?

That depends. If there’s sound that I think might be gone in a few minutes, I’ll probably break out my MiniDisc and start recording. If the light is perfect but fading, I’ll most likely make pictures first.

There’s no right way to do it, and there’s always a tradeoff. You have to accept the fact that when you are recording, you’ll miss some great images and when you are shooting you’ll miss some wonderful sound. I’ve tried doing both at once, it doesn’t work very well. Getting good sound takes just as much skill, energy and focus as getting good pictures; it’s tough to do both things at the same time.

— Meredith Birkett, Special Projects Multimedia Producer,

That’s just a taste. Ha, we don’t use MiniDiscs any more (thank God!), but all the advice still fits. There’s lots more, just as good as that bit.

4 Comments on “Best advice for Soundslides

  1. Pingback: Soundslides advice « Reporting & Writing for Online Media

  2. Great post, Mindy and great link as well. When teaching how to collect audio I find one of the most useful exercises is to take my students into an unfamiliar (or familiar) place and have them collect audio. Then I ask them to close their eyes and tell me what they hear. Most never had recorded what they hear the first time. I find taking the visuals out of the equation helps them find the nearly silent gems that give a place depth and helps train the mind to shoot and collect audio at the same time.

  3. Yes. Soundslides is pretty cool. It takes a lot of the tension of video-making and boils it down to simple storytelling. I know that helped a lot when I was studying. P.S. Yes, they are still teaching it. I just graduated this year! 🙂

  4. To me the best part of that piece is his advice on how to get usable quotes:

    “Suppose you’re interviewing the paperboy. You ask, “How long have you been a paperboy?” He says, “Two years.” “Two Years” is what you have on tape. What are you going to do with that statement? It can’t stand alone because there’s no context to the response unless you include the question.

    Instead, ask, “How long have you been a paperboy, and what’s your favorite part of the job?” By having to qualify the order of his answer, “I’ve been a paperboy for two years and I love throwing the paper at garage doors.” Now you’ve got something you can use. ”

    This is such an awesome little piece of practical journalism advice. I was probably told a hundred times in reporting that we need to ask questions such that they yield good quotes, but I can’t recall a single instance where anyone said specifically how to do that.

    I actually used this piece (along with some of yours, Mindy) in my attempt at putting all of the good journalism Soundslides advice in one place. You can find that blog post here:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.