Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘audio

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An unflattering video. Suspicious editing. People’s character under attack.

This isn’t about the current controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood. ICYMI, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards defended herself before a congressional committee yesterday. The issue was a secretly recorded video that seemed to show planned parenthood employees talking about the organization making money from the sale of aborted fetal tissue. The video has prompted congressional Republicans to try to eliminate all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

No, this is about former Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sharrod. Ms. Sharrod, a black woman, was attacked for allegedly making racist comments during a public meeting in 2010. The meeting was videotaped and edited by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and widely distributed to politicians and news outlets.

The NAACP subsequently attacked Ms. Sharrod and she was pressured to resign from her federal appointment as Georgia State Director of USDA Rural Development. It was later discovered that Ms. Sharrod had not made racist comments and had been unjustly portrayed by Mr. Breitbart as well as unjustly vilified by the NAACP and Obama administration. In a turn around, then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered Ms. Sharrod a high level appointment which she turned down before quietly retiring from Federal service.

These stories share not just questionably edited video but that despite the fact that both videos were known to be heavily doctored by individuals with a strong ideological bent, policy makers considered them legitimate and thus, a basis for attack.

That people will fight to protect their own view of the world is a given. However, no math on Earth argues that 1+1=3. Likewise, an audio or video track is a tangible, electronic footpath of things actually said or actually seen. And when pieces are removed, what’s left might be called “interpretation” by some but a lie by others. That is an issue law enforcement is beginning to face as the public demands to see unedited footage of violent interactions between citizens and the police. It is also why many reporters are now posting unedited audio or video along with their finished interviews.

It is often said, “Truth is the first casualty of war”. In the war of words between battling ideologies, one has to marvel at the extent some will go to reshape reality as much as the extent to which others will go to believe it.

Because the fact is, in the world of politics, facts only matter until they don’t.

Bread versus Wheat

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Bread v Wheat

Sometimes, reporters want wheat.  For example, they might want to see where something comes from; the raw version – the data – before other people have had the chance to put their interpretation on it.  Other times, reporters want bread, meaning they want to hear the interpretation and compare it against the raw information.  When a reporter asks for bread and gets wheat, it’s useless.  And when a reporter asks for wheat and gets bread, again, it’s useless.

Another bread versus wheat example is when a radio reporter in particular asks a source for information via the medium of audio and they get text.  If they specifically ask for an audio interview and get text, it’s not really helping.  Why?  Because one of the things that makes reporting credible is being able to attribute comments to a source.  Yes, text can be quoted, but it’s a layer removed from the source.  Sources know this, which is why sometimes, some of them refuse to respond with their voice to a question for comment.  Or, during an interview, they will ask a reporter to turn off their recorder but allow written notes.

As a reporter, this has always struck me as a little cheesy, like the source is saying, “OK, you can have proof, but not very good proof”.  If a source promises something and they don’t deliver, and then rationalizes it later, it can be frustrating.  But it certainly tells you something about that source.

Written by Interviewer

September 11, 2014 at 04:17

It Happens

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This is a quickie.

The days that reporters edit with a grease pencil, editing tape, a razor blade and an editing block are long gone (though I hear NPR still has them around and asks some of its reporters to occasionally use them to keep them connected to old school production techniques).

Back then, it was just as likely to have the same piece of audio appear twice in a story as it is now but for different reasons.  Back then, you might do several takes of something, but miss cutting out the extra ones when doing the final listen.  When you listen to something over and over, just like when you read something over and over, you tend to see and hear what you think you’re seeing and hearing rather than what’s really there.

Today, extra takes can appear not only because Adobe Edition and Audacity makes it so very easy to copy audio and paste it elsewhere because, you decide, it sounds better at point A than at point B.  In the final listen, your brain can miss the fact that the same audio is at both points A and B.  But it can also happen in exactly the same way as in days of yore; you voice several takes and just plain miss one.

In both cases, you’ll hear exactly what I heard this morning on OPB’s Think Out Loud.  Host Dave Miller was doing the lead in to a pre-recorded interview he conducted with representatives of Multnomah County’s Wapato Jail about what should be done with the facility when all the bond money that was used to build it is paid back.

A piece of that intro was repeated twice.

This happens all the time, but especially in radio and particularly with pre-recorded programs.  Not so much in TV because TV has the road map of pictures that the audio tends to follow.  If audio doesn’t match the pictures, the editor realizes it pretty quick.  But in radio, in “the theater of the mind”, editors can sometimes lose their place.

And you can bet when the reporter hears it, they grit their teeth.  It’s already out there and even if nobody else heard it, they did.  And that’s why it happens so infrequently, because no professional journalist likes to make that kind of public and rookie mistake.

By the evening rebroadcast, the duplicate will probably be cut.  But for sure, the reporter will be thinking, “How did I miss this the first time?”

God knows I’ve asked myself that of some of my own RECENT work.  Ugh.

Written by Interviewer

May 1, 2014 at 02:32

The Audio Doesn’t Lie

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audio

This is a quickie.

The interesting thing about interviewing is you can tell where the passion is very easily in someone’s views, arguments, whatever, and it’s not always where you think it would be.  As an interviewer listening to someone voice an opinion, you would think that if you follow their logic, their thinking would lead you to a conclusion and it is in that conclusion where their greatest passion and truth would lie.  But as an editor, watching the waveform of them speaking, you can see the most heat isn’t always at the end of a reasoned and well lit conclusion.

At the outset, I want to say that of course it is important to take the natural rise and fall in a person’s speaking style into account. But, with that said, I find me wondering about the conviction a speaker may have for whatever points they are making when I start paying attention to the volume of their voice as they speak.  When the needle gets peaked or buried in places you don’t expect, I go back and listen to what they were saying and ask why, if that is where they imply they are most affected, doesn’t their emotion reflect that?  Alternately, something that seems insignificant is actually a source of their real passion.  

When they talk in hushed tones about something that they say is important, is it them being reverential or unsure? When they swing loudly upward, are they showing conviction or insecurity? I would expect a researcher could have a lot of fun comparing points of the highest and lowest volume of a speaker’s voice against where those speakers place their most relevant logical arguments.  Anecdotally though, they don’t always match, which sometimes makes me wonder about the sincerity of the message.

As an editor though, all I really care about is that riding those highs and lows isn’t too much work for the listener. So, I usually end up smoothing those peaks and valleys out with compression or leveling software. Fortunately for me, all I have worry about is turning that picture into story for the listener to interpret for themselves.

But is it is one of those things that make you go, “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm …”

Written by Interviewer

January 30, 2014 at 05:36