Tag Archives: audio

The Tate Modern and some accidental inspiration: visual storytelling

A few weeks back, I made an impromptu visit to the Tate Modern in London. It was a pre-Christmas trip and nothing at all to do with my MA in Online Journalism. But…

This picture, or should I say artwork, made me start thinking about Instagram. That’ll be the squares, although technically speaking, I think these are rectangles. The artist, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 to 2015) created this in 1952, entitled it Mediterranimg_4281ee and was about experimenting with colour and overlapping (what’s hard to see from the image is that some of those blocks of colour are raised slightly, they’re not all flat). Anyway, I continued around the Tate Modern with a different viewpoint after seeing this.

Let me explain… while working on my Instagram pilot I’ve been doing lots of research, about composition, photography, short form video etc… and the Tate Modern made me think specifically about presentation, or visual storytelling if you want a more online journalism-y phrase. I’m not a massive fan of art, in all honesty, but what the Tate showed me is that a sometimes average set of photographs can be made to look exceptional by the way they’re presented. And this is very much the case for Instagram – the apps, filters and cropping tools now available to us can help us turn an average photo into a good one. And the very nature of Instagram and its predominantly square photos show it’s a great presentational tool in its own right, Instagram offers a basic set of tools to help you display your photos and videos in the best way.

The images below, for example, are essentially repeats of a single image – what makes this interesting is the presentation on a stark white background, and the way they’re positioned.


Adding movement

I really loved the media section of the gallery, for obvious reasons, but some of the things I saw resonated with my MA, like this quote from @SamAMcGuire about the images you share, how you see them, and what influencers helped shape that view.

Simg_4289am’s quote is captured (right) as a still image but it was just one in a series of quotes displayed as videos which gave much more impact… it would have been easy to glance at a quote wall and walk on by but with the text rolling in as part of a video wall it meant people were stopping, watching and therefore reading. And apologies for the wobbliness of this video – I was conscious I needed to capture something quickly before another gallery visitor walked into my shot.

This is definitely something that I think works really well with video content that doesn’t necessarily start out life as a video – adding movement can sometimes turn the average into something much more engaging and I’ve been experimenting with this on Instagram too, using tools like Hyperlapse, Boomerang and Spark Post to create gifs.

Examples I’ve used as part of my Instagram project include turning festive study images into a gif, turning a queue of PhD induction students into a hyperlapse video, creating movement on a static Halloween pumpkin image by turning it into a gif and, of course, we jumped on the mannequin challenge and creating videos featuring people who don’t move. This is also something used as part of a campaign we ran on Twitter – creating a simple video with rolling text using the Spark Post app to create individual slides and then editing them together using iMovie, all done on an iPhone 6. Simples.

Visualising the story

In short, this trip to the Tate reminded me that video can be used in some really clever and less obvious ways and contributes to the “renegotiating what is conventional and normal in the everyday practices of journalism” as stated by Mattheson (2004). And that presentational skills (visual storytelling) can enhance stories – something that’s all the more important in the digital age and is amplified by mojo (mobile journalism) expert Robb Montgomery in this interview.

Below are a couple of my Tate videos… firstly, TVs playing old movies and news clips which were positioned on the floor. This wouldn’t have worked as an image because you need to see the movement to understand what this artefact is.

Secondly, is a robot thingy (forgive me for my lack of artistic appreciation, I take in the work I like but confess to not reading the who and why information at the side of each one.) This would have worked as an image because it looks cool but the lights are the moving element of this video and it’s a shame not to waste them. There are periods of no flashing lights on this robot so I used the Boomerang app to create a repeating motion. Unlike a traditional gif, which replays a video start to finish, start to finish, start to finish, the Boomerang app plays a video start to finish then plays it finish to start before going back to start to finish, kind of like a rewinding video.

Now, the image below should also have been a video… not because there are moving elements necessarily, but because of the audio. This ‘tower’ for want of a better word is made up of radios and mobile phones and is quite noisy – this image doesn’t capture the sound which is what makes this piece stand out above its size.


Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Tips for Tuesday: Useful links if you want to dabble in multimedia goodness

  1. Vimeo Video School – a fun place for anyone to learn to make a video.
  2. Adam Westbrook, online video and entrepreneurial journalist. Some great tips and suggestions from Adam about what to do and what to avoid when it comes to telling a story through online video.
  3. Story Guide – how to make great video
  4. Media Bistro – 10,000 words by Mark S. Luckie, author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook
  5. Digital Adventures – top tips for making audio slideshows for the web
  6. Journalists’ Toolkit – useful audio resources
  7. Spokesmanreview.com Video Journal
  8. Poynter: Photos, audio and the struggle to combine them
  9. MC Fontaine, audio engineer
  10. YouTube editor
  11. How to shoot and edit video on an iPhone


Tagged , , , , ,

Communities of practice: critical evaluation

When I began to explore the world of video and audio it was easy to hark back to my print journalism days and strike a comparison between the two. At first, I was keen to avoid doing that; to embrace the new. But in fact, the principles of journalism apply whatever the medium, it’s just the approach and production that’s different. I actually found having print experience to compare and contrast to the production of online audio and video helped embed my newfound knowledge and gave me more to offer the communities of practice.

Throughout my exploration of online video and audio, I’ve learned a lot, not least that good quality sound is essential. Adam Westbrook and Christian Payne lead by example in their fields, but what’s also clear is this: there are no hard and fast rules. There’s great scope for flexibility and creativity and no such thing as a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to multimedia journalism.

The community is in agreement on several principles: good quality sound is vital, be prepared, have a Plan B, and to be clear about the story you’re trying to tell and who you’re trying to tell it to. Most everything else is flexible and practitioners won’t agree; each will have their own preferences when approaching online video and audio.

I’ve also found that just as citizen journalism was, at first, shunned and later embraced as a valued source of news, video and audio reporting using ‘everyman’ technology such as smartphones is just as capable of reporting a news story (Sky news reportage of London riots, for example) despite efforts to retain professional production standards. There are vast numbers of tools to be used but the advice is to focus on sound quality as most ‘everyday’ video cameras can record at high quality.


What’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work; to follow their learnings, take note of the things they’ve tried and tested, and ask questions.

As I embarked on this project to delve into communities of practice around video and audio journalism, I have endeavored to ‘blog as I go’ and record my learnings. This has helped my blog stats considerably and since starting the assignment I’ve increased hits, followers, subscriptions and comments, as well as gained new follows to my associated @journonest Twitter account.

For the first time I used the relatively new reblog feature on WordPress to embed blog posts by others onto my own, as well as recording my own learnings via blog posts. At first it seemed lazy but the reblog feature proved a useful way to pool relevant content together in one place, while giving the original author credit.

As well as reflecting on my own learnings I created a ‘Tips for Tuesday’ weekly post in which I share a new list of useful resources and this is something I’d like to continue; to be a regular feature of my site.

Social media

I focused on experts in the field on Twitter to follow and learn from. I used the online aggregator Paper.li to create a Twitter newspaper called Multimedia Mag to pull together tweets around multimedia, specifically focusing on journalism, audio and video. This attracted a lot of retweets and highlighted some interesting and relevant content although I had to play with the settings to avoid pulling in content in foreign languages, and some content is slightly off topic or too advertising-led, which reduces the appeal.

I created Twitter lists, one for audio, one for video, to aggregate tweets by the people I identified as experts and also subscribed to other relevant Twitter lists, one created by a former MA Online Journalism student.

And I used Twitter to ask questions of the community, including recommendations for tools and editing programmes to use.

While I did tweet links to my blog posts (set to auto tweet as I post) and other useful links, and got retweets, I should have been more proactive in asking for feedback on my own work and could have done more to encourage distribution and interactivity around the communities of practice. With that said, I am a beginner and my support network in this field will grow as I develop my skills and have more to offer. For example, a retweet by @Documentally helped me get more hits to my content on this particular day but comments/discussion around the topic would be something to aim for in the future.

I neglected to use other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, finding Twitter to be the easiest/best for my needs, but these are channels I’d like to explore in the future.

Subscriptions and links

I also subscribed to sites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Media Bistro, Adam Westbrook’s blog and others (see Tips for Tuesday) to catch up on latest multimedia news and advice via Google Reader or newsletters direct to my inbox.

And I kept a record of interesting and relevant posts by bookmarking them in Delicious under video and audio tags. I also found online tutorials and tookits really useful, including this Audacity tutorial by Mindy McAdams.


Due to a number of factors, one being a lack of relevant events in my area, I wasn’t able to mingle with other members of the multimedia community as easily as my full time equivalent BCU students in Birmingham. However, I have signed up to a locally established MK WordPress group, MK tweetup group and at the end of the month I’ll be attending The Guardian’s Open Weekend including their session on ‘How to make a video’ as well as MK Hacks’ Day in May.

Interviewing the professionals

Without the ability to attend events I did want to catch up, face to face, with experts in the field. I interviewed Tracy Buchanan, a multimedia editor with The Open University’s Open Media Unit about her roll at work and how she’s used video to help promote the other part of her professional life as a recently published author. Character is an important part of journalism and promotion and Tracy felt it was easier to give readers a slice of her personality via online video.

I exchanged emails with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, who shared some useful links via Delicious and I researched his more open approach to mobile and multimedia journalism which was in sharp contrast to the views of others, for example radio journalist Caroline Beaven who believes good audio needs planning. I’ve also commissioned Christian to do some video with me for my day job, in which I’ll spend the best part of three days with him creating and editing footage.

I spent an afternoon with Roger Stotesbury from Jump Off The Screen video production company in Milton Keynes who gave me a great insight into his work, and offered some useful tips, especially focusing on giving the interviewee control to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Roger showed me his new studio and equipment and has invited me to sit in on some editing projects in the future. I also learned a lesson about drinking coffee while recording an interview.

Fellow MA student and video journalist Franzi Baehrle wrote a guest blog post for me on how she began her career in Germany and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way and I’ve been an active contributor to her own blog, debating over best practice and mistakes we’ve made and learned from.

I found that listening to other people – and about the mistakes they made when they started out – helped my learning; it’s refreshing to know everyone, even seasoned professionals, make mistakes and move on. They all offered advice on putting interviwees at ease, what equipment to use and different styles: Documentally on the power of unplanned audio, Roger on where to position your interviwee for effect and Tracy on using the right style of video for the right audience.


Apart from what I refer to as technical forums offered by the creators/owners of editing tools such as Audacity I found it a) difficult to find relevant forums to contribute to and b) struggled to contribute because of my limited knowledge. As a beginner, I felt it best to learn by trial and error and research, rather than posing questions ‘for the sake of it’ on forums. These forums were also highly technical and not a place beginners can easily contribute. I found it easier to learn by looking at other people’s content and commenting, rather than through forums. For example, listening to this podcast I learned how to include links within your audio, a feature I previously wasn’t aware of.


As well as reading books on the practicalities of audio and video journalism, and ‘how to’ guides both in print and online, supported by blog posts from experts such as Adam Westbrook, I managed to find a hard copy of a video guide produced by The Guardian in 2008 as I cleared out my office drawers. This offered a wealth of informative articles around creating newsy videos and is something I’ll hang onto for future reference. And I posted an image – for variety – on my blog to suggest useful reading resources for other newbie multimedia journalists.


I endeavored to share my own experiences and opinions on other sites by commenting where I had something to add; either a differing opinion or experience, praise or feedback to help others improve and this often led to discussion. This is something I’d like to do more of – more opinions make for a rounded picture, and every new comment on a blog is a new contact in the field.


If I have any chance of becoming a successful multimedia journalist I have to try things. I started by recording an AudioBoo talking about why I’ve chosen to do this MA, to get used to being recorded (and found it strange to be the one talking rather than asking the questions).

I produced other podcasts, an audio slideshow and a video using a variety of equipment and software to compare the differences and find what I’m most comfortable with (I’m not sure yet!). My experimentations included use of the following: iPhone, Kodak Zi8, AudioBoo, Audacity, Final Cut Express, iMovie, YouTube, Soundcloud and the iPhone Recorder Pro app. What I need to do more of is focus on audio (by investing in a microphone) and try using a tripod to avoid shaky hand syndrome and to have one less thing to concentrate on (it’s easier to focus on the interviewee when you don’t have a camera in your hand).

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. For the most part my appraoch, to date, has been the ‘quick and dirty’ one, to capture unscripted, unedited footage to save time. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach, which brings me to…

Assignment 2: Specialist portfolio

For the second assignment this semester I intend to create a series of podcasts off the back of the Cybher conference which celebrates women bloggers. I plan to research and interview both those who are speaking at the event and those who are attending as delegates in order to find some human interest stories and promote what connects them: the blogosphere, and how it’s impacted their lives. I plan to record my research on a Tumblr blog as I go and embed the podcasts on a web page to invite comment and the sharing of stories by the blogging community.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The ‘talking head’

“We need more dynamic content” someone shouts across the office. Okay, there’s no shouting, but content that speaks – literally – is increasingly being used to engage audiences. But why choose video, or even audio, over an online article, for example?

What’s to be got from sticking a camera in someone’s face and asking them questions? Is the visual of a talking head so much more inspiring than their words on a website or in a newspaper?

Well, actually, yes. It does indeed depend on what the person you’re interviewing/talking to has to say. If they’re telling you about an update to the local bus timetable, a two-par filler will do. If an academic expert on conspiracy theories is explaining the different between a conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy, it’s undoubtedly more engaging to listen/watch the explanation than to read it.

Here’s a couple of examples, all with minimal or no production…

Lisa Mclean on the breast cancer patient she thinks about every day

Jill Reynolds’ interview with her 82-year-old self – a simple but effective idea!

Darren Rose, of Problogger, says the benefits of a talking head video on a blog is four-fold – it creates a personal connection with your readers and a good first impression; it engages with a different kind of person over a written post (brings out the lurkers!); lends itself very well to teaching and learning to allow people to visualise what you’re talking about/explaining. Video and text is an effective combination, he says, and can lead to higher conversions.

But if you have two people talking, two talking heads, flitting between those heads might not work so well and you don’t want to lose your audience to sea sickness. So maybe a podcast? This example is two people, who’ve produced a report on bisexuality, talking about it. There’s no visual element and two taling heads wouldn’t work so well but there’s chemistry between these two, they bounce of each other with no prompting and it makes for an engaging podcats, again with minimal editing.

What do you make of the ‘talking head’?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Experimenting with audio slideshows (and a tribute to my dog)

My first attempt at an audio slideshow saw me accidentally creating my dog’s epitaph, probably because I used track seven off this album as it shares the same name as my nearly two-year-old cocker spaniel. So, thankful that my furry friend is very much alive, I changed the music to something more jolly and came up with this:

Okay, so it’s rushed and rough around the edges but for the purposes of experimentation, successful. I used iMovie on the Mac which I found to be an intuitive tool. I found my way around the functionality with ease and it allowed me to do all the things I wanted, including easy cropping and positioning of images, the length of time images appeared and it was simple to add titles, rolling credits and music.

What I learned:

  • iMove is great for beginners, intuitive and the more you experiment the more you’ll discover you can do
  • Low quality images won’t go unnoticed. I used a few here and it’s really obvious so stick to good quality and your slideshow will look much sharper
  • You can time your images to the beats of the music, which works well and creates more impact but takes some time to master
  • It’s dead easy to export your finished file which I then chose to upload to YouTube and embed on this blog
  • A sequence of images to music (or an interview or one-person narrative) can be a powerful combination. My initial attempt with the track, Ralphie, bought tears to my eyes (yes, quite possibly, I need to get a grip)

I’d definitely be keen to try audio slideshows in the future; on a personal level I prefer watching a slideshow over a video but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

The Guardian has a great collection of audio slideshows and here’s one on a dog theme, to compare to mine.

For other great examples of audio slideshows check out these by MA Online journalism students: Hedy Korbee’s about the history of a school (I love the creaking door at the start) and this one by Sihlangu Tshuma about a man who makes his home on an allotment in a suburb of Birmingham.

The Garden of Eden from sihlangu on Vimeo.



Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,