Since the golden radio days of old, sound has been of one of the most effective storytelling mediums. If used correctly, audio stories can be incredibly effective tools in further immersing audiences in a story and providing a more tactile experience. Just ask the listeners of Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938 how real it sounded.
While not as prominent as it once was, using sound for a story is still an effective option for modern journalists. But first, one must determine which stories will actually benefit from the use of sound.
The first thing the Poynter course “Telling Stories with Sound” points out is that some stories are better fitted for sound than others. Sound stories have four general sources to use — voiceover, interviews, natural sound, ambient noise — and the best sound stories can utilize almost all of them. As an example, the course points out that stories about a dog park and a restaurant opening make for good material because you can get some color in them with clips of dogs parking and food sizzling, respectively. Stories about the city council and various government activities are tougher because, besides interviews, there are much fewer lively, ambient sounds to add color.
Another tough aspect of sound stories is that it requires much more preparation and time management. Certain locations ebb and flow with their sound levels. You don’t want to give an interview at a busy, noisy airplane hangar where you can’t hear the person talking but you also want to get some sort of ambient noise, which can’t be accomplished when a place like a restaurant is closed. Poynter suggests a good amount of preparation beforehand to know when good times to record are and to have a quiet place to record in mind, just in case.
Once you have all your necessary gear you can start concerning yourself with what makes a good audio recording. For interviews, there are some inherent differences from print that makes audio unique. First, always have your speaker answer your questions in full sentences. Having an abbreviated answer may work for print but sound incomplete as a recording. Like print, having them be as descriptive as possible can also make for a more interesting audio bit that helps flesh out the story. Finally, putting successive interviews next to each other can fill in gaps and give an idea of the larger picture.
The main point in all this is to keep things interesting. Have a strong script for your voiceover to keep things focused. Keeps things fun and sound open while you’re talking. When dialogue goes on too long or things sound like they’re getting too monotonous, you can spice things up with ambient noises, natural sounds and snippets of music (20 seconds or under for fair use).
Sound is a useful, immersive tool for online media storytelling but it is also in need of a revitalization. In an age of constant viral web content, it has been noted on digg.com that very little of this viral content is sound-only. Our culture is a visual-oriented one and rewards videos and images as such with clicks and likes. The only real viral sound content to come out is usually noteworthy 911 calls. As of now, the biggest avenue for an online journalist to get their audio content to go viral is to share it on social media, for which SoundCloud.com has been the biggest outlet for audio sharing.
Some fault may also be on the somewhat more limited nature of using sound in a story. Video can be used in almost every occasion but sound can be restricted more to certain instances.
Stories that utilize sound have a place in the hierarchy of online storytelling. If the situation is right, they can grant a more immersive story than the routine image or print story. But to truly progress forward and become a present force on the web, there must be a new, easy way for them to ride the social media train to become more viral-prone.