Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Radio journalists: get your inlines right!

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 18, 2009
Image: Adam Westbrook

Image: Adam Westbrook

In a radio news story there are two really important lines: the “top-line” and the “in-line”.

The first one is the first line of the story and it has to get the whole story across simply, directly, accurately – and keep the audience listening at the same time. Journalists spend most of their time getting this right, which is why the “in-line” is so often overlooked.

It’s the line just before a clip of audio, and its purpose is to tell us who’s about to speak.

The oldest man in the world – and one of the last survivors of the First World War – has died at the age of 113. (Topline)

Henry Allingham passed away at his care home in Brighton yesterday.

He was one of the founding members of the RAF and took part in Ypres and the Battle of Jutland.

Dennis Goodwin, founder of the First World War Veterans’ Association, said he was a national treasure: (Inline)

[CLIP OF DENNIS GOODWIN]

My problem with most in lines is when journalists try to tell us more than who is about to speak; they try to tell us what the person is about to say as well.

But that is totally redundant if they’re going to repeat you in the audio clip.

It gets worse too. How often do you hear an in-line introducing someone you’re going to recognise?

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, insists our troops are well looked after.

[CLIP OF GORDON BROWN]

Or someone you don’t need to know?

These people we spoke to in Manchester think it’s a bad idea:

[CLIP OF VOX POP]

Some argue the journalist has a responsibility to make sure the listener fully understands what’s happening. But I believe they are smart enough to put the pieces together – and indeed engage more when they do. You can surprise the listener more by bringing in audio without introducing it: it means they have to connect the audio to the story and engage.

You can save valuable seconds by just telling us who we’re about to hear and let them do the talking; or just let the audio speak for itself.


Multimedia shooting: more lessons learned

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 19, 2009

My post on the challenges of shooting multimedia during a visit to Iraq this month proved a popular one (thank you!). A week of furious editing in both radio studios and on my own video edit software later and I’ve learned a load more. Here are the highlights…


8 more lessons learned in shooting multimedia

01. different mediums, different audiences

I wrote on a previous post how a difficulty of shooting for different mediums was juggling all the kit. Well, since coming back I’ve really come to realise how you also have to juggle different audiences some times. I went out primarily for my local radio station; the brief: meet local soldiers, find out about their life on the front line, get some good home references (like supporting local football teams) and messages back home to loved ones. Your typical local young house-wifey type content.

In taking out a camera though, I gave myself  a second agenda – an audience on the web very different from my radio one. Now the challenge before me is to produce content for two different audiences with the same raw material. So something fun – like this; and something a bit more serious – like this.

02. different mediums – helpful sometimes

OK, so holding a mic and a camera ain’t easy but it can cover your back too. The external mic on my camera failed me on one interview, but luckily I had the same interview in mp3 from my Marantz recorder. A bit of tricky synch work and you’ve fixed the problem.

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

As wide a wideshot as I could get!

03. interviews

Self-shooting without a tripod made interviews a bit of a challenge. I had to be close enough to my subjects to pick up audio on my Marantz recorder, but far enough away to get a wide enough head shot. The result: most interviews were in extreme close up! Although close ups are often recommended for online video in its smaller 720×526 screens.

04. get to know your camera

I didn’t have enough time to really practice with my camera before I used it for the first time. I meant a lot of wasted tape as I tried to ride the iris or adjust the manual focus.

05. keep it manual

I don’t regret keeping all my settings – but namely white balance, focus and iris – completely manual.

Scribbles and notes

Scribbles and notes

06. log it

I logged everything as I shot, which has saved time in the edit. Also my logbook provided a great home for memes, sketches and ideas.

07. be prepared…

…for technical hitches. I was very positive about my budget film making kit earlier this year, but remember, pay peanuts and you get monkeys. Adobe Premiere Elements is great value for money, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it crashes every time I try to capture video. And the image recorded is shifted ever so slightly to the left. And when I recorded video with my external mic plugged in but not switched on I got a nice blast of Iraqi radio on the soundtrack instead.

08. oh and one bit of advice to anyone else who takes  recording equipment to a military theatre…

…don’t record anywhere near a military radio kit. Number of interviews lost: 2. Number of amazing pieces to camera on top of a moving vehicle lost: all of them

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

A piece to camera which will never see the light of day due to radio interference

All the radio content has been broadcast this week on 96.9 Viking FM in the UK. Lots of content including interviews, audio slideshows and video is online – click here. I will put up all my audio shortly. And more video coming soon!