Audio slideshows

I wanted to point you to a multimedia piece that David Cuddy, the New Bedford photo editor, produced as part of the report on a recent show performed by a local band. Kids would be cranking the speakers or headphones, but depending on where you are viewing, you may want to start by turning them down:
The band, A Wilhelm Scream, was performing at a concert sponsored by New Bedford's youth-oriented site, southcoast247.com.
There are many things I like about the slideshow (authentic, creative, gives people a sense of what it was like to be there), but perhaps best of all was the simplicity involved in its production: All David used was the batch of photos taken at the show, an mp3 from the band (pulled from the band's Web site with their permission to use it in the slideshow), and Windows Movie Maker software, which already comes with any Windows XP machine in your newsroom; no special training or purchase required.
I showed this piece to the newsrooms of Medford and Ashland this week, and the next day Julie Wurth, Medford's online editor, told me that after seeing it she quickly tried piecing together her own movie with the software. She was successful (though she didn't want to share), and was quite pleased with the software's ease of use.
I get asked frequently whether I think video ought to be a focus of a newsroom looking for ways to get more involved in producing content for the Web site. While I wholeheartedly endorse experimentation with the right stories, audio slideshows are easier to produce, are often a better user experience, and can be as good as or better than video when it comes to three-dimensional storytelling.
First, audio sideshows leverage an asset we already have: great photography. That's a key point to remember as we determine how to reorganize and reorient our newsrooms toward new media: leverage existing strengths. Second, acquiring audio, even ambient background sounds such as what you'd hear in NPR pieces, is easier to collect with equipment that is a lot less expensive. Same goes for producing them -- software is cheaper (in some cases, like Movie Maker and Audacity, it's free; Soundslides is $30), and the learning curve is much gentler than Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or Macromedia Flash.
Check out this June 2006 Presstime article, which also lists some other software being used by smaller newspapers around the country to produce slideshows such as "A Good Death" and "Buried Truth." I've also spoken to many of you about some examples done by my staff and newsroom colleagues at my previous job (admittedly with more complicated software, but more simplified versions could be attempted by organizations with fewer resources):
Sure, the New York Times is all-in for video (though they continue to produce audio slideshows, too). So are many other major metros: latimes.com, dallasnews.com, washingtonpost.com, signonsandiego.com. And I do not discount the video efforts underway in Sunbury, Seacoast or Cape Cod, the latter of which saw some promising traffic for video last month: 23,000+ page views to its video player, the site's 26th most popular page of the month (0.5% of the overall traffic).
But if you're looking for a place to start, particularly as you budget for next year, an audio slideshow presents you with a pretty low hurdle for entry into the multimedia realm.
For example, you can buy several digital audio recorders for the cost of one inexpensive video camera. I recommend the Olympus WS100 ($100), but if some of your staff have iPods, a Belkin TuneTalk ($70) can work just as well (I just bought one, and will report back on its quality once I get a chance to test-drive it). For those old-school reporters still using analog (tape) recorders, an adapter from Radio Shack that connects the recorder's headphone jack to the PC can work too. There are also devices out there (maybe you already have one) that make it easy to record phone calls directly on computer. Make sure you're following your state laws in terms of notifying the person you're recording.
Other resources (by sharing the podcast links, I'm not necessarily advocating podcasting, though I listen to many. Most of the required tools are the same, however):

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