Whatever happened to audio?

Figure 3.3-heistphotoIn television, sound is the other half of the picture. No matter how gorgeous your video is, its impact depends in part on the quality of the audio. Lousy sound can ruin even the strongest pictures. So if sound is so important, why aren’t more students being taught the basics of audio production?

The question comes from Pat Sanders, who teaches journalism at the University of North Alabama. In today’s curriculum, she writes in the SPJ magazine Quill, audio is “the forgotten one.” Like radio, she says, it’s been shunted aside and treated as an afterthought in most J-schools. But it’s never been more important for students to learn how to produce good audio, Sanders argues, because they need to know how to “do it all” in multimedia.

We agree, which is why our textbook puts audio first in the chapter on newsgathering for broadcast, and covers how to collect and use sound for TV, slideshows, podcasts and online video. To get really good at working with sound, it helps to spend some time focused only on audio. Forget the pictures and learn to tell a story with sound alone. If your audio isn’t clear, crisp, and cleanly-edited, your story won’t be worth much. Taking that sensibility into a video editing session will make your multimedia story shine.

If you want to practice, there are lots of free software options available for audio editing, including the one I use most often, Audacity. Learn how to use it by checking the tutorials Mindy McAdams of the University of Florida has posted online. And if that doesn’t work for you, Mashable has a handy list of free alternatives.

Perhaps the increasing popularity of podcasts like Serial from This American Life and Startup from Planet Money will put audio back on the front burner again. As a former radio-head myself, I certainly hope so.