What’s in the Bag of a Freelance Radio Reporter?

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Friends have asked me why I’ve invested so much time and expense in radio gear since I mostly write for print. Simply put, I love turning in fully produced, turnkey stories and radio shows pay more for the effort. Piecing together music, interviews and sound effects is like creating an editorial illustration, which is something that I’ve done for years and enjoy. Both are very visual and conceptual mediums.

Of course, you don’t need as much gear as shown in the photo to freelance in radio, but I plan on doing more in the near future – an eye-opening experience for any freelance writers who want to do more.

A: Marantz PMD670 digital, two-track audio recorder – Marantz makes smaller, lighter recorders now (PMD 660, 661) but they don’t have as many features as the full-sized recorders, and their preamps are a bit noisy. Oade Brothers offers a nice retrofit that really improves noise on all Marantz digital recorders

B: Sennheiser MD46 cardioid dynamic microphone – Great interview mic with low handling noise and a heart-shaped pickup pattern that records from the front and sides. Durable, too. It’s survived a few drops

C: Gooseneck mic stand – Heavy but solid. Cast iron base isn’t easily knocked over

D: Audio-Technica microphone shock mount with hotshoe adapter for use on my DSLR camera

E: Audio-Technica AT835b condenser microphone – Directional mic that’s useful for noisy rooms or to record sound from afar. Very sensitive to handling noise

E: 2 XLR mic cables 5-foot/15-foot for use with the Marantz recorder

F: Sony MDR-7502 field headphones

H: Church Audio preamp – Gives my small recorders a pickup boost when using less sensitive dynamic mics. Also improves the sound on my DSLR when recording video

I: JK Audio Quick Tap – Allows me to record decent quality telephone interview sound for broadcast use

J: Audio-Technica ATR-3350 wired lavalier mic – Great way to get clean and consistent sound from a subject that’s either moving or in a loud room. I’ll use this lav mic with the Olympus LS10 clipped to the subject’s belt or in a pouch

K: Olympus WS-300M digital recorder – It’s small and can plug directly into the
computer like a USB thumb drive. I still use it to record ambient sounds or sound effects like a closing door, footsteps, restaurant noises. A single AAA battery doesn’t give you much recording time

L: Olympus LS10 digital recorder – Great small recorder that I use for all of my print story interviews. It has good preamps so also works very well for radio

M: JVC earbuds – Low profile way to monitor sound

N: Church Audio 1/8” plug-in omnidirectional dynamic mic – Cheapest way to drastically improve recording quality on a small recorder

O: Sony MDR-V6 studio headphones – I use these “cans” while doing sound editing on my desktop computer at home

Not Shown:
1 XLR to 1/8” mic cable for small recorders

Bogen monopod – I use this if I need a boom for the mic. Works alright but heavy. I’ll eventually buy a Rode Boompole

Asus 15” laptop and desktop with Sony Sound Forge and Audacity. Ideally, Pro
Tools is the standard software editor in radio but it’s expensive and has a steep learning curve.

Audacity is free, feature rich and Sound Forge allows me to clean up the work

Sennheiser G3 wireless lav mic – Great wireless system but pricey. I borrow this from a friend when needed

How to Repurpose Print Stories for Radio and the Gear You Need to Do It

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Many journalists and investigative technical writers try to maximize their time by repurposing their stories for multiple publications. You can do the same for print to radio stories with some preparation, and you don’t need to know how to use Pro Tools sound editing software. You just need a suitable story slant and some decent quality recordings. Public radio shows like “Marketplace” work with print journalists all of the time so can assist with sound production and fine tuning stories for format.

Ideally, a two-track digital recorder with XLR inputs like the Marantz PMD 661 will work best for radio. It offers a stable, noise-free platform with a lot of recording options like the ability to use two lavalier mics. But you can get away with using an Olympus LS10 or newer LS11 which both have good preamps that are not too hissy when the recording gain is increased. Just using an external mic with any cheap digital recorder can drastically improve sound quality.

You want a recorder with sound levels that can be adjusted while recording. This allows you to keep the meter out of the red where the sound will “clip” or distort. You also want the ability to record uncompressed wav sound files with a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz. That’s the same quality as an audio CD. Even the cheap Zoom H1 has this capability.

Don’t use the internal mic since holding the recorder will pick up handling noise. And leaving the recorder on the table is too far from your source to get clean sound. Get a decent handheld mono microphone like the Electro-Voice RE50 , a Sennheiser MD46 or a wired lapel mic and practice using them. You want to learn how to cradle the mic in your hand to minimize handling noise.
A few tips:

  • Hold the mic close to the speaker’s mouth. The farther away you are from your subject, the more that you will have to increase recording levels, which will increase background noise and hiss. This is especially true in noisy rooms or with soft-spoken subjects.
  • Position the mic to the side or below the speaker’s mouth but pointed towards the mouth. This is called being “on axis” and it helps to reduce clicks and pops. A mic windscreen will help as well. Foam windscreens are cheap but fur windscreens work best.
  • Always keep your headphones on and listen to the interview through your recorder. I use the Sony MDR-7502 headphones (http://amzn.to/na31T5) but you can also use earbuds. Turn off automatic sound level settings and limiters, which will wildly fluctuate the volume of your recordings and make them unusable. Frequently check your sound levels and manually adjust them as needed. I find that interview subjects get louder as they get more comfortable.
  • Limit how much movement you make while holding the mic to minimize handling noise. Sit or stand close to your interview subject so that you’re not swinging the mic back and forth.

Record 20 seconds of background sound at the beginning and end of the interview session. This extra helps the sound engineer to make clean editing transitions.

Radio is actually a visual medium so record any extra sounds that are related to the story that can give the story more presence like milk bottles rattling if you’re doing a story on dairy farming.

Why Using a Smartphone as a Recorder is a Bad Idea

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One of the most common questions that I’m routinely asked by new journalists and investigative article writers is what recorder I use to tape interviews. I actually have two small portable Olympus digital recorders (WS-300M and an Olympus LS10) that I’ve been happy with. Both recorders have intuitive controls and good recording quality. I’ve even used the latter for broadcast interviews. Occasionally, I see journalists using iPhones as a recorder, which is fine if you’ve got nothing else. But the many disadvantages are not worth the convenience for the following reasons.

  • Using your smartphone as a recorder will diminish the short battery life that you already have to deal with. A dedicated recorder uses cheap AA and AAA batteries that you can more easily replace on the go.
  • Dedicated recorders typically have blinking recording lights that allow you to see from afar that they’re actually recording.  
  • Smartphones are harder to operate and monitor on the fly than a dedicated device. Try wading through menus on a touchscreen while in bright daylight and running to keep up with an interview subject. Most digital recorders have a single physical record button.
  • Using your smartphone at a press conference or roundtable means that you’re giving up your link to the world until the event is over. Not a good idea if you need to make or take a call, look something up on Google or snap a photo.
  • The biggest issue I’ve seen is how some smartphones can affect electronic devices while sharing a podium or press roundtable. Cell phones transmit regular signals to communicate with local cell towers and these pulses, especially when on GSM or EDGE mode, can be picked up by nearby digital recording devices and it is loud. Your colleagues will hate you for ruining their recordings.

A few tips:

If you do see a smartphone being used as a recorder, place your recorder as far away as possible from the device. But keep the recorder close to the speaker since distance increases how much background noise the microphone will pick up. If you insist on using your smartphone as a recorder, turn the cellular feature off. Inversely, keep your own smartphone away from your digital recorder while doing interviews. Switching the phone to “airplane mode” is the safest precaution that you can take in both instances.

 

 

Turn Your Mobile Phone Into A Multimedia Journalism Tool

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In the old days, let’s say way back in 1999, broadcast journalists had to lug around bulky recording devices and oversized cameras. These days, most journalists have all the tools for capturing a great story in their pocket. Your smart phone is the new Swiss Army knife for professional and citizen journalists. Non-profit MobileActive.org has created the Mobile Media Toolkit, which collects different tools and resources that help 21st century journalists to use mobile technology efficiently.

The simple fact is that using mobile phones in media production isn’t always as easy as it seems. Finding the right tool and using it correctly to reach the broadest possible audience requires knowledge of the mobile landscape. The need for guidance in the industry is apparent.

The Mobile Media Toolkit provides guidance on tools, resources, and case studies of how mobiles can be used for reporting, news broadcasting, and citizen media participation on a variety of platforms and in a variety of circumstances, especially when expanding copywriting services.

If you’re looking for a one-stop resource for all things mobile, the mobile media tool kit is the place.

Here are a couple of reasons Mobile Media Tool Kit says they are revolutionizing citizen and professional reporting.

Create Media on Your Phone:

  • Mobiles phones are always with you. Knowing how to capture multimedia on your phone will enable you to capture breaking news and information at a moment’s notice.
  • Mobiles are portable and unobtrusive recording devices, and can be used in places where camera crews are banned. There are, essentially, always there.
  • Journalists have reported that recording video or audio interviews with mobile phones often helps subject stay relaxed and comfortable.
  • Location-based reports can add valuable geographic context to reports. This will help content reach specific audiences who are often looking for news relevant to their environment and location.
  • Depending on your budget, a mobile phone can act as a cheap recording device and save you money you might otherwise spend on a fancier recording set up.

Share Media Via Your Phone

After creating content, one of the best ways to create an audience for that content is simply to publish it online. There are many online platforms which will let you self-publish content and build an audience for that content. Web publishing can be quick, easy, and supports all kinds of information that can be uploaded from mobiles (including audio, video, photo, and location information).

There are many reasons to know about and create platforms for publishing mobile content.

  • If you are creating news content on your phone, you will need a platform to publish your content. For multimedia content such as text, audio, videos, or photos, online is often the best publication medium.
  • Most people carry their mobile phones with them everywhere. By making it easy for the general public to upload content captured on their phones, you can increase the reach of content, speed of coverage, as well as diversity of the content you showcase.
  • News consumers, especially on mobile phones, are becoming increasingly participatory. Letting users participate on their mobile phones is the next step, as it makes participation easier and more accessible to a wider audience.
  • Not only can user-generated content drastically increase the amount of content you have, examples show that more people may seek to access this user-generated content as well.
  • These platforms can work with a variety of publishing platforms (like online publishing, the radio, or mobile phones), and in some cases, can plug in directly to your current infrastructure.

Deliver Content Mobile to Mobile

There are many reasons to disseminate content to mobile phones.

How do you use your mobile phone as a reporting too? Any aps or hacks that help you do your job?

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