Friday, May 04, 2007

Pigs might not fly — but they do talk

Customers of Capital Press might have noticed some glitches yesterday if they tried to email our staff, or check for updated news on our home page.

The problem was beyond our office: our internet provider had problems, and this caused us a lot of headaches internally as we tried to carry on our business.

As Capital Press production manager Barbara Nipp half-jokingly said, after she sent some staff home and waited to see when service would be regained, “What did we do before the internet?”

Businesses such as ours depend heavily on the internet to communicate among staff, and externally with customers. As we continue to build our website and make it as up-to-date as possible, it becomes a concern when the internet is down for even a few hours.

While our customers could still access our website during the problem, our staff were unable to upload stories, ads, and other items to the site. Fortunately, we’re back to normal this morning, and Debbie Evans in our production department has been busy posting our newspaper online. We thank our customers for their patience during this time.

* * * *
Last week, CP reporters took part in a workshop on how to do digital audio that can be posted online.

This week, a few of them bravely set forth with their small tape recorders to capture the sounds of the world around them. Mateusz Perkowski did a great job interviewing a few people at an immigration rally held May 1 in Salem, Ore., as he asked people why they were there and what was their stand on different immigration issues.

While some of these quotes were in the stories that appear in the May 4 edition of Capital Press, Perkowski’s audio was great for a couple of reasons.

First of all, when people hear the audio they get a better sense of what was going on during the rally. They can hear things that don’t come through in a written story: the tone of the speaker, the shouting in the background, even music from the rally. They can hear special emphasis that speakers might give to certain words or phrases. They also hear longer parts of the interview, giving perhaps more insight into the person being interviewed.

Another reason Perkowski’s audio package was welcome was because it helped us build a news package that was quicker and more dynamic than most weekly newspapers could usually do.

Within less than 24 hours of the rallies held May 1, we combined the efforts of several of our staff to turn out an online story, photos and audio from several rally locations in the West. Cookson Beecher attended an event in Mount Vernon, Wash., Bob Krauter reported from a rally in Sacramento, Calif., and Perkowski covered the rally at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. We used Perkowski’s audio, and pictures taken by Mark Rozin in Salem and now had a package that people could see, hear and read: the story helped people understand the background of why this was happening, what inspired people to be there, and what are the implications for the future.

Meanwhile, our Spokane reporter Scott Yates has also been trying out his taprecorder this week. He took the taperecorder into barns to talk to livestock owners. He later explained he learned a few things: he was having problems with the record button, and needed to ask sources their names about three times. So he learned how patient people can be with him…

He also learned that sheep are really loud, especially if you’re taping them in a barn.

And finally, he learned that pigs like to talk to a taperecorder.

Yates said he had lowered the taperecorder near two pigs and the next thing he knew, the two seemed to be talking, quite extensively, and all captured on tape. Even the pigs’ owner seemed surprised and amused, adding that this had never been witnessed before.

Unfortunately no one could understand what the pigs were saying.

Perhaps it was some higher form of pig Latin.

* * * *

During the audio workshop at our Salem office last week, Yates had brought up a great question. As we talked about how we can edit a digital interview to remove long pauses, coughs, uhs, ahems, or other sounds — even say, a loud beeping forklift sound that might have interrupted an interview at some point — Yates asked about the ethics of doing this.

Is it ethical to remove these sounds?

The answer: yes. Imagine the tape recorder being another tool for a reporter, just like a notebook and pen.

When a reporter is doing an interview, the reporter is already editing what goes into the notebook. The reporter is selecting what words to record, and is already (without realizing it) editing out the pauses, coughs, uh, or other sounds. Yes, they existed during the interview, but they don’t appear later in the story.

Otherwise, it would be probably very difficult to read news stories.

Imagine reading the following:

Joe Smith paused, as the forklift honked then beeped as it backed up. Smith coughed, cleared his throat. “ I, uh, where were we? Oh yeah, (cough) I wanted to, uh, get to the — where was I? (Cough again). Uh, the point I was trying to, uh, make is that I wanted to, uh, get to the lab for the, uhm, results, but … excuse me (cough, cough)… the lab was too far away to get the animal, uhm, there on, time, you know?”

How would that quote appear later?
Joe Smith said, “I wanted to get to the lab for the results but the lab was too far away to get the animal there on time.”

The digital taperecorder could be a great training tool for reporters, too. As a training platform, there’s nothing like listening later to how a question was phrased badly, or what speech flaws exist and seem to be sprinkled throughout the interview. It makes a reporter think twice about how to ask an interview later, plus hopefully catch the next time he or she wants to say uh, mmhmm, you know or riggggggght.

But Yates was right, there are ethical considerations when it comes to digital editing. The technology is wonderful but also can provide some of the most serious challenges we can have in journalism.

If someone wished to be unethical, it is very simple to edit out or in a word or phrase, change the order of things being said, or do other things to what someone had originally said. Think about changing even one word, for example, in a politician’s speech. Remove the word “not” such as in “I am not a criminal.”

Sure changes the meaning of the sentence, doesn’t it?

This lesson teaches us all never to trust what we hear recorded — unless we know for sure those reporters were ethical and did only minor editing but still captured the true content and context as much as possible.

Hopefully our customers will continue to trust that we will hold our audio reporting to the same high ethical standards as we expect to meet in our regular newspaper.

Technorati tags:

No comments:

Ag in the West social media watch

Capital Press videos on YouTube

Our most popular videos