I like to think I am generally a very positive person and it is most effective to highlight best practice but this week I felt moved to tweet:
“Heard (partly) radio news bulletin in car. Audio clips unintelligable. Soft speaking interviewees, not great quality, fighting against bed.”
Clearly I was upset because I continued:
“I think more radio journalists need to understand the listening experience in the car. Clarity and quality really matter.”
I care passionately about radio news and I think what particularly annoyed me in this case was that I was in the car with my kids, 9 and 11. They weren’t talking (rare) but listening. Listening to the news, what dad works on, but maybe a third of what was broadcast couldn’t be understood.
My tweets prompted some reaction. @gordonchree of STV News said he didn’t think beds should be used in news. Beds need to be used with care for sure however, in this case, I am not sure the clips would have been better understood if played dry.
What I think we need to accept is that any audio we broadcast has to pass what I call the motorway test. It has to be clear and audible enough to be heard in the car, still a critical media domain for radio. Then, we can talk about what is said in the audio, what it adds to the story etc.
One of my European radio news colleagues, @rachidfinge tells me that 3FM in the Netherlands avoids phone audio at all costs. He says Skype and What’s App have helped increase the amount of quality audio on air.
Weak sounding audio gives your listeners an opportunity to tune out. If you have to play a clip twice or more in the newsroom to understand it clearly, please forget it. Your commuting listener doesn’t have the luxury to listen again. And again.
Make sure your reporters have decent recording gear and know how best to use it and here’s an idea for News Eds. The next time you coach your breakfast bulletin presenter try something different, go for a drive and see if your news passes the motorway test!