Slideshows Can Highlight Big Projects, Offer Readers More

May 15, 2008

 

 By CASEY McNERTHNEY

Every story has moments that get left out in the retelling. Sometimes those moments are what reporters remember most, but have a hard time describing in a print news story.

Because of the Internet, those moments—both in images and audio—now can be shared with the readers.

The inflections in a source's voice, the photos that help explain, the odds and ends you collect that would normally be buried on your desk – those now have a place in an online slideshow.

Slideshows can polish amajor project and help it stick in readers'memories. The most popular program journalists use to create them, Soundslides (www.soundslides.com), is so basic even computer Neanderthals can figure it out quickly.

The only major drawback – other than the time it takes to create a project – is that slideshows haven't proven to be the most popular spots on websites. That explains why online slideshows aren't created for many stories, and why some newspapers have ignored the technology.

Here are some basic tips for creating an online slideshow:

● If you have an interesting story, you can make an interesting slideshow.
But people who give good newspaper quotes aren't always good on tape. The best sources are natural storytellers, or people who are at least compelling in conversations.

● Think of your slideshow as a movie preview. Make it move. Even your best friends won't want to hear every detail. But they will give you two minutes. Your slideshow should hook people in that time and make them want to know more. Those details can come in your print story, which doesn't have to match the slideshow. The best slideshows can stand alone without an accompanying story.

●Think "outside the box"when recording audio. Use 911 tapes. Find old radio interviews. Interview folks where there are natural sound effects. It's not hard to interviewsomeone inaquietroomwithamicrophone.Butdoingthat exclusively is boring.

● You can never have enough pictures. I've hit a point in every Soundslides project where I'd give my left arm for another dozen pictures. If you have 40, that's good. If you have 100, that's better. It's also important to work with a photographer who understands the slideshow concept. Photographers I've worked with say shooting for a slideshow is much different than a regular assignment, which aims for two or three good photos instead of a few dozen. Also, because slideshow photos are typically small and displayed on a computer screen, you can sometimes get by with photos thatmight not be up to newspaper production standards.

Tips on creating an online slideshow:

1. Get a MiniDisc recorder or recorder with equivalent quality. If your audio is awful, your project will be, too.As with pictures, the best projects have a wealth of material to draw from. Record everything when you're interviewing subjects and walking around places in your story. You'll capture elements that put readers inside a story.

2. Team with a photographer and editor who understand your project. Having people who understand your mission makes all the difference. An understanding photographer knows that shooting for a slideshow is different than shooting a regular daily news assignment. An understanding editor won't mind if you spend a day or two working on a slideshow. The editor should tell you if the slideshow is too long to keep the average viewer's attention.

3. Interview subjects and get other audio. If your story is about a barber, record sounds of his scissors. If you're reporting on a football player, record sounds from the game. Record all interviews andmake sure to get awind screen to cover the microphone (about $5 at most music stores).

When recording, be aware of your surroundings. The hum from flourescent lights, air flow from a heater and other noises that aren't obvious during the interview will stand out later.

4. Edit the audio into chunks with simple titles. If you don't already have access to some kind of editing software, download one such as Audacity (http://audacity. sourceforge.net/). After transferring the recordings to a computer, pull out quotes or sounds into roughly 15-secondchunks. This part is a pain, and very time consuming, but don't be deterred. Create folders for each person or place. Use Windows Media Player or a similar program to arrange the clips in an order that keeps listeners wanting more. Produce something that would make a good radio segment, and that will serve as the first draft of the audio.

5. When you have a rough draft of the audio, play it for colleagues. Are they interested? If they are, keep going. If not, make it more interesting. But don't let one negative comment throw you.

6. Cut down the audio. The tighter the audio, the better – just like quotes in newspaper and magazine stories.

7. Match the audio to the pictures. Think outside the box for how you can get pictures. Are there archived photos? Video stills? Programs or handouts you can scan? Pictures of old pictures? Think creatively.

8. Make a title screen that's compelling like amovie poster. Photoshop or a similar program works.

9. Show your slideshow to at least a half dozen friends or colleagues. What do they react to? Work in the finishing touches based on their reaction.

10. Work with your company's media team to make sure your project gets good attention online. Slideshows might not get a lot of hits, but they can draw attention to a bigger package. A prominent place on theWeb site is a major boost.

A quality slideshow is the same as a quality newspaper story. The story is shown, not told; each audio clip is concise and powerful; the story is arranged to keep the reader/viewer hanging on.

It's crucial to understand your target audience and tailor your slideshow to their attention span. Just because you think your project is worthy of eight minutes doesn't mean it is. Try to create a compelling story in two to three minutes. If you can do that and follow these steps, your work should be well received.

Casey McNerthney is a reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who recently trained journalists on slide show production for the Society of Professional

 These pages include slideshows on environmental topics:
New Orleans Times-Picayune on the disappearing coast: www.nola.com/speced/lastchance/
Alternet on mountaintop removal coal mining: www.alternet.org/water/70475/
Voiceofsandiego.com on air pollution: http://tinyurl.com/2q93r4/
Seattle Post-Intelligencer on a polluted river: seattlepi.nwsource.com/specials/duwamish/slideshow/
Newfarm.org on coffee growers in Guatemala:ww.newfarm.org/international/guatemala/coffee.shtml
Lynchburg News & Advance on a struggling lake: http://tinyurl.com/yor2ju

** From SEJ's quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Spring 2008 issue