Friday, July 20, 2007

If you get audio and no one hears it, does it make any sound?

The chemical plant explosion shook buildings. The call from our desk told me to go directly to the emergency command center, which was under the big cloud of black smoke the officials weren’t so sure we should be breathing.

I was glad that I had been packing my briefcase over the past several months with microphones and at least a cheap digital recorder. The big gear we’ve ordered hadn’t arrived yet, but I’d been playing around with my Olympus recorder and $10 Nady microphone.

In the trunk of my car, a tool I hadn't used. The first time I’d tried to get audio in a pack journalism setting, my arm was wedged between two TV lenses, trying to hold a microphone close enough while losing feeling in my forearm. I longed for the days when I could stay back with my pen and little notebook, within earshot, jotting down quotes and pertinent information.

Screw this, I thought. This must be one reason for boom mics. Ever priced a boom? About $1,000, and I knew my boss wasn’t convinced getting audio is quite that important yet. I do, but I didn’t have that kind of cash.

When I was researching shooting video for the web, I’d read on Make Internet TV about fashioning a boom pole out of a broom. I didn’t want to tote a broom around to news scenes, but I liked the idea. I found a telescoping stage boom with a stand on sale for $22 from Musician’s Friend. I unscrewed the base and threw the pole in my car. I tried it out for the first time that day, going over the crowd, sticking the boom arm through the crowd. It worked. I even got a few nods and compliments from the TV folks, and they’ve been doing this much longer than I have.

I recorded everything. I ended up with some good emotional audio for a slide show on deadline.

I also ended up with audio that we could’ve used to better effect but didn’t.

Photographer Travis Heying shot some great video of the fire from a helicopter, but didn’t have sound to go with it. I had some compelling audio of fire chiefs talking about the difficulties of these kinds of fires and the reasons for evacuating residents because of the health risks from the smoke. I could have edited a minute of audio to put down as a track for Travis’ video. But he was up in the helicopter. I was on the ground. There was no way to get it back to the newsroom.

Despite all of our work, as a newsroom, we’ve still got a long way to go on a breaking story.

The good news: the community flocked to our web site to find out what was happening.

Oh, and despite having no audio, we were the first ones to put up video of the fire – even before television.

We’ll celebrate small victories. For now, that’s all we can do.

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