Monday, August 20, 2007

Failure is just a state of mind

I didn’t want to listen to the nearly four hours of audio and video I’d recorded for my most ambitious multimedia project yet.

After all, I hadn’t even listened to myself.

I had learned the rules dutifully, and I had passed them through this blog and to colleagues. I’d just finished a brownbag session for my fellow reporters on how to record audio. I’d called it “Get your Mojo Working,” for mobile journalists. Use headphones. Use an external, cardioid, directional microphone. I had those tools in the bag when I went out to work on my law enforcement story. Then, we got mobile, and my mojo wasn’t up to it.

I’d planned on using a wireless lavaliere for my main source, so I could follow him around with ease. But after I’d reserved it, reminded people I needed it, well, the only wireless lav our newsroom owned had disappeared. Never mind, though, because I’m not a gear head, and I have always found a way to get the story.

I did have a new Edirol recorder, which I packed away, along with my low-end, but reliable Canon video camera to catch some documentary footage off my crime beat. I had the cardioid mic I’d carried around for months and a set of headphones.

But once we started moving, I decided I didn’t want to be plugging headphones and microphones in and out. I had to move when my subject moved, get in and out of conversations about homicides and witnesses. Plus, I was getting audio two ways: with the Edirol recorder and through the camera. I had a backup.

When I returned after a late-night and early-morning round that I was too tired to contemplate repeating, I downloaded my mp3s. I heard the air conditioner in the damned vehicle. I also heard static creeping like a crackling campfire into the voices.

I did like the video. But audio, as I’ve always said, is most important.

I tried to relax over the weekend, which was great with my wife and family, except for the occasional moping about my presumed failure. Then I remembered: this business never was perfect. I remembered all the great quotes that didn’t make my stories, because in the haste to scribble them down, I’d made them illegible. My stories would have benefited from those extra phone calls I planned to make until deadlines got in the way. I resolved to learn some post-production tricks to make poor audio usable. I also knew what to use as the topic my next blog.

But then, another surprise. As I began logging video clips this morning, I heard the camera’s audio. Not crystal, but not drowned in static, either. The video camera had picked up the voices without the distracting air conditioner. I had some passable sound.

More good news: our photo staff had processed the images out of my point-and-shoot and proclaimed a few actually publishable, and a couple of nods of approval.

“So you learned this is not a science,” Katie, our web guru and my biggest cheerleader, said, seeing me ecstatic over audio that was not perfect, but not too bad to use.

What I learned is what I keep learning. This isn’t as difficult as you think it is. You can make it work.

Still, next time I’m wearing headphones and dragging along that mic – wires and all.

1 comment:

  1. Ron:

    Great tale. Reminds me of the first interview I did with my first ever tape recorder. I set everything up perfectly, except for the microphone, which I placed on top of the cassette deck. The result was 45 minutes of well-recorded sounds of the tape mechanism at work, and a low buzz of conversation in the background. Unfortunately, in those pre-tech days, I didn't have a vid-cam to back me up.