When audio goes wrong

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Listening to audio as part of an online story is one of the greatest advantages of the Web. You can get a sense of the subject’s personality and, most important, you get to listen to the interviewee firsthand. But sometimes it can be difficult to get that valuable audio to work, and it can be frustrating if you don’t know the tricks to fix it.

Today, student reporter Yolanne Almanzar successfully reached the writer Gay Talese on the phone, to interview him about one of his most famous subjects, the mafioso Bill Bonanno, who died a few days ago in Tucson.

Getting to talk to a well-known writer who went to many dinners with the late son of the Mafia boss Joseph Bonanno was like hitting the lottery, especially for a rookie reporter. Talese didn’t have a lot of time to give — he was getting ready to travel to Tucson to attend Bonanno’s funeral. But he agreed to answer two questions and gave Almanzar good details about Bonanno’s personality and life.

My job was to produce a brief audio version of that interview, which I thought was going to be an easy job. But when I opened the file on Audacity to edit, the entire interview was distorted; you could hear only a loud noise and a little bit of the author’s voice. Luckily, not all was lost. The Web producers here at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute know the tricks that all multimedia journalists should know.

The first good news I received was the fact that I had set the recorder in the wrong format — I had recorded on WAV instead of MP3, and that made it easier to fix some of the problems.

The file was opened on Audacity, which allows you to erase some of the unwanted noise. After highlighting the audio, you can go to Effects, then click on Noise Removal; after that, you can adjust the removal by choosing Less or More. We tried it more than once until we got the best possible quality. It was not perfect, but at least we can now hear three interesting sound bites about Bill Bonnano’s life from an important journalist.

One of the editors told me Web producers go through this situation very often. He also said that when the audio is bad and what was said in the interview is not that important, it is O.K. not to use it. On the other hand, when you are talking to a famous author like Gay Talese, you have to try to at least make the file audible for listeners — in this case, they’ll probably forgive you for the bad quality.

— Marlene Peralta

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One Response to “When audio goes wrong”

  1. Arelis Hernandez Says:

    I’m sorry about the mishap, the same thing happened to me during my internship. I thought i had collected great audio during a blueberry festival, including a Mexican worker playing music using a blueberry leaf, but when I got the office…well you know. Now I train people who use audio for stories, go figure. Anyways, keep it going, audio has a magical way of transporting your readers deep into a story. I was pulling out my hair like you just one year ago in Miami so don’t sweat it. I look forward to seeing more of your work. Que Dios te bendiga!

    Arelis Hernandez
    NY Times Institute 2007 Miami

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