Occasionally a service pops onto the internet that’s just brimming with potential for journalism (and the rest of the media). It doesn’t need any complicated explanations – you just plug and go and start having a lot of fun. Audioboo is one of those services.
Ostensibly it’s a very simple app for the iPhone that allows you to record a ‘boo’, which gets sent to the Audioboo website, where there are also the standard social networking functions. You can also embed it into your own website. This boo can literally be anything, but it’s normally short and snappy – rarely over two minutes. It’s a bit like an aural version of Seesmic or Twitter, although that’s not entirely accurate.
The Guardian used this to good effect on their liveblog during their coverage of the G20 summit and the accompanying protests. Mix with text and video, it gave you short, snappy reports from journalists on the ground.
This, to me, is exciting.
Let’s backtrack to when I was a radio reporter. It’s not a million miles away from what I would be doing for assorted news stories – often standing near a breaking news story (usually in a cold and/or wet place. Big news stories always seem to break when the elements are at their worst, just to torment news reporters) with a microphone in hand, describing what was going on for the benefit of our listeners.
Depending on what equipment was available on the day you’d either get a radio quality OB unit (although this would inevitably decide not to work or be in use when big stories broke), a mobile phone, or you’d just end up doing an ‘as live’ report into your recording equipment.
This is why Audioboo excites me. The quality, as far as I can tell, is decent – certainly better than using a mobile. Sure, it has limitations – you can’t do a two-way, for example. But the principle of just sending a quick report of where you are and what you’re doing… hell, that’s no different from standard radio journalism and opens up a wealth of possibilities.
If I were still in radio, I’d be getting onto our technical and website bods to make sure we could send Boos direct to the newsroom. How liberating would it be if you can send an immediate report back in decent quality without having to do a pre-record or even take up precious time from the journalist at the other end who’ll be recording your call.
And if a radio journalist found themselves somewhere without any recording equipment (maybe during off-duty time), it’d be easy to get a report back to the office.
But Audioboo goes way beyond that. Citizen journalism is usually, these days, a fairly vague term that’s just used to lump ‘the internet’ together but in this case it suits Audioboo perfectly. If newsrooms encourage listeners to send in their ‘boos’ from news stories, there’s a whole wealth of material that can be collected freeing up precious time for the journalist (and please God, meaning that we have to do less vox pops. I’ve yet to met a journalist who enjoys vox popping. That said, there is a time and a place and they do make for good radio).
Then there’s the radio shows themselves. Audioboo can add another easy, interactive aspect to any DJ’s show, or any podcast as well (it’s certainly something I’d like to play with in the future for the twofootedtackle podcast when I get a moment). Given how simple it is, there are so many possibilities.
Of course, it’s not just radio journalists this can be useful for. It should be reasonably easy to work them into TV news (I’d imagine), and the Guardian have already shown how any news website can work them into coverage. Again, any newspaper – be it national, regional or local – should be looking to work this into their site.
Inviting ‘boos’ from the public is essentially opening up audio is the same way camera phones and the like did for pictures, and that’s now a staple part of any news coverage.
The only downside. I don’t yet have an iPhone so can’t Audioboo myself. But it’s a concept that really excites me and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about any web service, no matter how much I love or use them.