Posts Tagged 'radio journalism'

If you’re a (radio) journalist, Audioboo is dead exciting

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.

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Local radio dying a long, drawn-out death

It’s not a great time to be working in local radio at the moment. In fact, if you’re a fan of local radio, it’s probably not great to be a listener either.

After axing the distinctive Late Night Love show and DJ Graham Torrington, and rebranding virtually all of their distinctively named local stations across the UK as Heart, Global Radio (formerly GCap) have now announced further cutbacks.

Chief among these are the scrapping of local news bulletins between 11am and 3pm, to be replaced with a national news bulletin, and the outsourcing of its travel news.

Granted, this will save money. It’s also so short-sighted it’s beyond belief. By consolidating assorted operations, Global is slowly, bit-by-bit, taking away every last remnant of what makes local radio stations unique.

The rebranding of Heart was bad enough. Having worked for many different local radio stations over the years, one constant in terms of feedback was just how much listeners connected with the individual identity of each station.

It didn’t matter that the stations were owned by the same group. By having their own name and own identity, each station found its own particular niche to serve the community it broadcasted to. Take that away, and you’ve got a standardised, somewhat London centric service with a few local DJs.

But at least there was the local news to keep listeners up to date. Now that’s just limited to breakfast and drivetime. So, if there’s a breaking or ongoing story on that station’s patch, presumably listeners will be bereft of updates during the day (of course, this could be offset by fully utilising the web for breaking news, but I’m not holding my breath).

It also takes away another part of that local connection to listeners. Why should I listen to town X’s Heart when I can’t even find out, hourly, what’s going on in my area.

Given that I’ve got a vast array of internet or digital stations out there, or even alternative stations still on FM, what’s the incentive for me, as a local listener, to tune in? Less than there was before, that’s for sure.

I’m not entirely sure what the outsourcing of the traffic news will be, but this could be an even bigger mistake than cutting back on news.

Again, from my time in local radio, the traffic lines and traffic news was the one thing you’d be guaranteed to get listeners AND interaction. If we’d missed a jam or accident, you could be darn sure we’d get half a dozen calls letting us know.

Traffic news, especially for commuters, is vital. Reduce the quality of that service and you’re going to lose a significant chunk of your audience who tune in specifically to find out if they’re going to face delays on the drive home. This could be Global’s biggest mistake.

What’s more, cutting these positions (and the 25 jobs they estimate will be lost sounds like a VERY conservative estimate to me) will have an even worse effect on aspiring journalists.

There’s already more BJTC trained journalists than there are positions and cutting more news jobs will drive down wages, further depress an already demoralised workforce and make it harder for aspiring young broadcast journalists to find a position, unless they’ve already got something lined up with the BBC.

And for all the commercial stations complain about the BBC’s advantage in local radio, they hardly help their cause by greeting bland identikit stations that sound the same from Land’s End to John O’Groats and offer practically zero competition now to the Beeb.

The radio journalism industry is already haemorraging talented reporters. Of the group I trained with, I’d estimate between 1/5th and 1/3rd have already quit the profession and, speaking to others, I’d expect that percentage to rise.

I love local radio. I love the medium of radio full stop. It’s a job that I loved doing, and would have loved to continue doing. But, the more I see of the state of local commercial radio, the more I’m glad I got out when I did.

A few years ago, if anybody had asked me about getting into radio journalism, I’d have enthused and encouraged them into a wonderfully vibrant and creative industry.

Now, I’d simply tell them not to bother.


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December 2022
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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com