Here’s how I’m working as a radio reporter from home

Journalists are people too, and thanks to technology, we’re able to protect ourselves from COVID-19 without listeners knowing the difference.

Photo by Alexey Ruban on Unsplash

Originally published on medium.com/@laurathejourno

I work as a freelance reporter for Bauer Radio in the West Midlands and this week, all reporters are to work from home indefinitely following the Government’s response to COVID-19.

Whilst it’s been a bit difficult to get our heads round, the key to functioning without being in the same room is, in the words of our Head of News,

“You can never over-communicate!”

Whilst it’s not ideal, our listeners don’t know the difference thanks to an array of apps we have to replace our internal software. As for keeping in touch, we just need wi-fi.

As a reporter, I’m out and about most days and this is the element of the job which we can’t do without forever. Radio reporters are now required to film interviews and create video packages for social media as well as just taking the audio.

The advice to us at the moment is to only go out to a story if we think it’s safe and absolutely necessary.

But we’re still getting multimedia content up without needing to do this and getting interviews from people who are also working from home and self-isolating.

Here’s how you can too…

Gathering interviews

Without an ISDN phone-line (which is how we record interviews over the phone), reporters have two ways they can still do interviews, and to be honest we rarely use our ISDN line anymore:

Whatsapp voice messages

I first learnt this trick when interning for Global radio. Using Whatsapp is so accessible and easy for people. On Our Radar are even training community reporters in third-world countries to use Whatsapp.

Step by Step guide for Whatsapp interviews:

  • You’ll be using voice messages to record questions and your interviewee will be using them to reply. It’s just like a normal chat, but instead of typing, you’re speaking.
  • Advise your interviewee to keep the phone about the width of their hand away from their mouth. This will prevent any popping or crackling in the recording. They should also be advised to be in a fairly quiet environment without any loud booming music in the background — as this makes for a nightmare edit!
  • Press and hold the button and release to send once you’ve recorded and you’re good to go!
  • Test the audio — Always get them to start with their name and position/job title. This not only leaves you something to refer back to and a pronunciation, but it’s also a good sound test to check they have the phone in the right position.
  • Once you’re finished, you can forward the audio to your emails or load up Whatsapp Web to download it straight on to your computer.

Using a smartphone voice recording app

Not everybody has Whatsapp or a smartphone, so this option allows your interviewee to speak to you over the landline as long as they or somebody they know has a smartphone they can use to record their part of the conversation.

  • Again, you’ll need to advise them to keep the phone about the width of their hand away from their mouth to avoid any popping or crackling sounds.
  • Make sure when they’re answering the question, you cover the phone so no background noise from your end makes it on to the recording.

Converting audio to editable formats

Sometimes audio recordings will come in formats that your editing software won’t recognise. This applies to Whatsapp recordings. You want it to be either MP3 or WAV which works with pretty much all editing software.

I use online-audio-converter.com to convert all of my audio and then I can load it in to my editor. It’s free and easy to use:

Editing Audio

One of the most used programmes for editing in commercial radio is Burli. Bauer Media uses Dalet which is just a different programme.

Without access to either of those, we’ve had to download a free programme to our personal computers so we can take the weight off newsreaders in the studios.

Audacity is a free audio editing programme. It’s much simpler than Burli or Dalet and isn’t the easiest to use. But it will do and if you’re a student journalist or freelance, it’s perfectly adequate.

Writing scripts

This is where you have to improvise a bit. Media organisations will have their own guidelines for length of clips and scripts. But for me, a copy story (a story with no audio) needs to be 15 seconds. A script with audio needs to have roughly a 15 second cue and a 15 second clip, so 30 seconds in total. This is commercial radio, so we’ve got 2 minutes during Breakfast and Drive to pack a lot in.

Without the editing programmes we use in the studios to count the words for us and tell us how many seconds it takes to read, I’ve been using Microsoft word to write scripts and the word count to calculate the time.

As a rule of thumb, the average reading time for spoken word is 3 words per second so just get the word count and divide it by 3.

A 15 second Copy script is roughly 47 words.

Sending your scripts

The newsreader in the studio is going to have to import our scripts for us without access to the system. So once I’m happy with the length of the script, I put it in an email including where – in brackets – the clip should go and the name of the audio clip. Then, I attach the audio clips to the email and send.

Here’s one I sent to our newsreader yesterday:

HW-TUES-UNIVERSITY-2

We’ve been asking Worcester University what would happen to overseas students if the University was to close.

Ross Renton is the pro-vice Chancellor and says they have lots of students joining them from all over the World.

He says even if UK students had to stay at home, there would still be staff and facilities available for those students:

[CLIP: RENTON-CUT 3]

Doing voice reports

You may be asked to do a voicer (vcr) for the bulletin, which is often used for court reporting because you’re not allowed to record inside.

A vcr is basically a report recorded by the reporter which adds colour when there’s no interviewee. It’s always the last resort and we’ll always try to get audio from the person affected in the story. But now that we’re working in isolation, I can see us relying on more vcrs to add colour.

In an ideal world, we would use Report IT, an app which allows you to record or report live on your smartphone and upload it directly to the editing programme back at base. The newsreader can take it straight from there for the next bulletin — say you’re outside court and have an hour’s drive back — or it’s there ready and waiting for you to edit when you’re back. Report-IT has to be signed in to your company’s editing programme for this to work, but it’s so easy!

However, if you don’t have access to Report-IT, I don’t always, you can either pre-record it to your voice memos on your phone and email it back or do a Whatsapp voice note to whoever needs the audio.

*Remember where possible, particularly if you’re recording a vcr to use a sock over the end of your phone which will make the audio smoother and reduce any noise from wind.

Communicating with your colleagues

Communication, whether you’re all in one room or working remotely is key!

On a normal day at the office, we will have a morning prospects meeting which involves a cup of tea and us gathering on the sofas to discuss the days’ stories.

We’ve replaced this face to face meeting with Microsoft Teams, which is linked to Office 365. It’s just like Skype. Here’s a list of other platforms you can use to keep in touch with colleagues:

  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Slack
  • Skype
  • Zoom
  • Google — Hangouts, Gmail, Google Sheets, Calendar
  • Trello for keeping prospects updated

We use Office 365 which is a complete package of apps such as email, calendar, collaborative word documents, spreadsheets, internal email, links to the rota etc etc. It’s similar to Google which also has a package of apps and collaborative working opportunities, and I’ve worked on production teams who have used Google so it’s just a matter of preference.

However you do it, the key is to agree a system, stick to it and communicate!

Creating multimedia content

As mentioned, radio reporters are now required to film PTCs (piece to camera), interviews and packages for social media and web articles.

As we’re not out on location at the moment unless absolutely necessary and safe, we’ve got a trick up our sleeves to keep our social media feed looking fresh and interesting using an app called Headliner.

Headliner

Headliner allows you to add a short clip of audio or even a full podcast to a picture. We use the Audiogram Wizard which animates the sound bars. We also transcribe them so people scrolling our feed on mute can still understand the story.

Here’s an example of what it looks like:

And the finished product…

Remember — you can ask your interviewee to send you a video or photo of something relevant to the story.

For example, I’ve just done a story about fitness instructors recording their lessons for clients to do at home whilst they’re self-isolating. I asked the instructor I’d interviewed to send me one of the videos to tweet or a photo.

Equally, you could also record a video interview using Skype or Zoom. For radio this isn’t essential and Headliner is your best tool.

Tweetdeck

You can tweet on behalf of your newsroom account using Tweetdeck. Your editor will need to give you access but after that multiple users can tweet from the same account and from anywhere. It’s great if reporters are out of the office as well and can live-blog using Tweetdeck.

Simples!


Admittedly, it’s easier for radio to get around self-isolating than it is for TV. But BBC One are already finding ways around it with a high-quality video conferencing service and reporters even interviewing on location at a “safe distance”…

BBC Midlands Today’s Nick Owen is already self-isolating and joined the team on the 6pm news via webcam. (18th March 2020)
And presenting from home is Alex Jones’ co-presenter Matt Baker on The One Show (18th March 2020)
BBC Midlands Today reporter interviewing somebody in self-isolation (18th March 2020)

Do you have any advice or tricks up your sleeve or questions about working as a journalist in self-isolation?

Comment below!

Whilst you’re here, find out more about using social media to source interviewees:

Published by Laura Sanders

Freelance multimedia journalist, presenter & producer |

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