Wait, this is a blog on a site called American Student Radio and it’s titled Audio vs. Video. If I were you I’d be wondering; how is this even a competition? Video has a lot to offer, you can see and hear almost as if you are there. Hang tight; I want to show you a different perspective.
Without sound all you’ve got is silent film, you can have audio without video but then you’re missing out on your primary sense, vision. Some estimates say eighty percent of information taken in is from vision.
At the same time, video limits. If people and cameras were in a relationship on Facebook, it’d be listed as complicated. People react strongly once a camera is around. With audio, there’s much more room to be vulnerable and it’s a medium in which all the information can be provided.
Microphone versus camera
As consumers the production side of stories is a perspective we don’t generally consider. As a documentarian or a reporter there’s a constant thought of visuals being incorporated in your story. There are a couple of hurdles to jump with that.
Last spring I was working on a video project involving homeless shelters in Bloomington. As I was unpacking my camera case, people were telling me, “You better not be putting me on that camera.” There is no such thing as incognito at that moment. I never have these types of reactions when I take out my audio recorder. It only gets worse when I, a six-foot five guy, stand-up with a huge tripod and as-large-as-a-toddler camera.
Part of the job as a documentarian or a television journalist is to get your subject to forget they’re on camera. It’s a difficult task, but is much easier when you only have a recorder and microphone. From that point it’s just a conversation, and from my experience reality and truth arrives from conversation, not from questions and answers.
In high school I did a story on Ana Garcia. Mrs. Garcia shared many tough experiences that she went through. Here’s a clip of one of those experiences in which a close family member had, for a lack of a better term, a mental health episode.
It’s difficult for me to listen to that whole story. I spent the last month of my senior year agonizing over clip fades and story order. You can ask my parents who graciously listened to almost all of my rough drafts. It ended up being 22 minutes when it should have been 5 to 10. I never published it, but that part of the interview is one of the most powerful audio bits I’ve caught on tape.
This sort of “tape” is not that uncommon in audio. I think part of this is that people seem to want to tell strangers interesting secrets, maybe even things they wouldn’t tell close friends. Then add to this that audio stories don’t carry the social barriers that are easily communicated through video – what someone looks like can distract us from their story. And we know this – when a camera is on there’s always the concern, “What do I look like? Do I look OK?”
In the journalism industry news channels are often critiqued for recruiting attractive anchors rather than skilled journalists. One of the main arguments being higher-ups rely on eye-candy rather than focusing on the quality of information. Which could take us to a conversation on patriarchy in the media, but I’ll save that for another post.
One of the reasons I love audio is it’s a happy medium between video and text.
Text is only words and pictures. Words can only do so much when describing how someone says something or how long their pause was.
Video leaves little room for the imagination, you intake what’s in front of you. With audio you’re given a framework. You hear the words, the speed, and the tone. Not to mention the picture that’s created through ambiance sound or music.
As soon as we have that framework we are able to create our own visual story. You aren’t changing the narrative but instead given the opportunity to see the story through your own eyes.
When we talk to someone in person, only seven percent of what they say is consumed. That has a lot to do with how we think faster than we speak. The majority of our attention is on body language, 55 to be exact. What audio does is force you to actually listen.
Accessibility: Plug your earphones in and go
This is the reason I first got into audio storytelling on my own. Long car trips with an auxiliary cord; plug it in and This American Life plays. The trip feels like it’s twenty minutes instead of ninety. You can’t consume any other media platform while you drive, while you walk, while you bike or while you do the stair stepper in the WIC gym on campus.
Video and text require your undivided or mostly undivided attention as you consume. Like many of us know with music, podcasting allows you to be productive while doing the most menial tasks like cleaning, riding on public transportation, driving or walking to class.
Video is a great way to get information. We intake the world through our eyes, but what can you do while your eyes are busy? Listen.
As some of you may have noticed, we missed a week with our blog post. As an apology we are trying to put out another post this week! Not any normal post either, word on the grapevine says it may be an announcement.
I’m still trying to figure out how to make it so you all can comment on these posts, but in the mean-time throw your questions to us via Facebook or Twitter! We promise we’ll reply!
What to listen to this week: One of our former ASR presidents Barton Girdwood is currently interning at the TED Radio Hour, one of the most listened to programs on NPR. Listen to the episode 7 Deadly Sins, and you’ll even hear his name at the end! That guy used to be my ASR boss! We’re so proud of you Barton, keep up the good work.
Next week we’ll step through how to find other people’s stories. There’ll also be a new bit on the blog. A review of Invisibilia’s pilot season on NPR. Is it really it’s own show or is it just a blend of This American Life and Radiolab? Check back 168 hours from now and you’ll have an answer.