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Guide to community reporting

~ Do you want to report on something happening in your community?
~ Do you have some basic recording equipment, such as a mobile phone, digital camera, video camera or MP3 recorder?

If so, this guide is for you. It won’t turn you into a professional, but it should get you started and help you avoid some common mistakes. NB: nothing here is intended as the definitive answer – also, as I come from a radio background there are almost certainly some gaps in my video knowledge – comments and corrections are most welcome.


Equipment to use
Think audio first: do you want to convey information via the audio/soundtrack (on its own or as video/with pictures/action)? or is your piece purely visual (action-led, with maybe a bit of atmospheric sound in the background)?

If you’re collecting audio for information (eg. an interview), you should always try to use equipment with a microphone socket + a good external microphone (you may need to get the mic separately) + headphones for monitoring

Equipment possibilities:
~ video recorder (with mic socket)
~ stills camera (for taking pictures separately from the audio)
~ mobile phone/iPhone etc which records video/still pictures
~ audio recorder which records in MP3 or WAV format (make sure there’s a mic socket) plus:
~ microphone with lead
~ headphones

Possible combinations and results:
a. Video camera or mobile phone only = basic video with variable sound (publish/post online in video format)
b. Video camera + mic = video with quality sound (post in video format)
c. Stills camera or mobile phone + audio recorder + mic = video or audio-view with quality sound (post in video format)
d. Audio recorder + mic = audio item (post as ‘podcast’ or ‘music’ in audio/MP3 format)


Basic production rules
~ think of a) sound and b) pictures/video/action separately – ie. as separate ‘building blocks’
~ always use headphones and check sound levels
~ interviewing techniques + your own role in the final piece
~ be prepared to do some editing and to record retakes if necessary
~ keep it simple
~ be very careful with music and other copyright material
~ add a good intro/cue in text

Think of sound and pictures/video/action separately
Many community reporters record an interview with someone (eg. at a conference) where the pictures show the person talking and the sound is balanced in favour of the interviewer (not shown). This quickly becomes boring for the viewer, especially if the sound from the interviewee is hard to hear.
Tips:
~ try recording the sound separately, as an interview – if you’re using a video camera, you could record the interview with the lens cap on.
~ for a video, record plenty of video ‘actuality’, ie. of people doing things, which can be run under the sound
~ if you do want to film the interviewee at the same time as recording his/her audio, always record your sound with a good balance between the speakers. (Think of the news reporter moving the microphone between herself and her subject.) This is much easier to do if you have an external microphone – better still if you have a partner who can hold/move the mic (and wear the headphones – see below).

Always use headphones and check sound levels
The brain interprets what it hears and balances close-up and distant sound – eg. you would immediately hear/recognise the sound of a cuckoo in a distant tree. The microphone can’t do this, but just captures all sounds according to their strength: without headphones, you hear your voice and your interviewee’s voice as balanced, but the recording may not capture it like that.
Tips:
~ hold the microphone about a hand’s width away from the person’s mouth (not so close in that it ‘pops’, not so far that the sound is ‘off mike’ – listen through your headphones to check
~ use your headphones also to listen for background noises such as air-conditioning, trains, sirens, music playing etc – for noises made by the interviewee such as tapping a pen on the table – and for microphone rattle (where the lead knocks against something or the connector is faulty). Don’t be shy of stopping and retaking a point (easily edited if the audio is being recorded separately – see below)
~ not hearing anything? sounds too loud? familiarise yourself with the difference between the input level (controlling the level of sound going in through the mic) and the output level (controlling the volume coming out through your headphones) – experiment by turning each up or down to hear the difference.

Interviewing techniques + your own role in the final piece
Some of the most interesting and impactful pieces include very little obvious input from the reporter/presenter, who invisibly draws out the interviewee to tell their story. Unless you’re an identifiable or personality presenter it’s often best to keep your presence low-key.
Tips:
~ ask neutral, open questions which encourage people to describe, tell or expand (eg. ‘tell me about…’ often gets a better answer than ‘did you…?’)
~ prepare your question areas beforehand – also chat to find out as many key points as possible before starting the interview (but without actually going through the whole thing)
~ then during the interview, listen to the flow of the answers and adapt/add follow up questions where applicable
~ allow thinking time and don’t be afraid of silence/pauses (which can be edited)
~ don’t make agreement noises (‘yeah’, ‘uhuh’, ‘right’ etc) – keep eye contact and nod your head instead
~ don’t speak across other people or finish their sentences, even if they are hesitating (unless they’re looking for the English translation of a word – and you’re sure you know what it means in their language!)

Be prepared to do some editing
You can seldom expect to get a recording which is good enough to publish/post online without doing any editing.
Software:
~ for video, many PCs with Windows XP and later have Windows Movie Makerincluded
~ for audio, you can download Audacity for free
Tips:
~ be prepared for the editing to be fiddly and to take time – often much longer than you expected, especially at first
~ aim for good rather than perfect, and be realistic with your timescale for publishing
~ make notes on paper so you know where you are – do a storyboard (pictures showing the scenes) if the piece is long or has several different parts to it
~ for a video/audio-view: if your piece is being led by the audio (eg. a straight interview with one person), edit that first, then use the edited audio as the length guide, adding images to fit – don’t be afraid to leave a still image showing for several seconds
~ audio editing: if the sound level is low you can change this – you can amplify it, and/or normalise it (good tutorial heregood glossary here, or follow links on these Google search results)

Keep it simple
You will want to make a smooth, well crafted piece, but beware of getting carried away by optional extras (special effects, different transitions for video scene changes etc – or music, see below).
Tips:
~ if in doubt, don’t – keep it very simple and straightforward, so the message/person comes across clearly without distractions
~ length/duration: if it feels too long to you, then it will definitely feel too long to the listener/viewer.

Be very careful with music and other copyright material
When can you add music or other copyright material to your piece?
DON’T is once again the simplest answer, despite what many people do in their YouTube videos. There may be ways round this (advice/info welcome please), but the safest way is to avoid using anything copyright altogether.

An exception to this could be if you do an interview with an aspiring group/band, artist or writer who is/are performing some of their own original unpublished material and you get their permission to use a very short illustrative clip (less than 30 seconds) to go with the interview. But even here, be careful you also get permission and a release form from everyone involved, eg. all the musicians playing in the piece etc.

Add a good intro/cue in text
A good introductory sentence or two in text will draw people in and explain the context. This is known as the ‘cue’ and can be read by anyone, either from the website or as part of a live radio/TV broadcast.
Tips:
~ include names (correctly spelt) and basic information about the piece (not spoiling any surprises, but enough to get people’s interest)
~ in the text, don’t repeat exactly anything said on the audio at the start of the piece, or it will sound very stilted – eg. Cue: ‘Every summer thousands of people make their way across Europe towards …’ followed by audio: ‘Every summer thousands of people make their way across Europe towards …’ :(


Publishing, publicising and sharing
When you have finished your video or audio item, you can publish it online in a variety of places. More information about the publishing stages will appear here shortly.

Meanwhile, if your report is about any of the topics listed below, please get in touch by leaving a Reply/Comment in the box at the bottom of the page. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Topics:
~ refugees and asylum issues
Refugee Week events (14-20 June 2010)
~ original creative writing from aspiring writers
~ living sustainably, with a low carbon/low impact footprint
~ planning and the built environment, especially in London
~ my place
~ migrants and migration issues
~ women and women’s issues
~ community arts and media
~ children/young people making radio
~ digital inclusion, especially among older adults
Silver Surfers’ Day (21 May 2010)
~ international development and the Millennium Development Goals.

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