05 August, 2010

Week 3 - Getting to grips with editing software

My last week at the Science Radio unit and time for me to try and edit some of the recordings I made a couple of weeks ago. I do some sound editing for my day job but this is a whole other kettle of fish. None of the programs do what I think they should and a lot of this week was spent accidentally deleting things or trying to copy or cut the same section of audio multiple times! This was actually something I'd hoped I'd learn a lot more about but one thing I have learned is that audio recorded "in the field" is really different to that recorded in my lab under carefully controlled conditions.

Having collected audio under four headings while I was at my conference, I ended up editing segments and putting together a story for just one of these headings. One of them as I say was pretty plain to me, even, that it wouldn't really be usable as it wasn't very exciting to listen to. One of them I thought was interesting but what ended up being really useful was having the conversations with producers about whether it could be interesting, what could be interesting about it, and why it might not be really. The Hook, as Cat is also finding out about. I did edit that audio down a bit and passed it over to the Africa Service who might end up using some of it, but I'm not holding my breath.

But constructing the story which we're hoping will go out on Health Check was great - really challenging, really interesting, and slightly frustrating in that I knew more or less exactly how I wanted it to sound but couldn't get it to work - and then what I wanted to say never came out right either!

I had recorded myself asking the questions and the two scientists, plus the young people from the street kids' theatre, and I have to say I'd assumed that the questions I recorded would be used as well. But it doesn't really work out that way, especially when you need to rework things to make a shorter and easier-to-listen-to story. The other thing that hadn't really occurred to me was that if your interviewee says something in quite a long-winded way, or says an important thing, followed by a rambly anecdote, and then finishes off the important thing, you're going to have to summarise what they said. So it takes a lot of the following:

Listening to what you've got
Deciding on the overall story
Working out what you can get from the audio that will tell the story
Working out what else you'll need to add
Writing the links
Working out if what the interviewee said really fits with your link
Working out if you've said anything in the background that is unclear or just plain wrong
And then finally recording the links!

Which of course is a learning curve in itself. I am highly aware of my personal tendency to talk much too fast - and my poor students are too. I tend to panic when confronted with a long piece of prose I have to read and try and read it all in one go. Big mistake! Sloooow down... and put more expression into it... and smile... and write in your pauses...

So this story, which I'll link to when I know when it's going out, has a news trailer that should go out the same day on World Service News, also including me. So if/when that goes out I'll be glued to Listen Again.

Although I was involved with the main programme I've been working on, Material World, this week, I ended up working really hard on the other story and didn't go over for the recording. I had been interviewing one of the amateur scientists for So You Want To Be A Scientist who was getting very relaxed at doing interviews, but was a bit nervous - so I made the production assistant promise to hold her hand!
It is pretty interesting seeing the programme recorded so I will try and get back there when I'm back in London in a few weeks' time - apparently there is a free bus from White City to Broadcasting House.
I also polished off the notes for the two upcoming issues of Material World this week, though (sneak preview) the poor producers then had to contact me to find out where one of the sets of notes was. I could have sworn I had put it in a public drive but you know what happens when you swear you know where something is...

More in a couple of weeks' time when I am back from my sojourn in the day job and am at News Online. So far, this has been one of the most interesting and exciting things I've done recently, and everyone's been really friendly and helpful. Although you end up getting your writing slashed, edited, and critiqued - no-one is nearly as rude as the infamous Reviewer 2.

02 August, 2010

Week 2 1/2 - In which my friends appear on the radio

As I blogged earlier, with the programme I've mainly been working on it can be a little while before stories make it out there. I spotted a press release about a story I knew something about and (perhaps because I spoke so clearly and intelligently about it, perhaps because it also appealed to him, or perhaps because he could see I was potty about it and there was no shutting me up) one of the producers let me loose on it. Unlike the other stories I've been working on - including other ones on psychology - I do know all the ins and outs and minor details of this one, so this one came with major warnings about not getting technical and making sure it was all accessible to the general listener.

To start off with we were thinking we'd interview the author of the paper, plus someone who is in the US and does related brain imaging work. But the author is in the North of England - and wasn't at first thinking of coming down to London for the programme - which meant that both of the interviewees would be on a line. It's possible to do that but it's not ideal and you can usually tell. As an aside, I didn't go into the studio for this week's recording but listened to it while it was on - and one of the interviewees was in a studio and kept bumping the mike - it was really obvious, at least to me.

So the plan then was to get a friend/colleague of mine, who is a really chatty and enthusiastic person, who had gushed to me about how great the atricle was, and who works in London, to appear - while the author would be in the Newcastle studio. But in the end everything worked out even better, as the author came down for the day from Newcastle.

I wrote questions for both of them, rang them up and took down their answers - with dire warnings about "forget it's me, pretend it's your granny, or you're showing a school kid round the department, blah blah" - they were both very good when they were talking to me. They were extremely excellent when they came on the show (though I know the Newcastle researcher was a little nervous, she ended up making a joke that was, I think, better than the presenter's) and a good time was had by all.

A lot of the rest of the week was spent trying to find stories for future programmes, again. We had a couple of leads, one of which was a story about fossils, and in fact was research done by someone who'll be doing the same placement as me in a few weeks' time. The producer was fairly sure it would be a very popular story though - it's no good running something that everyone else has run, especially if they do it on a Monday and your show is on a Thursday. This turned out to be the case. Fortunately for everyone, the researcher was bored of going on the radio!

Another one was a story about marine life that was very cool - but there were two problems. One was the same as the fossil story - too much likely media coverage. And the other was the same as the bacteria painting - too visual.

So, I ended up researching yet another story - which isn't out yet. But I'll give you a taster. It's quite a cool story and though it's a psychology story, it's about science in general. I saw an article I really liked, on someone else's blog, and the producer said "hmm, interesting, bit philosophical, and really, stop plugging psychology already! is it topical?". The story was only out last month so that's OK on our programme, and then I spotted a book in the huge pile we have in the office which was by another psychologist, also out last month, and very relevant.

So, I got in touch with the first guy and then waited to see if I'd hear from him - he's in the US. And although working on science radio over the summer is great in one way, because weird and wacky stories get on, in another way it's bloomin' frustrating. How dare scientists take holidays! How dare US universities have 3 month summer breaks?

(Incidentally, if you ever send a book for review to a scientific journal - and I knew this already as I used to do reviews editing - probably about a 1 in 4 chance it will get read and reviewed. And half of them aren't relevant for the journal, so if it's relevant, let's say 1 in 2. If you send it to a media outlet? well let's just say there's a very very long shelf of unread books here...)

Week 2 - In which I stick microphones up people's noses

A conference would usually be a good opportunity to record some interviews of research that's just getting published, but this was even better because the unit I'm working in does World Service and anything coming out of Africa is particularly interesting. I browsed the conference programme and chose 3 topics that might be interesting and for each of them managed to get interviews with both researchers and normal people - the latter for most cases courtesy of an extremely friendly and nice Africa Service reporter based there.

I ended up interviewing 5 researchers - of which 4 were very easy to talk to and sounded quite down to earth, though they waffled no end, repeated themselves, overlapped themselves... you name it... thankfully I'm not expected to edit the audio, or at least not do the fine stuff.

One researcher was I'm afraid to say reeeeely boring and ended up sounding like he was lecturing me - I probably could have got a bit out of it but there wasn't really as much of a story as there could have been. That was a shame as to go with that one I and the BBC man chased around Lusaka trying to find a child selling things on the streets and ended up being chased out of the market, and finding a boy selling doughnuts, who turned out to be pretty good on the recording.

The other two pairs of interviewees both worked out pretty well, as did their "counterpart" people-on-the-street. It was great fun tracking down a grandmother for one of the stories - we asked one nice old lady selling fruit but she didn't want to be recorded on the street, and in the end found a lady living in an area with some smaller houses, who was looking after her disabled husband. We wanted to buy her a present so went for some food for her dinner, and a notebook and pen for her littlest boy. She had previously been looking after five grandchildren too, but thankfully now they are all with other relatives.

I also really enjoyed running round our conference dinner interviewing the entertainers, a group of kids who perform and work with street children - they are all of course dying to be on the radio as they are actORS darling, and hopefully at least one or two of them will get to be heard - of course the magic words "I'm from the BBC" open all kinds of doors.

Lusaka at this time of year is in the middle of winter - after a nice week's break in Greece and warm and humid London, I was pretty freezing! I had fortunately packed one wool jumper and though it was about 25C in the afternoons I ended up wearing my jumper till lunchtime every day and all evening.