Washington Evening Journal
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You may not have heard, but the Southeast Iowa Union has a weekly news podcast now. (It’s called the Washington Weekly Review, give it a listen.) As the show’s host and (usually,) its reporter, the production process has been eye-opening for me.
One of the first things you learn in school and on the job as a journalist is that direct quotes are the gold standard. It’s one thing for someone to tell you that a public official said something. It’s another thing to know exactly what they said, word for word. The method is inherently more accurate and less prone to bias than paraphrasing.
One of the greatest challenges of print journalism, then, is finding usable quotes. Because newspapers have limited space to print on, reporters must take care to pull the most succinct sentences from their sources to convey the right idea. Sometimes quotes have to be shortened, either with an ellipsis closing quote mark before the sentence’s true end. This can be both good and bad: brevity ensures minimal confusion and puts a source’s most eloquent foot forward, but sometimes borders on oversimplifying a speaker’s position.
Audio reporting confronts a very similar problem, but with a different outcome. In the same way that print articles have finite space, audio reporting has limited airtime to fill. But where print reporters can trim down quotes, audio reporters generally have a harder time shortening things: there’s no audio equivalent of an ellipsis, and while you can remove portions of a recording, it sounds unnatural unless you edit between natural pauses from the speaker, which limits your editing options.
Where a print article can quote, say, three sources, multiple times each, in a 600-word piece, just three flushed out quotes generally eats up anywhere from two to three minutes of a podcast.
So while the audio medium gives more vivid quotes (via intonation, cadence, etc.,) it has to tell those stories with net fewer quotations, while still trying to provide all the relevant information.
There’s something inherently powerful about hearing an elected official say something in their own words, or a room react to a speaker’s punch line, or the emotion in the voice of a passionate advocate. But whenever I edit the podcast, I find myself wanting to include more details, trying to answer lingering questions in ways that would be easy in writing but sometimes impossible on air.
It’s a struggle that I’d say is worth the effort. As with any choice between two options, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. I hope that by providing both, we’re giving readers (and listeners) the best mix of coverage, even as I get my bearings in basic audio editing.
The Washington Weekly Review is available on most major podcast platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Episodes air every Saturday morning and are around 10-12 minutes long.