"If you think of some of the iconic moments in sport, a lot of people can recite the commentary that happened in a great moment," says Drew Hyndman, a researcher for BBC News.
"Most people hold it in their heads better than images which we are constantly bombarded with because our eyes are always open but we’re not always listening intently."
Hyndman was speaking on an episode of the Journalism.co.uk podcast where he explains the power of audio journalism. Not all audio is equal though, and it tends to take two main formats: short-form and long-form.
The former, think short radio or smart speaker bulletins under three minutes. For the latter, there are podcasts and radio documentaries over the eight-minute mark.
Hyndman knows about both; he is currently working on BBC Radio 4’s podcast Room 5, a 30-minute show about lives that have been shaped by medical diagnoses. It is a stark contrast to the role he has just finished, working as a producer on BBC Money Box Live, the bitesize radio show about personal finance.
Working in each format is not as simple as chopping up your interview to the appropriate length: these different formats fit into your listeners’ lives in different ways.
"People - particularly young people - have short bursts of free time or time they want to spend doing something, and they don’t always want to sit down and get into something completely fresh."
These 'news moments' dictate your audio is introduced. Short-form audio needs to be immediately relevant and get to the point quickly. Longer-form audio affords more time to build up narratives and characters.
Consider your listener's commute
Visualising listeners tuning in on their commute is one trick he uses to help make his audio succinct and precise. Anywhere he feels his mind drifting is a sign that edits are needed. That is the advantage of the tight time limit: you cannot afford to have filler words adding dead weight.
It pays to focus on the nuggets of the story and what people will share with their friends. Find something relatable and unique, and build your audio around that detail.
On the other hand, long-form brings with it the chance to go deeper and include anecdotes or quotes that build up context or characters.
"The most interesting part of news is the stories of people involved. People aren't too fussed about numbers or stats if they aren't tied to people and things that are happening to people."
Concentrate on getting the questions right
You can fix quality and bad editing and noise levels to a certain extent, "but you can’t fix a bad interview where the answers and your questions aren’t great," he adds.
Short-form audio journalists are adept at wasting no time getting to the meaty questions. Longer-form audio journalists can spend more time asking deeper, contextual questions in the search for a better angle.
Short-form audio demands that the story is told either chronologically or in order of importance, so it is easy for audiences to understand. That is not necessarily the case with longer-form audio.
"Sometimes breaking up the chronology - as long as you're clear that the timeline has been broken - might be a more engaging way to tell the story."
Make your guests shine either way
Hyndman's final tip is to help people be the best version of themselves, regardless of whether they have three minutes or 30 minutes to chat. Brief people ahead of time as much as appropriate.
Provide them with a link to the show they are interviewing for, so they anticipate the format and style - that way they will be better guests. Be aware they may often not have time to listen all the way through, in that case, a short written summary or quick phone call will suffice to settle nerves.
Managing expectations is also key. Interviewees are often disappointed by how much of an interview does not make the final edit. Make them aware of that from the beginning.
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- Drew Hyndman, researcher for BBC News, on short-form vs long-form audio
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