Four ways to use SoundCloud for Public Insight reporting

Meg Cramer
PIN analyst

We’ve written before about SoundCloud and ways that newsrooms can use it to collect and publish audio from sources. Now, here are four creative ways that PIN newsrooms and other organizations are using the sounds they gather.

1. Crowdsourcing – California: What’s your accent?

KPCC’s Ashley Alvarado is asking people to submit audio through SoundCloud for a project about linguistic diversity and the “real” California accent.

Audio samples are gathered and shared through the SoundCloud group “California: What’s your accent?” There are a few advantages to setting up a SoundCloud group for this kind of project.

As group moderator, KPCC can keep an eye on uploads through its SoundCloud account. The newsroom is also using SoundCloud’s record widget, an embeddable tool that lets users record and upload sounds without leaving KPCC’s website. It’s embedded directly into a query about California accents on scpr.org.

Using the SoundCloud widget, participants record themselves speaking, and most of them theorize the origins of the California accent. Some are earnest. Others exaggerate with long pauses and the verbal quirks that most people associate with surfers and valley girls. Everyone has his or her own interpretation.

You can listen to the full collection of audio samples at Southern California Public Radio’s SoundCloud page. Read more about KPCC’s findings on its Multi-American blog.

2. Sound portraits – A Day in the Life of Atlanta

WABE’s Atlanta Sounds project asked listeners to submit audio samples from across Atlanta, all day long, on Dec. 12, 2012:  12/12/12. In each recording, participants introduce themselves and describe their sounds – everything from choir rehearsals to a traffic jam to a hot toddy recipe. The submissions are time-stamped and play in chronological order:

The final story is a beautifully produced portrait of that city on that day. ["A Day in the Life of Atlanta" on wabe.org]

A sound portrait is one way newsrooms can use SoundCloud to document shared experiences: the sound of a place; the sound of a festival, parade or community event; the sound of graduations and first steps and other milestones; anything that’s experienced by many people in many ways.

3. Publish socially – Constitution USA: The Blog!

SoundCloud has flexible tools for publishing and sharing audio across social media platforms, and it’s easy to use with Tumblr and WordPress.

Heidi Van Heel is a producer at Twin Cities Public Television. She’s using SoundCloud to share PIN sources’ stories about voting for the first time on the Constitution USA Tumblr blog.

“We’re using PIN in a less traditional way with our project. We wanted to figure out how we could showcase content from PIN sources without having to rely on the production team. There wasn’t always a budget to turn something into a TV piece, so we started to think about this Tumblr blog that was a behind-the-scenes piece. So we started asking questions that would generate relevant content,” Van Heel said.

“We wanted creative ways to display the content that wouldn’t just be ‘this is what this source said,’ so we started using the art tiles, then it started to evolve when we we thought audio recordings would be cool.”

TPT staff voice the audio stories, which are pulled directly from sources’ written responses to a query about voting. Van Heel pairs staffers whose age and gender match that of source’s whose story they’re voicing, and uses the SoundCloud app to record and upload the audio.

“I think that the first time we tried to capture audio stories, we set up a SoundCloud account and a phone number where people could leave a voicemail. It’s hard to get people to do that,” she said. “We had good stories, but the more work a person has to do in order to submit a story, the fewer stories you’re going to get.

“If people think outside the box with the ways they can turn their stories into something, they can expand the use of the content. It was so easy recording these stories. We feel it really has added nice texture to the content on our Tumblr blog. … Having a variety of content to choose from is an asset to your project.

“With SoundCloud you have even more opportunities to do that. You can have a little more creativity.”

4. Gathering intimate stories 

There’s something unique about audio. Recording your story into a phone or computer doesn’t feel like talking to a stranger, and people can share their experiences without worrying about being interrupted or led down a particular path by an interviewer.

Michigan Radio's "Too Small, Too Early or Gone Too Soon"

Michigan Radio’s “Too Small, Too Early or Gone Too Soon

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Alvarez says, “SoundCloud works particularly well for topics that can be hard to talk about with somebody you don’t know well, especially a reporter. When somebody can just talk to themselves, they’re less nervous, and really open up more.”

Alvarez used SoundCloud to gather stories about infant loss for a documentary about infant mortality in Michigan. She published the audio on “Too small, too early, or gone too soon,” a blog that was updated in the weeks leading up to the documentary’s air date.

In Seattle, KUOW’s Carolyn Adolph, “In the short time I experimented with [SoundCloud], I was satisfied that going for the voice was the right thing, for the personal quality and the emotion it captures. There’s an intimacy to the voice. People talking into their computers and devices use a voice that reminds me of self-talk.”

Adolph has used SoundCloud to capture stories “where people might appreciate the confessional feeling of talking to their own computer.”

It’s helpful to recognize, too, that SoundCloud as a tool isn’t perfect. Adolph realized that the sometimes complicated user experience was turning some of her sources away. Recording and uploading audio is an extra step that many aren’t willing to take, she said. “I could see that only the most tech-comfortable sources were willing to jump through all the hoops I had laid for them,” she says.

 


 

Now it’s your turn: Is your newsroom using SoundCloud or audio submissions in an interesting way? What have you learned from your experience with SoundCloud? Share your ideas! You can email me directly at mcramer@americanpublicmedia.org.