Giving the news a voice

Does hearing the voices of sources change the impact of a story?

The ABC’s radio show AM recently reported on new bikie laws being criticised, in which they interviewed The United Motorcycle Council’s lawyer and spokesman Wayne Baffsky. One of the greatest advantages of radio is that the listener is able to hear more in a shorter space of time, and comprehend it easier. This benefit means that more of Baffsky’s claims could be aired and understood.

Further, by hearing Baffsky’s voice, the listener could gain more meaning by listening to the tone, pacing and other elements of his voice. The potential for emphasizing words or phrases means radio has a greater potential to be remembered by the listener.

There are, however, issues surrounding radio stories. One issue that was noticeable in AM’s story was the quality of audio from Baffsky. ┬áThe audio was noisy and garbled (most likely recorded on a phone), which has two potential impacts: the first being that Baffsky may become difficult to hear and the listener may miss key information, and the second being that it may influence the listener on a subconscious level negatively, or cause them to tune out completely.

This is a key ethical issue when reporting with audio — capturing the source’s voice in a way that is unbiased and does not negatively represent them. For example, if a story had two conflicting sources, it would be unethical to edit out slurs and ‘um’s from one source, leaving only their best lines; and include the faults of the other source.

Another issue in radio news is that (unlike the online version) the listener doesn’t have a transcript to follow. If the reader then misses something, or a quote is not understood, there is no way to make sense of it (and considering this story is relating to new laws, there is bound to be confusion). One weakness of this story was that the online transcript was actually incomplete and inaccurate.

What this story did do effectively, was simplify complex ideas in its emphasis and choice of words. However, the story’s two sources were both against the proposed laws, no argument for them was given, and no police source was used. It is therefore ultimately one-sided.

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