Figuring Out When, and How, Journalists Should Use Audio Slideshows

Pity the poor, humble slideshow, lost in the sea of video and multimedia storytelling. But let’s not chuck this now (gulp) older story form so fast. Sometimes, it is just the right tool. The Boston Globe‘s Web site recently produced a simple, quiet slideshow and audio feature that I don’t think would have been as effective in the form of a video. Take a look and read what’s editor, David Beard, told me in this edited e-mail exchange:

Tompkins: What makes a great slideshow?

Beard: Outstanding images, distinctive voices, pace. In this pre-inauguration slideshow, photographer Dina Rudick found a Haitian-American woman who must be the most articulate hairdresser in all of Boston. Her diction is precise; her face tremendously expressive. Much of this could be captured on video, but a compromise might be made to get it at the same time.

Often on video — and we produce 140 videos a month at — the single best image of a subject may not come with the single best sound bite. In minute-long vignettes, Dina was able to show, very artistically and dramatically, five subjects in their settings. She let their words tell the story of their hopes for a new presidency.

Why would somebody watch a slideshow when the world has “gone video?”

Beard: They watch both. … I think you have to take people to a different place with both. I love the way Brian Storm’s crew mixes and matches video and audio slideshows, too, so that the art of the still photograph is not sacrificed. If your question is why the seemingly Web 1.0 still slideshow, or gallery, still draws so many fans, it may be that it’s seen as less of an investment.

If I as a reader want to check out thumbnails and get to the photo I want, I can do that. If I want to stop, or to linger, I can go as fast or as slow as I want. If I just want to see the photos of the US Airways crash on the Hudson River to get my understanding in 30 seconds, or catch the best editorial cartoons of the week, I can do that, too.

What are the biggest mistakes producers make in creating audio slideshows?

Beard: Boring audio is one mistake; the same drone for minutes at a time, a recording of someone who just reads his or her story. Another mistake — the sense that all photos are created equal, that I can set a four-second rotation on x number of photos to fill the audio time and that’s it. Vary the rhythm. Throw out the filler, both in audio and photos. Make a production a real show, like Derrick Jackson does here in pouring out his heart (and the poetry of generations of African Americans) when explaining what Obama means to him. 

What has the audience reaction been to slideshows these days?

Beard: One example: Derrick, a photographer-turned-columnist, has gotten outstanding reactions to his audio slideshows on nature — the shifting sands of America’s deserts or the return of threatened loons and other wildlife. To be honest, we are not doing as many slideshows as we did earlier in the decade, when folks discovered the simplicity and addictive fun of Audacity and Soundslides.

In the rush to Flip cams and upper-end HD video, we recognize that each story has distinctive multimedia platforms — and that in some stories, going old school still works best.

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