June 2, 2012

Freelance Unbound celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

In celebration of 60 glorious years of the New Elizabethan Age, here’s a small tribute to Her Majesty on this interminable Jubilee weekend from the staff and various Hell’s Angels hangers-on at the offices here at Freelance Unbound.

For the record, I actually hope everyone has a lovely time. I just can’t quite take all the old punk out of me…

April 23, 2012

Podcasting week #7: The complete package

Having successfully managed to spin out a week on podcasting to almost a month, visitors will be relieved to hear that this is the end of it. For anyone who fancies access to the whole series in one, handy audio file, here it is – the Freelance Unbound guide to podcasting.

Thanks to multimedia content producer George Miller for taking the time to be interviewed.


Podcast: Play in new window | Download


Podcasting week #1: preparation

Podcasting week #2: which equipment should I use?

Podcasting week #3: preparing for interview

Podcasting week #4: advice on editing

Podcasting week #5: working with video

Podcasting week #6: So – how long will all this take?

April 21, 2012

Podcasting week #6: So – how long will all this take?

In the sixth of a series of podcasting guides, former Granta editorial director and freelance multimedia content producer George Miller discusses how long you should allow for an example podcasting project. 

5. Workflow timings


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Based on a podcast for the book The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England, the project took half a day’s research. Dipping into the book, checking the index and reading the introduction carefully and choosing sections that would work well.

A 90-minute interview session yielded 40 minutes of audio, including a 5-minute reading from the book, and 15 minutes of video.

Allow a day for editing – half a day on the audio, half a day on the video. This is quite quick – bear in mind that it will take 40 minutes just to listen to the audio all the way through. Going back and revising it several times eats  up quite a bit of time. The video is made up of several different segments to be edited and shuffled, and you may need to allow time to source extra visuals for the final project.

Extra visuals
For non-fiction projects, you might drop in historical images to add extra information and interest to the video – such as castles, or mediaeval torture instruments (though, clearly, these particular examples will be suitable for a minority of projects). 

April 16, 2012

Podcasting week #5: working with video

In the fifth of a series of podcasting guides, former Granta editorial director and freelance multimedia content producer George Miller discusses working with video and how this differs from audio podcasting. 

Key tip: Video is more of a performance – and people are aware of this. They become more self-conscious, so part of the challenge is managing this.

5. Comparing audio and video workflow


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Do the audio interview first
If you are doing both audio and video, do the audio interview first – it helps the interviewee relax, and it can give you useful insights for topics and questions to pick out for a video segment.

Brief the interviewee
Suggest topics you want to cover and how long the segments should be. Video has a more soundbite formula than audio interviews, and they should be aware of this.

Aim for a clean take
With audio you can patch together a finished version by editing out fluffs and errors. This is often not possible with video, so you often have to get your interviewee to repeat their point to get a usable take.

Know when to stop
Don’t keep flogging a dead horse. If an interviewee has a mental block and can’t get the take right,  move on to something else.

Sound is more important than image in video
Even if you use an iPhone or low-end camera, record separately using a decent clip-on microphone and recorder. You can synch the audio and video up using DualEyes.

Embrace mobile technology – with caution
The new iPhone offers great possibilities for spontaneous video material – but beware: clients expect high-quality output. If you turn up and you are charging money, you can’t turn up with your iPhone. It’s an obvious invitation to the client to say “I can do that”… 

April 5, 2012

Podcasting week #4: advice on editing

In the fourth of a series of podcasting guides, former Granta editorial director and freelance multimedia content producer George Miller discusses the editing process. 

Key tip: The better the original source file and the less editing you do, the more likely it is you will end up with a natural sounding result.

4. Advice on editing


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Keep a backup of the original audio file
You should be recording in uncompressed WAV format to ensure a higher quality. Keep a backup file (either on the audio recorder or on your hard drive) until you have finished editing and are completely happy with the result, just in case something goes wrong. 

Editing software
Sony SoundForge is quick, flexible and has lots of sound processing options. Amadeus is lighter, slimmer software with fewer effects (though you shouldn’t get hung up on sound processing). But all audio editing software from free (Audacity) to several hundred dollars (SoundForge, Audition) do roughly the same job.

Mark out the shape of the interview 
Go through the file and put in markers to outline the shape of the interview – e.g. for questions and responses. Remove obvious fluffs and pauses, and perhaps redundant questions. But be cautious…

Don’t over-edit
Fixating on detail and tightening up too much can create something that sounds unnatural. If you are recording in a reverberant environment, an interviewee can say “Um” with a slight echo that can spill onto the next thing they say. The human ear won’t notice the stumble, until it is removed and you can only hear the echo. It’s better to have a natural sounding recording with rough edges than an over-polished one that draws attention to itself.

Be cautious with noise reduction
Audio programs can sample noise profiles of intrusive sounds (cars, aircraft, air-conditioning) and then reduce that through the file. Be too aggressive with this and you can end up with sound artefacts – the remnants of the noise you have been reducing. When your file is exported to a very compressed MP3 format, these can become more prominent and give the whole sound a tinny, underwater effect.

Next: audio and video – comparing the workflow

April 4, 2012

Podcasting week #3: preparing for interview

In the third of a series of podcasting guides, former Granta editorial director and freelance multimedia content producer George Miller offers advice for interview preparation. Key tip: This is the kind of interview preparation all journalists should be doing anyway.

3. Preparing your interview


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Know what you want from the session
Whatever your brief of circumstance, know what you want to achieve from the interview

Research your subject
Visit their blog, look at their published work, read online profiles – use these to prepare your questions

Prepare notes on an index card
Write down prompts for key facts and dates – it’s surprising how easy it is to forget crucial information under the pressure of recording

Keep the interviewee informed
Remind them what the interview is for; tell them how long the interview will take; let them know how detailed you want their answers to be; remind them it will be edited so they  don’t worry about fluffing their answers

Reassure the interviewee
Take a brief break to reassure them that the interview is going well (assuming it is)

Don’t start with your killer question
Start with gentler questions so they relax and open up

Next: advice on editing

April 3, 2012

Podcasting week #2: which equipment should I use?

In the second of a series of podcasting guides from former Granta editorial director and freelance multimedia content producer George Miller, we’re looking at the equipment he uses. Key tip: don’t fetishise your kit.

2. A guide to equipment 


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Audio Technica £100 level microphone

Marantz PMD661 digital recorder

Main audio recorder

On the advice of a BBC sound recordist, George bought a Marantz 660. He’s upgrading to the Marantz 661, which is smaller and more portable, and can be mounted on a camera, but is waiting to become completely familiar with using it

Sony PCM-M10 digital audio recorder

Backup audio recorder
If you are doing this seriously, it’s worth having a backup machine. This is overkill for most everyday circumstances, but if you are interviewing someone who is only in the country for a few days, you don’t want to risk glitches with your main recorder.

  • Sony PCM-M10
    – the little brother of the £2,000 Sony flagship digital recorder
  • good built-in microphone
  • excellent battery life
  • takes micro SD cards, giving 8 hours recording.

Don’t fetishise the kit
A well-handled piece of cheaper equipment will give better results than poorly used top-end kit. But you get what you pay for Recording on a cheap, MP3-only machine. [NB: the terrible background aircraft noise here is a key illustration of the point. I am not yet a competent sound recordist…]

How much does it all cost?

  • Microphone: £75-100
  • Recorder: around £100 (more professional machines go up to £400-600)
  • Software: free to a few hundred dollars
  • Headphones: £30
  • Consumables: batteries and memory cards
  • Shop around: check eBay for bargains
  • TOTAL: £200-300 to start with

Portability can be key
How are you travelling to your interviews? Sometimes weight and foldability are the deciding factors for purchase.

[NB: some links are affiliate links. For all the good it’ll do me]

Next: preparing for the interview

April 2, 2012

Podcasting week #1: preparation

Journalists are increasingly being called upon to produce multimedia content, so, for the next couple of weeks, Freelance Unbound is all about podcasting, and video interviewing.

Former Granta editorial director and now freelance multimedia content producer George Miller is in the chair for a series of interviews, in which he shares some of his tips for getting the best out of a multimedia interview – in terms of technical preparation, equipment and interviewing skills.

Our interviews were conducted in Bath’s charming Coffee@Camden cafe – which is the cause of some of the ambient noise you’ll here (and sells excellent cupcakes). Any other sound issues are the result of my inept microphone handling.

1. Prepare your equipment


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Know your kit
Practice, practice, practice before you get into the interview. You want to feel comfortable and you want to make the interviewee feel comfortable, especially if they are unused to being interviewed. Know where you plug things in!

The technical side has to become second nature
Force yourself to sit down with the equipment and get to know it. Record members of your family and read the instruction manual properly. Don’t arrive at an interview under-prepared – you will get anxious, and your interviewee will become anxious.

Check your bag
Have a mental or – better – physical checklist and go through it twice. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the interview and realising you don’t have enough batteries or memory cards.

Check your location
When you arrive at a location, try to find the best place to record – where there is the least extraneous noise, and where you won’t be interrupted.

Carry out a sound test
Get the interviewee to chat about something innocuous. This helps put them at their ease and allows you to check the sound a level.

Use a tripod to hold the recorder in view
This lets you see the display properly so you can see how much time has elapsed. Know roughly how much you want to record before you start. You may record significantly more than you will use – but know what you are aiming for.

Use an external microphone
An internal microphone is lower quality and is less easy to direct at the sound source.

Use headphones to monitor the recording level
You might hear the sound of an aircraft more clearly using headphones than you would ‘live’. Using headphones gives you a chance to pause an interview to avoid the worst of the external sound.

Above all – keep calm

Next: choosing your rig – what equipment do you need? 

March 27, 2012

Digital is killing the print industry – D:Bate at Bath Digital Festival

Print is dead? Not in Bath, it seems. Which makes sense – it is a heritage city, after all.

Debating the motion Digital is killing the print industry: the presses will stop running in ten years, last week’s D:Bate event at the Bath Digital Festival saw print nostalgics and digital evangelists slug it out to win over an audience that, according to pre-debate polling, was largely on the fence on the issue.

Two panels of three speakers lined up on each side. In the digital camp were Richard Godfrey (CEO of software company iPrinciples), Chris Book (founder of audiobook publisher Bardowl) and novelist Julian Gough (Author of Jude: Level 1),

For the printies were Mike Goldsmith (editor-in-chief, digital editions, Future Publishing), Robert Topping (owner of the fine Toppings bookshop) and Sam Holliday (editor of the Bath Chronicle).

At the start, the audience was split sort of evenly on the motion:

  • For: 16
  • Against: 19
  • Undecided: 20

But all that was to change. Here’s a summary of the arguments, complete with some of Freelance Unbound’s trademark shaky, poorly shot video. (Sadly I only managed to film the first four speakers, as I forgot to pack an extra memory card for the video. Duh). See if you can figure out which side should have won…


Chris Book, Bardowl

Chris Book is in the business of developing and distributing digital audio books. He loves books – but wonders why we are wedded to the printed book format.

  • Printed books in a decade will become like vinyl records – available to a collectors’ market
  • A tactile, sensual experience will not be enough to save the format
  • Digital innovation will, ironically, preserve the printed book somewhat via services such as print-on-demand
  • Digital audio books have allowed unabridged audio publication and boosted sales
  • Digital publication will remove the 300-350 page limit for paperbacks – and also encourage much shorter fiction
  • Instant access to eBooks means more impulse purchase from online recommendation
  • Digital access could revolutionise global education and information
  • In ten years, only 10% of books will be accessed on paper

Richard Godfrey, iPrinciple

Richard Godfrey believes traditional publishing is already on life support – and is probably dead, but just doesn’t know it yet.

  • This debate is one we will always have when new technology disrupts business as usual.
  • In another age, D:Bate might have been held 2000 years ago, considering whether paper was killing the stone tablet industry.
  • 2000 years later, of course, the tablet is back…
  • Bill Gates: “We always overestimate the advance of technology in two years, and substantially underestimate them in 10”
  • In 2007: Facebook and Wikipedia were largely unknown; the iPhone did not exist; the Kindle was launched that year
  • Reading is becoming a richer, more engaging and collaborative process
  • Print publication is in a steep and terminal decline, based on US statistics


Sam Holliday, Bath Chronicle

Sam Holliday embraces his status as a print dinosaur and celebrates the strengths of print – he believes it has a long future, based on statistics of print usage in the newspaper industry.

  • Three weekly papers in and near Bath sell 30,000 copies a week, read by 90,000 people – all actively paying for editorial content
  • 1,100 regional and local newspapers are read by 33 million people a week, with 42 million users of their 1600 associated web sites (supported by print journalism).
  • More than 60% of people say they respond to press advertising
  • The industry still employs 30,000 people, including 10,000 journalists
  • More than 6,100 local newspapers are sold or distributed in the UK every minute
  • Launch of the Sun on Sunday shows potential for national print news journalism
  • Global newspaper circulation has barely declined – standing at 520 million copies a day
  • Youth readership is growing in Europe thanks to innovative new free titles such as the Metro
  • Argues that the move from daily to weekly publication of the Bath Chronicle is a positive move, boosting circulation
  • The web is an ally, allowing the Chronicle to reach three distinct audiences (but needs print revenue to fund it)
  • Professional news media are needed to perform the investigative role of journalism
  • Don’t sell your printing press just now – but if you do, advertise it in the newspaper, as you’ll get a better response…

Robert Topping, Toppings bookshop

As a bookshop owner, Robert Topping has a clear interest in the preservation of the printed book.

  • The book has always been a niche product – apart from the minority of bestsellers
  • Predictions of a plastic, technological future are always overstated – TV has not managed to wipe out the book
  • Books provide a tangible memory
  • Technology is an ally in the process of selling books
  • Reading the printed volume is a more emotionally engaging experience
  • No one in the print publishing industry believes digital will erase print in the next 20 years

At the end of the evening, the emotional appeal to print nostalgia and the desire for the world to be how it ought to be, rather than where it seems to be going, won the day. The final score:

  • For: 20
  • Against: 41
  • Undecided: 5

March 4, 2012

President Obama: “No options of table” when dealing with a nuclear Iran

President Obama: "No options of table"

I don’t know about you, but I want President Obama to explore all the table options in his mission to prevent a Middle East nuclear arms build-up. Maybe the Gateleg Initiative would bear fruit. Or how about a fresh Coffee Table Plan? 

Something for the BBC’s crack international correspondents to chase up, I feel…