Newest Reporter Tools Get Better & Quicker

There are some new tools that can aid in reducing the grunt work and assure bulletproof accuracy of quotes from fast-breaking events.
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For we who labor in the field of multimedia storytelling, it's no secret that deadlines are coming ever faster, while the demand for accuracy has gotten higher.

Fortunately, there are some new tools that can aid in reducing the grunt work and assure bulletproof accuracy of quotes from fast-breaking events. It's also becoming easier to get organized and to quickly find story elements as workflow shifts to a file-based environment.

Take a glance at the reporters following the presidential candidates and you'll notice a sea of voice recorders. Until recently, such recorders were viewed mainly as note-taking tools for grabbing sound on-the-fly for transcription of quotes. Now, voice recorders have graduated to the realm of broadcast quality.

Take the new Olympus DS-2200 Digital Voice Recorder. It stands apart because it can acquire more than four hours of 8 kHz stereo audio on a 128 MB xD-Picture card. The resulting file is in Windows Media Audio format and is good enough to go on the air or to a Web site.

Not only is this three-ounce wonder a breakthrough in voice-recording quality, it is loaded with reporter-friendly features, such as index marking for quick location of key soundbites, simple file storage for archiving on a PC or Macintosh, and controls to ease transcriptions.

Having used a DS-2200 for the past month, I consider it one of the most impressive new tools for journalists since the arrival of Sony's Minidisc format over a decade ago. This column only scratches the surface of its power. I recommend that any reporter using audio in the field give it a try.

In the early days of television news, many field journalists kept a Bell & Howell Filmo 16mm camera loaded with a 100-foot roll of silent film under their car seats just in case they stumbled into a breaking-news event.

(click thumbnail)Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T1
Today's modern cyberjournalist can do the equivalent without the heavy lifting. There are a lot of digital cameras out there, but one of the smallest and most capable is Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T1, a six-ounce marvel that combines a 5.1 megapixel CCD still camera and an MPEG Movie VX camcorder in a package not much larger than a credit card. This imaging powerhouse, priced at $499, has a 3X optical Carl Zeiss zoom lens and a generous 2.5-inch LCD monitor.

It can capture about 20 minutes of full-screen VGA (640 x 480) video at 30 frames per second with sound on a 512 MB flashcard. Admittedly, the T1 is no substitute for a professional video crew, but who cares if you're the only one to capture images of a major story.

TRANSCRIPTION TOOL

A new tool for taking the drudgery out of the transcription process comes in Microsoft's OneNote 2003 application for Windows ($199) and the new Word 2004 for Mac ($239). Using an audio-recording feature found in both of these programs, a reporter can take notes on a laptop at an event while simultaneously recording the live audio onto the hard drive of the computer.

The neat part is that the audio is forever synchronized with the text notes. Upon playback of the recording, the notes associated with the sound follow it on the screen. This allows easy after-the-fact correction of the written transcription to perfectly the match the recording of what was said. Not only does this method of note-taking ensure accuracy, but it offers the perfect record of proof when a subject protests, "I didn't say that."

Anyone working in modern media knows that it's easy to accumulate so many computer files on a project that even an individual can drown in a sea of pictures, words, sounds and graphics. That's why the productive information producer must engage in some form of digital asset management (DAM) -even if it's limited to a single laptop computer.

Media makers who simply stuff all these elements in folders will spend huge amounts of time trying to find things later. We're fond of Extensis Portfolio, a cross-platform media management program that easily scales from individual to large projects. It has been refined over the years, and the latest offering, Version 7, is the best yet. It handles digital images, EPS files, video, sound, graphics, InDesign and QuarkXPress documents and about anything else you throw it.

Portfolio 7 uses metadata to organize, find and distribute files. Distribution can be over a network, the Internet or on CDs or DVDs. But best of all, it automates how you create that metadata in order to reduce the amount of time it takes to get organized.

For personal use, we like the way Portfolio makes it easy to collect all the elements from a project and then burn the collection onto optical media for archiving. Later, if we need certain elements for another project, Portfolio tells us where to find the archived material. That, in itself, is a minor miracle.

(For more information onthe Olympus DS-2200, go to: www.olympusamerica.com.

For the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1; www.sonystyle.com.

For Microsoft's OneNote: http://office.microsoft.com/home/.

And for Extensis Portfolio, visit: www.extensis.com.)