Audio Slideshows…Still Useful?

Audio Slideshows…Still Useful?

The BBC is still into audio slideshows...
The BBC is still into audio slideshows…

It was this little moment in media where everyone thought the future of media was the audio slideshow. I was hired by The New York Times to make audio slideshows and to teach other people how to do that. I would make over 50 audio slideshows a year, I trained like 200 people on audio recording. I really spent the first 12 months of my existence doing that.

Then, of course, it became clear to me that the future of journalism was not, in fact, audio slideshows.

— Amy O’Leary, now at Upworthy following a significant tenure at the New York Times, interviewed at Nieman Lab

I’ve been haunted by this quote all semester as I’ve prepped my new Multimedia Storytelling class. One of the assignments is — you guessed it — an audio slideshow.

This course is an introduction to various modes of digital media storytelling, including social media, photos, audio, video, and data, plus a tiny bit of coding. It’s a lot to cover in one semester, though our focus on story, as opposed to technical detail in each medium, makes it somewhat more doable. To avoid requiring an assignment every week, I came up with ways to combine the code and social media topics into one assignment, and a way to combine audio and photography (yep, the audio slideshow).

I know audio slideshows certainly aren’t all the rage now. But I think it’s still a useful starter task that helps students think about how well-chosen, varied, thoughtfully arranged photos can tell a story, and the addition of good interview and natural sound enhances the viewer’s experience. This assignment will also be a good preview of concepts they need for video storytelling, which comes up next in our course.

A significant challenge has been identifying the best software for students to use to create their slideshows. Soundslides used to be the standard, I think, but Flash is an issue now. I also want the students to be able to export their finished projects as videos for YouTube or Vimeo, which will make it possible for them to use the videos on their personal websites or portfolios (e.g., on, which many of them use).

We’ve settled for now on iMovie (pre-installed on students’ Macs and on our lab computers) or Picasa (free for PC or Mac). iMovie is probably going to be easier to use, as Picasa requires a ready-made MP3 for the audio that cannot be edited once it’s imported into the slideshow, and photos are all displayed for an equal amount of time (basically audio length / number of photos = the duration for each photo). iMovie allows a little more flexibility.

Our class doesn’t incorporate step-by-step software instruction, given our priority on understanding story over software. So, students will mostly figure the software out on their own. Luckily, both iMovie and Picasa are pretty easy to use. I’ve made screencasts for the entire slideshow process in Picasa (I love you, Screencast-O-Matic), but with so many different versions of iMovie potentially in use (including two on our own lab computers, for some reason), I have just provided them with links to decent tutorials and screencasts for iMovie 9, 10, and 11.

Even though slideshows probably aren’t the future of journalism, I think there’s still going to be value in this assignment for our students. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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