Photographers experience many challenges when transitioning to video, but the most difficult is usually when we are faced with gathering great storytelling audio to accompany our stunning imagery.
For many projects, audio consists of interviews and then everything else. Everything else can be a variety of things depending on the story, the client, and the audience.
Music is one of the most powerful aspects of audio in that it has the potential to set, change or enhance the mood of the moment and therefore to inform how the audience interprets the moment. Thus, it is as much a form content as interviews, narratives or dialogue. Music’s ability to alter, and in some cases even manipulate, perception raises some important ethical questions.
Wait a minute! What do ethics have to do with audio? A lot, if you are a journalist. As journalists, we don’t alter content. We don’t create content and we don’t enhance content in an attempt to influence our viewers.
Now, if you are shooting an event and record ambient music, that’s obviously part of the story. But if you add music where there was no music simply to create or enhance the mood, how is that any different from any of the many other ways we can alter content to affect mood? It really isn’t. Now your video is something else, not something more or something less, just something else and that something isn’t journalism.
So, why do so many great journalism sites continue to publish video stories with musical soundtracks? And why is this rarely even an issue in most newsrooms? Probably because no one really knows what journalism is right now and because video has long been the tool of television journalists and filmmakers who have always operated under different guidelines than when we did when we were “print” journalists. Adapting their tools does not mean we adapt their way of producing, at least not without a discussion of what it means journalistically.
Now, there are those who will say that everything we do influences content – what we shoot, what lenses we shoot with, what angles we shoot at, how we sequence our clips – and they are right, but only to a degree. We are trained to present fair and balanced coverage and we are trusted to present the truth. Creating and adding a musical soundtrack that affects the content violates that trust and that is just too big of a risk for journalists to take.