Capturing Stories from the Frontline: Commissioning an Audio Diary

We know that our networks are thinking about how they capture and tell their stories from the frontline as the global community tackles the coronavirus pandemic. Audio Diaries are a great way of showing what is going on in your communities. This is a guide to commissioning an audio diary using a mobile phone. AnContinue reading "Capturing Stories from the Frontline: Commissioning an Audio Diary"

We know that our networks are thinking about how they capture and tell their stories from the frontline as the global community tackles the coronavirus pandemic. Audio Diaries are a great way of showing what is going on in your communities. This is a guide to commissioning an audio diary using a mobile phone.

An audio diary provides an opportunity to gain an insight into the life of a person. When people are describing their innermost thoughts, they might whisper or move about, the material will not sound perfectly polished. All this can add a rawness and intimacy to the content of the piece. The diary could give an inside look at someone’s daily routine during the period of lockdown whether a frontline worker, client, service user, member of staff or to chart their progress through a milestone moment. It can be recorded over a course of day, a weeks or months. Audio diaries can be extremely gripping stories, with unexpected humour or moving moments, or they can take pleasure in the mundane things that we all understand.

Things to think about / Resources Required:

  • Time to find and work with an audio diarist and brief them.
  • Tech – a mobile phone using either voice memo or an app like voice record pro or voice recorder which are free online. There are other apps too but this is what we’ve used. Voice memo is probably the easiest*
  • Listening time to the material and editing time for the material – this might need external editing skills but there will be people to be around to help with this so worth
  • Uploading to a platform we’d suggest probably soundcloud for this at the moment.
  • Sharing via your social media platforms.

Picking the right person

It is a commitment to produce an audio diary and so do take the time to think about the person or people who’ll train someone to record an audio diary. It is important that the person recording their diary is clear what they need to do. Make sure they understand the commitment that they are making to you to do the diary and how they are going to do this to tell a story. Depending on the style they’d be committing to about 20 minutes a day. It is worth ‘auditioning’ / talking to several potential audio diarists on the phone to see how they express themselves before asking one to take up the challenge.

Working collaboratively with the audio diarist

Spend time talking through the brief / idea with your candidate verbally (and in writing) about what the diary is for and why they have been asked to record it. It is important that they know how you are planning to use it, particularly if you want to release it to other media organisations, so be clear about publishing. Ask them to sign a consent form once you have agreed how the material can be used.

Be careful to inform your audio diarist that the diary will be edited. Send a copy of the final edited piece to them diarist before it is uploaded onto your website.

Training the audio diarist

 Show them how to use the recording equipment and get them to practise using it. You could offer them feedback for a practice recording. Talk them through some of their ideas and get them to experiment with recording. Listen back to the audio together and suggest ways of getting the story across.


Each audio diary is different. You may edit it into several episodes, or you might decide to treat it as one long story.

For diaries to sound authentic, you are more likely to keep the ‘thinking’ pauses, sighs and incidental sound effects that your diarist records alongside their words. These are the raw sounds and atmosphere that contribute to the authentic feel of the piece.

If you divide the diary into episodes, three to five minutes for each should be enough to allow the material to ‘breathe’. If you are running it to five minutes, always be sure that the quality of the content is good. If in doubt, keep things short.

Digital Pictures 

If possible, ask them to take some pictures too as they record their audio diary. These can be used to enhance podcasts e.g. podcasts with pictures and as illustrations on your website. Or using the app headliner to allow for visual sharing on social media with subtitles.

Audio Diary Checklist:

  • Brief in writing and if possible, face to face (on video call)
  • Tell them the purpose of the diary, e.g. it is part of an awareness raising campaign with a particular message.
  • Get them to record their thoughts and feelings into the diary and record lots of sound actuality.
  • If they are recording the diary across a week, ask them ensure that whatever they’ve recorded during the day, they spend a couple of minutes each night summing up their day, what happened and how they are feeling.
  • Encourage them to relax and try and tell their story straight into the microphone. Any mistakes can be easily edited so don’t put the machine on pause – just repeat. Instruct them wait 30 seconds before turning off the machine when they finish each diary entry. This helps in the editing process.
  • Remind them to use be descriptive with their words and to ‘paint a picture’.
  • Ask them to record the other sounds around them which will help to add ‘colour’ to the diary. N.B Sounds can be recorded separately and then mixed together later.
  • Thoughts and feelings are essential – the diarist has a difficult day; say you want to hear about that too.

Key things to remind them when recording

  • Try and record in a quiet area and be aware of background noise specifically music (as it makes audio material hard to edit) – try and go to a reasonably quiet area to record yourself.
  • If you want to record a particular track or atmosphere record it for a minute…this can be mixed later with your speech.
  • Wear your headphones – you will be able to hear if the microphone rattles. You’ll need to ensure that you hold the mic cable appropriately
  • Just be yourself

Finally…remember to keep in touch with your audio diarist over the phone.  It’s good for them to know that you value their contribution and want to support them.

The team at sounddelivery are happy to help in any way including brainstorming.

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