Understanding Sound Bites

Journalists, television and radio personalities are notorious for using sound bites, but there is a common misconception associated with their use. Those who aren’t a part of the media typically don’t understand what sound bites are or why they’re used so frequently. There is a strongly held belief that sound bites are used to manipulate the viewer or listener, and entice them into devoting their attention to something that they would’ve otherwise ignored. This is partly true, but let’s start from the beginning and answer this question: what are sound bites?

A sound bite is a short extract from a recorded interview. Since time is often limited in news segments, longer answers or discussions are chopped down into quick “bites” of sound to try and convey the key message. 

Here’s another common question: Are sound bites purposely used to manipulate the audience? They can be, but the answer is generally no.  Journalists conduct multiple interviews on a daily basis. These interviews may be long, drawn out, and filled with terminology and jargon that the average viewer may not understand. The media has seconds to capture your attention, and they use a sound bite of the most interesting or entertaining part of an interview to do so.

Try thinking about it another way.  On a daily basis when walking through a crowd or in the office amongst colleagues, a conversation can be interpreted or conveyed to other people outside the conversation in sound bites. The most interesting part of the conversation is what people want to know. Conveying the message in sound bites doesn’t mean that the listener is being manipulated or being told lies; it means that they are being told the information perceived to be most important to them.

It’s the same for the media. With limited time, they use highlights, or sound bites, to convey a story and entice viewers and listeners to come back later. Journalists and editors are supposed to be mindful of what their audience wants to hear. It’s their job to capture and maintain the audience’s attention.