Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Giving People What They Want

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I do interviews.  And recently, I thought it might be good to start providing transcripts of the interviews I do.  For those of you that don’t know what a transcript it, it’s a written verbatim copy of a recorded interview.  The advantage of transcripts is you can search them very fast with keywords and find something you’re looking for instead of having to listen to an entire interview because you have no idea where what you want is.

And I thought about charging a fee to read the transcripts.  I thought this because creating transcripts is labor intensive, as opposed to recording interviews, where the labor is hidden in the pleasure of doing the interview.  By contrast, transcribing is not pleasurable.  For someone who likes to cook, a good analogy is you love preparing recipes, but you hate doing the dishes.  Transcribing is doing the dishes.

To carry the analogy a little further, I just got a dishwasher, meaning, I just got a program that listens to my audio and transcribes it.  But, it’s trained for my voice as it learned it through my desk microphone, not other voices over terrible phone lines.  So, even though it can understand at least 1/2 of all of my interviews; my half, it might hear the other half and give me text that looks like this:

~it is one of the respect each other we make intelligent decisions that is together a demented in other crimes musical vision certainly in the latest presented week we just you have simpatico thing going on I just love everything does just the way it is within the work to the~

This is from the Air Supply interview that I did a couple months ago.  Did you get all of that?

So when this happens, I have to listen to it and fix it.  Even when the software hears everything right, touch ups can take 30% longer than the interview itself.  But for garble like this, well … I’ve logged probably 5 hours on this 30 minute interview and I’ve got at least another hour to go.

But I appreciate transcripts when I need them.  And it made me wonder though, if anybody uses them besides me.  My real question is, does anybody read anymore?  With a YouTube, Pinterest, Conversus rich environment of images and video and sound, why would anybody drag themselves by the face through pages of the written word?

So, I called National Public Radio (NPR).  They sit at the top of the transcript mountain.  They produce gobs of programming and transcripts for all of it.  So I asked them – transcripts; yes or no?

Until 2009, NPR was charging $3.95 per transcript.  They still use an independent company to create those transcripts.  This company gets weekday news show transcripts up in a few hours and weekend news show transcripts up by the next day.  But back then, NPR reached a point where they decided that listening to the audio was no different from reading the transcript since both were part of experiencing the interview.  I thought that was very interesting considering how the NYT and others are still struggling through the whole paywall thing.  NPR had a paywall of sorts years ago and abandoned it.

This very nice young lady on the phone told me that while some people read transcripts to better their English, the hearing impaired might read transcripts because the audio program is a problem for them.  People who hear something in a live program but aren’t sure of what they heard, they can always go to the transcript and read it to be sure of what they heard.  And of course, I thought of people who are doing research and need to find something fast without having to waste time listening to an entire interview.  And she said that although she didn’t know how many people click the transcript button, she could say that it does get clicked and clicked enough that the button is still there.

So, I’m left with two bottom lines.  If NPR isn’t charging for transcripts, economies of scale tell me that I probably shouldn’t either.  But why do I want to go through the work of creating them?  Because, if it will help people enjoy the interviews better, it’s probably worth it.

Written by Interviewer

April 13, 2013 at 09:53

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