Interviewing on the Record(ing)

This post was written by John White on Thu, 04 Sep 2008 12:56:14 +0000
Posted Under: interview,writer's diseases

What do your writers use to capture interview content?

I suppose some writers have remarkable memories and capture everything needed to write up the content into an article or paper. They’re a technical version of those waiters who can remember every detail of an order from a party of twelve, who wants the veal rare, who doesn’t want ice in her water, and which dressing everybody wants on his/her respective greens.

I can’t do that. Can you?

Some of my writers take copious notes and begin writing the piece in their brains while the interview is still underway. My father-in-law was a journalist who used to do that, then drive home and dictate the story over the phone to a transcriptionist. What a gift.

Other writers – like me – use a digital recorder. Interviewees don’t mind, as long as you observe their rights and let them know you’re recording them. We take notes furiously, jotting the time at particularly valuable utterances for verbatim transcription later, and fervently hoping that the batteries don’t die before the interview is over.

The hardware is relatively cheap and more reliable than tape, especially for writers who move the files to a PC. Sony makes excellent software for moving through and transcribing text quickly.

I talked to my colleague and high school classmate, Gene Gable, about using a recorder. “You’ve got to get out of that habit,” he counseled. “It seems like a good idea until – as happened to me – something goes wrong technically and you realize that you haven’t given your brain enough credit, and your notes aren’t sufficient and there’s a deadline on your heels. If you take good notes and you’re not distracted by things like today’s prime rate or your Twitter account, you’ll find it’s not that hard to build a good piece without the recorder.”

What do you think? Can you tell the difference between a piece written from memory and one written from a recording?

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