To record or not to record

I record almost all of my interviews.

I’m sure old-timer journos will be all …


… at this breach of journalistic hard-assness, but I would recommend it for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it means I get my facts and my quotes correct. There are few things worse than having a story run, then getting a call from one of your interviewees complaining about being misquoted, or even worse, threatening to sue you for misquoting them and causing damage to their reputation.

Secondly, it usually reassures the interviewee that they’re not going to be misquoted, or at least that whatever words I attribute to them, they will actually have said those exact words.

Thirdly, I’ve found it makes me a better interviewer. In the past, before Skype and Call Recorder (more about them in a minute), I’d be typing/scribbling frantically as people were talking, trying to make sure I got enough good quotes down verbatim to be able to use them in the article with a degree of confidence. Half the time I wouldn’t really be focusing on what the speaker said because I’d be replaying their last two sentences in my head as I typed them.

I’m sure if I was a faster typist I’d be better at this, but I’m a pretty fast typist and I still can’t get it all down. Some people are motor mouths. I can do it if I have to, like when I don’t have Skype and Call Recorder to hand, but it makes me nervous.

Not having to type like a possessed stenographer means I can listen carefully to what the person is saying, I understand it all better, and I ask better questions. This often leads to new angles or interesting discoveries that I probably wouldn’t have made if all my responses were, “uh-huh, yep, great.”

The bad side of recording interviews is transcribing. It absolutely sucks.

I’ve used a paid transcribing service in the past for book interviews, which was a godsend. But I can’t quite justify the cost for freelancing, so I have to transcribe them all myself, which usually takes at least twice as long as the original interview. The positive of this is that I get to relive the interview, it refreshes my memory and helps me identify the most interesting angles and points.

Now to the technology. I’ve tried a variety of devices over the years, back in the days before we used mobile phones so much. I used to have a tiny microphone with a suction cup that stuck to the back of the landline receiver. It did alright.

Then, in a Radio Shack in Lima, Peru, of all places, I found this nifty device that allowed you to plug a recording device in between the telephone and the handset/headset. That worked really well for a long time.

Then, I started using Skype for all my telephone interviews because it’s cheaper, usually reliable, and has the added advantage that I can use a great program called Call Recorder that records calls in mp3 format.

I know the law varies around the world about recording telephone interviews but the general gist is, as long as both parties consent, it’s OK.

(here I’m supposed to write that I always seek permission before I record, and really honestly Your Honour, I always try to remember, but sometimes I forget …


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