The Importance of Reliable Transcription Tools for Journalists

There’s no shortage of smart speech recognition services in the market today. After all, Alexa and Siri are rushing to dominate your living room and connected devices, so why are so many journalists still suffering through manual transcriptions of recorded interviews and videos?

Sure, automated transcription tools have existed for years, but the reliability of these automated solutions is spotty at best. As a Microsoft study demonstrates, even the very best and most sophisticated speech recognition and transcription software still hovers around a 6% error rate - an inexcusable metric for today’s media climate.

So what’s the ideal solution for journalists requiring fast, reliable results from their interview transcriptions? The answer is a hybrid one, but let’s get into the importance of researching and testing several transcription tools before committing to a long-term partner.

Differing Speech Patterns and Accents Can Easily Confuse Software

Software-based speech-to-text solutions are certainly improving at an impressive rate, but as we’ve seen with Apple’s FaceID system, automated recognition software is always better at identifying the most common denominator: in this case, white males. In terms of speech, perfect English syntax and grammar is the baseline for these automated speech recognition solutions. As any journalist knows, most interview settings are imperfect. Ambient noise, multiple speakers, and stressed or emotional subjects can throw off even the most professional recordings. And with automated transcription tools struggling to reach 70% accuracy in most cases, adding multiple variables to the recording only exasperates the quality issue.

Pick Up Minor Details in a Searchable Format

As any good reporter knows, having a reliable set of notes to analyze after the fact can reveal duplicities, inaccuracies, and potential fallacies that may lead to further inquiries throughout your reporting. Plus, with a complete text readout in digital form, you can easily search and aggregate repeated statements, phrases, or words that can be extremely useful in this era of increased interest in data and metrics.

Ignore Your Recorder, Improve Your Notes

With a dedicated recording device and the knowledge that you won’t have to manually type through every word spoken, you can engage fully with your subject and take notes only on immediately pertinent or newsworthy items as you conduct your interview. The speed and relevance of your interview process can improve - and so can your reporting.

Provide Insights for Follow-Up Questions

By having verbatim notes in a searchable format, you can better analyze and rely upon your notes to re-engage subjects for follow-up questions.

Improve Reporting Speed

Rather than pouring over what can sometimes be hours upon hours of recorded interviews and manually typing every spoken word, you can send your transcription tasks off to a professional so you can pursue other leads and follow up with other potential interviewees, saving you valuable time and mental bandwidth.

Increased Opportunity for Self-Criticism and Self-Improvement

Do you interrupt too much? Are you too quick to ask follow-up questions when you should let a bit of silence bring out further details? Are you being professional enough? Analyzing your own questions and interview techniques on paper can provide incredible insights for young and experienced journalists alike.

Custom Turnaround Time

While automated transcription tools offer near instantaneous transcriptions of spoken words, those working on high-profile and long-form stories know the importance of getting the details exactly right and taking their time with their work. But if you’re hitting consistent deadlines and need a reliable transcription partner, some professional transcription services offer expedited turnaround times to ensure you get the details right before an editor comes breathing down your neck.

Interview Recording Tips to Achieve the Best Quality Transcriptions

No matter what flavor of reporter, journalist, blogger, or writer you may be, you’ll have to conduct extensive interviews as part of your research into topics and subjects. But so many journalists are reporters first and rarely have a background in live audio recording. But there are plenty of easy tips to use to ensure your recording is as legible as possible - an essential, time-saving tool for your professional transcriptionist:

Be prepared, arrive early:

So much of a properly prepared interview has to do with arriving beforehand and taking into account multiple factors that could influence the quality of the recording, whether it’s strictly audio or a video component as well.

Invest in a good recording device:

Sure, there are instances where an iPhone recording of an interview is not only appropriate - it’s the only option you have to gather the information you need. Whether you bump into a subject on the street or are rushing to capture a statement made on the fly, you’ll always be better off with something rather than nothing, but when it comes to getting a clear recording that can be quickly and easily transcribed, you’ll want to invest in a decent recording setup that you can slip into your bag and have ready at a moment’s notice. There are dozens of options on the market perfectly suited to the lifestyle of a working journalist, but finding one with a noise-cancelling function and external microphone is essential to filtering out any environmental noise and capturing the material you need to ensure a clear, concise recording.

Avoid excess noise - and don’t be afraid to change the environment:

Should you arrive at an interview site and realize it’s too noisy to appropriately record and capture the audio you need, relocating or asking a restaurant/bar/cafe to turn off their music is a huge factor in getting a clean recording. Because crosstalk, background noise, and environmental sounds can seriously impact the quality of your recording, take these elements into account and don’t be afraid to change things up. After all, you’re the professional - your subject will follow your lead.

Additionally, if a loud truck drives by or a plane goes overhead, asking your subject to pause until it passes will ensure you get the entirety of their response on record with no room for confusion should the content of your reporting get called into question. In short: you should do everything in your power to ensure the recording is as pristine as possible. It’ll help you and your transcriptionist in equal measure.

Crosstalk is killer:

While it can be difficult to wrangle multiple interview subjects and keep them from talking over one another, it’s also your job to moderate your subjects and ensure their responses aren’t garbled or incoherent as they reply. Ask them to wait their turn and not only will your recording be cleaner, they may have more time to think about their response and provide you a more thoughtful reply than something off the cuff. Furthermore, be sure you aren’t interrupting your subjects with your own follow-up questions or comments. This can seriously impact your recording quality and make things more difficult for your transcriptionists later on.

Don’t multitask:

Typing, eating, or taking copious notes can not only impact your performance as an interviewer, but it can make picking up the details of your interview itself difficult - especially if your recording device is prone to catching a lot of room noise or is set on the same table/surface as your hands. Ensuring you concentrate on the subject and the task at hand won’t just improve your listening and ability to provide thoughtful follow-up questions, it can assist your transcriptionist when it comes time to turnaround the contents of your interview itself.

Edit the interview after you’re done:

If you go over the recording after the interview is complete, you may identify off-the-record portions, irrelevant responses, and gaps or interruptions that may have occurred during the interview. While you’ll want to preserve the original file for record-keeping, having a shorter, more concise version of the interview will improve the turnaround time and keep your transcription costs lower, as many professional firms charge by the recorded minute.

For a best-in-class transcription solution perfectly suited to the fast-paced workflow common to today’s journalists, Transcription Hub can be your organization’s ideal partner. With industry-leading turnaround times and custom rates for large, ongoing projects, you and your fellow reporters will have accurate, reliable transcriptions of all your recorded interview materials. For a free quote or to get started right away, visit Transcription Hub to learn more.