Today, I’ll depart from some of the big-picture thoughts from the past week and take you behind the curtain to show you how the journalistic sausage is made. A week after getting home from Egypt, we’re almost through the most tedious part of reporting: transcribing interviews.
Some of these interviews ran more than 10,000 words. That’s a lot of listening, typing, rewinding, listening again to be sure we have everything right. A few months ago I posted some shortcuts to transcription. They can help, but this is still drudgery. I know other journalists who pay someone else to transcribe their interviews. That solution has crossed my mind a lot in the past week.
There’s also a value, though, in listening to an interview again – not just seeing a typed transcription. I always pick up on things that I missed the first time around. On this trip, all of our interviewees were Egyptians who spoke great English, but with an Arabic accent that was occasionally hard for a Midwestern American to understand. A second listen almost always clears up those mystery words or sentences, and helps me understand everything in the context the person said it, rather than a stack of quotes in a notebook.
Transcribing puts me back in that room with the interviewee. With longer feature stories, that’s a huge help as I prepare to write. If I’m going to put the reader at the scene, my brain needs to be there first.
So, we push through the long process and celebrate when it’s done — because now we have the puzzle pieces in a box, and we’re ready to assemble them into stories.