My interviewing and transcribing system

by Rachel Smith
15 April 2020

Updated April 15 2020

I’ve tried so many interviewing and transcribing systems, and it’s a fact that most journalists will have different systems. Some might favour an earpiece and a dictaphone. Others might use an app like TapeACall and Rev, an overseas transcription service which links in to the TapeACall app.

Not me. I mean, I’ve used all of the above and have found the earbud system transferred too much crackle to my recordings. TapeACall was too buggy and kept failing to upload my finished interviews. Rev was great, until one too many transcripts came through as nonsense and I began to suspect they were using AI to transcript. And then I read this about how Rev treats its workers and decided I wouldn’t be using them again.

So my current system? It’s very basic, but it does require a quiet room, a phone AND your computer.

I put my phone on speaker to the interviewee, and use Quicktime to record the audio. Foolproof. No mad scramble for dictaphone batteries 3 minutes before the interview starts and as long as my phone and computer are charged up, we’re good to go.

I then either transcribe using oTranscribe (which I write about here), or I use AI transcribing service Otter.ai – the latter took some getting used to, but now I’m okay with it. And now I swear it’s learning my voice and the editing is getting easier and faster every time I use it.

Did I mention the first 800 minutes of recordings per month are free?

Not bad, considering I used to drop hundreds of dollars on Rev transcripts each year.

Of course, the cons are that it’s much, much easier to hand the transcript over to either a transcriber (as many journos do) or to Rev (which I won’t do). But I am considering maybe hiring a VA in the future to handle the mp3-Otter task for me.

Right now, though, it works for me.

What’s your interviewing and transcribing system? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Rachel Smith
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14 responses on "My interviewing and transcribing system"

  1. What a great app! Makes me wonder if the audio quality is good enough for a podcast, but there are, no doubt, apps for that, too (and to edit them. The most recent one I heard about was ‘Cast’. Am yet to explore that).

    Having learned shorthand (under sufferance as part of my journalism cadetship, I find my typing speed’s actually fast enough to do a running transcript. Yep, plenty of shortened words and the odd typo with the screaming red squiggly line under it.

    But, that doesn’t work well for all interviews, particularly in-depth, extended ones.

    Thanks for sharing, Rachel.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Oh thanks Margaret, glad you liked it. You are lucky to have shorthand, I have to say. Going through the magazine side of things I never had to learn and I wish I had! I also know people who type the transcript as they do the interview – I have about 80wpm typing but even so I know I probably couldn’t do that and keep up with the conversation as well. But I’ve been chatting to a colleague on LinkedIn and she’s had some bad experiences with TapeACall missing minutes of the interview – I’m hoping they’ve got it together, as it is the best system I’ve found so far.

      I haven’t heard of Cast, actually! Will take a look at it.

  2. Sabine says:

    I use a Sony recording device and an Olympus telephone TP8 pickup. You just plug the pickup into your recording device’s microphone output and then put the earbud in your ear, which acts as the pickup. All you have to do is call the person on your mobile and make sure you hold the phone to your ear as per usual. The pickup records both the interviewee’s voice along with your own. No more need for putting the phone on speaker. Have not had a problem yet. (Touch wood)

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I’ve used this method too, Sabine, but I couldn’t make it work – the ear mic gave me so much weird background noise, no matter how much I positioned it, and I found I was missing chunks of the conversation. I spent heaps on the mic too! Maybe it had a glitch. I should try it with another one so I have a back-up system.

      My favourite method when I was on a landline was a device that hooked into the landline and then into the dictaphone. That was foolproof! But the device broke and then, just the nature of where I am when I work now, I had to find a system that worked with my mobile. Hoping it continues to be as good as it has been…

  3. PCraswell says:

    I love oTranscribe! And the other one looks great too – I haven’t tried it yet. Thank you as I also had a nightmare interview recently – in my case, skype was unable to connect and my landline handset went dead on me in the middle of the interview! Cheers, Penny

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I did a Skype interview last week at around 9pm and wasn’t sure how to tape it… I just put my phone next to the computer and recorded it that way. Luckily Skype worked but I tell you I wouldn’t want to rely on it for interviews; so many family calls I’ve been on with our UK family have gone haywire…

      You should definitely give TapeACall a try Penny!

  4. I’ve been using Tape-A-Call for years Rachel – I’m one of the people extolling its virtues on the Freeline list – and it really is the most useful app. You do need to have an high end mobile phone plan or the call costs can hurt but apart from that I just don’t understand why every journalist doesn’t use it. Not only does it mean you only have one device which you’d be carrying anyway, it also means you’re not tied to your desk. I’ve done interviews while away at a conference, in an airport and by the side of the road.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Hey Darren, I agree – the fact that I can cut down to one device is amazing. However, the call costs you mention make me a bit nervous… Haven’t had this month’s bill yet :-\

      1. Hiya Rachel, because the app dials a server in Melbourne to conference the call – which is on top of the call to your interviewee – it can cost big time. But these days you can get plans for $70 a month with unlimited calls. If you don’t have one of these, time to talk to your mobile provider.

        1. Rachel Smith says:

          I got my bill and was nervous after what you said – but I think I am on one of those plans. It was the same as always! Phew. Thanks for mentioning it though, it might apply to others wanting to use the same system.

  5. rebeccabarker says:

    What a great, informative and practical article. Thanks!

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      Aww thanks Rebecca!

  6. Vivienne says:

    Can you use TapeACall from a landline call? I have dodgy mobile reception at home so prefer using my landline for interviews if I’m home but my mobile if I’m out.

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      I have a feeling it’s just available on a mobile, Vivienne – here’s the FAQ: https://www.tapeacall.com/faq

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