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Citizen Journalism 101: Getting the Interview

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      There are a number of ways to record a conversation. Some work better than others. Some can help in your effort for media convergence, as well. So, let’s take a look at the primary means of recording your interviews.

Handwritten Notes

      Handwritten notes are the tried and true method for taking down information during a news interview. The accuracy of those notes, however, depends largely upon the interviewer’s ability to use effective shorthand notes.

      Shorthand is a skill set many colleges no longer teach, largely because technology has made shorthand all but obsolete in the business world. There are two official forms of shorthand used today: Gregg and Pitman. And, thankfully, there are still places to learn both of them on the Internet.

      One alternative to an “official” shorthand method is to develop a shorthand system of your own. As long as you understand your notes, that is the key to effectively gathering accurate information during interviews.


      Twenty-first century technology has made handwritten note taking much more effective. One way is through the use of “SmartPen” technology. The technology is still rather expensive — SmartPens cost more than $200 each and “dot paper” to write on can cost $10 or more for just a few pages — but for those who struggle with note taking may find it invaluable.

      The SmartPen links the audio it is recording to the words you write on the dot paper. Then, when you touch a key word on the dot paper notes, the SmartPen will begin playing back the associated audio that was previously recorded.

      And, like mobile technology found in “SmartPhones,” the SmartPen features specialized “apps” that can aid the user. Some apps include programs that can help the user learn a new language, or to improve the user’s efficiency.

Audio Recorders

      A more traditional way to record audio during an interview is to use a recorder. Tape recorders have been popular for nearly 45 years, while digital recorders have become more prevalent in the past decade.

      Regardless of the type of audio recorder you choose, it is important to maintain a secondary type of recording system. Batteries are prone to dying, and no technology has been built to completely avoid mechanical failure.

      One of the most popular methods employed by professional journalists is to hold the audio recorder underneath their reporter’s notebook while furiously scribbling notes. This will allow the reporter to have handwritten notes that reflect the general sense of what was said, while the audio recording gives the exact quote.

      Some reporters who use audio recorders will write down “time stamps” in their handwritten notes, particularly at key points of the interview, to make for easier reference when writing the story later.

Video Recorders

      In the world of 21st century journalism, where “mobile journalists” — mojo’s for short — reign supreme, video reporting is no longer a fad, but a requirement. To more efficiently conduct their convergent media reporting, many mojo’s will record the interview via video recorder.

      The advantages are obvious. Not only do you have the exact quote in full context, but you can review the body language and report on the subtle nuances of the subject’s conversation style that you cannot capture through handwritten notes or audio recordings alone.

      Many point-and-shoot cameras feature video capture technology. And, there are a number of digital SLR cameras that offer video capture, as well. High-definition is nice — particularly if the video will be aired on broadcast or cable television — but not necessary.

      Playback methods on YouTube range from full definition to low definition. But most other video capture programs only replay videos in small-scale, low-definition format. We will go into this element of 21st reporting in the near future.

Making It Happen

      Keep in mind there are many other ways to record your interviews. These are the most popular methods today. The key point is to double-up on methods to ensure the interview is recorded in some manner.

      The best way to ensure you get the interview right is to write your story notes immediately after the interview. Write from your personal memory, referring to your handwritten notes as needed to fill in the gaps in your memory. Then, add in the “flavor” from your audio and/or video recordings.

      Next week: We will explore different methods of delivering your information and stories, aside from standard prose or “inverted pyramid” format.

Written by bfranklinjournalism

March 30, 2011 at 10:00 am

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