Audio Recordings and Transparency

David Berlind, Dan Gillmor and Dan Bricklin have written about the practice of linking to on-line audio recordings as source material for journalists and others. Dan G also mentioned the value of transcripts.

I learned a few lessons about recordings and transcripts 30 years ago when I covered the Senate Watergate Hearings for NBC International. Beyond my day job, I was also one of those Watergate junkies who hurried home after a long day working and flying between New York and Washington to catch the re-runs on PBS. After John Dean spilled the beans about the White House tapes, I was one of the first in line at the Federal Building to get a printed copy of the transcripts. I read the whole thing, cover to cover, but it wasn’t until I actually had a chance to hear portions of the tapes that I really understood the depth of the evil at work in the White House. Not only were the transcripts filled with errors that almost anyone could have detected (some of substance), but they never came close to capturing the temprament of the Oval Office. Only the audio could do that.

Three decades later I recorded and transcribed the O’Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In for IT Conversations. We didn’t know it would happen until the last minute, but Joe Trippi showed up and became the main attraction of the event. I believe it was his first public appearance after leaving the Howard Dean campaign a few days before. In addition to streaming the event live, I was able to post the audio of Joe’s presentation within a few hours and the transcript two days later. What surprised and humbled me was that the transcript quickly became the ‘official’ record of Joe’s speech, and it was quoted frequently in the press. How do I know? Not because most journalists linked to my transcript, which would have led readers to the primary-source audio, but because I subsequently proofread and corrected the transcripts once again, and found that the mainstream press had quoted my transcripts verbatim, warts and all. (Why not? It’s a whole lot easier for a reporter than making his or her own transcription.)

The lessons learned? Yes, transcripts are great, but even more important is to have the original audio available like a chain of evidence so that the transcripts themselves can be transparent and that ‘downstream’ journalists and others have the opportunity to review the source.

This is one reason why, with the help of Jon Udell, I created the clip facility for IT Conversations: to make it easy for others to place audio excerpts directly in their blogs so that readers can experience the source material in its most-transparent format. In fact, this is why I created IT Conversations in the first place. I was interviewing experts as source material for a book I was writing, and I realized that if I could turn readers of my written interpretation into listeners of the experts’ own voices, I could take myself out of the loop and provide a more transparent path from guru to student. In the role of author, I was just getting in the way. In the role of interviewer and editor, I was abe to clarify. Better writers can do that in print, but I feel more confident in audio, particularly if I’m not the one who’s suppsoed to be the expert!

One thought on “Audio Recordings and Transparency

  1. I just tried out the audio clip feature. That’s really cool. It helps with increasing the “transparency” of audio. Someday (in the distant future), we’ll have some really good speech-to-text software… until then, audio clips!


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