Technology has made it easier than ever for reporters to connect with their sources, whether they’re across the street or halfway around the world. Contacting someone via phone or app is simple. With so many digital recording options, it takes no more than a few clicks and swipes to record a conversation with a source. The biggest problem reporters face when it comes to interviews, however, is how to deal with all the recorded content once the interview is over.
Although most reporters still take notes manually, not many people can write or type as fast as a source speaks and get a verbatim quote, so recording is a necessary step. But turning those audio files into useable text isn’t always easy. Transcription is a time-consuming and often costly part of the job. Today’s reporters need all the resources available so they can focus on breaking news and keeping their readers up to date.
To help you overcome the issue of transcription, we’ve tested a slew of new apps and websites that promise to help give you back your valuable time and take some of stress out of your daily reporting routine.
To test the majority of the services, we used a 13-minute phone call between two speakers, and the call had some background interference that made it slightly harder to hear clearly. Results will vary depending on the length and quality of your recordings, but should not change drastically enough to invalidate our findings.
A web-based transcription document, oTranscribe makes it easier to do the transcription yourself, if you’re so inclined. Once you upload an audio file, you can control playback of the recording using your keyboard, so you never have to switch windows or fumble with a recorder while trying to type. The site lets you play and pause, fast forward, rewind, and control the playback speed using the Escape and F-level keys. While it still requires you to do the heavy lifting, oTranscribe makes the cumbersome task a little less complicated. It takes a bit of getting used to, but overall it’s an extremely helpful tool for reporters who have the time and don’t want to pay for third-party services.
Unlike traditional recording apps, Cogi is designed to capture soundbites and not complete interviews. When you start a conversation, you start up Cogi and allow it to “listen” as you chat. When you hear something you want to capture, tap the button and Cogi will rewind back to capture the previous 15 seconds of audio and will continue recording until you stop it. The soundbites from each session are saved together, but in separate audio files, so you only ever have to listen to the snippet you’re interested in. The app also allows you to name recording sessions and soundbites, and lets you take pictures of your written notes to add to the folder for that session, so everything you need is in one place.
More than a call recorder, Tape-A-Call allows you to search audio files for words or phrases that popped up, and then takes you directly to that segment when you play it back. But while Tape-A-Call’s recording function is top-notch, the audio search feature needs some work. Even a simple call, with only a few repeated words, didn’t test well, and a longer call tested with a wider vocabulary was fairly off. That said, if you’re willing to do your own transcriptions, this app provides the highest quality cellphone recordings we’ve heard. The pro version of the app runs at $9.99 per year, and adding the word search feature will set you back only $14.99 annually. The investment for the pro app is definitely worth it, and we’re hoping to see improvements in later updates that will increase the reliability of the search function.
An app-only resource, Steno lets you record directly or upload audio files to be transcribed, and gives you about an hour of free audio before you have to pay. After that, time can be bought in 50-, 250-, and 500-minute blocks, with the price for each block ranging from $0.99 to $6.99, making it the most affordable of the paid apps we recommend. While the transcription itself is pretty weak, getting only a few words right at any given point, the app allows you to click on a segment of the transcript and play back the audio at that moment in the recording. While it isn’t reliable enough to be used on its own, it’s a worthwhile investment for those times when you don’t need to transcribe the full conversation but want a faster way to hone in on certain keywords.
Trint is a subscription-based website that allows users to buy upload time on an hourly or monthly basis, with plans ranging from $120 per month for 10 hours of audio, amounting to $0.20 per minute, to an hourly pay-as-you-go plan that ups the fee to $0.15 per minute. Users are also given 30 free minutes when they sign up. The transcript from Trint was not the most accurate, and there were a couple minutes of conversation that were missed, but the site allows you to click on the transcript and hear the clip again so you can correct it yourself. While not the most ideal of circumstances for a busy reporter, it could be helpful for someone new to transcription. While currently a web-only transcription service, the company tells us that there’s a smartphone app in the works, and we’re hopeful that some of the bugs of the transcription will be worked out by the time the app is released.
An app- and web-based transcription service, Rev charges $1 per minute of audio, with additional (but minor) fees for timestamps. The transcript we received from Rev was the clearest and most accurate, and included notes where the conversation was inaudible or where a speaker had made a sound (such as “Mhmm”) instead of responding with words. Rev promises that interviews of 30 minutes or less will be turned around in 12 hours, and our 13-minute recording was returned in less than six hours. While it can be a bit more costly, if you don’t have the time or inclination for DIY transcription, Rev may be a worthwhile investment, especially for reporters who have longer lead times.
On the high end of the transcription apps, TranscribeMe’s services range from $0.79 per minute for first-draft transcripts with a turnaround that ranges from two to seven days, to $5.50 per minute for a verbatim transcript that requires an urgent one-day turnaround. To test the services, we purchased a verbatim transcript with a standard delivery speed, which cost approximately $2.00 per minute. The 13-minute tape took two and a half days to be returned, and the transcript received had excellent accuracy and time-stamping. The quality of the transcript was no better than competitor Rev’s document, which ran half the price for the same verbatim-level accuracy. If you have a longer lead time and are willing to go with the slightly lower accuracy of a first-draft transcript, the price can’t be beat. For our money, however, we’d stick with Rev for affordable and fast transcripts, and look to TranscribeMe for special cases.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.