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Should newspapers publish full interview transcripts online?

Washington Post economic and domestic policy blogger Ezra Klein has called for newspapers to make full interview transcripts available online, where there are not the traditional space restrictions of a print edition.

Klein cites last week’s New York Times article on Paul Volcker, which is “clearly and proudly set around a wide-ranging, on-the-record interview with Volcker himself”:

But that interview, aside from a few isolated quotes, is nowhere to be found. This is a baffling waste of good information. Reporters are endlessly interviewing newsmakers and then using, at most, a handful of lines out of thousands of words. The paper, of course, may not have room for thousands of words of interview transcripts, but the web certainly does.

Klein’s comments echo those of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who criticised the media on Friday for not making use of the huge amount of space available online to make primary source material more readily available.

The main issue for Klein, like Assange, seems to be one of transparency, especially for the interviewee:

It’s safer to have your full comments, and the questions that led to them, out in the open, rather than just the lines the author thought interesting enough to include in the article.

“And for the institution itself,” writes Klein, “it’s a no-brainer. You get a lot more inward links if you provide enough transcript that every niche media site can find something to point their readers toward.”

But news organisations considering such a move would have to weigh any potential increase in traffic – and any respect garnered by increased openness – with what is surely, for most, an unwelcome level of transparency. To say nothing of having to transcribe the hours and hours of interviews conducted by a newspaper such as the New York Times.

It is an interesting question for online journalism nonetheless. With programmes like the Open Government Data Initiative tipping more and more raw materials into the internet, will news organisations benefit overall from taking the same open approach?

Read Ezra Klein’s post here.

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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience Ed Yong

    Great idea. Journalists with blogs can of course take matters into their own hands by publishing full transcripts in their own space. I’ve tried this approach myself and I liken it to the extras on DVDs that accompany the main film.

    An example here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/01/07/the-memory-molecules-interview-with-todd-sacktor-and-a-feature-in-eureka/

    And another from the Times: http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2010/06/david-willetts-interview-the-extended-version.html

  • Allison

    From a purely practical perspective, it would be very time consuming. Transcribing a two-hour tape would add at least three hours to your day. What if the story include three or four major interviews? And no, not all journalists transcribe all their interviews before they write — there often just isn’t time. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but it might be easier for feature writers and magazine writers to do, rather than daily reporters.

  • http://addiction-dirkh.blogspot.com Dirk Hanson

    Why not just have journalists print the interview transcripts verbatim and call it a day? Never mind that most of them would read like a Larry King Q&A, absent any editorial shaping or direction. Presumably, an interviewee speaks to a journalist BECAUSE the journalist is going to be selectively culling remarks and placing those remarks in some sort of context. Some journalists do that very well, and some don’t.

    Klein says: “It’s safer to have your full comments, and the questions that led to them, out in the open, rather than just the lines the author thought interesting enough to include in the article.” I think a lot of interviewees would disagree with that and go into a high cringe if their unpolished, halting, rambling, verbatim sentences were made available for all to read. Not necessarily a blessing for the poor interview subject.

    Why not just hand your subject a digital recorder and a list of questions. When they’re done, bring up the speech recognition software, and then hit Publish. Inlink city.

  • radiofree

    A few thoughts.

    The idea seems appealing at first glance and the transparency argument is a powerful one (which I tend to agree with). And yes, webspace is virtually infinite.

    But as a practicing journo, I never transcribe the whole interview. Simply don’t have the time And while web space is cheap, I assume that paying someone to transcribe isn’t so cheap – although talk to text technology may change this (I’m not sure you could ever rely on a machine to do this task entirely, though).

    Second, the main function of a journo, in many respects, is to focus in on the important bits and cut through the garbage. In some cases, adding the interviews will simply equate to putting the garbage back in.

    Third – sure, there’ll be more inward links, and more people willing to read an interview if it’s particularly important or interesting. But some interview subjects just aren’t that interesting. I wonder if there really is a business argument for directing users into a morass of blathering bureaucrat-ese. You might chase many readers off.

  • http://milnewsca.wordpress.com MILNEWS.ca

    Not only should interviews be published in full whenever possible, but documents obtained via FOI should be made available as much as possible. Both measures would make it easier for interested readers to get the fullest context of the material.

  • http://addiction-dirkh.blogspot.com Dirk Hanson

    There seems to be an assumption here that every journalist records interviews, laboriously transcribes them (or pays for that service) and then and only then begins writing the article. More than half the major interviews I have conducted in my career have been in the form of me taking notes by hand, since experience shows that 3/4 of what the interviewee has to say is not interesting or publishable. Those are the redundant and self-serving parts the journalist omits. At the end of the interview there IS no official transcript.

  • http://HappinessHabit.com MicheleMoore-Happy1

    Why not post MP3s of the interviews together with the texts? Then you have a feeling for what is really being said.

    Voice to text technology is surprisingly good when you have clean recordings. Then it’s simply a matter of paying someone a minimum wage to edit the texts to ensure they are accurate. Viewers/Listeners could also post comment like corrections too.

    This does not need to be hard or expensive once processes are in place to handle the volume efficiently. It could be offered on a fee or subscription basis.

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  • Christina Capulet

    Being in the transcription business we would always advocate publishing the full verbatim transcript rather than taking excerpts out of context. The latter is misleading while the former allows the reader to formulate an opinion based on a full set of the facts. For assistance in transcribing interviews including translation into multiple languages please contact Type It Tiger (http://typeittiger.co.uk)

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