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New Organization Structure For Interviews

I need a new way.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria- I used to run interviews in a very free flowing, informal style. I’d push record on the voice recording and just have a conversation. I’d get the interviewee to tell stories and generally try to collect as much information possible.

I used to think that this way produced the best results.

It really does.

Except for the fact that it leaves me with an absolutely massive amount of material to transcribe, organize, and process. Each hour of conversation is 5 to 8 hours of transcription. If I do three interviews per day for a three day project I’m left with an entire week worth of transcription.

I can’t spend a week transcribing. I will go broke.

I also can’t afford to hire someone to work full time transcribing. I will go broke.

Generally, my wife helps me. But she doesn’t have that much time.

So, I hate to say it, many interviews that I do never get transcribed — they never get used.

This is not intentional; it’s just the reality of having X amount of work to do, X amount of time to do it, and no money to hire an assistant.

I have a short report to write for the New Geographies journal of Harvard University. It was from a project that I did in the new city of Cyberjaya back in September. I final got into it this morning and I looked at my files: they were a jumbled mess of interviews: 12 audio files named “Cyberjaya_X.aiff.” They contain interviews with around six different people.

I am appalled at myself. I’m a professional — how could I have allowed this to happen?

My thinking at the time was that I would get through all the transcription right after I did the interviews when the conversations were still fresh. I would listen to them, transcribe, and file them away in the archives. No big deal.

But that didn’t happen.

My interviews for the Cyberjaya project. This is nuts.

Instead, half a year later I’m opening up something that’s the modern equivalent of turning on a fan and blowing all of the pages of a manuscript off a desk. It would take me a day just to organize and set this up.

I may have blown this project …

I need another way.

  1. Cap interviews to 30 minutes. This sucks but there is no other way. My wife is going back to school and will no longer be able to help with transcriptions. I’m on my own. If I continue as I am then the stack of wasted interviews is going to keep rising. This isn’t just pernicious for my work but it’s disrespectful to the people that took time out to be interviewed by me. I need to start formalizing my exchanges, streamlining my questions, pushing harder for pull quotes, and then request all of the nuts and bolts type of info to be referred to me in the form of reports or some other written medium.
  2. Organize files as if they are to be archived. This means naming the files like this: Project_Code_Interviewee_Name_Date. These files with then immediately be put right into a clearly structured directory.
  3. Transcribe immediately. Transcription is my biggest bottleneck. I hate doing it, I suck at it, and I all too often put other work before doing it. For years I’ve dreamed of having an assistant that would do it for me. I’ve actually hired them before but it’s never worked out — I can’t pay enough to crack the whip … and the work sucks so it deserves to be decently paid.

It’s just funny to me that I haven’t had such a complete mash up of content before given my organizational methods. My images and video files are meticulously organized — but audio and email interviews, relevant pdfs, etc … sometimes find themselves floating.

My entire model for collecting this type of content needs to be disrupted … well, until that glorious day when I get that assistant who can sit back in “headquarters” somewhere and coordinate all of this.

The Cyberjaya article came together.


Filed under: Journalism

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3689 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii

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