May 4, 2017

Update: Scribe has been overwhelmed by our interest and now recommends asks users not to upload files longer than 10 minutes. Also, it looks like they’ve started charging by the minute.

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So what are we talking about this week?

I’m going to see if you can guess. What’s one of the most tedious regularly occurring things journalists have to do?

Hmmm. There are so many. Does talking to editors count? No, that’s bad. To me, waiting on sources to get back to me is pretty tedious. Fighting with the CMS … finding images … there are so many.

I’m taking notes. I’m going to figure out how to fix all of these things. But, no. One thing that I’ve always hated the most is when I’m like, I’m going to be so accurate, I’m going to use a recorder this time and get everything perfect. And then I’ve got to sit there and transcribe it.

Yes. I will be doing that as soon as we’re done talking. I totally agree. Transcribing is tedious.

It’s such a waste of time because you don’t even use most of the interview, right? So two guys from Dublin City University actually reached out to me a week ago and shared a tool they made for automatic transcription. It’s called Scribe.

Apparently they were working on some school project, and one guy had to transcribe 12 interviews, and he didn’t want to do it, so he built this script that uses the Google Speech API to transcribe the speech to text.

He told a couple people in his class, then his entire class started using it, then they were contacted by some PhD folks, and it just spread from there.

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That’s so cool. Is this something that’s an app? A plug-in? How does it work?

It’s just a website. You go to the site, you enter your email address, you upload the audio, you pick what language it’s in, and then press submit.

When it’s done transcribing (it took about 10 seconds for 5-minute recordings,) they email you a link. And that takes you to another section of the Scribe website with a rich text box where you can edit it. It also has the audio on the page and you can listen again to make sure it’s accurate.

Have you tried this? How does it work?

I have tried this, it works really well. I hate to knock a couple of college students who built something really great, but it doesn’t seem to have much of an understanding of punctuation at this point. That’s fine, it’s really easy to go in and add that.

The hardest part is really just getting the words onto the page, and it does that, from the tests I’ve done, flawlessly.

Yeah, I can handle punctuation. There are a lot of transcription tools out there, right? Does this one stand out for any reason, other than the cool origin story?

It really stands out to me for its accuracy. People reach out from time to time and ask “is there something I can do to not transcribe interviews?” It’s a pretty common question. And every time I recommend something, they’re like, “I’ve tried that, it doesn’t seem to work too well.”

It seems to me that Scribe is already on good footing in terms of accurate transcriptions, and it can only get better.

How would you like to see this get better?

Besides the punctuation, I wish they also offered the ability to upload more than MP3s. When I record audio, I like to use my iPhone. You hit record, you set it down and five minutes later people loosen up and forget they’re being recorded.

The problem with that is iPhone saves audio in another format. So when I tested this, I had to send them to my computer and then convert them to MP3s, which is not my favorite process, especially if you’re on deadline.

This is a free thing, right?

Totally free. I don’t think you could pay them if you wanted to. (Editor’s note: We were wrong. See the note above.)

It sounds like it’s pretty basic but it takes care of a pretty basic need.

Yeah, and I think the best tools do that, right? You don’t need your hammer to do 30 different things. I think Scribe is the same thing for transcriptions.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles that highlight digital tools for journalists. You can read the others here.

This week, my colleague Ren LaForme shares a tool readers shared with him. Got any great tools journalists should be using? Let Ren know!

Learn more about journalism tools with Try This! — Tools for Journalism. Try This! is powered by Google News Lab. It is also supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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