Another of those, from one of my old pen drives… written when I was with the newspaper…

Being a scribe is not easy work. Especially when you have to rely a lot on technology. Take the voice recorder (dictaphone is better-sounding!) for instance. They now come in all shapes and sizes, ordinary ones using cassettes to supposedly sleek, pint-sized digital ones.

 I’ve used every possible type available in the market, including the mobile phone, but each one challenges the hyper interviewer in me.

 This happened in the days I was using the old-fashioned one where you used a cassette to record. My dictaphone decided enough was enough and conked off right in the middle of an interview. No amount of changing the batteries, the cassette or thumping it on the back worked. The interviewee gave me a pitiful look, probably thinking, – ‘look at the rookie the publication sent me’ – but I guess he revised his opinion when I speed-wrote my way through the rest of the interview. The breakdown did have one big advantage – the guy stopped rambling and stuck to facts, which made work much easier. (I often have had to transcribe an entire 90-minute cassette for the 800 words I am assigned to write).

 Simple technology in my hands can turn quite complex. I interviewed eight members of a music band once with the dictaphone happily running on play mode (it is obvious, isn’t it, I had forgotten that I had to record the conversation). I managed to plug the particular feature as a photo-essay so that I could use minimum text (from whatever I remembered).

 Over the years, I have come to believe that I can get away with anything. (with the dictaphone!). The only time I was assigned to do a business story (where I didn’t have a clue about the particular automobile the agency was launching), my dictaphone stopped as I was interviewing some serious-looking Chinese officials. I wished then, the earth would open and swallow me whole but unfortunately we were on the ninth floor of  the Sheraton Oman Hotel and I would have to really wish hard for that to happen.

 One of the grim-looking members of the delegation, a lady smiled for the first time (that was a good sign!) and said, “These things happen!” She then proceeded to take her brand new digital camera out of her bag. “Oh god! Was she going to click my picture for posterity?” Or was my picture going to appear in a Chinese newspaper along with the caption, “Endangered specie with Dictaphone!!!” My next thought was to duck under the huge table. Thankfully, nothing of that sort happened. The lady actually had decided to come to my rescue. She calmly took the batteries out of her camera and handed them over. I was shocked into action and the conversation, thereafter, continued seamlessly.

 There are many stories associated with my dictaphone that have been the undoing of many stories I was meaning to write or break.

 I have changed six voice recorders in six years, all reputed brands. Nowadays, I use the Sony Walkman MP3 player that doubles up as a voice recorder.

 So far, so good! Or shall I just say ‘touch wood’?

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10 thoughts on “Dictated… by the dictaphone

  1. Hahaha…I remember Karun Chandok(now selected for driving F1) told me..it happened 10 years back. He was invited for a ‘live’ interview in Chennai Doordarshan, from morning 6am he’s sitting before the camera for 8am live. Just (exactly 5seconds) before he went ‘On Air’ the Doordarshan Cameraman realised that they didn’t fix the mike for him. So he coolly said “Karun just be louder because your audio is through the camera mike”. For the rest of the interview whenever the host asked a question Mr.Karun used to shout the answer so that his voice reaches the mike which’s kept at 15feet distance, on the camera. He’s 16 year old then and that was his first television interview. Mera Bharat Mahan…..

    And….never expect(pray) that your tape will have extra storage or that interview will be a ‘short one’, always use a new tape or delete all files from the voice recorder once it’s copied to your computer. Never believe that ‘duracell’ got long long life, just use ‘fresh’ batteries for every interview(yes, this is American/English way..)..always check your equipement before going for an interview and remember the golden words “Assumption is the mother of………”

    Ignore the above para it denies us ‘experience……..” after all ‘To err is human….

    1. Very interesting, venkatesh! thanks for sharing! but however careful you are… machines can let you down… and murphy’s law can work overtime when you least expect it. so that’s why it’s good you have a good memory… and take down notes as fast as you can. but i guess that’s impossible in your field 🙂

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