Whether interviews are your bread-and-butter or you simply grit your teeth and bear them, they are an inevitable part of every freelance writer’s life. But these tools can help you streamline the interview process so you can get back to doing what you do best — writing your piece.
Help A Reporter Out (HARO)
Your editor needs you to interview an expert about a hot new cancer treatment that’s been in the news. Except she doesn’t have anyone in mind and the article is due on Wednesday. Too bad for you it’s Monday. Although curling up in a fetal position and weeping may seem like your best bet, there is another option.
Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a free service that has been bailing journalists out of situations like the one above since 2008. HARO works by connecting writers to experts in nearly every field imaginable. Today, the service boasts over 250,000 sources, which, as you’ll see, can seem like both a godsend and a hot poker to the eye at the same time.
How it works
You submit a query seeking an expert for your interview. HARO will then send your inquiry to sources (alongside queries from other journalists) in one of its 3-per-day emails. At that point, you sit back and wait for the deluge of responses to flood your inbox (via an anonymous HARO email address).
Here’s that hot poker: depending on your topic, you may receive dozens or even hundreds of (mostly off-topic) pitches from prospective interviewees or their publicists. The good news is you’re likely to find exactly the expert you’re looking for mixed in amongst the dregs.
- Before submitting a query, check the Alexa ranking of the website of the publication you’re writing for. HARO won’t send out your query unless the site ranking is better than 1 million.
- To cut down on the chaff, be as explicit as possible when crafting your query. For example, instead of stating, “I’m looking for someone in the healthcare industry who can talk about a new cancer drug,” say, “I would like to interview a specialist from Boston who has done research in [specific treatment].”
Although some editors are okay with email interviews, many still prefer the extemporaneous kind. That means you’ll need to record your conversation. That’s easy enough if you’re sitting across the desk from your subject, but what if your expert is across the country?
TapeACall Pro is a clever smartphone app (iPhone, $9.99 or Android, .99¢) that lets you record any call with the press of a button. Unlike other options such as asking your interviewee to record his answers to your questions on his smartphone (and then sending you the audio file, thank you very much) or using Google Voice (which only works with incoming calls), TapeACall helps you come off like the pro you are.
How it works
Once you’ve set up TapeACall Pro, you press the record button in the center of your smartphone’s screen. The app will dial a special access number before giving you the option of adding the contact you’d like to record. Once you have your interviewee on the line, simply press “merge calls” and recording begins.
When you’re finished, hang up and press the play button at the bottom of the screen. An MP3 version of the recording appears that you can listen to on your phone or send to yourself via email or social media. Easy peasy.
- Most states have laws requiring you to notify people when you are recording them. Always ask your subject if you can record the interview before pressing the “merge calls” button, even when it’s a given.
- Test TapeACall Pro out with a friend or two first. That sinking feeling is you realizing you skipped a step and don’t have a copy of the interview. Do you really want to beg your expert to give you a second chance?
You have your recording, but now you need to get it onto the page. For many writers, transcription is the most dreaded part of the entire interview process. Anyone who has ever Googled “audio-to-text transcription” knows that the few options that actually work are expensive. Plus, the software requires you to “train” it recognize your own voice; forget using it to transcribe someone else’s.
Nestled between useless software and pricey transcription services is oTranscribe. The free browser-based app lets you upload your audio file and type your transcript directly into a simple word processor. No more clumsily switching back and forth between Word and iTunes.
How it works
The best thing about oTranscribe is that a journalist created it, so it’s easy to use. Simple keyboard shortcuts include play and pause, as well as slow down or speed up. You can even add time stamps to your recording. Once you’re finished typing, export the finished product to a .txt file or copy and paste it into a Word doc.
- oTranscribe only works with WAV or MP3 files. If your audio file is a different format, you can use an online audio converter such as media.io to make your file oTranscribe-ready.
- If you type like a three-toed sloth working the heavy bag at the gym, you may want to skip oTranscribe altogether and go with a transcription service like Rev instead. Rev is less expensive than comparable options ($1 per minute for audio) and the company promises a 48-hour turnaround.