It’s been a little over a month since I last posted about my work in progress on my Soros Media Fellowship project, a series on crime victims. I had hoped by now that the first installment would have been published by Slate, but first I missed my self-imposed deadline and then changes at Slate delayed us further (the series originally was to be edited by Dahlia Lithwick, but now it’s being overseen by Slate’s deputy editor, John Swansburg). I’m not complaining — this is the nature of this work, especially when dealing with long stories and big projects — and I’m certainly not lacking for things to do.
Which brings me to the point of this post, beyond simply noting that I still can’t predict exactly when the series will go public (but soon!). When I’m not reporting on the six remaining stories (and updating the first installment as it sits in a queue) — tons of reading for research, talking to people who work in this field, lining up and conducting interviews, setting up my next road trips — I’m transcribing. And transcribing. And more transcribing.
Because I record most of my interviews and the scenes that I observe in the field, I’m left with lots of transcription work afterward. Even if I could afford to farm that work out, I wouldn’t because of the value I get from listening to the recordings. As I replay them and take notes, I jot down ideas and notes in the various story outlines. This person might be quotable on this point in this story. This idea needs to be explored in that story. And so on.
The transcripts themselves are not really transcripts. They’re paraphrased notes and observations — as I listen, I’m reminded of what I saw as the words were spoken, and I refer back to my handwritten notes for more observations of what I saw — and then exact quotations only in cases when I think I might end up using a quote. Along the way, I note the elapsed time in the recording, so that I can easily find a specific passage again. I tend to overestimate what might end up useful to me later on, in part because I hope to turn the project into a book after my Soros year is over. So, if a conversation is particularly helpful to my stories, a one-hour interview might take three hours to transcribe. From my weeklong trips in Texas and California, and from dozens of phone interviews since May, I have more hours of recordings than I can count. And nearly every day I add to them.
That all adds up to a mighty backlog. So, while I wait for my new editor’s thoughts on part one and the plan for the rest of the series, I stare and type.
Sounds awfully exciting, I know. Actually, the good news is that I find my subjects’ voices, words, and messages inspiring, even on rehearing. I hear things I didn’t notice the first time, or need to be reminded of when I finally get around to transcribing sometimes weeks or months after the fact.
I’ll give you a taste of what I mean from an interview I’m transcribing this morning. The person speaking is David Guizar, who lost two brothers to street violence in South Los Angeles and now devotes his life to helping survivors and working on gang intervention and violence prevention. Here are two brief snippets from my talk last month with Guizar at his home.
In the first excerpt, he talks about the trauma of losing his brother when Guizar was only 10:
Then Guizar speaks of his reaction at age 39 when another brother was murdered, and he faced a choice in how to respond:
When I tell Guizar’s story, I’ll explain how his and his family’s experiences in two separate murders many years apart colored their perceptions of justice, both bad and good, and how Guizar channeled his emotions in a more positive direction the second time around.