October 31, 2023

Not just for podcasts: Why anyone doing interviews should be using Descript

An author, journalist, and oral historian is saving tons of time by sifting through interviews using Descript. Here's how she uses it.
October 31, 2023

Not just for podcasts: Why anyone doing interviews should be using Descript

An author, journalist, and oral historian is saving tons of time by sifting through interviews using Descript. Here's how she uses it.
October 31, 2023
Nora Neus
In this article
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Videos
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Transcriptions
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This makes the editing process so much faster. I wish I knew about Descript a year ago.
Matt D., Copywriter
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What type of content do you primarily create?

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Podcasts
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Transcriptions

Anyone who works with audio recordings — whether you’re an actual podcast producer or an author and journalist (like me!) just recording for transcription purposes — knows the struggle of organizing and cataloging files.

They’re not like photos, where you can easily see at a glance what you’re dealing with.

They’re not like text files, where you CTRL+F a keyword and easily reference a given section.

Sometimes, dealing with a whole bunch of audio files feels like trying to sift through sand in a black box.

But it doesn’t have to — not anymore. Here’s how Descript has helped me sort through hours of interviews and saved me a ton of time.

The audio black box 

I just started using Descript in my work as an author, journalist, and oral historian. I can’t believe that I didn’t know it existed when working on my last book, 24 Hours in Charlottesville, which required over 100 hours of recorded interviews.

Front cover of "24 Hours in Charlottesville"
The author's book

Most journalists and oral historians will record any interview they conduct so they can accurately transcribe exact quotes from the source and refer back to it later if the source ever denies saying something.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of reporters all huddled around a senator with their phones jammed toward her face, that’s why: they’re recording voice memos.

I almost never actually do anything with my audio recordings; I transcribe the quotes and then call it a day. 

But as I work on more longform projects, like books and magazine articles, I find I need those files in a format that’s easier to access. Sometimes that’s because I need to refer back to them months later, other times it’s because my fact-checkers and editors need to listen to a specific part.

At first, I didn’t think Descript could help me with this. Isn’t Descript a video and podcast editing program?

I wasn’t doing any kind of creative editing, or really editing at all. I just needed an easier way to organize all my audio files. And, in a perfect world, I’d love to be able to find specific quotes easily even if I didn’t remember who said them or when.

It turns out that Descript is a lot more than an editing program—it was the solution to my problem.

Soon, I started using Descript not only to organize and transcribe files, but also to lightly edit with the app’s many great features.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use Descript in my work as an author, journalist, and oral historian.

Organizing and searching

Until recently, I kept all of my audio recordings in a folder on my computer, backed up to the cloud, labeled with interviewee name and date conducted. I had transcriptions in a separate folder, which got cumbersome.

In Descript, I can see all my recordings at a glance and easily search within their transcripts.

Example of searching for a word in a Descript transcript

Sometimes, I’ll remember that someone I interviewed had a great quote about the ominous way the sky looked one morning, for example, but not who said it. Now, it’s a lot easier to search all of my projects and find that one killer quote. 

Easily deleting “off the record” sections

As a journalist, sometimes my sources want to give me some extra context about an issue but don’t necessarily want me to quote them on it. In those cases, I’ll give them permission to go “off the record.”

For example, maybe I’m interviewing an activist about LGBTQ+ rights, which I do often. Perhaps the activist wants to warn me that a specific politician I’m interviewing later often skates around the truth, but they don’t want me to write in my article, “so-and-so activist says so-and-so politician is a liar” because they still have to work together. I might agree to go off-the-record for that section, because it’ll help me report the most accurate story. But, if I ever want future sources to trust me when I say something is off-the-record, I have to protect that source’s quote.

In Descript, it’s very easy for me to remove portions of an interview that were off-the-record before sending audio files to editors or fact checkers.

I used to have to listen to the entire, hours-long interview, to find the specific times we discussed going off the record for a few words here and there, and then manually edit them out. It took forever, and I was always scared I was going to miss something.

With Descript, it takes me literally 30 seconds to ctrl+F “off the record,” delete those sections, and re-export the file without them.

Lightly cleaning up

Using Descript for oral history interviews has also made it much easier to clean up long pauses that are common especially when interviewing older folks, as I'm doing for my next project about queer elders. I’m not actually editing what they’re saying, much less doing the kind of fancy audio editing I would for a podcast, but this simple “cleaning up” can make a big impact on the end product.

Demo of Descript's "shorten word gaps" feature
Descript can automatically remove extra silence with the “shorten word gaps” feature

I also use Descript to seamlessly record and edit introductions for oral history interviews, right within the program. Because these kinds of interviews are specifically meant for historic preservation, it’s important to note where and when each interview was conducted.

I used to separately set up a microphone, record my ten second intro (“This is an oral history interview conducted on October 1, 2023 in New York City with Jane Doe,” for example), and then import the audio and edit it all together with the main interview. Now, I can just easily record within Descript and pop it onto the beginning without any extra work. 

Final thoughts

Using Descript as a journalist, author, and oral historian has been a game-changer for my work process, and I can imagine its usefulness to other professionals who rely on interviews, like academic researchers and ethnographers. Especially for folks who aren’t professional audio editors, Descript is a great way to free up some more time for what you really love.

Nora Neus
Nora Neus is an Emmy-nominated video producer, author, and freelance writer. She is the author of Muhammad Najem, War Reporter, about citizen journalism in Syria. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Not just for podcasts: Why anyone doing interviews should be using Descript

Anyone who works with audio recordings — whether you’re an actual podcast producer or an author and journalist (like me!) just recording for transcription purposes — knows the struggle of organizing and cataloging files.

They’re not like photos, where you can easily see at a glance what you’re dealing with.

They’re not like text files, where you CTRL+F a keyword and easily reference a given section.

Sometimes, dealing with a whole bunch of audio files feels like trying to sift through sand in a black box.

But it doesn’t have to — not anymore. Here’s how Descript has helped me sort through hours of interviews and saved me a ton of time.

Plus it’s a fully powered editing suite that does everything you need to make a great podcast. If you know how to edit a doc, you’re ready to get started.
Descript makes editing audio as easy as editing text.

The audio black box 

I just started using Descript in my work as an author, journalist, and oral historian. I can’t believe that I didn’t know it existed when working on my last book, 24 Hours in Charlottesville, which required over 100 hours of recorded interviews.

Front cover of "24 Hours in Charlottesville"
The author's book

Most journalists and oral historians will record any interview they conduct so they can accurately transcribe exact quotes from the source and refer back to it later if the source ever denies saying something.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of reporters all huddled around a senator with their phones jammed toward her face, that’s why: they’re recording voice memos.

I almost never actually do anything with my audio recordings; I transcribe the quotes and then call it a day. 

But as I work on more longform projects, like books and magazine articles, I find I need those files in a format that’s easier to access. Sometimes that’s because I need to refer back to them months later, other times it’s because my fact-checkers and editors need to listen to a specific part.

At first, I didn’t think Descript could help me with this. Isn’t Descript a video and podcast editing program?

I wasn’t doing any kind of creative editing, or really editing at all. I just needed an easier way to organize all my audio files. And, in a perfect world, I’d love to be able to find specific quotes easily even if I didn’t remember who said them or when.

It turns out that Descript is a lot more than an editing program—it was the solution to my problem.

Soon, I started using Descript not only to organize and transcribe files, but also to lightly edit with the app’s many great features.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use Descript in my work as an author, journalist, and oral historian.

Organizing and searching

Until recently, I kept all of my audio recordings in a folder on my computer, backed up to the cloud, labeled with interviewee name and date conducted. I had transcriptions in a separate folder, which got cumbersome.

In Descript, I can see all my recordings at a glance and easily search within their transcripts.

Example of searching for a word in a Descript transcript

Sometimes, I’ll remember that someone I interviewed had a great quote about the ominous way the sky looked one morning, for example, but not who said it. Now, it’s a lot easier to search all of my projects and find that one killer quote. 

Easily deleting “off the record” sections

As a journalist, sometimes my sources want to give me some extra context about an issue but don’t necessarily want me to quote them on it. In those cases, I’ll give them permission to go “off the record.”

For example, maybe I’m interviewing an activist about LGBTQ+ rights, which I do often. Perhaps the activist wants to warn me that a specific politician I’m interviewing later often skates around the truth, but they don’t want me to write in my article, “so-and-so activist says so-and-so politician is a liar” because they still have to work together. I might agree to go off-the-record for that section, because it’ll help me report the most accurate story. But, if I ever want future sources to trust me when I say something is off-the-record, I have to protect that source’s quote.

In Descript, it’s very easy for me to remove portions of an interview that were off-the-record before sending audio files to editors or fact checkers.

I used to have to listen to the entire, hours-long interview, to find the specific times we discussed going off the record for a few words here and there, and then manually edit them out. It took forever, and I was always scared I was going to miss something.

With Descript, it takes me literally 30 seconds to ctrl+F “off the record,” delete those sections, and re-export the file without them.

Lightly cleaning up

Using Descript for oral history interviews has also made it much easier to clean up long pauses that are common especially when interviewing older folks, as I'm doing for my next project about queer elders. I’m not actually editing what they’re saying, much less doing the kind of fancy audio editing I would for a podcast, but this simple “cleaning up” can make a big impact on the end product.

Demo of Descript's "shorten word gaps" feature
Descript can automatically remove extra silence with the “shorten word gaps” feature

I also use Descript to seamlessly record and edit introductions for oral history interviews, right within the program. Because these kinds of interviews are specifically meant for historic preservation, it’s important to note where and when each interview was conducted.

I used to separately set up a microphone, record my ten second intro (“This is an oral history interview conducted on October 1, 2023 in New York City with Jane Doe,” for example), and then import the audio and edit it all together with the main interview. Now, I can just easily record within Descript and pop it onto the beginning without any extra work. 

Final thoughts

Using Descript as a journalist, author, and oral historian has been a game-changer for my work process, and I can imagine its usefulness to other professionals who rely on interviews, like academic researchers and ethnographers. Especially for folks who aren’t professional audio editors, Descript is a great way to free up some more time for what you really love.

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