24 September 2008

Progress Doesn't Want Me to Do My Job

As I say in my blog "profile," I make a living as a writer. A goodly part of that living is in the field of journalism. And a good deal of that is feature articles. Which means interviews. Phone interviews. In-person interviews. But interviews. And I don't know any reporter that takes shorthand anymore, or remembers quotes from memory, so interviews mean a tape recorder.

Progress does not appear to favor my line of work—and I'm not talking about the long, slow death of print news—though that is a worrisome fact of my life. I mean the disappearance of the apparatus that allows me to do my job. A year of so again, my old Sony cassette recorder which I use on interviews finally gave out. I had had it for 15 years. Nice piece of machinery. I went to a Best Buy to purchase another. After questioning a few clerks as to where I might find tape recorders (and who all thought I was talking about video recorders), a wiser worker led me to an obscure corner of the basement level where a couple cassette recorders, encased in plastic, hung on a wall. They could have been phonograph needles, so remote was their location, so un-sought-after were they.

Lately, meanwhile, I have had some trouble finding cassette tapes to put in that tape recorder. Some locations of the big chains, like Duane Reade and Rite Aid, don't carry them (thought Staples dependably stocks them). In the past, such tapes could always be found in the school/office supplies section. Often then were displayed in the racks by the cash register. Moreover, many corner bodegas could be counted on to have one or two on the shelf. No more. People don't make tapes anymore—voice, music or otherwise. And again, people think I'm asking for video cassette tapes when I ask for audio tapes. Everyone, it seems, owns a video recorder. Nobody owns an audio recorder.

And it gets more difficult. For phone interviews, one needs a small, rubber suction-cup device. The cup is applied to the phone receiver and the attached cord is plugged into a specific hole in the tape recorder. By this method, an interview is recorded for later transcribing. Used to be, Radio Shack always had these in stock. Last week, however, I went in search of one (they cost about $4) and went away empty-handed from three Radio Shack outlets. Each of the stores' clerks spoke doubtfully about whether the gizmos would ever be stocked again.

Next I'll be told that pencils and notepads are being phased out. What is going on? Is the paraphernalia of journalism doomed to go the way of the tools of bookbinding and blacksmithing? Is this a vast plot by conservative corporations to defang the Fourth Estate by depriving them of basic equipment? Anybody know where rubber suction cup thingies can be found out there? I think I better take a case.

16 comments:

BM said...

The recording devices that plug directly into your phone line (between the handset and the body of the phone) are far superior to the suction cup things. Radio Shack usually has them. And though it may offend your aesthetic sense, a digital recorder will absolutely make your life a thousand times better. No joke.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

No doubt you are right, BM. I am always five years behind the technological times.

Francis said...

I was in the same boat. Journalist, had always used cassettes, didn't realize they'd become obsolete. But bm is right: The digital recorders are much, much better.

ken mac said...

I use the same device as bm, in fact I have two, one in line from the phone jack, and another that I plug into the phone receiver handset itself. (And it does work much better than the suction thing) Also,you can get cassettes for cheap in bulk on ebay. I don't like digital recorders though, I use a Panasonic foot controlled transcribing deck that is much faster and they still sell it at officemax! Stock up against the future my friend

The Vidiot said...

Please. Even though I do graphic design on a computer as my day job, I have a typewriter, an old C&P platen press and I can bind my own books.

StuyTownFullofYunnies said...

I located audio tapes being sold on eBay:

http://shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=m38.l1313&_nkw=audio+cassette+tapes&_sacat=See-All-Categories

I often have luck finding items that are being phased out or discontinued on eBay.

StuyTownFullofYunnies said...

I located audio recording tapes being sold on eBay:

http://shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=m38.l1313&_nkw=audio+cassette+tapes&_sacat=See-All-Categories

I often have luck finding items that are being phased out or have been discontinued there.

Beth said...

I just bought a 10-pack of audiocassettes at Target. This was a kind of co-dependence on my part, as I have been trying to convince my partner the journalist to go digital.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Digital is the way to go, I guess. It's hard to change old ways.

Carol Gardens said...

The last time I did an interview (with the globehoppin' host of a reality competition show) I whipped out my old cassette recorder and he LAUGHED. Then he showed me all the features on his tiny digital recorder. Although my devotion to obsolete technology was probably endearing, the digital ones really are a good idea because you can download the recording and send it to your editor/trascriber via email. Otherwise, you have to get them the physical tape. I still use that Radio Shack thingie that plugs into the wall jack and into the phone (not the suction cup one)--it's great!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

You're all right about the digital recorder, I'm sure. But I'm tell you that I know a lot of journalist and almost all of them still have audio recorders—usually that same model by Sony. As for the recording devices that plug into the wall, I know of them. I have relied on the suction cup because they're portable and light, and I am not always at home or in an office when I conduct interviews.

ken mac said...

vidiot has a typewriter and binds his own books. woo hoo! I have audio tubes from the 1940s still in their original military boxes. so there! :)

Re tape vs digital, it is much easier to use a Panasonic foot controlled transcriber than the digital recorder for playing back and transcribing interviews. No comparison. You need three hands to type and control the digi deck. Even if you put the feed into the computer the foot transcriber is faster...

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Other things I don't have that people say I need: a microwave, cable, an iPhone, an iPod, a Blackberry, a car, a fridge with an ice-dispenser. I had a niece from the Midwest visit recently and mentioned filling up the ice trays to her. She said, "What's an ice tray?"

clr said...

J&R still has a decent selection of tape recorders.

BM said...

For what it's worth, I have an Olympus foot-pedal transcribing kit for my digital recordings. I agree that they would be worthless without it.

Pat said...

The Vermont Country Store sells a portable cassette recorder.