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Taped Talking

February 22nd, 2006

Dr Petra

On any basic media training course instructors will explain when a journalist is interviewing you they’re obliged to state when you’re being recorded. Journalism students are also taught to convey to interviewees when they’re being taped.

Unfortunately outside the classroom things are slightly different. Journalists rarely remember to tell interviewees they’re being taped, and it’s only experience of being interviewed that leads to a realisation you’ve been recorded. My rule of thumb with journalists calling for quotes is they probably are taping so to be clear, concise and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want appearing in print.

Radio is slightly different. Usually with radio you know when you’re being recorded. If you’re live in a studio the lights or signs illuminate when you’re on air. If you’re being recorded via phone you’ll be told when you’re being transferred to the studio and will hear a difference in sound quality. And if a journalist comes to interview you you’ll be sitting talking into a microphone so it’s hard to miss the recording experience.

This week I had an amazing experience with a local radio station that’s up there in my ‘bad media practice’ list. I was asked to contribute to a programme reporting on a local sex issue. They wanted to record me the following day and I’d asked for them to confirm our interview time later that evening. No call came, but they did ring promptly early in the morning. For some reason the first call went to voicemail but I picked up the second one and began talking to who I thought was a researcher about what I thought was the issue we’d shortly be discussing on tape.

As we covered various issues I became aware this wasn’t a pre-record discussion. I’d no idea whether I was being taped for inclusion in a later programme, or whether I was live on air. I just knew I wasn’t having a preparatory chat. It’s just as well I made that connection, because I do talk differently when I’m off air. I speak faster, will be more direct and often more casual. Luckily for me I realised in time to stop myself insulting various local officials and causing a whole lot of bother.

At no time was I told I was being recorded or what was going on. Presumably whoever had spoken to me the previous day had conveyed I was fine for interview, but this wasn’t checked.

If they had checked they might have discovered that I had a different number to use – a landline not a mobile – which would have delivered better sound quality. A pre-interview chat could have focused our conversation and ensured key- issues were covered. It would have checked if it were convenient for me to talk, and reminded me I was being taped so I could ensure for the time I was speaking I could keep things quiet.

I emailed the radio station afterwards to inquire if I was live on air or being taped for a later show. I suggested for future programmes they might want to make this clear to contributors to ensure all parties were happy.

And I got absolutely nothing back in reply. No ‘thanks for participating’, no ‘sorry we didn’t make things clear what was happening’, or ‘thanks for pointing out this problem to us’. I still have no idea if I was taped for a later show (and if my quotes were used) or if I was live on air.

If I was a media novice that experience could have put me off for life. It could also have caused me lots of professional problems if I’d thought I was talking casually, not live (or as live). It’s no comfort to think ‘it’s just a local station’ – if you say the wrong thing on air anywhere you can end up with lots of personal and professional problems.

It’s all very well having training that implies you’ll always be told when you’re being taped – but it’s about time media training got real and told us to always to assume you’re being recorded. And sometimes you might even be live on air.

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