The effort of listening and typing

I should be listening and transcribing.  Matt Zurbo gave me one job and I’m not doing it.  I hope he understands.


Matt’s writing a book about footy.  He’s under deadline.  He asked for volunteers to transcribe some of his interviews.  I volunteered and asked for an interview with a North player.


He sent me his interview with Drew Petrie.  When I downloaded it and discovered it went for 71 minutes, I drew a sharp breath.


I transcribe interviews every day at work.  I love interviewing people.  Some are basic, based on media releases.  Others are guarded if there’s been a police incident or tragedy.  Political interviews are often fun and there are controversial interviews, when hard questions need to be asked.


At work, I try to keep interviews under five minutes.  Often they run two or three minutes, enough for a news story.  An interview that goes longer than five minutes means it takes longer to write the story.


Occasionally, my interviews are in-depth and lengthy.  Some people just love to talk, and if you love to listen, a long interview is unavoidable.


When I do a ten or fifteen minute interview, it’s because I want to.  Interviews that length make great features.  And a question and answer session is the best way to learn.  It’s why journalists know a little bit about a lot of events.  We become shallow experts on everything.


Interviewing is the easy part.  Thanks to high school I can touch type.  I don’t remember the name of my teacher and I hated learning how to type, but when I got to university I realised how valuable it is.  I wish I could thank her.


I have no idea how quick I am, but a three minute interview doesn’t take me three minutes to transcribe.  The ABC’s audio program has a function that slows down the interview.  It makes transcribing quicker because we can type without needing to stop the recording.


Still, transcribing a three minute interview takes at least five minutes.  A 15-minute interview can take about 45-minutes.


I figured Petrie’s 71-minute interview would take between five and ten hours to transcribe.  It would be quicker at work, but at home I have to switch between Word and the media player, and I can’t slow down the recording.


That means I listen to about ten words, stop the recording and switch to Word and type the words.  Then I have to switch back.


All that switching slows me down.


On Sunday night, I poured a beer and went to the computer.  Matt Zurbo needed me.  I was committed to doing it.  My goal was to do 10 minutes.

I set up the computer and hit play.  I was hooked by the one minute mark.


Listening to other people’s interviews is insightful.  I listen intently to the questions, to see if I would’ve asked that question or wonder why a different one wasn’t asked.


There is always another question to ask.


Listening to another person’s interview is also a great way to learn.  You can tell if the interviewer has done their research.


Matt did his research.  He knew where Petrie grew up.  He knew how many games it took until he kicked his first goal.


Petrie talked without inhibitions about his childhood, how it felt to be drafted and his first impressions on North Melbourne.


He was candid, and that’s what an interviewer wants.  What the interviewee wants is someone who knows what they’re talking about.


Matt gave brief snippets of his life to Petrie, about his football career and the men he’d interviewed for his book.  I could sense Matt’s passion.  It helped put Petrie at ease and he knew he was in for an enjoyable interview.


On Sunday night, I let the recording roll on to the thirteen minute mark.  I’d lost track of time.  My beer was empty.  Transcribing wasn’t a chore.  I was learning about Petrie and the struggles of a club without money despite the success.  He talked about playing alongside the legends of that era, and opponents who offered sledges.


On Monday night, I pushed ten minutes out to twelve and got to hear Petrie talk about the passion required to play AFL football.


I was 25 minutes in, seven pages of transcript, and enmeshed in Petrie’s existence at North Melbourne.  He was talking about men I admired who played for a club I loved.


Listening to Matt’s interview gave me a sense of privilege.  I’ve seen Petrie interviewed plenty of times on TV and radio, but none of them went beyond five minutes.  I’ve never heard him talk about bills and the first phone call he received from Pagan.


I’d never even thought about doing a 71-minute interview with Petrie.


And tonight, instead of doing transcribing, I’m writing about an interview I should be transcribing.  Matt Zurbo is probably sighing and thinking, you had one job, it’s another lost night and the deadline is a day closer.


Apologies Matt.  I’ll get right back on the job.  I just thought I’d let the people know that by helping you finish your book, they’re going to learn a lot about football and the people who make the game so great.


So if anyone in the Almanac world knows how to use headphones and a keyboard, and has a few hours to spare, let Matt know.


The effort of listening and typing will be worth it.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Dave Brown says

    It’s great fun, isn’t it Matt? I’m 40 minutes into a two hour interview with Ben Rutten at the moment. Hearing a couple of old school defenders talk about the art is brilliant.

  2. Hmmm, a black market in Zurbo bootleg interview tapes?

  3. Mark Duffett says

    Spot on, Matt. I’m having much more fun than I expected with Russell Robertson, albeit I don’t think I could sustain over a hundred minutes like you blokes. I find myself wanting to keep going so I can hear what happens next.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    I’m embarrassed to be reminded of this worthy effort by Zurbs. I put my hand up many months ago, with some misgivings. My considerable interest in the project and keeness to help Matt who is a great bloke, as most Almanackers are well aware motivated me to offer to help. As an idle retiree, I have the time. However, my hearing disability and my minimal keyboard skills proved insurmountable obstacles. Some time ago I conceded that the Robbie Flower tape (75 minutes) was beyond me; to my discredit, I was too craven to advise Matt, although I’m pretty sure he had realised that I wasn’t going to be able to deliver. So I hope that you’ll read this as the apology which I should have sent sooner, Matt.

    I was particularly shocked by Tulip’s untimely death which served as a reminder of one of those jobs I know that I should have done, but had procrastinated on, hoping somehow that the finished product might magically materialise.

    Given that acknowledgement, I’m probably the last person who can legitimately encourage others to tackle the task. However I would endorse Matt Watson’s recommendation. It’s a fascinating exercise, so for anyone whose skill set is better than mine proved to be, I’m sure that it would prove to be a worthwhile endeavour. Zurbs is worth supporting, in any case and it would be great to see this project come to fruition.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Haha, Matt you bloody legend! All of you are! What a corker piece.

    At the end of our interview Dennis Pagan said, “Oh, ah, well, that was a rather long chat!”

    Peter, don’t stress! Very grateful that you even had a crack! Just quietly, I did the Robbie interview myself and it was a dream! So sad knowing what happened, especially as we planned to meet again. I hope you enjoyed listening to it.

    Rob C. I lost the USB back-up stick for a day, with 80% of the audios, and all their off the record stuff. Shat myself! Haha. Then found it.

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