Because NPR is primarily audio-based, many of our shows are transcribed so a written record can be produced. That's a lot of transcripts when you think about it. NPR's very own transcripts czarina, Dorothy Hickson has written up a short FAQ on NPR's transcription process.
Do you type the transcripts yourself?
No. Our transcripts are typed and edited by outside contractors. They send them to NPR electronically, and our software forwards them on to other databases such as LexisNexis, Dow Jones Factiva, ProQuest and eLibrary.
My job includes troubleshooting this process, spot-checking for quality issues, and fixing name spellings. I and my part-time temp staff do check a portion of the transcripts against the audio, but the sheer volume of content prevents us from proofreading every piece
Why isn't the transcript ready at the same time as the show airs?
The transcript is intended to be a record of exactly what was broadcast. Therefore, transcripts cannot be prepared in advance. The transcribers use the first and final feeds of each program to prepare as full a transcript as possible.
What's a first and final feed?
Because the U.S. is divided into four times zones (well - it's actually more like six or seven including Hawaii and Alaska) our news shows roll over to accommodate the time change. Let's say All Things Considered airs at 4:00 EST. That's too early to air on the west coast so NPR records the show, makes updates as necessary, then airs the show again at 4:00 PT. We refer to our ET show as the first feed and the PT show as the final feed.
Different stations across the country make their own decisions about which, and how many, feeds to air. Morning Edition runs for a total of seven hours, which can mean a lot of updates on a day in which news is breaking. More often though, changes between feeds are small.
Why don't you use voice-recognition software?
NPR does use voice-recognition software for behind-the-scenes searching purposes on npr.org. If you search for a brand-new story that has not been transcribed yet, you may notice search results that say "[Automated preliminary transcripts may contain errors]..." The automated transcript is accurate enough to help find your search results, but not nearly accurate enough to be read and archived.