Fieldnote Fun

I’m knee-deep in fieldnotes at the moment, so I thought I’d share a fun excerpt. This comes from the second day of a video training I did with an organization. I’ve made some minor edits for clarity and anonymity.

Last time I said they should think about some things they would like to learn in editing and tell me today. Some things from the first day were how to show multiple videos on top of each other at the same time (ex. by lowering the top layer’s opacity), or how do you show multiple videos separate from each other at the same time like they do in 24. Today, Mike asked how to add photo sound effects like I had in my video about Kibera. Then, the questions started getting a bit more bizarre. Tony, in particular, had a bunch of questions based on stuff he had seen in music videos. One thing he asked was about a music video where it made toy cars look like real cars, and he wanted to know how to do that in editing. Then he said he saw a music video where there were beams of light that went in front of the video. Then he asked how editors make someone look like a zombie. Then he asked if there was a way to make it look like the ring he was wearing had a glare on it so that it was shining in the screen. Someone else then asked if it was possible to cut someone out of a video like you would do in Photoshop. Later in the training, I was showing how you can speed up footage by taking a video of someone running and changing the speed. Someone then asked if I could make this person fly. No, no I cannot.

Before You Transcribe That Interview…

Thankfully, I am almost done transcribing all of my dissertation interviews. While the transcription process helps me get intimately familiar with my “data,” it is also a time-consuming, repetitive, and some-what unpleasant task. It makes my neck cramp, my shoulders tighten up, and my vision blurry. Someone recently gave me a gift certificate for a massage. I think I will redeem that soon.

Although I did the vast majority of these interviews myself, I did hire a transcriptionist for two longer interviews. When reviewing the first one last night, I realized the transcriptionist and I had been using much different approaches. Let me give an example to help illustrate the differences. Here’s an excerpt from one of my interview transcripts:

OK, basically these are stories that I myself have experienced by living here in Kibera. Stories that are touching. Stories that I’ve seen people, from people’s lives, you see. Sometimes you see I look at other people lives and I feel that the life that they are living should be told to the world, should be told to the leaders of this world, so like, so that they can think of what we can do to change this world.

While the hired transcriptionist did not do this interview, I imagine if s/he did, it would look like this:

These are stories that I myself have experienced by living here in Kibera. Stories that are touching. Stories that I’ve seen from people’s lives. Sometimes I look at other people’s lives and I feel that the life that they are living should be told to the world, should be told to the leaders of this world, so that they can think of what we can do to change this world.

As you can see, the second excerpt includes editing of “unnecessary” or “unintentional” or “habitual” words and utterances. I also added a big of grammar editing to top it off.

This got me thinking about the transcription process and wondering how I should present these interviews in the text of my dissertation. So I pulled all the research methods books off my shelves, but the only brief reference I found was in Lindlof & Taylor’s Qualitative Communication Research Methods (2002, p. 206).

Unsatisfied, I did some searches online, and I found that there are actually a few published articles that focus on the process and the significance of transcription. (If you’re interested, I’d recommend “The Politics of Transcription” & “Transcription: Imperatives for Qualitative Research.”)

In Oliver, Serovich, and Mason’s “Constraints and Opportunities with Interview Transcription: Towards Reflection in Qualitative Research” (2005) the authors lay out the differences between the “two dominant modes: naturalism, in which every utterance is transcribed in as much detail as possible, and denaturalism, in which idiosyncratic elements of speech (e.g., stutters, pauses, nonverbals, involuntary vocalizations) are removed” (p. 1273-1274, emphasis mine).

The authors argue there isn’t a clear right way or wrong way to transcribe your interviews. In fact, most researchers use a hybrid of these two approaches. Generally, their decisions are based on epistemological orientations as well as their assessments of what best serves the research objectives. What they do advise is that qualitative researchers take some time early in the research design to reflect on which method of transcription is best for them:

The time affords researchers the ability to deliberate over transcription practices and how it affects participants and the goals of research. In relating these issues to research outcomes, it may be necessary to assess the constraints and opportunities of naturalized or denaturalized transcription. This concerns the nature of the research question and what is being sought in the data. (p. 1286)

Since my transcriptions are mostly finished, I will take this into consideration when incorporating interview quotes in my dissertation and account for that decision in my methods section. But in the future, I plan to work this out much earlier. And get more massages throughout.

Communication, Culture and Human Rights in Africa

I have a chapter in the just-published book Communication, Culture, and Human Rights in Africa (Bala A. Musa and Jerry Domotaub, editors). My chapter is called “Media Activism, Youth Culture and Human Rights Campaigns for the MTV Generation,” and it looks at the organization Invisible Children that focuses on the ongoing conflict in Northern Uganda. I wrote about the Invisible Children for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s a rare example of an organization that was born out of a media production, and the organization continues to be very media savvy. 2) The organization is very successful at attracting young people. 3) I think the original documentary (called Invisible Children: Rough Cut) has some significant flaws, and because the documentary has become the foundation of the organization, those flaws have become indoctrinated into the organization’s culture and practice.

Anyway, I’ve only skimmed the book so far, but it looks to be an interesting volume that brings together a number of communication scholars inside and outside the continent. Check it out!