ATC Client Spotlight: Carmen Fields

While we’ve had the pleasure of working with many incredible clients throughout our 56 years in business, working with Pulitzer-winning journalist Carmen Fields was definitely a highlight for us. Carmen is a legend in her field, having led a long and storied career in print and broadcast journalism that’s led her to be named one of “Boston’s 100 Most Influential People” by Get Konnected™ and recognized as a “Legend of Roxbury” by Roxbury Community College Foundation for her pioneering work as a black woman in broadcast media. 

But Carmen isn’t only a journalist––she’s also an author. Her soon-to-be-published debut work, “Going Back to T-Town: The Ernie Fields Territory Big Band” is a memoir detailing the career of her father, big-band leader Ernie Fields. At ATC, we had the immense honor of helping her digitize analog cassette tapes and transcribing the contents for use in her upcoming memoir, and while we eagerly await the published book, we thought we’d share one of Carmen’s more recent newsworthy projects here in Greater Boston. 

A multicolor digital painting of journalist Carmen Fields with text below reading "Black Authors Collection Donated by Carmen Fields" and subtext reading "Doctor, Humane Letters '92" by Salem State University.

The Salem State Donation

Last year, Carmen made a groundbreaking donation to the Salem State University Library––her extensive personal collection of books by Black authors which featured several signed, first-edition works by authors including Maya Angelou, Colin Powell, Alice Walker, and Muhummad Ali. The collection also included landmark works by Zora Neale Hurston, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Barack Obama, and Dr. Martin Luther King, all of which are currently in circulation at the university’s library. 

This exceptional collection from Carmen, generously donated to Salem State, has served to enrich the lives and cultural literacy of the student body, as well as to help introduce students of all backgrounds to critical texts by Black authors that have shaped history. The importance and impact of such a donation cannot be overstated, and is only one of many reasons we are so honored to count Carmen amongst our clientele here at ATC

Tough Transcripts: ATC & Problem-Solving

By now, you’ve probably heard us talk quite a bit about accuracy: how important accuracy is to us, how important accuracy is to our clients, and how our reputation is staked on our extremely high level of accuracy. But there’s more to ATC than just our accuracy. For today’s blog we thought we’d discuss another cornerstone trait of our business and our team: problem solving. 

a solved rubix cube sits on a plain background, representing the Audio Transcription Center's ability to problem-solve when it comes to difficult transcription projects.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Like many businesses before us (and surely many that will come after), we pride ourselves at ATC on our problem-solving abilities. Different industries have different arrays of issues that they face on a daily basis. For instance, at your favorite coffee shop, the problem-solving skills may orient themselves towards handling irritable morning commuters, keeping the different milks stocked and syrups organized, etc. In many ways, we’re no different! Transcription service comes with its own set of unique problems, and we’re ready to handle them.

Maybe we’re biased (ok, we definitely are), but we feel that our team is uniquely equipped for solving the hiccups that come up on an everyday basis. The diversity of our remote team of transcriptionists means that an extremely wide variety of personal interests, degrees, and fields of knowledge are represented, giving us an arsenal of varied expertise that means that we can tackle anything our clients throw at us. And throw they do––whether it’s technical issues relating to uploading and downloading files, difficult, aged audio recordings, hyper-specific grammar and formatting requirements, migrating and digitizing content from old and obsolete pieces of technology, translating and transcribing foreign language audio, and so, so much more, we’ve learned and adapted to handling it all, and handling it fast. We have always relied on our team to use their collective brainpower to solve any problem that comes our way. And that trust has carried us through over 50 years of business. 

So, when you’ve got an old, scratchy recording, or a collection of dusty tapes full of overlapping dialogue, or an oral history in a Spanish dialect, or any problem relating to transcription you can think of, who you gonna call? 

ATC! 

The Importance of a Customized Transcript

There are so many things that we customize in our lives, from things as big in scope as the interiors of our homes to things as minute as our shower playlists. But when it comes to transcription, the concept of a customized transcript––matching the client’s content to a transcriptionist with knowledge or background in the topic––is still novel. We don’t know of any other transcription services that utilize this method besides ourselves, probably because it takes a larger, more diverse team, not to mention that the team must be human (not computer AI) and therefore will come with a higher cost to maintain. But customizing your transcript by selecting the perfect transcriptionist for the job has always been worth it to us––because it’s intimately tied to our reputation for accuracy

workplace of modern artist with keyboard representing the Audio Transcription Center's ability to provide a customized transcript for each client
Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

When we choose a transcriptionist (or transcriptionists) to work on the audio you provide us, we have a lot of talent to choose from. Our remote team is spread throughout the nation, with a wide variety of backgrounds. Everything from their personal lives to their interests are different, but what ties our team together is their education and their exacting attention to detail. 

When a client presents a new project for us at ATC, one of the most important parts in the process of us delivering them an incredibly accurate, perfectly-formatted customized transcript actually happens at the very beginning. The questions that we ask up front––questions about what the project is about, the contents of the audio files, the client’s particular needs, and the time frame in which they need the transcripts delivered––help us determine what is arguably the most important part in our entire work process: which transcriptionist or transcriptionists will be handling your audio! 

We choose transcriptionists based on every project, and every project is unique, even if it seems similar at a glance to something we’ve worked on before. The speakers, the accents, and the nuances of the dialogue in each recording are all crucial pieces of the customization puzzle, and matching content to the right transcriptionist is at the heart of our ability to provide a guarantee of 99% accuracy at a minimum. After all, who better to transcribe audio with a thick Boston accent than a Bostonian, or to transcribe a lecture on Torah education by Elie Wiesel than someone with a Jewish background? While these may not be details that other services take into account, we believe at ATC that custom-matching your content to the person best equipped to understand all the subtle gradations of it is the key to providing each and every client with a customized transcript that we can be proud of, every time. 

ATC Client Spotlight: 92NY

At ATC, something that we take very seriously is the concept of transcription as history-making; the idea that when we set down speech in writing, we are engaging in the act of creating history, setting in stone, so to speak, something ephemeral. While we’ve worked on many projects throughout the decades that we feel fit this idea, there is perhaps no project that better exemplifies it than our work for cultural and community center 92NY on the Elie Wiesel Living Archive. But before we delve into the intricacies of that project––and the great honor that it was for us to be part of it––allow us to introduce 92NY to those who may be unfamiliar with the organization and their work. 

Founded as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1874––often referred to as the YMHA or simply “the Y”––92NY began as a secular organization with the aim of enriching the social and literary lives of its members. Originally offering activities such as musical performances, literary readings, fitness classes, and various forms of adult education (such as ESL classes for New York’s immigrant population), the YMHA grew steadily throughout the years, eventually rebranding as 92nd Street Y, or 92Y, in 1975. Nowadays, the organization has vastly expanded its programming, offering a myriad of classes, talks, performances, screenings, readings, and resources to New York residents, both within the Jewish community as well as outside of it. This year, to better represent its roots and history in NYC, the organization rebranded once more as The 92nd St Y, New York––or 92NY for short.

The Elie Wiesel Living Archive

In 2020 and 2021, 92NY set out to accomplish something that would make history––to digitize Professor Elie Wiesel’s 180 lectures, readings, and conversations that took place over the course of over 45 years at various 92NY facilities. Elie Wiesel, a renowned political activist, Nobel laureate, author, and Holocaust survivor, is one of the most respected and influential Jewish figures of the 20th and 21st centuries, and 92NY recognized that the contents of his many lectures required careful, delicate, and accurate preservation. We at ATC are incredibly honored to have been chosen to transcribe all of Professor Wiesel’s lectures––an act of history-making that we undertook with the utmost care. With many of us having Jewish cultural backgrounds ourselves (including our founder, Sandy Poritzky, a first generation American who grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home), it’s impossible to describe the reverence with which we handled this project, as well as the pride that we take in having transcribed and captioned Professor Wiesel’s lectures with an exhaustive level of cultural sensitivity, accuracy, and consideration. 

The Elie Wiesel Living Archive is now available for learners of all ages and backgrounds online at the 92NY website. We consider it a veritable treasure trove of Jewish history, Torah education, cultural education, and, in 92NY’s own words, “an essential guide in ethics, human rights, and memory in the wake of the Holocaust.” We strongly encourage you to take a look. 

Strict, Structured, & Stringent: The Rules of Transcription Formatting

One of the most common workplace “culture shocks” that we see from applicants looking to work with us at ATC is over our transcription formatting. Our Style Guidelines document that we send to every new transcriptionist we bring on the team is a whopping 45 pages long, full of obscure punctuation rules, hyper-specific grammar guidelines, and nitty-gritty details on anything that our transcriptionists might come across in any audio that we send them. But the one question we don’t often have the opportunity to address is a simple one: why? 

a woman in headphones sits at a desk in front of a computer displaying audio files for transcription formatting

Well, the short answer is: it’s complicated. We put together each and every rule in our Style Guidelines document for a reason––none of them are there randomly, or just to purposefully cause confusion and create extra work (although they do often serve that purpose too). Transcription formatting has to be specific for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that a transcript needs to be above all readable and easy to follow. When you think about the purpose of transcripts, you’ll see why that’s the case: whether to set down in words a vital oral history, make scannable a lecture given by an important historical or cultural figure, or to simply create readable, captioned audio for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities, there are countless reasons that transcriptions play a fundamental role in various parts of society––and countless more reasons that they must be cleanly formatted for readability and coherence. 

Consider this example: if you’ve read our recent Client Spotlight blogs, you know that we had the immense honor of working to transcribe 180 lectures from Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel for the digitization of the Elie Wiesel Living Archive at 92NY. You can imagine the kind of care and sensitivity that goes into transcribing such a vast amount of knowledge from a person that has a critical significance to communities around the world both historical and religious. If we were to have transcribed those lectures without the formatting rules in our Style Guidelines in place, what might that have looked like? One lecture formatted this way, another one formatted that way, perhaps another formatted not at all––just words on a page with no speaker attributions, no timestamps, no method of determining who said what, when, and where. Thousands of students, not to mention academic professionals, across the globe might cite this transcription work in their research papers or theses, and they might attribute a quote to Elie Wiesel that was actually spoken by an interviewer, or a friend, or even a member of an oppressive power structure. They may think that a lecture they read was transcribed verbatim when it was not; they may even form opinions based on transcripts that are a little off at best, or dangerously misleading at worst. 

This is just one example of many that show the importance of a strict formatting structure in transcription. We’ve also transcribed multiple Presidential oral histories, as well as oral histories from the House of Representatives, the Federal Reserve System, and many of the leading academic and archival centers in the country. To misstep on our transcription work for any of these organizations––or any of our clients in general––could have a ripple effect that we take extremely seriously. To transcribe is to present a history, to help create a history, and that’s an act that we can never take lightly. 

There’s so much more we could say about our in-house formatting guidelines; after all, there’s a novella’s worth of them, and we recognize (and sympathize!) with applicants hoping to work with us or any newly minted transcriptionists anywhere trying to learn the ropes. It isn’t easy––but then again, things that are important rarely are. At the end of the day, we trust our incredibly talented transcription team to care about all the little details––down to every em dash––because they know that they’re making history along the way. 

AI vs Human Transcription: the Nitty-Gritty

In a recent post, we discussed what we call “Forensic Transcription”––a term we use not to indicate transcription work relating to crime investigation, but to refer to our specific method here at ATC of approaching each project we undertake with a meticulous, detail-oriented attitude. This approach has earned us our reputation as a top transcription service, with a focus on accuracy above all that we continue to stake our reputation on. We have never strayed from our guarantee of at least 99% accuracy or no charge, and we don’t ever intend to. 

But what really is “forensic transcription”, and why isn’t AI capable of it? After all, we don’t deny that AI technology has come a long way, even in just the past year. AI vs human transcription is a hot topic right now. AI transcription services abound––a simple Google search pulls up thousands of them, many of which boast low prices, incredibly fast turnaround, and even free trials. So what’s the missing link? Why hasn’t AI taken over the transcription market completely?

a robot hand and a human hand reach towards each other, not quite touching, meant to represent AI vs human transcription
Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

The answer is simple: accuracy. While the majority of the AI transcription services you might pull up in a search will boast on cost and speed, accuracy is not a term so often bandied about. AI has grown more accurate as it has continued to develop, particularly if you’re working with broadcast-quality audio, crystal-clear speech, and simple terms. 

But rarely are recordings so cut-and-dry. The moment you add in, say, accents, foreign language excerpts, false starts, overlapping dialogue, technical jargon, or lower quality audio––all things that we can confidently say after over 50 years of transcription are pretty commonplace––AI struggles. As the tech currently stands in the struggle of AI vs human transcription, it still takes human brainpower to work through the complexities and nuances of most audio, and this kind of meticulous accuracy becomes particularly important depending on the project being transcribed.

Where AI transcription may work for a funny YouTube video about adding Mentos to Pepsi, where a lower level of accuracy is acceptable and the main focus of the content is in the visuals, it does not work well for a serious oral history recording from decades ago pertaining to a culturally significant topic, where foreign language excerpts, accents, audio quality, and specific terminology will all cause AI to falter. Projects of an academic, historical, or culturally important nature require the sensitivity and care of humans––and it is this truth that has guided us in our “forensic” approach to transcription, and will continue to guide us through projects to come, no matter the challenges. 

ATC Client Spotlight: Judith Bishop

For this month’s Client Spotlight blog, we wanted to introduce broadcast producer and reporter Judith Bishop. Currently based in Miami, Judith has worked in broadcast journalism for over 40 years––decades of experience that led her to write her first book “Changing Channels: From Just the Facts to Outrageous Opinions” as well as to begin hosting her podcast “More on the Story.” Since we consider ourselves fans of the truth here at ATC, we’re excited to share more on Judith’s recent work, but first, allow us to offer some background. 

Judith began her career in broadcast reporting in 1975 when she took a position as a television news anchor and reporter at WTVG in New Jersey, where she quickly rose through the ranks covering the latest in the political and business news of the day. During her early career, she covered multiple Democratic National Conventions, and was also responsible for several high-profile interview programs hosted by some of the biggest names in TV news, including Al Roker, Dick Cavett, and Tim Russert. Judith was also responsible for producing many programs at CNBC––thirty of which are now recorded in the permanent archives at The Paley Center. She’s worn a lot of hats throughout her career as a veteran journalist, from helping coordinate the launch of “HARDBALL with Chris Matthews” to producing documentaries and year-end specials, and now she’s adding podcast hosting and writing to her impressive resumé. 

Changing Channels: From Just the Facts to Outrageous Opinions

At ATC, we had the pleasure of helping Judith in the creation process of her debut book, which she wrote as “an examination of television journalism in the age of Trump.” An integral piece of the publication was the inclusion of interview snippets and extensive quotes from industry insiders, including famous TV news anchors, reporters, and more––and that’s where we came in. Working with Judith to provide fast and highly accurate, verbatim transcripts from these sources was both challenging and incredibly fascinating for those members of our team that had the opportunity to contribute the transcription, and we’re thrilled that Judith described us as “a one-stop shop for verbatim transcriptions at rapid speed and a fair price.” 

“Changing Channels” is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookstore. It’s a captivating exploration of the world of TV news in our modern era, asking––and answering––some of the deepest and most compelling questions about the ways that television news has come under public scrutiny in the time during and after the Trump presidency. We think it’s both a thoughtful and a critical examination of the search for truth in media, and we heartily recommend it to those looking to hear about the world of TV news by those who know it best. Her podcast “More on the Story” is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Forensic Transcription

IT’S HIDDEN IN THE DETAILS

Forensic transcription doesn’t refer to scientific work in a crime lab, but instead describes our analytical, detail-oriented approach to each client’s project. It is our approach, and our clients’ understanding, that we will pay attention to the minutiae of each and every project we receive: audio, video, handwritten, or any other type of content that we’re given by every client. 

At the Audio Transcription Center, we’ve spent the better part of our 56 years in business investigating changing technologies to always improve upon how best to transcribe our clients’ recordings and materials. But our methods have always stuck true to our beginnings: harnessing the power of human ingenuity and critical thinking first and foremost. 

It is through this forensic approach by our all-human team that we’re able to understand that each project has its own set of exciting challenges, and requires a level of attention to detail that artificial intelligence and other services just don’t provide. 

At the Audio Transcription Center, nothing about our intelligence is artificial.

Accents, Artificial Intelligence and Humans.

Accents. There are an estimated 30 accents that span the landscape of the United States. Tell me, if we as humans have a hard enough time parsing out the dropped “Rs” in words from a Bostonian (please note we’re a bunch of Bostonians here at ATC), how is Artificial Intelligence (AI) ready and able to do so? It isn’t!

There’s a reason we continue to be used as a human test-case against AI.

Is the adaptability of artificial intelligence’s deep learning modules able to discern all of these accents, colloquialisms, and dialects the same as the adaptability of a human team of transcriptionists? We think not. Who better to transcribe that Bostonian than fellow Bostonians? Who better to comprehend the words and colloquialisms from recordings of oral histories from folks in New Orleans (for instance) than people from New Orleans? We’ve been custom-matching client content to every human transcriptionist for 55 years, and we’ll keep doing so. We guarantee it!

Lastly, I know when I talk to the AI of my phone asking it one question or another, inevitably, it gets something wrong every time. And mind you, I’m somehow one of those Bostonians who no one ever believes is actually a Bostonian. Yet, it still has a hard time understanding me. Go figure.

At the Audio Transcription Center, nothing about our intelligence is artificial!

SUPERIOR TRANSCRIPTS REQUIRE MORE THAN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE!

Time and again we’ve tested, measured, and evaluated voice recognition software to determine their highest possible accuracy level. We have determined that with broadcast-quality audio of two well-spoken people, AI can presently reach 96% accuracy, at best. Translated that means approximately 10 errors per page versus our greater than 99% accuracy rate resulting in an average 2.5 errors per page.

So what does AI continue to have difficulty with?

  • less than broadcast-quality audio
  • multiple voices (interviews with 2 or more people, multi-person focus groups, etc.)
  • accents
  • ambient noise
  • special vocabulary
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling

Our production team custom-matches our clients’ subject matter to each transcriptionist’s particular strengths, knowledge, and interests. Our goal is to always make sure that what is said, is what is heard, is what is transcribed. Capturing each recording in a transcript that follows the client’s directions in intricate finite detail. 

We have the most selective hiring standards in our industry. Aside from a minimum typing speed of 80 wpm, we only select people who are well-educated, culturally diverse, intellectually curious, and possess excellent grammar skills.

We are able to quickly mobilize a dedicated team for your time-sensitive projects as well as highly confidential work, and we also have a nationwide team available for projects of any size and subject matter. 

AT THE AUDIO TRANSCRIPTION CENTER
NOTHING ABOUT OUR INTELLIGENCE IS ARTIFICIAL!