WaPo Journalist a 150 WPM Typist?

fasttypeFormer vice president Al Gore recently allegedly told Washington Post columnist/blogger Ezra Klein that, “The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6. The fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over these storms and extreme weather events.”

Turns out that no such additional category is in the works. Klein attributes the misstatement to his transcription error. He writes,

But this was also a segment of the interview in which I remembered struggling to keep up with Gore, and when that happens, some nuance can get lost. (A note on methods: In most cases, including this one, I transcribe these interviews in real time, with a tape recorder as back-up. I also, as is always mentioned in the introduction to the interviews, lightly edit for length, clarity, and redundancy). I’m out-of-town and so away from my tape recorder. So I asked Gore’s staff about the line and they have Gore saying: “The scientists are now adding category six to the hurricane…some are proposing we add category 6 to the hurricane scale that used to be 1-5.”

Knowing a thing or two about transcription and audio recording myself, this is what I posted in the comments section of his blog:

Surely Ezra you must not use an ancient tape recorder – it’s got to be a digital recorder, correct? So why would you have staff listen to it and re-transcribe it – why not just have them e-mail you the link to the audio file so YOU can do the transcribing? Better yet, why not have someone handy with audio editing simply create an audio excerpt of the section in question, post it on your site, and let us readers/listeners decide what Gore said?

Moreover you said you transcribe your interviews in real time. That’s surprising. Because extremely few people can type at 150 words a minute, which is about how fast most people speak. It means either that you know shorthand, or that you know stenography (and use a stenotype machine). I would thing both are very unlikely. So tell us Ezra, what’s your secret to such fast typing skills?

(End comment.)

It’s possible that Mr. Klein does know shorthand – way back when, before the age of electronic recorders, most journalists knew shorthand and a few of them still know it (I recall Walter Isaacson mentioning that he knows it). But if it turns out that Mr. Klein cannot in fact write or type at 150 words a minute, and only types anywhere from 40 to 70 WPM which is more likely, then I would recommend to him that he bases crucial statements in his articles on the transcribed recordings of the interview, and not on his own “transcription,” which is probably more like his notes.

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