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2007 Webby Awards

Using Skype as a Community Media Production Tool
Author: Phil Shapiro, A Sense Of Place Network | April 1st, 2005
Communities: Cool Tools , Community Technology,

Among my favorite public television programs is the Charlie Rose Show. Host Charlie Rose has a knack for getting his interview subjects to share their ideas and views in a way that illuminates the matters at hand. But did you ever stop to think that the only people who appear on his show are celebrities? And that 99 percent of the interesting people in this world are not celebrities?

So, who is going to interview all those people? Answer: the people will interview the people. What tool will they use to create high-quality interviews that can be widely distributed? Skype. How will these interviews be shared? Using all forms of media: the Internet, public access television stations, podcasting and various computer media.

Skype was created as a no-cost long-distance phone service. It does that very well. What it also allows you to do, if you’re just a little technically-minded and have a homebrew gene or two, is to record your Skype phone conversation to an audio file on a second computer. Once you’ve recorded the audio, you can edit out the uhms, ahs and pauses, compress the audio and then place it on the web for public consumption. (Just be sure to get the other person's permission first.)

If you’d like to see the results of a Skype interview right away, here's a good example[QuickTime]. This segment of an interview with DDN member Taran Rampersad was recorded from my house in Arlington, Virginia. Taran, who currently resides in Trinidad & Tobago, is an interesting DDN member, and I knew it would be a treat to talk to him. I used QuickTime Pro and the AppleWorks draw program to marry the audio of this interview with the photo of Taran (supplied by him). For instructions on how to do this, please see my article, "Getting Started With Quicktime Digital Storytelling." [PDF]

My experiments with creating Skype-based interviews utilized the Windows version of Skype, because the Mac version was still being developed. I used an audio splitter on the headphones jack of my Windows computer to split the audio to my headset and then into my iBook. I had a second iBook on hand to record local audio (such as my voice).

I ran the audio line into an iMic and used SoundStudio shareware recording software to record straight to hard drive.

Here is what I learned:

  • Editing out the uhms and ahs from a recorded interview is time-consuming, but worthwhile. Seeking assistance, I sent Taran some of the interview files as uncompressed wav files so that he could edit them using Audacity, an open source audio software. To transfer the large files, I used a free, user-friendly service called "You Send It."

    Taran returned the edited files to me. Since the interview was his interview, it made sense for him to help with editing out the uhms and ahs.

  • If the person you’re interviewing has their microphone too close to their mouth, the audio sounds overdriven. It’s fine to ask them to move their microphone a bit further away from their mouth.

  • When doing an interview of this type, it’s perfectly acceptable to re-record a segment of the interview if either the interviewer or interviewee is not happy with the results.

  • When the interview is collaborative in style, it’s possible for the interviewer to ask the interviewee if there is anything else that ought to be covered. The interviewee can therefore take a much larger role in how the interview progresses.

  • Go back and substitute a word in a sentence if both interviewer and interviewee feel, on retrospect, that a better word would fit in a sentence that was spoken. (Or you could easily re-record that sentence and splice it in seamlessly.)

  • The interview might actually be more interesting if you don't include the questions. Just supply the answers, and be sure the final result makes sense.

    Skype will cultivate an abundance of interviews with an audio quality never so easily possible before. It’s useful to note that not all Skype phone calls have a clear audio signal, so you shouldn’t plan for success the first time you try this. If the person you’re interviewing doesn’t sound clear on the computer they’re using, have them try from a neighbor’s computer or from some other computer they have access to.

    Skype was designed as a free phone service. But it may also be one of the most powerful new tools in the community media arsenal.

    Phil Shapiro
    The author takes an interest in how rich media on the Internet can assist in the creation of social fabric. He can be reached at and at

    This article was originally written for the Community Media Review, the quarterly publication of the Alliance for Community Media.

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