Using Skype as a Community Media Production Tool

I'm a big fan of the Charlie Rose interview show on public television. Charlie Rose has a knack for drawing people out, getting them to share their ideas and views in a way that illuminates. 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's going to interview all those people? Answer: the people will interview the people. What tool will they use to do this? Skype. How will these interviews be shared? Over the Internet, via public access television stations, via podcasting and via 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, with the other person's permission, 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.

I've been doing some experiments recording Skype interviews and am writing this article to pass along some tips and pointers. If you'd like to see the results of a Skype interview right away, see this QuickTime segment of an interview with Taran Rampersad of Trinidad & Tobago. I recorded this interview from my house in Arlington, Virginia. Taran is one of the interesting people on the Digital Divide Network email list and even before the interview started I knew I was in for a great treat talking 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). (See the Nov. 9, 2004, pdf file at for instructions on how to do this.)

Here is how my experiments with Skype interviewing have been progressing. I used the Windows version of Skype for these, as the Mac version was not yet finished. 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. (i.e. Me.)

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. After spending some time working on the interview with Taran Rampersad I asked Taran if he could assist me. I sent him some of the files as uncompressed wav files that he could edit using Audacity open source audio software. ( Since the files were large, I used the free service called

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.

I also learned a few other things. 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.

I also learned that when doing an interview of this type, it's perfectly fine to start a segment of the interview over, if either the interviewer or interviewee is not happy with how a segment of the interview progressed.

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.

You can even 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.)

I learned that the questions for a general background interview are almost irrelevant. Adding them in took too much work. The answers to the interview questions stood well on their own.

I am buoyant that Skype will allow a flourishing of interviews with an audio quality that was never 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. Community media people are beginning to realize Skype may 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. Thanks are owed to Lauren-Glenn Davitian of CCTV in Burlington, Vermont, for coaxing this article into existence.

Grateful thanks for Taran Rampersad for his collaboration on these experiments.

This article may be freely reprinted in any user group newsletter, community technology center newsletter, public access newsletter or other nonprofit publication.

Return to Phil's web site.