How Journalists are Using Otter

. 4 min read

Since graduating college in the early 1990s, I have had a variety of media-related jobs, and during this time the field has been massively disrupted by technology in well-documented ways. The advent of powerful online search capabilities, social media and, of course, the Internet itself has revolutionized the media world. And while the Otter transcription app, may not make a difference on the scale of Google or Twitter, it is already making a significant impact among those who use it.

To offer an example, I can start with my own work. I’m currently editing my first feature-length documentary film, and have 200+ hours of footage, including many interviews. Transcription can be a major pain, especially since you need accurate time codes to find specific moments. Transcription services aren’t cheap, and if you do it yourself, it can take an annoyingly long time. This is why Otter Voice Notes— or just Otter for short — is a transcription game changer.

Fortunately, a friend referred me to be a writer for this blog, as I hadn’t yet heard of Otter. So when I tried out the app on some footage that I needed transcribed, I was shocked. Yes, I’m being paid to write this article, but I had a real “holy $&*%!” moment, as Otter is a most impressive tool. No, it’s not always 100 percent accurate, especially when transcribing voices with strong foreign accents, but the AI tech it uses makes it much better than any program I have tried before, and it really does save time. Suddenly, my massive transcription workload isn’t so immense anymore, and Otter has significantly sped up my workflow. (Otter.ai currently offers up to 600 minutes per month of free Otter usage, which is quite helpful when you are still seeking funds for your project and need to scrimp and save, like this documentary maker.)

But you shouldn’t just take it from the guy being paid to write about it, so I reached out to a couple of working media professionals, who had praised Otter publicly, for their views.

Jeremy Caplan, Director of Education for the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, recently gave Otter a positive mention in a Medium post, so I emailed him. Although he had previously expressed admiration for Otter, he made it clear that he didn’t want to come off as a marketer. Still, when I caught up with him in his office, he had plenty of positive things to say about the app.

“We went from spending a dollar a minute, and waiting days to get back your transcript, to having an almost instant transcription done with quite a great degree of accuracy and with spending very little,” he said. “You may be using 600 minutes of transcription for free with Otter, and it’s a few bucks a month if you’re a teacher, or maybe $10 a month if you’re not. For those of us who rely on transcription, that seems really fair and quite affordable for the service you get.”

He also said that he envisions using it more: “Increasingly, because of the ease of use of the tool, and because of its low cost, I can pretty much justify using it for just about every meeting, so I can have a record of it and we can look back on it and search it. So that means it may be something I eventually use every day.”

“What sets Otter apart is the quick and easy transcription and integrations with other recording apps…”

I also spoke with Dom Nicastro, a Boston-based staff reporter at CMSWire, which covers digital customer experience, workplace technologies and intelligent information management, and is read by many influential digital and marketing executives. Nicastro also was a quick convert to Otter, and had high praise for its capabilities.

“It’s the best. Before Otter, I would simply record calls, and then listen to interviews and transcribe them myself. The transcription apps I did try were too pricy and/or clunky. What sets Otter apart is the quick and easy transcription and integrations with other recording apps, and, frankly, its free version, which is what I use.”

He acknowledged that, while not yet perfect, it is incredibly useful.

“Do I verify the transcription accuracy by listening to calls? Of course. I want to be thorough. But if I were on a deadline and needed to quickly produce some quotes from the Otter environment, I would trust it. Reporters want to get information and commentary fast from old interviews, and Otter’s search function is on point. The way it detects keywords and displays them as tags in each recording is super helpful.”

Other journalists are reaping the benefits of Otter. Fast Company writer Jared Newman began a May 10 story by writing, “As a journalist, I’m always looking for a better way to record and go over my interviews without spending hours on transcription. Lately I’ve been leaning toward using Otter.”

The Techcrunch review of Otter when it was launched on Feb. 26 — and the app has been upgraded since then — praised it for being “useful for just getting to the right part of a long recording, so you can then more carefully transcribe a key part or quote, for example.”

An article in Forbes on May 30 also praised Otter’s ability to transcribe, index and search: “Otter moves this ball well forward with its AI-driven voice recognition technology. [Otter] can transcribe conversations in real time, creating a transcript that it synchronizes with the audio, so that it’s possible to switch back and forth between recording and text. Otter also makes audio immediately searchable.”

Looking toward the future, CMSWire’s Nicastro said he was excited about further innovations that could help him as a journalist.

“What if you could take foreign-language recordings and immediately translate them into your native language? I trust there is a massive need for this with global companies.”

But even in its current form, Nicastro is very pleased with Otter.

“I’m a pretty low-maintenance reporter who’s incredibly happy with Otter for what I need. It’s actually made me a more effective, productive reporter — that’s what we strive for. Lack of accuracy equals lack of credibility. Journalists without credibility, especially in our ‘Fake News’ era, are forgotten fast.”

Throw in Otter's excellent privacy policy, and you have an awesomely useful app that does transcription right.


Joel Gershon is an adjunct professor at American University School of Communication. He has written and produced print and broadcast work for many news organizations including: CNN, Monocle, Wired and New York Magazine, and he was a TV reporter, producer and editor for the National News Bureau of Thailand for three years. He will soon release his first feature-length documentary film “Cirque du Cambodia”’in early-2019.



Joel Gershon

Joel Gershon teaches Media Studies at American University and has written and produced for news outlets such as CNN, Monocle, and Wired. His first documentary film "Cirque du Cambodia." is coming.