The Tao of de-umming

When you listen to a pre-recorded interview on the radio you probably don't realize how much editing has taken place. Even experienced politicians sometimes um and er, and of course in the BBC World Service we get interviewees whose English is less than fluent.

Some interviews would become very tiresome to listen to if they weren't edited, so it's normal, when time allows, to go through the interview and tidy it up (known as 'de-umming'). Nowadays of course it's done with a computer editing system, but we used to do it on open-reel tape. The most edits I ever had (I actually counted the number of pieces of sticky tape as they went past on-air) was 75 in a three-minute interview, though this is abnormally high.

Though it would be technically possible to alter the meaning of what was being said, one never does so - quite apart from behaving responsibly, you would never hear the end of the repercussions. A skilled editor will maintain the natural rhythms of the speaker, while getting rid of the hesitations. I once edited an interview (recorded over a line) with some foreign politician who was asked an awkward question, and paused for a very long time before (fairly obviously) lying in his teeth. I couldn't leave the original pause in - listeners would have thought they'd lost the station - but I left sufficient to maintain the feeling of the way he originally reacted.

However we did have one interesting situation: a producer handed me a recording of a public statement by someone which contained a lot of ums and ers, and told me to de-um it. I refused, on the grounds that, whereas we de-ummed interviews which were never heard publicly in their original form, this was already in the public domain and to alter it would be changing something people had already heard. A fine point: but after some discussion the supervising editor decided I was correct and the statement went out as originally made.

Of course television can't do this, though obviously they can shorten the interview by using cutaways to the interviewer to cover the joints: and of course location interviews are done with only one camera, so questions and reactions are filmed afterwards to be cut in - this became a plot point in the film Broadcast News .

Posted: Fri - October 6, 2006 at 10:00 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM