Getting it done

Mar 16 2015

Six full-time students, five days a week, 50 daily group messages, four computers and a full legislative calendar – that’s how the Capitol Hound team gets it done.

Last semester, I enrolled in the Reese News Lab course and was blasted with an entrepreneurship experience. I had no idea I could be involved in the creation of a brand new product, let alone pitching it in front of a group of prestigious, seemingly intimidating people. But I did it and enjoyed every second of it, even the dreaded Trough of Sorrow.

Upon discovering my newfound interest in entrepreneurship – and when I say new, I mean I can barely even spell the word – I looked into Reese News Lab’s internship.

That’s where Capitol Hound comes in for me. John Clark, the executive director of the Reese News Lab, offered me an opportunity I couldn’t pass up – a position on the Capitol Hound team.

A big team
I had no idea what the product was, what my work would consist of, or why John seemed adamant on having another body. Now I get it. I completely get it. One person down and the whole operation can take a hit.

That might be an exaggeration, but it does make a difference. Six is our lucky number for the amount of time and effort we put into Capitol Hound. With one fewer person, my load alone would double. With six people, we have better flexibility with scheduling. But by no means does that make it easy.

To help you understand why, let me explain how our operation works.

Behind the scenes
Capitol Hound offers transcripts and email alerts for North Carolina General Assembly.

That means that my team has to record the audio of legislative sessions that is streamed online.

Using a program called Audacity, we capture audio from directly from the North Carolina General Assembly website. Once the recording is finished, the file is exported, edited and sent off to transcribers. After we receive the transcripts, we upload them with their corresponding audio recordings to the Capitol Hound database and make them searchable for subscribers. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Actually, the detailed step-by-step process was overwhelming at first. But once I finally grasped it, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, like a powerful underlying mechanism of a product with great potential. I feel as if I am now part of something bigger than myself, and being in a place as big as UNC, sometimes it’s nice to feel important.

Capturing audio is the name of the game
Recording is the key element of Capitol Hound. No recording, no transcripts, no Capitol Hound.

And it. Gets. Complicated.

Consider numerous sessions at different hours throughout the day. With no way of telling when sessions end or what new sessions might be added, recording becomes a kind of game. We often have to find time to quickly run to the Lab to record before class, meetings and an assortment of other obligations. Someone may start a recording and another person will stop it, and later someone else might have to edit and send it to transcribers.

While balancing a full class schedule with the randomness of legislative sessions, it is easy to make mistakes. The more I record, the more second-nature the whole process becomes. But I find myself double-checking each and every little detail. I have had my share of mishaps and been a witness to many others, and the fear of messing up or missing a recording keeps me constantly attentive. It’s my Capitol Hound OCD.

Google Docs to the rescue
So how do we keep up with who has done what, when, and what else is left to do? We use Google Docs crammed with highlighted side comments and a day’s worth of text messages. We are attentive to each other and to the process each and every day. We have a Google Doc to sign up for recording sessions, one that explicitly details the process of recording, one with command lines for the website, one that organizes our subscribers, and many other Docs I may or may not understand myself.

With the accumulation of snow days limiting transportation, midterms, internship applications, interviews and now spring break, I’ve had the revelation that no matter what obstacles Capitol Hound may face, we are constantly on our toes prepared for action to keep this thing up and running. With a session this long, the recording process is but one aspect of the entirety of our job. Now we’re focusing our efforts, apart from recording, on marketing strategies to gain more subscribers who will find great use of our audio and transcript archive of the General Assembly.

While it gets stressful at times, we always make it happen despite the chaos of it all. We work well as a team and will always pick up where someone left off.

Bring it on, because it’s nothing we can’t handle.


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