Reporters who quote ums and ahs only make themselves look bad

Originally published at:


Personally I’ve found that I tend to enjoy interview transcipts that feature a lot of



So, should outlets that put out a video of someone speaking edit out their ums?

The “Teen Spirit” comes through just fine even in the corrected version (the use or “really” and “freaking”) so his purposeful lie by omission (omitting the behavior of judicious omission in this case) seems doubly smarmy.

This got me thinking about my own “ums” and I realized that I have recently tried to lean into them, and make them meaningful. I have a tendency to talk as quickly as possible and get overly excited, and have tried to slow down, so when I feel a filler word, I try to rest on it and look thoughtful, and if I can tear myself away from the self-consciousness in the moment, actually use that um to think about what I’m saying.

In print, the facial expressions and eye movements that add meaning to the filter are lost. In a novel, a narrator might actually describe the thoughtful pauses in speech or fill in a narrative reason for halting-ness, but hardly ever fill in filler.


No. The point is that we read text differently than we listen to speech. And we are right to do so. An “uh” in speech is not intended and barely conscious. An “uh” written down is definitely conscious and certainly intended.


We tend to do that ourselves automatically as Rob says in the article.

Life, uh, finds a way.

Some public speakers lean in to the ums and ahs as a way to keep their flow going and make it harder for them to be interrupted.

Lots of people still have a vestige of the childhood training that one shouldn’t interrupt someone who is speaking.

It’s also generally better to go “ummmmmm” for what seems like forever but is usually only a few seconds at most than stand in silence staring at the expectant crowd for the same time waiting for your brain to kick into gear with your speech or for the autocue to roll.


“If a quotation is flawed because of grammar or lack of clarity, the writer must be able to paraphrase in a way that is completely true to the original quote. If a quote’s meaning is too murky to be paraphrased accurately, it should not be used.”

This must explain why the content of most Trump speeches are not reported on.


Daily Mail…


Back in college my roommate and I both wrote for the school paper’s sports section. He would always record all interviews and transcribe verbatim, prompting frequent complaints from players. In my stories I would always clean up their quotes for clarity to convey the point in their own speaking style. No one ever complained.

Then and now, I viewed the point as informing the readers what the players and coaches were thinking, and any human being asked a question while out of breath from the game they just finished always gave answers full of irrelevant filler.


I never understand the point of those immediate post-race interviews people insist athletes give on TV.

It’s bad enough trying to come up with answers to “So, you’re the new world record holder - how does it feel?” that go beyond “Pretty good actually, thanks” but to do it while you’re still panting from running the race?


If you took anything that trump says on any day and took out all of the needless filler, it would still be gibberish. Somehow that doesn’t seem to make an impression, though.


No, but you would typically remove entire mangled sentences or allow them plenty of restarts/takes if it’s a vox pop interview and they ask for it. And if someone really is just going uuiuiihhhhhjhhh for 20 valuable seconds or whatever, yeah, just fade that crap out.


“When transcribed, filler speech a listener would subconsciously ignore turns into text the reader cannot.”


For tv, it mostly just to prevent any dead air while they show the athlete. For me it was about oppurtunity. There was no post game press conferences, so If I didn’t get to them before they went back to the locker room, then I had to try to call them at home later to ask anything about the game

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Sure, that makes sense. And as you say, you can edit it into a sensible output without all the puffing and gasping for breath.


So this would become??

“I personally believe that US americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps
and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they
should our education over here and the US should help the US and should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and
the asian countries so we are able to build up our future.”

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The executives where I work have apparently been trained to use “right” to replace “um” or “uh” when presenting in front of a crowd. (When you start noticing all the "right"s, it’s as annoying as noticing all the "um"s and "uh"s they’re replacing.) I think there’s zero chance a print/online reporter interviewing a CEO would include all the "right"s in Business Week (or whatever). Maybe the 1%-10%ers get special consideration that Average Joe on the street does not. (Shocking.)


I learned in depositions to just pause instead of using fillers when processing. It feels awkward, but after I read a few transcripts, I was surprised at how often I was “um” ing.

Fillers can definitely be weaponized by reporters. I guess that is why their outlet should have a policy.


What they didn’t show was Terry Gross’ unedited explanation:

“You know, with like the exception of uh, the occasional John Updike, you know, no one speaks like readable uh, perfectly, you know, like grammatical sentences and all that. So, um, ah, you know, like we’ve edited the uh, answers my questions, uh, what’s that fancy word? Oh yeah - elicited - for clarity and uh, like, concision - you know?, um, yeah - what was I saying? Oh uh, like while sticking as uh, closely as possible to like each interviewee’s actual, um, speaking style and stuff?”


Ugh, I hate those interviews - especially the “How do you Feel?” question. It’s just lazy and stupid.

How do I feel? How the f*ck do you think I feel?!!


This article is much shorter without the filler words