Pen and pad – noteworthy writing tools

SEP-2012 – At a recent writing seminar a young participant recommended a digital service that stores notes, pictures and Web clips online so users can access them anywhere from any device. He said that the site advised journalists to ‘leave the notebook at home!’ All right, I must admit that the gadget may be considered a ‘cool tool’, but I do not think it would ever replace the reporter’s notebook. Today’s journalists have so many high-tech tools at their disposal: Google, the Internet, computers, GPS services and Blackberries. But none of these are as iconic or important as the journalists’ Number One tool in their arsenal – the reporter’s notebook. Yes a pad and pen are still the most convenient way I have always found to take notes on assignment. They are super portable, reliable in all kinds of conditions and never need recharging. It is always at a journalist’s side – through press conferences, court hearings, breaking news and even while sleeping, because, unlike other devices, the notebook doesn’t need batteries or service or a USB connection. All it needs is a pen or pencil and a hard-working journalist attached to it. Reporters’ notebooks are also essential to journalists because of the fact that they contain every number, lead, quote and scoop collected while in the field. They are considered extremely important to one’s work. So important in fact because journalists are known to have defied court orders, subpoenas, threats of physical violence and even gone to jail to safeguard the contents of their notebooks. I have worked in newspapers almost my entire career. I have used digital recorders. They are handy but do have their drawbacks, and it would not be wise to rely on them totally. For instance, you have to go back and listen to everything again. That is time-consuming and in every newsroom I have worked in, there had been simply no time to waste. Even in the digital age, the notebook is an essential tool of a journalist’s trade, whether working in print, radio or television. Few people have memories good enough to remember everything they are told, and there is no room in journalism for getting things ‘roughly right’. The notebook allows you to record essential details and organise information. In other words it also frees your mind for thinking. However, it is no use carrying a notebook around unless you are able to use it properly and consistently. Whenever someone starts to talk, you should assess whether it is newsworthy. If it is, take out your notebook and start taking notes. Many young journalists are embarrassed to take their notebooks out in front of people. Remember, if a person is to be quoted, h/she would much prefer that you get a correct version than be misquoted. If there is any doubt in your mind about a person’s willingness to be interviewed, ask if they object to you making notes. If they do, try to remember what they said and write your notes up as soon as they have gone. Be careful though. Your notes will not be as accurate as jotting it down firsthand, and you must bear this in mind when you are writing your story. Do not struggle with notebooks, which are either so large that they become impossible to hold or so small that they do not hold enough information, and leave you turning the page for every sentence. The real reporter’s notebook is unique given its shape. It is longer than it is wide, making it the perfect size to slip into a hip pocket and makes taking notes an easy task since a journalist’s hand doesn’t have to swoop across the entire length of a full-page while writing. Ideally you should choose a notebook with the following features: It should sit comfortably in one hand like a sort of small clipboard. This is useful whenever you have to make notes standing up or walking. It should have a hard back for support. It should have a metal spiral at the top to make it easier to flip pages over. It should have faint rules on both sides of each page. Once you have found a type of notebook that you like, stay with that make where possible. It will be one less thing to go wrong. Before you attempt to make notes, also make sure that you carry a couple of extra ballpoint pens or pencils. Regularly check all your pens and pencils to make sure they are in working order. If in doubt, throw it out. As a journalist, I learned to listen for what was most important in an interview and just write that part down. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that you learned to distinguish what was not important and left that part out. I never learned shorthand. I developed my own abbreviations to save time, picking up ideas from colleagues along the way. I use a dash for ‘not’ or a negative, for example, and an underline to signify ‘ing’ at the end of a word. I leave out a lot of letters. Lower case ‘e’ is ‘we’ and ‘pl’ is ‘people’. Many years before texting became a verb, I was using the same abbreviations in my notes that many people now use on their smartphones: ‘u’ for ‘you’ and ‘yr’ for ‘your’. When a notebook is finished, do not throw it away. Mark the date you finish it clearly on the front cover, then store the book safely in your desk drawer or filing cabinet. You can eventually throw the books out, but make it a policy never to discard a notebook for at least a year after it is finished. You never know when you might need it again. Should you be accused of defamation, for example, a properly marked notebook can be produced as evidence in court and may help in your defence. Finally, there will be occasions when you are caught without a notebook, maybe at a social event. Then you must make use of whatever paper is handy. Most experienced journalists have, at some time in their careers, used paper napkins, the backs of menus and even beer mats, peeled apart to give them two white squares of paper. This is only for emergencies, though. There is no substitute for a well-kept notebook. The reporter’s notebook has proven its necessity by outlasting such tools of the trade such as typewriters, the ticker tape machine in the printing press and platinum nib dipping pens and ink-wells. Source:

Saturday, March 2, 2013
General news