Take note - typing interviews to screen can be risky

I was asked the other day if it’s safe for journalists to type up interviews straight to screen.

A lot of journalists do it, but there can be legal repercussions.

If there’s a complaint, a journalist may have to produce their interview notes so they can be verified for accuracy. And it doesn’t look great if you don’t have any –  especially if the complaint involves lawyers or the PCC.

Courts do accept digital notes. But it’s not convincing if your only record af an interview is the selective quotes  you typed straight to a story file or a QuarkXpress page. They certainly won’t be a comprehensive record of what was said, and won’t have a date or a time attached to them.

Courts and a PCC paper-trial would usually want to see evidence of note-taking and proper recording of information. And although most stories don’t carry much legal risk, you could be in difficulty if an interviewee said: ‘You misquoted me’.

You’ll remember that Andrew Gilligan was at the centre of a storm with his David Kelly story because  he took interview notes on a palmtop, and was alleged to have changed them later – something he vehemently denied.

Most reporters play it safe by using a good old shorthand notebook – something that I thoroughly recommend.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law

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