Tips of the trainer - NOTEBOOK DISCIPLINE

It’s important for a reporter to keep a tidy notebook. If a reader rings in, complaining that you’ve got your facts wrong in a story, it doesn’t look good if you can’t even find your notebook, let alone read what’s in it.

You may even have to produce your notebook in court in libel or contempt of court cases. Here are some tips on how to keep a safe, disciplined notebook:

1. Use a spiral bound notebook These are easy to manage and can help to prove that you did not insert pages into the book after the court writ landed on the editor’s desk.

2. Number every page before you start using the book This can act as a safeguard in a court case for the same reason. It’s not watertight, obviously, but it helps.

3. Put the date you started using the book, and the date you finished it, on the cover When you have a drawer full of old books, this will enable you to find notes relating to a story you did nine months ago very quickly.

4. Draw a left-hand margin of about 1cm on every page This enables you to add code marks (see point 12).

5. Rule off your notes at the end of each working day This makes it clear where one day has started and another has begun.

6. Use catchlines for each story Catchlining each interview with the slug that relates to that story makes it easier to spot the relevant notes in your book when you come to write up.

7. Put the time of the interview and the interviewee’s name next to the catchline This makes your notes easy to refer to later.

8. Don’t ever add notes to your book later on Falsifying your notes will undoubtedly create more problems later.

9. Keep your notebook forever? Libel actions have to be started within 12 months of an article being published, so it’s important to keep your notebook for at least 18 months in case there are problems later on. However, web journalists need to hold on to their notebooks for at least for 12 months after an offending article has been removed from the website.

10. Put your name, address and telephone number on the inside cover of your notebook. Hopefully someone will return it to you if you lose it.

11. Cross out carefully If you want to cross something out, don’t obliterate it. Just draw a thin line through it.

12. Develop a system of code marks You need to be able to find your way round your notebook very quickly.

Using code marks in the margin helps. Try these:

/// = a very good angle, important to use in the story.

/ = a possible good angle, might need to include it in the story.

{ = notes that are your observations, rather than quotes, facts and so on, which have given to you by someone else.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services. Contact cleland.thom@tesco.net or visit www.ctjt.biz

by Cleland Thom

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