News next: a journalism teacher's diary

September 16, 2011

Tips on taking notes

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 6:55 pm
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Photo by quinn.anya/licensed under creative commons

Want to know what to do when you’re interviewing someone who talks faster than you can write? how to get that great quote that can make your story? how to avoid burdening your story with too much quotation? or even opinions on the best notebook and the right kind of pen?

A colleague at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Indrani Sen, has been collecting tips on taking notes. She put them in a handout for her students, and I thought I’d share them with you.

Note-Taking Tips From Professional Journalists

The best reporters return from every assignment with a notebook stuffed with quotes, information and sensory detail — the raw material we need to build a story. But how do we fill those notebooks? One of the most difficult skills for new reporters to pick up is also one of the most basic — note-taking.

Every reporter has his or her own systems for note-taking, which start with some nuts-and-bolts decisions: Reporter’s notebook or steno pad? Ballpoint or roller ball? Shorthand or cursive? To record or not? Try a few combinations and figure out what feels most comfortable for you over a long day of reporting.

It’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of solid notes. As well as providing the material for your story, your notes are also your documentation of your reporting process. Your editors or professors may on occasion ask to see your notes. They don’t need to be tidy, but they do need to be complete — if it’s in your story, it should be in your notes or your research. Your notes should also provide avenues to verify information and quotes — phone numbers, email addresses, website urls. Your integrity as a journalist rests not only on your finished product, but also upon your reporting process and your ability to document that process.

In 2007, I asked some friends to explain their note-taking systems and offer tips. Please add your own in the comments below! (more…)


July 7, 2010

Hardy perennials: how do you write about what everybody knows?

It’s 103 degrees out as I write this. So every newspaper website and tv station is running a story about the weather. We’ve all read these stories, again and again and again. The heat wave; the cold snap; the hurricane/tornado/wind storm. The run-up to the election. Graduation. They’re stories that have to be written, but that can be so tedious to read, and to write. And they’re stories you know the competition is writing, too. So how do you set yourself apart from the pack?

The Times did it with an amusing piece that took off from a cliche–“hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Was it really?

The Boston Globe’s media columnist surveyed his domain and offered a tip sheet on keeping the heat wave story from wilting.

Some good examples of how to cover an election without writing as though it was a horse race come from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Student reporters fanned out all over the city to collect man-on-the street reports from far-flung neighborhoods, writing about and videotaping first-time voters, immigrants, young people, people in nursing homes, even political meet-ups in bars. A far cry from either policy wonk analysis or poll-driven winners-and-losers reporting.

Perhaps the most famous example of making an ordinary story extraordinary is Jimmy Breslin’s account of the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Knowing that every news outlet in the world would be covering the obsequies, Breslin turned his back on the body lying in state, closed his ears to the dignitaries’ eulogies, ignored the grieving family, and instead wrote about Clifton Pollard, the man who dug Kennedy’s grave.

January 12, 2010

‘How tomorrow’s journalism may look’

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 1:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

A colleague at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Jeremy Caplan, has called my attention to NY Times Prototypes.

It offers a glimpse, Caplan says, at “how tomorrow’s journalism may look.”

What do you think? Register to comment and add your opinion.

And you might want to check out 11 Sites Journalists Should Know, where I found the link to NY Times Prototypes.

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