The Great Debate: Recorder or Notebook?
Actually, I’m a fan of both, but too many journalists are trained to ONLY use their notebook during interviews and have no backup. I can tell you from experience that bringing along a recorder is vital for quote accuracy. Additionally, in case the person talks to fast and you accidentally miss something, now you’ll have peace of mind rather than having to call the person back for clarification, or even worse, not running a great quote at all due to the fear of inaccurate notes. Of course the most prominent complaint with recorders is having to go back and “review” everything while under a deadline to get the story out, loosing valuable time. What’s the solution to this? Wear a watch on your wrist, and take note of the time you’ve started the interview.
When the person says something that you didn’t quite understand or gives you a great quote that you didn’t write down properly, mark the time that it’s happening. I refer to it as “time marking.” It takes a bit of skill to develop this, but it’s well worth the trouble in the long run. So if you started the interview at 6 p.m. and at 6:05 p.m. you run into a problem with the notes, jot down on the paper “6:05 important quote regarding the company,” or something similar. This way you won’t need to listen to the entire interview to find where the quote is. Again, this requires you to be attentive to the clock while also taking notes and listening to the person who’s speaking.
While note taking during an interview, it’s crucial to only write down the key ideas. In other words, bulletin points of different topics that you will remember while writing your story. Don’t sit there and robotically jot down every word you hear like a raging lunatic— you’ll drive yourself crazy. I tell my reporters always to organize their notes in terms of concepts, that way it’s easier for everyone involved (reporter and editor).
This is a question I get all the time, too: “but what if the recorder runs out of battery or has technical difficulties?
If it runs out of battery than it’s your own damn fault, and if it has technical difficulties, that generally means your recorder is a piece of shit and you should immediately invest in another one. In all honestly, these things do happen and that’s why I recommend if you’re serious about journalism, invest in a decent and reliable recorder that you can be sure will not fail on you, especially when you’re assigned to cover that breaking front page news story.
Oh, and one final thing— You MUST ask the person’s permission to be recorded before recording them. It is illegal in the United States to record without a person’s consent, “eavesdropping,” I believe is what that’s called. Too often students learning journalism will just turn on a recorder without consent; be vigilant about remembering to ask permission and you’ll never have to worry about it.