Long Live The Reporter’s Notebook!

(and I don’t mean the Sony version)

reporter's notebook

Even pink and sexy doesn’t excite me

Am I the only journalist in the world who doesn’t get excited about the latest electronic gadgets?

Call me old fashioned but low tech still rocks for me. And that’s not just because I started my career in the Stone Age of hot metal typesetting. Bill Gates is my age!

My mobile phone isn’t ‘smart’ but it does all I ask of it. It’s mobile and it’s a phone. And, man, could I have done with one, 20 years ago, when we hacks had to file from the field via ye olde red public telephone box.

(Of course, if we were literally in a field, it was just bad luck and we missed the edition.)

So what if it doesn’t have internet access? I realise I could miss an important status update on Facebook while I’m out but I’ve got more Pinteresting things to do than Tweeting every five seconds. That may sound like a big ‘but’ – yet ‘social ‘notworking’ (as I call it) can be that, too, if not used advisedly:

a Big, Unpaid Time-guzzler.

I don’t own a tablet, either. But Holy Moses, does that make me a Luddite? There’s nothing really new there anyway, as Moses would know.

Now, I realise that owning a Tower PC makes me an unevolved freak of nature but my sturdy keyboard is way more user-friendly than anything yet on the market and the creative writing process requires peace and takes time. Words come more easily back in the comfort of my office and I get my coffee the way I like it!

Nor do I need to go to interviews hung about with the latest video, film and digital recording equipment. There’s nothing guaranteed to scare off an interview subject like the threat of saying or doing something stupid on film or tape.

I’m after ‘the sizzle’ so subtlety is required to encourage my subjects to spill the beans!

Anyway, for photos and video we still have photographers. Let’s not do them out of a living yet!

In fact, the mere thought of investing in the latest gadget brings me out in a cold sweat. Too much choice can be no choice at all! The more labour-saving bells and whistles on offer, the more labour-intensive it is working out how to use them.

Computer retail ‘assistants’ (a misnomer) are no help at all. I don’t need to be told how many gigabytes of ram I’m getting. I can read that on the information card for God’s sake! Don’t list the features, explain the benefits.

Sell me the sizzle, not the sausage!

(Check out this great black and white film clip from the 1930s showing how America’s top salesman made lots of money doing something very similar, with steak).

Then there’s the dreaded User Manual. Confusing enough when written in your mother tongue, try it in Spanish, as we expats generally have to. It’s almost worth a trip into Gibraltar, where instructions come in English. Unfortunately, so do the plugs.

May I share with you the 10 benefits of the best tool in my journalistic arsenal?

  • It’s cheap as chips
  • You don’t need a service provider
  • You can use it in bright sunlight
  • It works anywhere, without power, batteries or the need to comb the area for wifi hotspots
  • It’s small so you don’t need to go out and buy it a Prada super-sized handbag
  • Storage is unlimited – when it’s full, you simply boot up a new one
  • It’s 100% virus proof and will never crash
  • It doesn’t fry your brain with microwaves
  • Losing it doesn’t mean your entire life’s work is gone forever
  • It works with just one app – a pen

You can find one of these fantastic devices at any good stationers!

reporter's notebook

Reporter’s notebook, ring-bound model

As you’ve probably guessed I’m talking about the humble reporter’s notebook, a writer’s fail-safe ever since Thomas W. Holley, a Massachusetts lawyer, invented them in 1888.

Not being totally anti-progress, I advocate the later, ring-bound version (pictured). Though maybe not this reporter’s notebook as it’s missing the apostrophe and I like to create a good impression.

(Point of interest: Google mustn’t like good grammar as URLs don’t accept apostrophes which means that using them in this post is not good for my SEO!)

Many attempts have been made to integrate the simplicity of the notebook into a computer but nothing has quite measured up. Not Netbooks nor PalmTops nor Digital Paper nor Voice-to-Text software (which, if you speak with any accent at all, comes out as complete gobbledygook).

Best of all, my notebook’s completely unhackable. (Well, you just try reading my shorthand.)

So if I were you, I’d go out and buy a notebook tomorrow.

You know it makes sense!


  • Matthew Hirtes May 8, 2013 at 8:22 am Reply

    Great post, Belinda. I love my notebook too. However, I struggle to decipher my own shorthand. As it makes a doctor’s prescription seem readable.

    • Belinda May 8, 2013 at 10:35 am Reply

      Likewise Matthew. I learned secretarial Pitman shorthand, no good for a journo, so had to make up my own.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.