What I used to find somewhat embarrassing, I now find amusing.
It’s not uncommon when I will be at a sporting event, scribbling something down into my reporter’s notebook, when someone will catch a glance of my notes and be stunned at what he or she sees. One of the many idiosyncrasies of my work method is meticulous note-taking, or to put it better, neat note-taking. What can I say? I like neat notes, and I actually enjoy the process of putting them down on paper.
When I recently showed one of the copy editors in our office a team roster I had printed in my notebook, she was taken aback. Noticing her reaction, I explained that I like my notes neat. She exclaimed, “This is beyond neat.”
Taking notes is an important part of a journalist’s job, and different reporters handle it differently. Aside from some minor alterations along the way, I have kept notes pretty much the same way over the course of my, gulp, 32-year career. My handwritten notes are normally written with a fountain pen (I prefer fresh ink and I am old-fashioned).
I can jot down chicken scratch with the best of doctors when I’m writing fast, but when I can, I try to make my notes as legible as possible so that when it comes time to put words on the computer screen, I’m not staring blankly at my notebook, asking myself, “Is that an “a” or an “e”?
I have different note-taking styles for each sport. For the pages on which I keep track of statistics, I carefully print the players’ names and uniform numbers. Then, while the contest is going on, I tack on what might seem like hieroglyphics to anyone else. For basketball, for instance, letters such as “D”, “O”, “B” and “S” may appear over some names. Those letters, in order, are shorthand for defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, blocks and steals. On another sheet of paper I compile the team statistics.
Some of this may be color coded, too, believe it or not, to make for easier reading.
Football is the most involved of the high school sports when it comes to keeping statistics and putting all this information together before sorting out what, if any of it, I may want to use for my story. It takes time, but it has its rewards.
Upon seeing the voluminous notes I was taking, almost continually jotting down something during a basketball game, someone once asked me how much of those notes I would actually use in the story. “Maybe 10 percent,” I answered, half in jest, half serious, knowing full well that much of what I was scribbling would never find its way into print. The point is, though, you really don’t know what you will need until it is time to write, and sometimes you stumble across a gem.
For baseball and softball, I tap my game notes directly into my laptop computer, keeping an in-game boxscore in the process. Then, after the game, it’s just a matter of cutting and pasting all that matter into my story document. How handy is that?
What about interviews?
In the old days, I conducted interviews with pen and paper. That was before I transitioned to voice recorders and, currently, an iPhone, which works well and offers excellent sound quality.
It’s a system that has worked well for me.
After I have collected all the information I need and transcribed all the interviews (my least favorite part of the process), the joy of writing begins. That’s the real fun part for me.
How neat is that?
Bob Liepa is the sports editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected].