If your browser supports Refresh, you'll be transported to our new home in 5 seconds, otherwise, select the link manually. Thank you

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Making It As A Freelance Writer - Tip#10 - Getting the evidence

In the previous tip, I suggested that freelance writers have a recording device and a notebook at every interview. These are basic tools for any writer.

Recording devices are relatively easy. In the old days you used a tape recorder. Now you can choose from a range of devices, including minidisk recorders, mp3 recorders and digital dictaphones. My choice at the moment is my Palmone Lifedrive, because it has a whopping 4GB of storage and I can transfer recordings onto a Secure Digital (SD) card and from there onto my computer. That makes it easy to back up recordings. The reason for recording is twofold. Not only does it help you to remember what happened, but it's a good backup in case of any challenge from the interviewee. That is not as rare as you might think. When I was writing articles as a staff writer, occasionally someone would ask to see the article before it went to print. Our policy was always that interviewees were allowed to check for factual errors only. But many people would see something they didn't like and claim that they'd never said it. My response was always: 'That's strange, because I've got it on tape. Would you like to hear it?' Nothing like having the evidence to make people back down from a fake claim.

A more difficult decision for a freelance writer is which notetaking system to use. Once upon a time, reporters were trained in shorthand, of which there are two main varieties. Pitman's is the one with all the squiggles. I've tried and failed to learn this. Some people can do squiggles, others can't - and I'm one of the latter. A slightly easier system is Teeline shorthand, where the characters are based on real writing. I don't know this one either, but it's probably the one I would recommend learning if you're starting out.

Since I went into journalism via a language degree, I never learned either system and had to rely on my own note taking system, using semi-phonetic spelling and abbreviations that would only make sense to me (abbrevs that wd only mk sense 2 me). You will need a system because there's no other way to get down what people say verbatim. I did have a thought recently, though. In the last few years I've sent more and more SMS messages on my mobile phone. As this involves shortened forms of words, maybe that's the way forward for note-taking. What do you think?

No comments: