When it comes to organization, we writers and reporters are a sorry lot.
(to borrow what Leo Tolstoy once wrote about unhappy families).
In college, I’ll never forget visiting the Washington Post newsroom in college and marveling at what seemed like decades of detritus piled more than a foot high on desks. Later, I witnessed the same kind of disorder when I visited the Sun-Times in Chicago. And Politico’s Mike Allen is known as a “legendary hoarder,” according to Mark Leibovich, who profiled Allen for the Times:
It got so bad at Time, where Allen was given his own office, that it became difficult to even open the door. His chair was raised at a crooked angle, as if it were not touching the floor, and the debris rose so high in some places that it blocked a portion of light coming through a picture window. Colleagues took pictures, as if the place were an archaeological site. It was disturbing to those who cared about Allen, especially after a photo of the office in a seemingly uninhabitable state made the rounds of the press corps and George W. Bush’s White House
While our disorganization may not have reached Full Mike Allen, we can all stand to be better organized, to have more command of the research string we’ve gathered.
To overcome our chronic disorganization, we all develop some kind of coping system—however imperfect—for taking notes and organizing our research. It’s a core part of our job. Ira Glass swears by Muji notebooks. In profiling Dan Gabel, ESPN’s Wright Thompson talked of taking notes on cardboard while sitting in a sauna. While reporting, Gay Talese famously kept his notes on the cardboard affixed to his dry-cleaned dress shirts (watch the video below on Gay Talese’s archiving system–perhaps all writers are not disorganized).
As a recovering chronically disorganized writer myself, I’ve had to develop my own coping system over the years. In fourth grade, the cubby in my classroom desk was so stuffed with refuse—crusty glue sticks stuck to crumbled clumps of construction paper and graded homework assignments—that my teacher at the time, Mrs. Henry, once picked up my desk and turned it upside down only minutes before recess began. I couldn’t leave the classroom, Mrs. Henry instructed, until I dealt with my junk and organized my desk. As I recall, I didn’t make the pickup football game that day.
As time has passed, my system has evolved. For years, I’d log notes in various folders on my laptop and in various files in a black, two-drawer metal filing cabinet.
But in 2009, I began using a digital file cabinet—Evernote—and have never gone back.
Over four years, through trial and error, I’ve developed a way of working inside of Evernote that’s helped me write better stories, because I’m spending less time tracking down facts and reports and quotes, and more time writing. Along with Evernote, I use a suite of Evernote-friendly software and hardware to store recordings of my calls, audio clips of in-person interviews, hard copy notes, digital clippings of articles I’ve gathered online, PDFs and even photos that I’ve snapped to help me recall the details of a scene.
Here are six ways I’ve found that Evernote can help reporters and writers stay organized.
1. Use notebooks and tags to organize research for feature stories and chapters.
Every time I start researching a new story or concept, I create a dedicated notebook within Evernote. It becomes a central repository for all of my related research—websites, books, emails, photos—all now searchable because they’re stored in Evernote, and in one place.
2. Archive your project-related emails by forwarding them to Evernote.
Evernote creates a unique email address associated with your account that allows you to file emails to a specific notebook. Did a source just send you some amazing fact? Simply forward it to your Evernote notebook. No more digging through your old emails. Storing them in Evernote makes them readily available so you can spend more time writing and less time cobbling together research.
3. Organize your online research with Evernote Web Clipper.
Forget bookmarking a thousand sites and secondary article as you research. Evernote’s web clipper for browsers such as Chrome and Safari allows you to “clip” a web page and file it into a specific notebook or categorize it with a tag. After you’ve clipped that page, you can even highlight and annotate it digitally.
4. Make your print notes digitally searchable.
Along with taking notes digitally, I use Evernote Smart Notebooks, made by Moleskine (pictured at the top of the post). Using the special camera in Evernote’s smartphone app, I can take a quick shot of that page of notes, making them digitally searchable within Evernote. Say I’m reporting a story about a charter school, for instance, and I want to access every handwritten note I’ve made in that notebook with the words “charter school.” I type that into Evernote’s search bar, and immediately my handwritten notes are searchable, and I can find every instance where I’ve written “charter school” in my notebook. Amazing.
5. Log your audio interviews in Evernote, with the tools such as the Livescribe pen and Uberconference.
As journalists, we spend a seemingly infinite time interviewing people. In person. By phone. With Evernote, you can store that audio online—securely. My handy-dandy Livescribe pen allows me to capture audio and indexes images of words as I write them, reducing the amount of time I spend transcribing interviews.
Best of all, these interviews are transmitted over Wi-Fi and stored in my Evernote account. Meanwhile, Uberconference allows me to record all of my phone interviews, and also syncs them with Evernote.
6. Access your reporting archive in the cloud.
The more you use Evernote, the more powerful it becomes. Over time, it becomes a digital library of all the reporting material you’ve collected. And thanks to Evernote’s sleek desktop, smartphone and tablet apps, all your notes are available in the cloud on all your devices. Last summer, while vacationing on a beach in Holland, Michigan, I checked my email and saw a note from one of my editors. A fact checker had a question about the source of a stat that I forgot to annotate. I opened the Evernote app on my phone, searched for the study, and quickly shared that note with my editor. Simple. Seamless.
These six tips only scratch the surface of how Evernote can help reporters and writers streamline their research process. At core, Evernote helps you spend less time searching for stuff, and more time on writing and telling stories that matter.
For those of us journalists and writers who wrestle with disorganization, Evernote is a Godsend.
Note: At the end of this post, sign-up with your email address, and I’ll send you a free copy of my upcoming ebook, Evernote for Journalists & Writers, complete with more tips about how to streamline your reporting process with Evernote.