Taking Notes

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

I’ve been watching the blame-storming with increasing interest over the last few days. However, one comment in an Evening Standard roundup of the controversy caught my eye, mainly for this paragraph:

There are also rumours in the corporation that a tape recording may exist of Dr Kelly discussing the dossier. In a statement, the BBC referred to supplying the inquiry with “notes and other materials” made by the journalists but this may simply refer to Mr Gilligan’s records which were made on a Palm Pilot computer rather than a notebook.

He made his records on a Palm?

I’ve been known to use a Palm for notes myself, in non-contentious, low pressure situations. However, with the best will in the world, writing graffiti on a Palm is going to be much slower than writing shorthand in a notebook. It doesn’t seem the best choice in the world.

Worse than that, though, is the evidence factor. Libel actions can be brought up to five years after the publication of an article. Thus, most publishers require that journalists keep their notes for a minimum of five years after the article sees print. Our notebooks and other research material go into a “squirrel” – warehouse storage somewhere in the country where they can be retrieved if need be. I’m not sure what happens to them after the five years is up – they get burnt, probably. Anyway, the point is that they are accessible if I ever need to defend a story in court.

Not so with notes taken with a Palm. Most Palms don’t even have hard storage of any kind. They’re kept in memory and only exist on a hard drive after the Palm is synchronised with the desktop. Let the power run out on your Palm, and any evidence of the original format of the notes is gone. The notes could be altered, untraceably, at any time after they were made. Only making notes on a Palm on so important a matter seems unspeakably foolish to me, but then, that seems to be the order of the day.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.