Why do I keep seeing journalists take notes on paper?

I was at a lunch briefing today, and of about 10 people around the table–some Visa executives, some PR minders, most journalists–I was the only person taking notes in an app instead of on paper.

Paper notepadThat’s a typical situation. And I don’t get it.

I started jotting down notes on mobile devices in 1995–anybody else remember the Sony MagicLink?–and by the turn of the century I’d switched to pixels over paper as my primary medium for that task. Back then, the Palm OS memo-pad app left much to be desired but still had two features absent from any paper notepad: a “find” function and the ability to back everything up.

Those two abilities alone made it worth my while to learn Graffiti and a series of other onscreen text-input systems–then have to explain to people that no, I wasn’t texting somebody else while they were talking to me.

It’s now 2015, and Evernote not only does those two core tasks but syncs automatically over the air, lets me embed everything from audio recordings to lists and tables, and runs on about every desktop and mobile platform ever made. And its eminently-usable basic version is free, although I finally started paying for the premium version this year to get extra features like scanning business cards.

Don’t like Evernote for whatever reason? You could use Microsoft’s OneNote. Or Google Keep. Or Apple’s Notes apps for OS X and iOS. Or any of dozens of third-party apps. I realize that you need to be able to type reasonably fast on a phone’s screen–but hasn’t that skill pretty much become a job prerequisite anyway, between texts, e-mail and Twitter?

I’m not saying paper notepads are useless–I keep one in my bag, just in case. But I haven’t brought that out for any reporting in years. Its most recent use: I handed it to my daughter to play with, and she drew me a picture of a flower.

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9 thoughts on “Why do I keep seeing journalists take notes on paper?

  1. Because I’m much faster at scribbling than two-thimbed typing. Because I can look up at interviewee while continuing to write notes. Because it’s faster to grab a pen and paper than to find the app, open, start a new file. Because sometimes batteries run low or an editor calls in the middle of an interview or I need to to *record* the interview (entirely legally) while taking down notes of most important points. Because I’m not a Luddite but I try to use the best tool for the job.

  2. What Pat said also applies in the software dev world. So many of us bring paper and pen to a meeting. In addition, it’s hard to draw and annotate a diagram on a iPad with your finger. Does Evernote do that?

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  4. I am not a journalist but I do so much writing in my current job I might as well be. I was an early-adopter to note-taking devices (though not as much as you) and abandoned them completely a few years ago. They are way too slow and text-based for my needs. My notes are typically graphical (or at least non-linear) and there is no way to duplicate this feeling in an app, not at any reasonable amount of speed.

    You mention syncing. Well, for me notes have a half-life. I never have to search for them or back them up because they are almost never useful after a few weeks. In fact it is usually a few hours. I have a small stack of sheets of paper from current initiatives and I routinely cull them once they outlive their usefulness. If something is that important, it has been transcribed into a document, email, or contact.

    Add the fact that you can’t bring devices into certain facilities and I’m left with what I consider a dead technology.

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