The first thing they teach you in Journalism 101: Don’t assume anything.
When I’m out in the field, after I state my name and attribution, I record every conversation I have with someone on the record. None of what was said ever makes it off my desk unless it is relevant to a story I’m working on. Even then, my recorder is just for personal fact-checking and ensuring that interviewees are well within context in what they say and how they say it.
Not to mention the phone interviews. Working on multiple stories through the day and week, once it comes to write them, the steno pad was disastrous. Interviews, callbacks and phone messages were on different pages that you couldn’t reorder without tearing the pages out of the pad. I needed a steno pad that would bump the most recently modified note to the top of the pad.
I had to audit my workflow. To be honest, my primary motivation was back pain, not multi-platform support as I might suggest here. I have an L-desk at work on which my keyboard sat straight on one side, the desktop’s LCD monitor was angled off in the corner and I had my laptop on the side. My spine was constantly contorting, and wheeling back and forth on my desk chair didn’t help. I’ve since lifted the rug from under my desk, repositioned my LCD monitor; and the boss just recently popped in my office with an Easter present – a keyboard tray! I just installed it on my desk and now I don’t have t
Part of the traditional reporter’s tool kit includes sporting a 350-page spiral-bound steno pad and a digital recording device. To save time back in college, I started to jot the time index in the margin whenever a subject blurted out a key quote. But there was a lot of squinting sideways at the recorder, tucking in behind the notepad sideways and ensuring the microphone wasn’t covered. Every time I tilted my head to check the time index, subjects knew they were being quoted, and sometimes retractions would result.
Then Mountain Lion was released. As I’ve previously blogged, the Notes application brought over from iOS to Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is a great compliment to the mobile version of Notes. What makes it “insanely great” (as Jobs might have called it) is synch. After setting up both iOS and OS X versions of Notes with my Google account, every few characters I type into a new Note automatically synchs with the cloud. When I hop onto another platform, it instantly synchs back down from the cloud –– Bob’s your uncle. I still record audio, but now that I use my iPhone as my primary steno pad, the red strip indicating active recording is only an inch away from the viewable note taking area. Input errors are common but the auto-correct in my iPhone is intelligent enough that I can comfortably maintain 50 words per minute (WPM) with two thumbs.
“Notes” was released on Mac OS X with the debut of Mac OS X Mountain Lion last year. Nearly identical to its iOS sister app, Notes brings integration and synchronization of notes cross platform. Credit: Tim Bennett, 2013
Then I started using an office computer full time for filing stories that is still on OS X 10.5: a system many proponents including myself argue still has solid functionality, yet developers as well as Apple have been dropping support for it for some time. Because notes Notes is a Mountain Lion program, I was left out in the cold, and so were my 600-or-so interviews.
Digital “skeumorphs” was a word that began to circulate the media wider than before. Building Mountain Lion so it was iOS-like around the edges was debatably unimaginative on the part of Apple, but effectively fell into line with the company’s goal to simply everything and still make it look good. Apple reportedly experienced some internal discussion that argued for and against the need for skeumorphs that made calendars look like paper calendars and notes look like paper notes. But some argued what use this would truly be for kids growing up with iPads who have never flipped through a paper calendar or leather-bound notebook in their lives. If the tangible product ever went out of production, the digital representation would be wrong. Notes through iCloud just sit in s viewable space through iCloud.com and Google Notes sit as carbon copies in a dedicated Notes section in Gmail. Because nothing can be edited through the web, I say Hash Tag Fail, Apple, even if you do support Google Synch.
My mind came in full-circle back to what would make an optimal workflow. By the time Mountain Lion was released, I had been using an iPhone for four years, and my typing speed with two thumbs was around 35-40 WPM. Today, it hovers around 50 WPM; the average person handwrites memorized text at about 31 WPM, and is able to copy at about 22 WPM, according to C.M. Brown in
“Human-computer interface design guidelines.” It should be noted that Brown wrote that book In 1988, and since then computer keyboards have evolved and so too has short hand and typographical web shortcuts.
I looked into a number of alternatives to Notes: Google Drive and Evernote (If I can vouch only once for prejudice, Microsoft’s productivity apps didn’t even come into play because it is so far fragmented from my current workflow and my account is 15 years old, and there is no synching mechanism for Mac other than Microsoft Document Connection, which I raise an eyebrow at). Google was my first choice as I am already paying $4.99 per month for 100 GB in Google Drive – a great storage platform if you already have Gmail or other Google services – but was immediately disqualified because it required web access to edit documents.
Evernote was the clear winner because it has a desktop application compatible with OS 10.5 and later, as well as Windows; and there is also mobile versions for all iOS 5+ devices Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and HP WebOS.
Currently, I am paying U.S. $5.00 per month for 1 GB upload allowance, which also allows me to email notes directly to my Evernote bank by sending to a special email address. PDFs are made searchable, and everything is available offline if you install the Evernote application onto whichever platform you’re using.
Synch, and go. At 50 WPM with two thumbs versus 70 WPM with 10 fingers or about 25 WPM with a pen and paper, How can Evernote go wrong? I still carry a steno pad and pencils (which can still write in wet conditions) with me everywhere I go. The integration of voice recorder, 1080p camera, email, SMS and now steno pad into my smartphone is making my workflow more streamlined than ever before.