For Wednesday, Jan. 16:
The first thing any reporter needs to do is background research. Find what’s been done before and recognize that with any story, you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. You’re adding to the knowledge that others have accumulated before you, giving credit where it’s due but adding your own value to the subject at hand.
Over the first couple of weeks, I’m going to have you doing the hunting and gathering that goes into research: Finding stuff, reading it, and pasting it into a simple Google Doc. Without a doubt, putting all of your research in a single flat file is the easiest way to put everything in one place and know where it is.
The problem is that you’ll accumulate an awful lot of stuff–interview transcripts, emails, background stories, ideas and your own notes, and it can be tough scrolling through a huge file to find that one little snippet you sort of remember.
So the alternative is to keep your stuff in a format that’s easy to add to, easy to search, and easy to keep organized. One of the better options out there–certainly not the only one, but one of the best–is a piece of software called Evernote. It’s free, and you can pay $50 for an annual subscription. I pay the money, but you probably don’t.
Like Google Docs, Evernote syncs pretty seamlessly on any computer, smartphone, or tablet. You can also keep audios and photos with it, so you could, for example, record an interview on a smartphone, snap a mugshot of the subject, and sync it with Evernote. You also can add an Evernote extension to a browser like Safari or Chrome and instantly save a copy of a web page to your Evernote account.
What makes Evernote awesome is that you can add tags to notes, like adding your friends’ names to your Facebook pictures. This is what allows you to keep your stuff organized.
Let’s say that I was working on a story about Georgia Southern’s plans to upgrade its football team to the Bowl Championship Subdivision, the highest level of college football (where UGA plays). I create a tag: “GaSou story.” In my own Evernote account, I have something like 1,400 notes, but I can search for my tag and come up with seven stories:
And if I’m on the Web and spot something, I click my Evernote icon and save it quickly with the tag:
The moral of the story is quite simply this: The easiest way to get your background material into your system is to paste it into a word-processing file or Google Doc or whatnot. The easiest way to get material OUT of your system is to use something like Evernote.
If you struggle with being overwhelmed and trying to keep up with school, work, and whatever else you have going on, you might want to go whole hog into an organizational process. Here is a link to one such, with the curious name of “The Secret Weapon,” which I use and have found to be immensely helpful. If I’d done this as a reporter, it would have made my life so much easier.