Welcome to a feature we call “What’s In Your Notebook?” An interview with First Draft customers about the craft of journalism and writing. Our second interview is with Eleanor Klibanoff. We have the pleasure of working with Eleanor at our day job, at The Texas Tribune. While many young journalists have abandoned using notebooks for digital tools, Eleanor hasn't. We can confirm her desk space is often monopolized by open notebooks.
Want to participate? Drop us a note at email@example.com.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journalism career.
I am the women’s health reporter at The Texas Tribune, based in Austin, where I cover a wide range of issues, from abortion to maternal mortality to domestic violence. I came up through public radio, first as a Kroc Fellow at NPR, then at member stations in Kansas City, State College, Pa., and Louisville, Ky.
Which First Draft Notebook do you use and how do you use it?
I use the Reporter’s Notebook, and I always have three or four of them in the mix. I always take notes, even when I’m also tape recording, more as a way of keeping myself engaged and locking the information into my brain than anything else. I love the sturdy cover, so I can (theoretically) write and walk and talk at the same time.
What goes into your notebook?
I have a very chaotic note taking style. Usually I just jot down key phrases, time stamps or moments from an interview, hoping to later jog my memory of what stood out to me at the time. So it’ll be a list of random words and phrases, followed by a to-do list, followed by a sketched out story outline, followed by a terrible drawing of my cat.
How do you keep your notes and other documents organized?
Poorly. My notebooks are the dumping ground for notes, ideas, thoughts, questions, names. I try to move everything useful into a GoogleDoc, or two, or three, for each story, and at some point, I synthesize it all into one master reporting doc. It’s not the cleanest system, but I’ve found that staying somewhat loose in the beginning keeps the "Big Story Panic" at bay.
What’s one question you ask everyone you interview?
“Who else should I talk to about this?”
Everyone is the expert on their little corner of the universe, so they’ll know the researcher you need, the neighbor who loves to gossip, the person who is particularly outraged about whatever you’re writing about.
You obviously love a good notebook. But what’s your favorite digital reporting tool?
Otter.ai has changed my life. I have not been in journalism that long, but the transformation of transcription from an expensive, slow, clunky (or entirely manual) process to a on-the-spot, decently accurate and reasonably affordable service is one change I have been thrilled to witness. It has made me, my colleagues and our entire industry so much faster and more nimble.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about writing?
If it’s hot, write it cold. With the best, juiciest, most outrageous stuff, the natural instinct can be to twerk it up, as an editor of mine used to put it, but better to write it clean and simple. Trust the reporting to carry it, and trust your reader to get it.
Tell us about a recent article you published that you're proud of. Is there a valuable reporting or writing experience you learned from it?
I really enjoyed profiling Texas state Sen. Angela Paxton, the wife of recently impeached (and later acquitted) Attorney General Ken Paxton. It was my quick and dirty attempt at a Frank Sinatra Has A Cold-style profile, where the subject wouldn’t grant interviews. I had to rely on archival research, past interviews and conversations with people around Angela Paxton to try to capture the woman behind the scandal.