Welcome to a feature we’re calling “What’s In Your Notebook?” An interview with First Draft customers about the craft of journalism and writing. Our first interview is with Laura Kebede-Twumasi. We’ve known Laura for years and bonded over shared love of notebooks. Laura was one of our very first customers. And we’re thrilled that she is kicking off this series. Want to participate? Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journalism career.
I'm a reporter and podcast producer at the Institute for Public Service Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom based at the University of Memphis. I currently lead a program called Civil Wrongs, where we examine past cases of racial terror in our region and analyze their connection to present-day injustices. In the past, I've written about local education, government, and religion.
Which First Draft Notebook do you use and how do you use it?
I use the Stringers, now known as the Scoop. I was freelancing at the time and juggling multiple projects. Keeping my notes together helped me jump back and forth between stories.
What goes into your notebook?
Interview quotes from the field, timestamps of recordings, observations of my surroundings, scratchpad for crunching numbers and organizing data... pretty much anything I need on the go that doesn't go well with a Google doc.
How do you keep your notes and other documents organized?
I always date my notes and put a title on it... like the person I interviewed or the meeting I attended. There are so many things we think we'll remember, but I find it's always better to get it out on paper to free up space in my brain.
What’s one question you ask everyone you interview?
At the top of the interview, I ask if they have questions for me about how interviews or the journalism process works after I've taken some time to explain. At the end, I always ask if there's something they want to add that I didn't ask.
You obviously love a good notebook. But what’s your favorite digital reporting tool?
Excel! There's so many questions to ask the data available to us and Excel has so many ways of asking it. There's a treasure trove of stories in data and we often overlook them.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about writing?
Allow time to step away from the piece and come back with fresh eyes. And when you're fact-checking and proofreading, change the font size or something to trick your brain out of autopilot mode. Our eyes glaze over errors we've looked at multiple times.
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 recently taught my first college course and my students and I produced a four-episode podcast season about the Memphis Massacre of 1866. I learned a lot about how to write about history in a way that's relatable and pulls you in, but I'm still learning!