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Destroying notes

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Billy Pritchard, Nov 13, 2007.

  1. I threadjacked the Fainaru-Wada discussion with this, but at least one other member agreed this would make a good discussion in a separate thread. So here goes:

    I just learned that some (many? most?) newspapers encourage reporters to destroy all notes and audio files after a certain point beyond publication of a story. I have never heard of that as an official policy anywhere before, and certainly never at the places I've worked. Is this common? If so, does it relate mostly to large circ papers or across the board?

    Is it a smart thing to do?
    I remember hearing at a workshop once that it was a good idea to do it, but when I returned to tell my SE he said it was ridiculous. He asked what if someone sues you for libel and you have no notes to defend yourself? Is that a reasonable argument against destroying notes?

    I'd love to hear what the arguments are for and against. Thanks.
  2. In Cold Blood

    In Cold Blood Member

    I'd think that you'd want to hang on to any notes/audio clips you might have for anything even remotely controversial for a long, long time. Probably forever.

    Notes or clips from a feature on Joe Blow, Thursday's soccer gamer, or the local triathlon advance? Pitch 'em a little while after the article runs.
  3. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    The NFL advises destroying all notes.
  4. Cousin Jeffrey

    Cousin Jeffrey Active Member

    Not if there's a possibility of being supoened.
  5. broadway joe

    broadway joe Guest

    I never heard of any publication encouraging reporters to destroy their notes or tapes until now. Seems like a terrible idea on any type of important or sensitive story. Damages your defense against potential libel suits, and doesn't really protect you if the government comes sniffing around, since they can still try to compel you to name your sources even if there are no notes for them to try to get their hands on.
  6. In Cold Blood

    In Cold Blood Member

    Cousin Jeffery,
    Ok, I think I'm missing the point here...

    I assumed you would want your notes/audio in a libel situation to save your butt...

    are you saying that you should destroy them so that it basically turns into a big "his word against mine" deal?
  7. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Newspapers require the destruction of notes because if it's a policy, the writers can't be accused of hiding anything. Sorry, all our writers destroy their notes, thank you for calling.

    But common sense probably dictates that if you have something really flammable, ie the guy's handwriting on a napkin, a phone conversation on tape, etc, you lock it up and never say a word about it, unless you really need it to save yourself.

    A couple of stories on the subject:



  8. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Looking at the desks in every newsroom I've been in, there has been either no rules on destroying notes or it's the least-enforced policy on Earth, save maybe traveling in the NBA.
  9. Cousin Jeffrey

    Cousin Jeffrey Active Member

    I always thought you wanted to destroy notes that could force you to testify for, or against, anyone. Not that it would preclude you for being involved in a legal case, but you don't want to be in that situation. As for libel, I guess if you interview an NBA star saying he hates gays, foreigners and Jews, and you publish it, yeah, save the tape.
  10. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    I've never heard of a paper encouraging reporters to destroy their notes. I have all my notes dating back to 1998 when I started (most in a spare bedroom at home). I've also know of several other reporters who keep all their notes, some stored away after a certain period of time, though.
  11. wickedwritah

    wickedwritah Guest

    But as 21 said, if you only hold on to select notes, that will be used against you in court.

    I say throw them all away. Maybe, maybe if you have something damning, you put it in a safe deposit box somewhere.
  12. TwoGloves

    TwoGloves Well-Known Member

    I don't keep 'em. Almost got called to testify once in a lawsuit for a guy who had been hurt. I told the lawyer it happened a couple of years earlier, I had no clue where my notes were and everything that was relevant was in the story. Never got called to court.
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