Just like my previous Field Notes versus Write Notepads review, I don’t expect this one to be easy nor conclusive as to a clear winner (not that this is contest; it’s really a celebration of the amazing options we have these days in the stationery world with well-done and highly useful notebooks).
As a special bonus, I’ve locked up with Mr. Pencil, Johnny Gamber of Pencil Revolution for a tag-team blogging effort to cover these two great reporter notebooks. We’ll each be giving our overall opinions, but I’ll restrict my tool testing to fountain pens while Johnny will cover graphites. Jump over to his post and check out how these two notebooks perform with pencils.
Reporter Form and Function
Before I dive into particulars, let’s take a moment to appreciate the why of the reporter notebook form. Back in the day when reporters were plenty and spent much of their work lives on the beat, on their feet running from one story or source to another, or frantically reviewing things to hit their deadlines, they didn’t have iPhones or iPads to capture notes: they had to frantically scratch out facts and quotes on pocket notebooks. The nature of this work generally required something large enough to write a lot in, easily pocketable, and quick to flip through double-checking facts, finding pithy quotes, etc.
I’m not exactly sure what they used as notepads, but the flip-top reporter-style pad is not a recent invention: Moleskine and many others have had flip-top notebooks for a long time, but these two new twists on an old standard go much farther than merely rotating the binding 90 degrees clockwise.
Both companies share common approaches: similar size, top wire binding, pocketable-ish (if you have large pockets), ruled pages for note taking, and quality paper to handle any type of writing tool. But that’s where the similarities end: each takes a different approach to the overall feel and user-intangibles, each bringing different nuances to their version of this classic form.
Field Notes Byline
The last time Field Notes strayed from their beloved form factor was the COLORS release of their two-pack Arts & Sciences with its oversized form and innovative page layouts. The Field Notes hordes were generally not amused, and A&S took a while to sell and even longer (if they’ve even gotten there) to gain respect. Fast forward to Summer 2016 and Field Notes goes outside the lines once more to release an out-sized reporter pad steeped in historical journalism connections and co-conceived by the famed journalist, John Dickerson.
Bylines brings several innovations to the table and once more rattles the sensibilities of the Field Notes obsessed (of which I am one), but while my sensibilities were embraced and not rattled on this one, some of the faithful cried foul on venturing beyond the stock 3.5″ x 5.5″ pocket notebook form. I think upon holding and using, some of these initial negative feelings may change and users discover different uses for Bylines than what they typically associate with the standard Field Notes form.
Byline overall feels and looks like something from a vintage era, yet crisp and clean with modern touches added. From the soft (to the touch and eyes) cover that protects the wire binding from snagging when closed and flips over easily, to the pocket on the inside back cover, and then to the easy-on-the-eyes natural-colored paper, Bylines definitely has a cool factor that invites use and thought into how to use this everyday.
In use, fountain pens perform very well in Bylines, perhaps as well as any paper Fields Notes has offered to date. While previous notable fountain-pen-friendly issues such as America the Beautiful, Shelterwood, and recently Workshop Companion (and a nod to Sweet Tooth’s pen-friendliness although blank and colored paper) let a fountain pen user be pretty happy in a Field Notes, the Byline goes up a notch with paper that is a bit smoother than those three. I especially like the paper’s natural color, but I’ve always been a fan of light cream paper for writing. In my brief pen test, all felt great writing in Bylines and show through (my bane of notebooks with bad paper) is nearly non-existent. I also love the double rule at the top to allow for headings or other structure written above the line.
Write Reporter’s Notepad
Two things set Write Notepads apart from the typical notebook maker: made in Baltimore with pride and their ongoing commitment to giving back to their community by donating a notebook to a Baltimore public school for every notebook they sell. And that terrific aspect of buying their products continues with their new Reporter’s Notepad.
Like all Write notebooks, they are seriously into beefy covers, sturdy wire bindings, and high quality production. Since they are both the designers and physical producers on site, they have the luxury of doing notebook runs as they need to which allows for optimum quality control on every book they produce. Although their designs fall to the utilitarian side of things more than Field Notes typically, they are passionate about materials and quality of their final product and it shows.
Write’s approach to the reporter pad form is very straight forward: provide great paper, beefy chipboard covers for a sturdier writing surface, a top wire-binding that will outlast the pages, and great paper that takes all kinds of writing tools with great-to-excellent results. If you prefer a more no-nonsense approach and more pages in one notebook, you may lean to the Write Reporter’s Pad. I see an edge to Write’s version for something I’d use around the house or at my desk. Sitting in my easy chair taking notes or spinning ideas, the extra thick covers offer an edge in comfort over the more flexible Bylines covers.
In my brief fountain pen test, Write did excellent and all pens felt great. Show through is just about absent, with a few tiny spots appearing, but less than the Field Notes (which itself had very little, the difference being pretty miniscule). Paper is very smooth, and if this is their new standard paper, it’s a winner and among the best out there in general notebook paper for fountain pens.
I like them both, a lot, and even as I’m at this point in drafting this post, I’m still not able to do a 1-2 placement! Apologies to those looking for an outright choice. In my final analysis, it seems to fall into considering several camps when choosing one over the other:
Allegiance – If you’re a diehard Field Notes fan, you’ll likely buy Bylines. By the same token, if you’ve been using Write Notepads all along, you’ll feel very comfortable with this extension of their approach in this new reporter’s form.
Usage – If mobility and weight is your primary concern, I’d give an edge to Bylines. It is lighter, thinner, and has a flexibility that could be useful pocketing, sitting on it while in your back pocket, etc. But…with only 70 pages, you might be changing notebooks sooner versus Write’s hefty 120-page benefit. But again…if what’s most important is using as a stand-there-and-take-notes tool, the stiffness of the Write Reporter’s may jump past Byline’s edge in portable convenience. For a notebook on your desk, open for your next inspiration, an edge to Write’s in my mind.
Cool factor – This will depend on your preferences to begin with. Bylines has a coolness edge to me for its overall vintage feel, extras such as back pocket, covered wire binding, and inside covers reading stuff. Yet some will prefer the more no-nonsense, minimalistic approach that the Write Reporter’s Pad offers, and who admire (as I do) what Write does for the community with each purchased notebook. Always nice writing in a notebook and realizing your purchase helped someone in need.
In the end, these two have as many similarities as they have differences. They are both deserving of consideration and both fill a niche in the market nicely. Choose either, choose both: you can’t lose.
Where to Buy
Disclaimer: Both test notebooks were of my own purchase and not provided by either maker. I also consistently use notebooks from both sources and use both maker’s products in my everyday writing, note taking and the other good stuff for which I use small notebooks.