With their latest edition, Byline, Field Notes continues this tradition with the story of telling a story. Byline, the 31st edition of the popular Field Notes subscription service takes a detour from the traditional 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches pocket notebook format and introduces a new reporter’s notebook format that measures 3.75 inches by 8 inches.
Spurred by a request from John Dickerson, famed reporter and host of Face the Nation on CBS, Field Notes created a modified reporter's notebook that focuses on simplicity, usability, and a fine writing experience. Working with Dickerson, Field Notes made some clever design decisions that improve upon the traditional reporter's notebook and still maintain many hallmarks of Field Notes design. Byline is not perfect, but it is a stellar notebook for the price.
Field Notes offers Byline in a pack of two, enclosed in a bellyband, and then shrink-wrapped in clear plastic. The bellyband is “Fuse Green” French Construction paper. Interestingly, the ink on the bellyband is the same “Federal Blue” ink color used on the Byline covers. It looks slightly different, though, because the “offset ink is transparent so it picks up some of the paper color,” according to Bryan Bedell from Field Notes.
The packaging, as with all Field Notes notebooks, is simple and practical. The bellyband lists the issue number (FNC-31) in the upper left corner. Centered on the front of the band is the number of included books, and number of pages followed by the issue name in larger font and then a brief description. To the right of this information is a small pictograph of the notebook type and ruling. Separated by a line break, the bottom portion of the front of the bellyband provides the dimensions, binding type, Field Notes name, U.S.A. Manufacturing claim, and their ubiquitous “Durable Materials” and “Pocket Size” designations.
Both sides of the belly band feature thin lines to help identify the ruling of the notebook with the Field Notes name printed on top. Around back, the bellyband continues the Colors tradition of the Field Notes name followed by their motto, “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” Below the motto is the product’s bar code, “A DDC/CP JOINT”, and the Field Notes website address.
The French Construction paper is attached behind the back side of the bellyband via adhesive. There is some variation among bellybands on how straight the two ends of the bellyband are attached.
Byline is a radical departure from previous editions of the Colors series. While the Arts & Sciences edition was the first Colors edition to deviate from the 3.5 inch by 5.5 inch pocket book size, Byline not only introduces a new size, but it also features several other changes. Starting with the cover, the previously-named "For Internal Records" section moves to the front cover and gets a new name: "Who/ What/ When/ Where/ Why". The cover now flips up to open as opposed to previous editions that opened from the side. The back cover also includes another first for Field Notes Colors: a built-in pocket to store loose papers or the included story from Dickerson.
Perhaps most notable among the changes in this edition is the binding. Byline uses Double-O ring wire on the top, which is the same type used in their Steno Books and 56-Week Planners. All previous Colors editions, though, use three staples on the side. The ring binding is hidden behind the cover and exposed upon opening the notebook.
Inside the Byline edition, there are 70 pages (35 sheets) of 70-pound Cougar Natural vellum paper with college ruled lines spaced 7.1 millimeters apart. Field Notes refers to the color of the golden brown lines as "Double Knee Duck Canvas", a name Draplin gave as "a reference to the khaki color/ style of men's work pants," according to Bedell.
The paper itself is a natural, off-white color. The top of the paper runs 17 mm down to a set of double lines spaced 1 mm apart. Within this top area are the square cutouts for the ring binding, so the usable space for this title section is approximately 10.5 mm tall.
Despite its design as a reporter's notebook, Field Notes chose not to use the more traditional Gregg ruling of 8.7 mm spacing between lines with a single margin down the center of the page. According to Field Notes, Gregg ruling feels too wide and too dark. Below the double lines, there are 25 college-ruled lines. The curvature for the rounded corners starts approximately 2 mm above the last line, so there are 25 full rows of usable space beneath the double lines.
There are ten sets of silver-colored Double-O rings, with each set spaced approximately 5 millimeters apart. Each ring is less than a millimeter thick with a diameter of approximately 11 mm, while each set of rings is just shy of 3 mm across. Each set loops through square boxes punched into the inside paper as well as the cover. The squares are 4 mm by 4 mm. Field Notes states that "the diameter of the binding has been customized, as have the die-cut holes that the binding passes through, for maximum 'flippability.'" In use, I have to agree with this as the paper glides smoothly over the rings when flipping pages.
A neat design trick that Field Notes used with Byline is that both sets of square holes punched into the cover are on the back side with a scored line between them. This allows the single-piece cover to flip over the top of the rings and hide them when the cover is closed. It provides a more refined look to the front cover and perhaps even protects the rings from some daily use or from interfering with loose clothing, bags, or pockets.
The cover has a clay-gray color, referred to as "Wrought Iron", with "Federal Blue" ink used for printing. The cover now flips up to open as opposed to previous editions that opened from the side. The built-in pocket on the inside back cover can store loose papers or the included story from Dickerson. The pocket starts on the left side, 70 mm down from the top fold. It is cut on an angle from left to right with a softly-rounded corner on the right side. Interestingly, the entire cover, including the pocket is one piece of 120-pound cover stock that is die cut, glued at the bottom, then bound and corner-rounded. The pocket is open on the top and right as well as in the bottom left corner where it is rounded. The single-piece cover folds over the binding rings. The top of the fold features the Field Notes brand name.
When open and folded over, the front of the cover protrudes 25 mm out from the bottom of the notebook. At first, this protrusion looks odd, but in use, it's a clever design to extend the bottom of the notebook when holding in hand. As you approach the bottom of the page, the extra 25 mm from the cover that protrudes out allows your hand to more naturally grip the notebook, while giving your other hand easy access to the last bit of page.
The front cover features the standard Field Notes name in large Futura letters. Beneath the brand name, three lines of basic specifications appear in smaller lettering. About two-thirds of the way down on the front cover, there is an Aaron Draplin-designed logo featuring an eagle with wings spread and holding a click-pen and a lightning bolt. Near the bottom, the previously-named "For Internal Records" section moves to the front cover and gets a new name: "Who/ What/ When/ Where/ Why". As part of a reporter's notebook, the front cover is rather utilitarian with just a splash of personality showing from the eagle logo. I like it.
Inside the front cover, there is a lot of print, but Field Notes does a good job of maintaining open space on the top half to balance out the text-heavy bottom. Starting from the top, the first section features a long rectangle with rounded top corners for users to write their names. On the left side of the rectangle are the usual checkboxes for titles. One choice is new to this edition, though. "For Byline, we went with 'Mx' (the English genderless honorific) just because transgender rights were in the news a lot as we were putting it together," Bedell explained, "and there's debate in the news media about whether or not to add 'Mx' to the various stylebooks."
Next up is the usual "Pertinent Coordinates" section for address and phone details. New to this edition is a line for company name. The following section includes a space for an email address and checkboxes for offering or not offering a reward in case of turning over a found notebook. As with Arts & Sciences, there is then a playful statement about the company: "Field Notes Brand: 'All the print that fits!'".
With the upcoming presidential election here in the United States, the middle of the inside cover is a timely map of the US with both time zone and electoral vote information. The bottom section is a glossary of editorial and newsroom terms, titled "Talk Like Ben Bradlee". Finally, there is a line directing readers to the Field Notes website.
The inside front cover is dense with information that fits with the theme of the edition and the time in which it was released. The fill-in-the-blank personal information sections that dominate the top third of the inside front cover are practical in use and help balance the text-heavy lower portion of the cover.
The inside back cover starts off traditionally — for Field Notes Colors editions — with the Field Notes name followed by the "Our Story" and "Specifications" sections. Then, the inside back cover eschews the "Practical Applications" section found in many , but not all Colors notebooks, for a smaller version of the eagle logo on the front cover. Beneath the logo, on the underside of the folder, the rest of the space is blank. On top of the folder itself, Field Notes acknowledges Dickerson's contribution to this edition and promotes his television show, podcast, and upcoming book.
Below the acknowledgement, there is a section for "Common Proofreading Marks". This section is a slimmed down, and more focused, version of the same section found on the inside front cover of the Arts book from the Art & Sciences set. It contains sixteen script marks along with brief descriptions with built-in examples. While they call it a reporter's notebook, Field Notes acknowledges editors with this section as well.
After the proofreading marks section, Field Notes includes a classic quote from famed Chicago news reporter and editor Edward Eulenberg: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Following the quote are side-by-sections entitled "Source Guidelines" and "Estates".
The "Source Guidelines" section is a four-item glossary for defining different types of sources for news stories. These types include on the record, off the record, background, and deep background. The "Estates" section provides a brief history and description of groups of people historically classified as different estates. Finally, the bottom of the inside back cover includes the usual "What You Can Do About It", copyright, and edition size and date. The Byline edition is limited to 25,000 two-packs (50,000 notebooks total).
The back cover follows the design of previous Colors editions. All but the bottom of the cover is blank. Unique to this edition, the "-30-" mark, referenced on the inside front cover in the "Talk Like Ben Bradlee" section, appears above the Field Notes name and website address. This mark is "code to indicate the end of a typed manuscript to editors and typesetters". At the very bottom of the back cover, Field Notes includes the line "Proudly printed and manufactured in the U.S.A. - 'A DDC/ CP Joint'".
Like the front, the back cover is practical and full of information. The pocket on the inside is simple and designed to hold just a few scraps of paper at most, but it's a nice touch and works well enough with the elongated size of Byline.
The real star of the Byline show may be the paper itself. The 70-pound (104 gsm) Cougar Natural vellum paper is smooth and deceptively durable. The vellum finish feels smooth to the touch, but provides sufficient tooth for a wide variety of media. From inks to graphite and markers, the paper in Byline handles everything with aplomb. The combination of the smooth feel and hidden depth to absorb various media make this paper better than any other paper Field Notes used in previous Colors editions.
The paper is smooth to the touch. The vellum has just a small amount of tooth when writing on it. It holds both ink and lead well. The paper shows a fair amount of shading with inks that tend to shade. Most surprising to me is the paper's performance against bleed through and ghosting. I was unable to get any ink to bleed through the paper using normal writing strokes and a variety of inks and nibs. There was very little ghosting with inks in broader nibs and none with inks in finer nibs or with any pencil leads. Pencils glide smoothly and don't press into the paper. Further, the Byline paper was impervious to my large Pitt Big Brush Pen.
Inside every Byline notebook, Field Notes includes a four-page bifold featuring a selection from Dickerson's upcoming book. The story falls under the masthead of "Field Notes Statesman" dated Monday, 18th of July, 1803 (which was indeed a Monday). For subscribers only, Field Notes also includes a sticker of the eagle logo from the front and inside back covers of Byline.
Writing on Byline is great. The paper is smooth, the colors and ruling do not steal attention, and the pages are sufficiently sized for using on a desk or in hand while standing. To me, this may be the best paper I have so far used in any Field Notes edition. It's not nearly as smooth as Tomoe River paper, nor nearly as rough as Workshop Companion. Pens and pencils still tend to glide across the page. Inks dry rapidly on the vellum finish, and the small amount of tooth the paper provides gives the most subtle hint of feedback when writing. Ink colors maintain vividness on the paper, and inks that shade show that feature nicely in Byline. Graphite from pencils shows well on the Cougar Natural paper. Byline is my favorite Field Notes notebook for writing to date.
- Cougar Natural vellum paper is a delight to use
- Handles a wide variety of inks and leads
- Narrower reporter's style (3.75 inches versus traditional 4 inch width) is easy to use when holding with one hand
- Clever cover design hides ring binding when closed and includes small built-in pocket in back
- When open, the front cover extends 25 mm past the end of the notebook, making it easier to hold while writing near the bottom of a page
- Pages flip easily over ring binding
- Unique size doesn't easily fit many existing cases and covers (or the Field Notes Archival Wooden Box)
- Built-in pocket only useful for a few sheets of paper or cards
Who is this for
Field Notes obviously designed Byline with reporters and editors in mind, but I think this notebook can work for a variety of other people, too. For those who want a simple, portable notebook that works just as easily on a desk, without taking up much space, as it does holding in hand, Byline is a terrific choice. If you need to take notes on the go, Byline should be under consideration. For those who make lists, Byline's long portrait orientation with college ruling works well, too.
Field Notes prides itself on its American heritage. In the eagle logo on the cover, there are thirteen lines above the eagle itself. The bald eagle is the national bird and national animal of the United States, which was founded with the original thirteen colonies. The American flag features thirteen stripes representing these colonies.
This is the patent that Field Notes references in the “Specifications” section on the inside back cover.
Where to buy
Byline is available directly from Field Notes for US$12.95 per two-pack or $97 as part of a one-year subscription to their quarterly Colors series. Byline is also available at many online and in-store retailers.