In bygone days a journalist covering an event was likely to be accompanied by a photographer, cameraman or both. Nowadays due to universal budget cuts a modern journalist is often expected to file text, photos and video all by themselves.
To make matters trickier, the toolkit required by a modern journalist has evolved a long way from a pen, shorthand skills and notepad to include all manner of gadgets, imaging and data entry devices.
This is an insight into the kinds of tools I use for journalism and blogging, including in my role a few days ago as Blog Editor of the Media140 OzPolitics conference, taking charge of blog content & leading an embedded team of distinguished Australian bloggers & tweeters.
This is a photo of some of the tools available to me when covering a press conference, trade show, product launch or other similar event.
EDITOR: This article got sent around a lot on Twitter thanks to Jay Rosen and Dave Winer. After reading comments made by people who read the article I want to make the point that having a toolkit available in your office allows you to pick as many/few tools as needed for a particular job, I’m not suggesting carrying all of them everywhere.
Laptop: The choice is between a Small Netbook, Medium Ultraportable or Large Desktop Replacement.
Netbooks such as the ASUS one pictured above have the benefit of being light, not costing too much and giving you lots of battery life. Desktop replacements like the Macbook Pro are fast, with a big screen and ability to do serious multimedia work like editing video but are disadvantaged by their bulk, quite expensive price and quickly depleted battery. If you can afford the premium price of an Ultraportable laptop these offer the best of both worlds.
Smartphone: such as iPhone and Android let you make phone calls, SMS, surf the web, record audio interviews, take photos and video, use specialist applications, write stories and so much more … until your battery runs out which is why they’re useful as a jack of all trades and last resort but if you’re covering an event for an extended period it’s better to have a dedicated camera, video recorder etc to take the burden off your smartphone.
Accessing the Internet: you could rely on the free WiFi provided by event organisers provide it but this can be a risky strategy as free WiFi is often slow and unreliable. The faster but more expensive option is to get a USB wireless broadband device and use that to file your photos and story and access the internet.
It may be tempting to save money and choose a cheap option but it’s ultimately better to use wireless broadband from the mobile carrier which has the biggest and fastest mobile network in your country (in Australia this is Telstra).
Camera/s: My preference for a pocket camera is the Canon S90/S95 which offers an unbeatable design, fast F2.0 lens and 4x optical zoom all packed in a sleek metal case that easily slips into my jeans pocket.
I personally use a Pentax K7 Digital SLR which is the best rugged camera for my uses which include work photography in cities and holiday trips to places off the beaten track.
If all else fails you can use your smartphone camera but it’s likely to struggle in low light, with fast movements or if your subject is some distance away because cameraphones lack optical zoom.
Video Recorder: Smartphones and pocket video recorders the size of a mobile phone from Flip, Kodak, JVC and other companies are an option. They lack optical zoom and need a tripod to ensure steady video but are quite popular to record press conferences etc for publishing to Youtube. For better quality video recordings I suggest using a prosumer digital SLR camera.
Tripod: Placing your camera or video recorder on a tripod is the difference between steady video footage and shuddery nausea inducing video. Which type of video do you think your audience prefers? If you’re unsure about which kind of tripod you need read my guide to choosing a tripod.
Sturdy Analog Wristwatch: Proves surprisingly useful for keeping track of the time and date. Watch and laugh as other people who rely on their smartphone to tell them the time have no idea what time it is in the evening because their smartphone battery has gone flat.
USB Drive: A fast high capacity USB drive is a much easier way to share a large amount of data with someone else at the event than emailing it or uploading to a file sharing site. Note that USB drives vary a lot in quality and speed.
Power Charging Cables: Having to carry these around is the bane of a modern journalists existence, especially in the case of smartphones and laptops which are prone to alerting you with a “low battery warning” exactly when you need them to last for another few hours. However its far better to have them ready to use than miss out on a story because your gear has a flat battery.
An experienced journalist will make sure all items in their electronic toolkit are recharged every night so they’re less likely to die on the job during the day and also do a quick reconnaissance survey when arriving at an event location to discover the location of powerpoints should they be needed. A small extension cord with multiple power sockets can be useful if you have space to carry it around.