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What’s in my reporting arsenal?

I’ve been getting several hits this weekend/today from some student blogs. From what I can gather, their assignment was to pick one of the 15 journalists’ outstanding personal sites at 10,000 words (for which I somehow made the cut) and link it to a lesson on backpack journalists.

It’s kind of an interesting tie-in, because when I look at that list I see a broad spectrum of reporters, multimedia journalists and photojournalists but no one I’d necessarily classify as a backpack journalist in my understanding of the term. I definitely wouldn’t classify myself as one. Then, I started to think about the tools I carry every day, several of which are items you’d expect out of those who specialize in this stuff. But I’m more inclined to just think the modern reporter has more flexibility to choose her medium and methods of reporting, certainly that’s what drives what I carry or don’t.

From reading a few of the blogs, it seems they are supposed to guess what I (or whomever they choose) would carry in my backpack as a reporter. I responded on one of the blogs as to what’s in my tote bag — yeah, I carry a tote bag not a backpack, even in college backpacks weren’t really my thing. Many of the student bloggers caught on to the items in my header image, but some were off-mark…

In particular, one of the posts said “I got an “old school” vibe from Miranda [sic] in that she seems to not do so well with modern technology …” I had to stifle a chuckle, because I think in my entire life this is the first time anyone has accused me of being old school. And as for not doing well with technology, behold this blog. Or the other bits of technology I carry with me everywhere. I’m kind of interested in where the idea came from (the other comments on the post backed it up they too got that vibe), but I’m not going to argue. I’d venture to say I’m one of the more technology-forward journalists I know personally. So I know better, and my regular readers probably do too. (I asked my Twitter feed and they agreed with me.) But it’s interesting I give off that vibe.

(BTW, I’d link to these posts, but kind of feel I should give them a break since this is their first foray into blogging, and though they should probably realize anything posted online is an open medium not a “me to my classmates and no one else,” I’ll leave that lesson for another day.)

The more I saw these posts the more I realized I don’t think I ever have actually posted what I carry on an every day basis here. So for those curious what tools a random newspaper reporter in middle America carries on a daily basis, here goes: (This list is actually compiled by emptying my bag to see what I found in there.)

  • My reporter’s notebook, and another small notebook to keep ideas.
  • A pencil case filled with pens, sharpies and pencils because you never know what kind of weather you’ll end up in or when your pen will run out
  • My Blackberry Pearl, on which I have actually written and filed stories/updates by e-mail from events.
  • My digital camera, which does have video capabilities but I rarely use that because I do not do video for the paper.
  • My digital voice recorder. Not only is it a good check for my notes and back-up when writing out notes is not practical, but it can be used to add some quick multimedia to my stories. (BONUS: I have an Olympus WS-311M, which means the end pops off and I can use it to double as a USB thumb drive.)
  • Business cards to hand out when someone needs to call me back or I want them to think of me for a story next time.

reporting tools
(Not pictured: The digital camera, because I used it to take the picture.)

Other misc./semi-related items:

  • My iPod because when I leave this county, the radio music selection drops to near zero. (BONUS: I can use the headphones on the digital recorder).

  • Purell, because I shake a lot of hands and covering kids I’m exposed to a lot of germs.
  • A granola bar, because you never know when you may be stranded at an assignment for hours.
  • A bottle of Excedrin, because a splitting headache during a three hour meeting makes a painful process unbearable.
  • Benadryl tablets, because being sent out to a field can induce a fit of sneezes or itchy eyes.
  • An umbrella, because ink runs when it gets wet.
  • Sunblock, because my skin is fair and you can’t predict when something will break that requires you to stand out in the blaring sun.
  • A small first-aid kit, because I am accident prone and attract paper cuts or fall and gather scrapes.
  • A lint roller, because some of my pants attract lint, and I want to present a professional image.
  • Shout wipes, because I frequently spill my coffee.
  • Gum, of several varieties, to hold me over when food is unavailable or keep me awake.
  • An extra contact lense, because I’ve lost one and had to drive two hours home with one eye squinting. It sucked.

What I don’t carry every where and most students assumed I do: My MacBook and the daily newspaper.

I love the computer, but it’s not always a practical or necessary sidekick. I take one to meetings, to events I’m live-blogging, or perhaps out to breaking news to file from the scene via a wireless card (except now w/my Blackberry even this is unnecessary). But for an every day assignment or an interview for enterprise piece? A laptop is just a few extra pounds to lug around. I don’t think it would work so well if I sat down to interview kindergarteners with a laptop. I make a decision on each assignment before I go what my best recording tool is. Sometimes it’s the laptop (meetings), sometimes it’s a voice recorder (press conferences, sensitive or enterprise interviews for stories I won’t immediately write), but often it’s a good old fashioned notebook and pen (classrooms, events, man on the street, etc.)

As for the newspaper, I grab it every day and skim it. But by the time I see it in print, I’ve usually already read the stories, either the night before when my colleagues filed them or online that morning. The exception to this is Sunday newspapers, because I have more leisure time on Sundays and because I do not like to read big packages online. I’m not likely to carry it in my bag, however.

And that my friends is a pretty good run down of what I do and don’t carry. I can’t speak to any of my equipment being the best, but I will say I’m satisfied with everything I have. I don’t have an iPhone but my Blackberry serves me well, and my digital camera isn’t going to take HD video or give you an amazing A1 shot, but when you need a picture in a pinch, it serves the purpose. My digital voice recorder, even without a mic it records better than most I’ve seen/used. And it’s tiny. One thing all this equipment has in common: It’s all small. When I roll with as much as I do, the smaller the better. Maybe someday I’ll consolidate it all into one tool, but for now, I’m OK letting each bit do its job.

So, maybe I should start this as a meme. What’s in your bag?

9 Responses to “What’s in my reporting arsenal?”

  1. Vera Says:

    Ok so here goes…

    in my bag today (and in most days):

    – my phone (nothing fancy, just a normal phone);
    – notebook for taking notes + moleskine for other ideas (yep, like you);
    – digital voice recorder;
    – usb flash drive (i brought two with me today but i usually only carry one);
    -loads of pens (I really should get a case for them but right now they’re just all over my bag)
    – business cards (mine and other people – the day will come when I’ll make the mistake of giving out someone else’s business card instead of mine. I really should get organised on this too);
    – my diary
    – a book
    – an umbrella

    There’s other stuff I carry with me sometimes but these are the absolute basics. Like you, I only take the laptop with me when I know I’m going to need it (e.g. conferences where I’ll have time to write stories, etc).

    Cheers! :)

  2. Kiyoshi Martinez Says:

    A lot of what you mentioned carrying is what I carried around in my tote bag as well when I did reporting. Especially the hand sanitizer! Although, I opt for the Tide-to-Go pen rather than Shout Wipes.

    Some other things I carried:

    + USB cable. You never know when you need one. I found this works w/ a lot of digital cameras, recorders, portable harddrives and my BlackBerry (bonus for being able to use the BB as a tethered modem for the laptop w/ it).

    + Flash Drive. I find use for it from time to time, although you won’t need this if you have other USB storage devices.

    + Audio cable. This was useful for plugging into audio boxes at press conferences and feeding the audio directly into my recorder.

    + Spare batteries. This has saved me and a few friend reporters from on several occassions.

    + Spare change. Because there’s always a meter to feed.

  3. Cory Armstrong Says:

    Fascinating post–all good items.

    Although it’s been a couple of years for me, I always carried a rain jacket for tornado/storm coverage, as I found that taking notes while holding an umbrella didn’t always work that well;

    A spare set of shoes for traversing those rural fields in western Pennsylvania.

    And, for those that might need it, I had a hair tie with me at all times. :)

  4. Meranda Says:

    @Vera: Interesting our bags are so similar. :) Though, I don’t actually keep a diary or journal and if I’m lightening my load, my book is usually the first to go since I tend to read hard cover.

    @Kiyoshi: I have a Tide pen in my desk at work, where I also have two other types of hand sanitizer. ;) You’re also more thoughtful about cords, batteries and change. (We don’t have more than a handful of parking meters here, we just have a lot of one-hour parking.) I should keep batteries around, and I actually do keep my camera cable around.

    @Cory: I keep a hair tie on both wrists every day, so that’s a given. My hair is halfway down my back long, and you’re right in rain storms or windy days as are common here, sometimes it needs to be pulled back. Re: Umbrella, I feel silly in rain jackets, and have gotten pretty good at holding the umbrella and the notebook in one hand. That said, a huge downpour this may not be so practical. Extra shoes is a good idea, too.

  5. Kate Martin Says:

    Great post Meranda.

    My “backpack” size changes on what I think I’ll need for the day.

    Always take with:
    * Notebooks
    * Pens of various colors (running low actually)
    * m515 Palm Pilot
    * Olympus DS 40 recorder, headphones, wired lav mic and a USB cable for the recorder, extra batteries
    * Business cards
    * USB drives of various sizes (1gb to 8gb)
    * Cell phone

    Sometimes take with (Depending on the day)
    * Asus F3F laptop (I don’t always take this to work)
    * Canon HV30 video camera (getting used to using this, but just in case, don’t always take this to work either)

    At the office:
    * Sunblock, pain killer, relaxing tea, iRiver music device with calming music to write to so I can drown out office noise

    There’s also a tripod in the car. And by reading this I realize I’m almost out of hair ties.

  6. Ron Sylvester Says:

    I cover the courthouse, so to fit in with the lawyers, my pack is a brown fake snake-skin shoulder bag my wife (an attorney) bought me for Christmas. After all, why not travel in style? And it matches my shoes. :)


    A fold-out Bluetooth keyboard for my T-Mobile Dash, used for Twittering life events and filing stories.

    A Canon HV20 high-definition video camera with extra batteries.

    A video camera bracket (I bought from a big box electronics store for $12) that connects to the tripod mount and can be used add the shotgun mic (which sticks out over the lense if you mount it on top of the camera) or a wireless kit.

    Sometimes, there’s a wireless lavalier mic kit.

    An Edirol09 mp3 recorder.

    A homemade adapter I can use to connect the miniplug from the AV input on the HV 20 into professional XLR and BNC connector for professional TV cameras, so I can plug into the court pool video.

    An adapter to go from an XLR on the shotgun microphone to the miniplug on the Canon and/or the Edirol.

    Extra batteries in the front pockets, business cards, and a cheat sheet on the specs for compressing video for our web site.

    Video tapes

    Firewire cable for downloading video.


    Ponytail holders (not for me, but they’re great to keep cords from tangling).

    Outside in the pockets:

    A legal pad.

    Business cards


    An Azden shotgun microphone.

    (I also keep a tripod in the car, but I’m trying to figure out a way to carry that with me; photogs tell me to just get a suitcase strap and sling it over the other shoulder).

  7. Mark S. Luckie Says:

    Here’s what I keep in my bag:

    Plenty of pens and pencils
    One large and one small notebook
    digital recorder
    USB drives
    A bundle of cables
    At least one magazine (for downtime)
    A knife (for opening CDs and DVDs)

    I used to carry a utilitarian Dickies bag that more than enough pockets, but I traded it in for a sleeker Adidas flight bag, which fits in better with the Hollywood types. Also because I never know when I’ll be on camera, I keep a separate bag that has:

    Tooth paste
    Lint roller
    Business shoes (you never know)

  8. Kiyoshi Martinez Says:

    @Mark: Good point about the knife! I carry a Victorinox “SwissCard” with me all the time. It’s like a Swiss Army knife, but the size of a credit card with scissors, pen knife, toothpick, tweezers & a combo nailfile/flathead screwdriver.

    Important to note though: Remember to never bring any knife into a courthouse, no matter how innocently small it seems.

  9. Paul Guinnessy Says:

    Oddly enough I used to love my little voice recorder, but its gone the way of the dodo. My tools now include

    An iphone
    voice recorder software on the iphone (and I spent monday writing all my notes at a 8 hour meeting on it. It worked surprisingly well)
    twitterific on the iphone – useful to see who is twittering near your location on a story

    Nikon P5000 10 mega pixel digital camera – why this one?: good grip, full manual control, shoots quite good video and with a 4 Gb SD card, you can record 10-16 hours of voice if required (or 2 hours of video, cards are cheap as well).

    Notepad, three pens ( you can never have enough pens)

    Bag large enough to pick up reports that are available at the meetings I go to.

    This is half the stuff I was carrying even a year ago. I would have never of thought of using the digital camera for news if it wasn’t for a visit to CERN and the Large hadron collider last year. Shot some video as an experiment and the quality was decent enough to post to the web site.

    Optional: macBook Pro (one of the old ones so its a bit slow and temperamental)
    Canon HC-V20 digital camcorder
    Stool – you’ll be amazed how useful a portable stool can be sometimes.