Gadgets and the new age journalist

IN Digital Media | 01/01/1900
Gadgets and the new age journalist

It is good to remember that despite the advances technology isn`t foolproof. It can ruin you but it can also save you.

Jyothi Kiran

Not too long ago, Mathew Arnold said that journalism was literature in a hurry. Today, we live in the digital era where journalism is racing. Gone are the days of notepad and pencil journalism. Bye-bye ink, paper and text; welcome digital journalism where gadgets rule, where journalists transmit their stories through multiple media in a jiffy.

Increasingly, journalists are marketing their stories via multiple media, that is in print, video and cyber space. They don`t wait to see their print story being picked up by broadcast media under a different byline. Thanks to technology and convergence media, today`s journalist submits his story in multiple formats and thus gains more mileage and visibility. But to make this happen, the journalist has to invest in technology. Indeed, today`s journalist can choose from an overwhelming array of gadgets to make his job easier and faster.

Ask a few seasoned journalists to name one have-to-have gadget they swear by and responses vary. Anita Pratap, CNN`s former bureau chief in India and columnist, says: "No journalist can function without a laptop. Then it depends on whether you are print or TV journalist. If print, then a tape recorder is vital. " Anand Sagar, former bureau chief, The Gulf News, believes that a budding journalist should invest in not one, but at least two essential gadgets. "A camera and the dictaphone are definitely two items you should invest in," he says, but adds cautiously, "It may sound a trifle old fashioned. But I would never get into a field reporting situation without some low-tech but high-reliability gadget like a small, portable, manual typewriter as an alternative fool proof back up option."

Filmmaker and New Media specialist Anirban Roy currently a producer with Reuters Online service says. " If you want to catch up with new age journalism there are certain basic requirements." He never leaves home without his favorite accessories. "The cell phone and the audio recorder are musts for me for covering any event. They are essentials for any story as backups and for the speed of dissemination of news. " (See Box)

But journalists come in various moulds. Some are die-hard technologists, constantly on the lookout for the latest gadgets, others are cautious about technology. But while one can safely say most Indian journalists own at least two gadgets all journalists swear it is the story-telling technique that is more important than gadgets. Smita Paul, a freelance multimedia journalist based in New York who has worked for Discovery Channel and most recently for Star Focus Asia among others says in an email: " The most important thing is a good story-telling skill. These `gadgets` are simply tools to get that story across. I wouldn`t focus on the tools, I would focus on the best way to present information: What part of the story is best said in video? What needs to be explained in text or an illustration? What is the architecture of the information?"

How much money should a journalist invest on these tools? Should an investment be made at all? Paul hesitates to commit because she doesn`t want students to think that they need all these tools or else they can`t pursue their interest in multimedia journalism. "The best thing I can suggest is that they find a job with an organization interested in exploring multimedia storytelling. Budget is crucial but if you are keen on becoming a multimedia journalist you should invest in a good laptop that has the capacity to edit video, a small digital video camera that can capture still images as well."

So exactly what will be the damages? Sagar says his list of two essentials gadgets, camera and dictaphone, should not cost a rookie more than Rs. 5,000. His advice to budding journalists is invest in "low-tech but high fidelity gadgets like an analog cassette recorder and a camera with which you can click and shoot." As the journalist develops he should opt for high -end items

But it`s good to remember that despite the advances technology isn`t foolproof. It can ruin you but it can also save you. Roy relates an anecdote when he was working as a television journalist: "We had interviewed the CEO of a multinational company and were reviewing the tapes in the edit suite. We found that the tape had not recorded any sound although the sound recording artist was monitoring the sound through his headphones and the audio levels were also being registered on the camcorder. Luckily, I had switched on my audio recorder as a safety back up and that saved our skin. So, in one day, technology both failed us and saved us."

It isn`t always technology but your own frame of mind that could fail you. Take the case of SAJA (South Asian Journalist Association) award winning journalist Viji Sundaram who pressed the wrong button on her digital recorder and lost the story, time and money on more than one occasion. Once in Palo Alto, Sundaram recounts, she happened to meet Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. In her excitement, every time Bhutto said, "This is off the record, " Sundaram pressed the wrong button, erasing everything she had recorded.

But just because technology has failed you once, doesn`t mean that it is not useful. The trick is to be prepared before you go on your field trip. Double check if your laptop has enough memory in it. You don`t want it to freeze on you just when you are about to press the `send` button. Also, make sure the batteries are charged and there are enough replacements available. And to be on the safer side, it doesn`t harm to carry a little notepad and a pencil. Remember not all old- technology is obsolete.

Jerry Caplan New York-based reporter who has worked for Time Magazine for Kids, Yahoo! And Internet Life specializes in tech issues has a different perspective. "I think the most underutilized piece of technology in newsrooms today is the computer. That may sound strange but many reporters and editors don`t use computers to their full capacity because they don`t realize the power of the tools computers can provide, most notably, the Internet. Many reporters and editors don`t realize how much they can do with the Internet in terms of research, reporting, interviewing, data analysis, investigative research and so on. This tool is widely and readily available, but people are slow in taking maximum advantage of it. Better newsroom training is needed to help reporters maximize their use of the Net. "

Certainly technology is making it easier for journalists to switch media. Increasingly there is a trend among Indian journalists to go multimedia. Journalists like Kerala-based Joshua Newton is switching to becoming a photojournalist primarily because gadgets have made the change easier. Technology is becoming more user friendly; less intimidating. The only skill they need to know is an understanding of technology and not forget the basics of journalism as Paul suggests.

Roy, too, after six years in the electronic media moved to the medium of digital media and new media communications. "I am fascinated by the potential of digital media as a tool of mass communication and firmly believe in the power of convergence".

Of course, if you cannot afford any of these, you can always rely on your notepad and pencil. After all, the quality of your copy that you turn in to your editor has no direct relation to the number of gadgets you own. Just because you own the best technology doesn`t make you a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.


Basics About Dictaphone/ Voice Recorders

The first thing you do before you buy a dictaphone is to make a decision whether you want an analog or a digital recorder. Analog recorders are cheaper but then, you don`t have the advantage of sending audio files via e-mail. You will end up shipping the cassette and have to spend on shipping cost each time you want to send your audio story.

For those who are not very tech savvy, analog recorders are the safest bet as they are less complicated. Analog voice recorders are available for Rs 1200 where as digital ones easily cost between Rs. 3000 to Rs. 5000. Again the prices vary on the features like the duration of recording time, which can run from 60-minute to 90-minute or more.

On the other hand, if you invest in a digital voice recorder you can send audio files directly without having to bother about digital conversion of your files while sending your story to a radio station. A good buy is a Sony ICD-BP 150VTP digital recorder fits into any shirt pocket--it`s only 1.25 cm thick and has an inbuilt microphone. According to the manufacturers it is a perfect device for the medical and legal professions as well as for journalists.


Check out Roy`s Check List.
  • A normal/analog cassette audio recorder.
  • A cell phone with a phonebook capacity of minimum 250 entries in the phone, along with a capacity of 100 entries in the SIM card for storing telephone numbers.
  • A laptop computer that can communicate with your cell phone via a data cable or an infrared device for transmitting your stories from the spot.
  • A digital still camera of minimum 2-mln pixels resolution for those breaking news and exclusive first pictures scenario.
  • A telephone recording device/adapter for recording those over the telephone interviews/quotes (with prior permission of the person of course)
  • An emergency charger for your cell phone.
  • Last but definitely not the least, spare batteries/cassettes for the recorder and the pen and pad -- de rigueur for all journalists worth their salt.

Jyothi Kiran teached New Media at the Indian Institute for Journalism and New Media and can be contacted at

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