How A Journalist Prepares To Cover An Event Abroad

By Sam Sokol

I’m in Budapest now. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States. Now we must add Hungary to the list.

One of my favorite news outlets, technology website The Verge, has a recurring feature called ‘What’s in your bag?” in which journalists enumerate the various bits of tech that they use to facilitate their reporting. I had thought to do the same in these pages and to explain how my workflow as a journalist is connected to my gear.

My most important piece of equipment is my MacBook Air 13”, which is thin and light enough to be taken anywhere. Last year I found an application called Audionote, which allows me to record audio while typing notes and then to replay specific clips of my interviews by clicking on the notes I have typed while that audio was being recorded. It is an invaluable tool for the journalist who does not want to be distracted by too much typing during an interview when he would rather be giving his full attention to the subject.

For times when a laptop cannot be used, such as while circulating in a crowd and getting candid remarks, a spiral notebook, Bic pen, and my trustee Olympus VN-3500PC digital voice recorder. My recorder works well in noisy settings and while it is certainly not good enough for radio work, it’s good enough for transcription.

As a journalist, you sometimes get accused of messing up quotes by people who are unhappy with something they said. That is when having a library of recorded interviews as backup comes in handy. My policy is to record interviews, transcribe the quotes, and then place my recordings on an external 500GB hard drive.

For transcription, I use a pair of in-ear buds from JBL that, while only costing 120 shekel, have a membrane that adjusts to fit my ears and which gives me great sound, drowning out external noise when typing up an interview on a bus or, of late, plane.

During commutes, I read my news off of my Kindle, on which I have subscriptions to various publications such as Commentary, the Economist, the New York Times, the Forward, and Foreign Affairs, among others, and feeds from Reuters, AP, and Ars Technica. Other publications I either read in newsprint or online.

While I work with a very good photographer (an amazing one, actually), I sometimes need to take pictures, and for that I recently acquired an Olympus PEN E-PL1, a Micro 4/3 camera with 12.3 megapixels and an interchangeable lens system.

Essentially, it puts an almost full-size professional DSLR sensor in a compact body and allows for different lenses to be swapped out. I recently bought an adapter so that I could use the zoom lens from my old manual SLR, a Canon AE-1, which uses a different format lens.

I also use my iPhone 4 for filing stories from the road. I have, on many occasions, written up pieces in the field and then transferred the files to my flash drive app via USB, to e-mail them.

I have an unlimited data plan that comes with the first 5 GB at high speed. It’s only 3G (4G hasn’t yet made its way to the Holy Land), but it’s good enough for watching streaming news and sending pictures and articles back to the news desk.

I have gone through several bags before finding one that accommodates all of my gear safely and comfortably. One laptop bag’s strap broke and cracked my old MacBook, the zipper on another broke and almost spilled my camera, and my last had no padding and not enough space.

Finally, I bought a Timbuk2 messenger bag, which, if you read The Verge, is pretty standard among technology journalists and, I believe, hipsters. While I am neither, I do have a lot of gear and it helps with the toting. It has a dedicated padded laptop compartment that is easy to access, as well as space for my camera, and is comfortable to wear for extended periods.

At the end of the day, however, all I really need to do my job is a netbook, a notebook, and a smartphone, but having the proper gear does help.

So the next time I write something that you, dear reader, don’t like, you can always complain that “Sokol does so little with so much” . . . but I hope you don’t have cause to do so. v


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