Get in gear

I’m not a gearhead, although I sometimes play one in our newsroom.

I’ve always thought it’s as important to learn how to do the best you can with whatever equipment is available than have the best, newest, shiniest, most expensive toys and gadgets. Not that I don’t want the best, newest, shiniest toys – I just never seem to get them.

As the industriy formerly known as newspapers, in particular, and journalism in general begins to move into the converging world of multimedia, planning discussions invaribly jumps to equipment. What do we need? What don’t we have?  What does everyone else have that we don’t?

My question is: what are we going to do with what we have, or what our budget allows?

I’m reminded of a friend who is a recording producer of real music that people buy.  He will talk at length about all the great music recorded with a couple of microphones on acetate tape.  Few over the age of 16 would argue that Little Richard’s music dwindles in comparison to Britney Spears, because she has more sophisticated recording tools at her disposal.  Only my kids, teens and preteens, would dismiss “Casablanca,” simply because it was filmed in black and white.

Still, you can read blogs and comments, and hear arguments erupting in newsrooms all over the country, that we need the most expensive tools we can find in order to make this new journalism work. But we’re talking too little about the stories we tell.

No wonder so many journalists, young and old, are intimidated about embracing the changing future.  You don’t have to be.

Just look at these videos. It’s an inspiring piece of work circulating around the multimedia discussion boards.  Peter Read Miller and Max Morse went to Mexico on assignment for Sports Illustrated to shoot wrestlers.  Morse shot the video with a Canon Powershot SD800.  It’s as good or better than most of what I’ve seen shot with more expensive equipment.

I’m not saying news organizations shouldn’t outfit their staffs with the best possible equipment.  I’m constantly sending our on-line editor links to the best buys on new audio and video equipment. I was thrilled when we got a $400 Mp3 recorder to replace the digital recorder I bought in 2002 for $40.

What in my bag?  Right now, some low-end equipment to get me started:

  • A Nady Sp-5 microphone (bought three for $25, gave two away).
  • An Edirol R-09 ($400, purchased by
  • A Nikon CoolPix, point-and-shoot (purchased on sale for $300).
  • A Canon Elura camcorder (no longer available; the first video cam purchased by our newsroom for about $400, but it works).  There’s also various plugs and patch cords so everything hooks up together.
  • For quick filing of breaking news, I picked up a T-Mobile Dash ($165 with contract extension; I needed a new phone anyway) and a Bluetooth folding keyboard. (about $90 with shipping).  I’m still hoping newsrooms will decide to reimburse reporters who buy these smartphones (especially mine).  I’m sold on them as a mobile solution.

This all fits comfortably into a briefcase.  It didn’t break anyone’s bank. I also carry a cheap tripod in the trunk of my car for video.

New equipment is on the way, as the company’s capital budget, and my own, allows.

In the meantime, I’ve even brought back some stories that people actually watched and enjoyed.

If  you’re a reporter who’s only had to worry about a pen and notebook for years, all this talk can be quite intimidating.

It’s comforting to know that with a few items that can fit in a briefcase, or even a purse, you can get your MoJo working. These days, that’s short for “mobile journalist.”  It’s also the title of an old school blues song, which to me sounds better with Muddy Waters singing it on a scratchy 78 than any version ringing with from latest digital gadget.

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