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Do you have the tools to be a reporter?

Reporters will sometimes use some very high-tech tools. They analyze data, capture video, audio or photo, compose and edit stories that are then shared to the internet, television, radio and print.

However, a reporter’s tools don’t have to be cutting-edge. In fact, even though I’m fairly young and technically inclined, my favorite tool is still my plain old reporter’s notebook. I rarely go anywhere without one.

My notebook, with which I use a pencil because ink can freeze in the cold Michigan winters, allows me to take notes, record quotes, draw small pictures or maps, edit my notes on the fly and more, all without the danger of running a battery dead or accidentally deleting a file. It may not work for everything I want for a story, but for a newspaper reporter, the notes in a notebook are the only thing I absolutely can’t do my job without.

I also often carry a camera. You might see me around with a white-bodied Canon hanging around my neck. It’s an entry-level DSLR, but still cost me a couple hundred dollars (on sale). I enjoy playing with the settings to get different visual effects. I always carry a spare battery, and since I regularly forget my SD card in my computer, I keep a spare one of those in my camera bag, too.

It doesn’t take a DSLR to take usable photos, though. Smaller “point and shoot” cameras take good photos, especially outdoors, and the cameras on cell phones are getting better and better, too. I’ll admit to taking photos on my phone when I’ve forgotten my SD card or my regular camera’s battery died (it doesn’t handle the cold any better than an ink pen). There are also apps available to give you access to settings that mimic a DSLR, giving the motivated smartphone photographer more options to capture that tough shot.

Some reporters carry their laptops with them to take notes with. I only do this when I’m covering a meeting where I know for certain I’ll be sitting down and not moving much. Trying to keep notes on a computer while moving and keeping track of my camera and voice recorder can be too much, but I do type faster than I write, so for longer meetings it’s helpful.

If you’re taking photo, audio or video recordings, you’ll probably want to edit them with a computer when you get back home or to the office. We use Adobe software in the office, but I use Pixlr’s free editor at Pixlr.com for my photos at home. If I take video, it’s typically with my phone. I use the free version of InShot to edit those right on my phone before I share them. InShot also works for photos on your phone.

I mentioned I use a digital voice recorder in long meetings. I will also use a recorder for walking interviews during parades or marches when it’s too difficult to write. I don’t like having to spend time transcribing audio interviews into text, so I’ll take handwritten notes whenever I can, but having a recorder can be a nice option to have and a great backup for meetings. I’ve never owned a cell phone that couldn’t record audio, but even nice phones won’t take as high-quality audio as a dedicated stereo recorder. I use a Zoom H1.

If you have a good smartphone, it can potentially replace all of these tools. I don’t like putting all my trust in one device (at least carry a notebook as a backup), but if you want to travel light, or if you’re just most comfortable with a smartphone, there are reporters out there that do it.

The most important consideration for your choice of equipment is your familiarity with it. It won’t do you any good to buy a fancy recorder or camera if you don’t know how to use it properly, and a good writer (or a mediocre one with a good editor) can paint a picture with only words. Start with the tools you have and know how to use, and acquire new ones as you grow to need them. People are often better equipped than they know.

Joshua Vissers holds a B.A. in multimedia journalism and is associate editor at the Daily Mining Gazette. Send questions to jvissers@mininggazette.com.

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