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February 17, 2008

Is that a Student Journalist Multimedia Survival Kit in your pocket?

By Dave Lee STD

This post is part of the Carnival of Journalism which, this month, is hosted by the Innovation in College Media blog:

“Whatever you do, don’t forget a pen and notepad,” said my tutor. “Or you’ll look like a complete pratt.”

Sound advice. Turn up for a work experience placement without a pen and you’ll look a fool. It would be like a footballer turning up without his football boots.

It’s time the ‘pen and notepad’ rule had a makeover for the Web 2.0 era. There’s more than just pen and paper these days. Journalists are creating web content on the road. Audio, video, images… oh, and the odd bit of writing too, let’s not forget.

I remember reading a blog post a long while ago about how journalists need to change their mentality towards reporting using multimedia. Some stories come across better in a single format. For example, I think good investigative journalism is still strongest in print format. A double page spread on some corruption is never missed.

But, if there’s, say, a tornado, we’re all watching amateur clips from Gerry in California. Or marvelling at a reporter being blown about all over the place. Suddenly, print is not so good.

My point is — and it’s hardly a revolutionary one — is that different stories require different sorts of coverage. Different destinations. The hard bit is it’s not always clear how a story will turn out. We have to be prepared for it all.

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So, I’ve brainstormed this:

The Student Journalist Multimedia Survival Kit

(Why ‘student journalist’ instead of just ‘journalist’? One reason: budget.)

1. Pen and Paper. Despite everything else I’m about to write, you should still keep these firmly in your back pocket. If you carry a bag about (which you should do), the bottom of it should be a mish-mash of grotty old biros. You’ll need them all some day. I carry two notepads. One is an A4 jotta pad which I use when I’ve got chance to take a moment to properly plan out a story, or interview etc. The second is a lovely little Moleskine pad which I received courtesy of Journobiz (more about that site in the future, no doubt. Join it). It fits nicely into my back pocket and looks the business. Earnest Hemingway used to use one too, apparently.

2. Mobile Phone. You’ve probably got one of these in your pocket right now. Good. But how good are you at using it? You know how to use the camera, I bet, but do you make use of services like ShoZu? With their simple application you can take a photo and upload it to Flickr straight away. While you’re at it, download Opera Mini for those moments where you need the web in an emergency, but can’t get to a computer. If you like to keep on top of your emails while on the go, the Google Mail client provides a good data-light service. Certainly a lot better than the default email clients found on most phones. And, for those more relaxing moments, pointing your mobile to provides some light poke-filled time-wasting.

Mobile video is on the up. Expect to see a lot more content produced by journalists using mobile phones, as demonstrated by a very enthusiastic Jeff Jarvis here. If you’re worried that your mobile can’t produce decent video, maybe it’s time to start looking at some contracts. I’ve just got hold of a Nokia N95 8GB for free on my contract with o2.

We mustn’t forget that a good reporter works in two ways. Not only are you reporting, but also you must be aware of what’s going on elsewhere. Use your phone to set up RSS feeds from all the best news sources so you know what’s happening at all times.

3. Dictaphone. Your mobile will probably have a voice recording feature on it, but I’d still recommend carrying a good dictaphone. Sound quality is generally better, as are the microphones which, with the right add-ons, can cut out even the harshest of background noise. Olympus seem to rule the roost in this field, and I’ve used this little beauty for all my interviews in the last year or so. Make sure, whatever model you get, that you get one that allows you to upload it to your PC. This means you can archive all of your audio (as well as upload it to the web). If, like me, you import the clips into iTunes so you can keep track of them all, don’t make the fatal mistake of using the ‘Autofill’ option on an iPod Shuffle. It’s no fun realising your favourite music has been replaced with an interview with a midwife.

4. Digital Camera? (Open to debate…). I thought long and hard about including a digital camera. Many mobile phone cameras can produce photos as good as a compact camera, so you could argue there is needless repetition here. If you want really good press-quality photography, you really need to be investing in a good SLR camera. Which would be a big, expensive addition to the Multimedia Journalism Survival Kit. In my view a compact camera isn’t necessary.

And that’s it. Not much, is there? Well no… that’s the whole point. If it was a big bag of techy-excess then you’d never take it anywhere. We need to look to the day where a student journalist is being told that, to steal a phrase, he or she will “look like a complete pratt” if they don’t turn up with a pen, notepad, mobile and dictaphone.

With those four bits of tiny equipment, a journalist can create words, audio, pictures and video. And have it all online before they get back to the office. If we can all aim towards that then it’s a great shift in mentality, and one that will, in my opinion, secure the survival of good journalism.

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