A real-life journalist’s well-stocked field bag

By ALEXANDER B. PEARCE

Every profession has iconic gear that archetypally represents the core of the job. Cops have their uniforms and guns, accountants have their calculators, chefs have their fancy hats and specialized knife sets. Journalists have their trusty field bags.

Even in this modern digitized age, journalists need to carry some equipment with them at all times in order to perform their jobs properly. Younger reporters might joke that they only need their laptop and a latte, they soon learn that a well-stocked field bag can make the difference between writing for the first page and rewriting your resume.

Obviously, the first part of putting together a field bag is the actual bag itself. The type of bag will vary from reporter to reporter. While one fashion writer might prefer a monogrammed shoulder bag, a police beat reporter would rather stuff his notebooks into a rough leather satchel. Find the bag that suits you best, that you can feel yourself taking to work every day. No matter how useful or stylish your bag might be, it’s useless if you never carry it because it hurts your shoulder. Try and figure out what type of journalist you are and the type of bag you want, after which you can more easily determine what you need to fill it with.

Think about your field bag as a tool box. You only have a limited amount of space to carry everything you might need on a given day, which might be different from tomorrow or the day after that. At a bare minimum, your field bag should include:

  • Notebooks are a given. No reporter should ever be without their trusty spiral-bound notebook.
  • Pens, pencils, something to write with. While all reporters have their own preferences, they should never have to ask their interviewee for something to take notes with.
  • A laptop. Most people are plugged in at all times these days and journalists should be no exception.
  • A handheld digital audio recorder. The laws concerning usage vary from state-to-state, but these tools have come in handy for most journalists at some point or another.
  • A digital camera and/or flip-cam. With digital media so readily available, it seems criminal to lose out on an opportunity for a picture or video just because you didn’t have a recorder on you.
  • Car chargers and batteries. The only downside to having so much technology on you at all times is that all of it requires power. Make sure you have a way to recharge everything.

These are just guidelines. Proponents of backpack journalism take much more with them while doing their reporting while mobile journalists keep everything they might need in their cars. A Miami-based reporter might find a Spanish-English dictionary useful while a rural reporter in the Midwest might find him or herself in need of a bad weather kit. There isn’t a set checklist that works for every journalist, but there are some constants that stay the same regardless of location.

Even with all of the tools available to journalists today, no amount of digital wizardry is a passable substitute for good journalism. But having a well-stocked field bag will allow reporters to do their jobs to the best of their ability without having to borrow a pen to finish their big interview.

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