Knowledge Bridge

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//Jeremy Wagstaff /July 18 / 2018

Journalists are mobile warriors: we should upgrade our kit


I’ve been a nomad worker for some time. And I’m shocked at how few journalists seem to be prepared for mobile working. So I thought I’d offer a few tips.

If you can afford it, buy your own equipment.

I’ve been buying my own laptop for nearly 30 years, and while it brings pain to my pocket, I’d never dream of relying on my company’s equipment. In the old days it was because they were too slow and cumbersome, but nowadays it’s mainly because of compliance issues: restrictions on what software you can put on your laptop, as well as what the company is allowed to do and view on its hardware. I would rather retain control over how I organise my information and what apps I use.

Buy your own software.

I’m admittedly a bit of a software addict. (I think it’s probably a thing, I haven’t checked.) But there’s a reason for it: we spend most of our day at our computers, so it makes sense to find the software that best helps you. And with journalists, that’s a broad array of tasks: if you’re a freelance, you want to be measuring your word count and timing how long you’re spending on something. If you’re writing a lot then you want an app that looks aesthetically pleasing (I can’t stand Microsoft Word, and hate it when I see journalists writing stories in it, but that’s me). Then there’s how you collect and store information, be it from the net or from interviews. It needs to go somewhere and it needs to be easily retrievable when you want to write. More on this another time.

Get a decent mouse.

There’s a guy in my co-working space that still uses his Macbook touchpad, that rectangle near the keyboard, to move the mouse around. Very few people are adept at this, so it’s painful to watch guys like my co-worker waste hours a day scrambling around. Buy a mouse. Really. They’re cheap — you can even get a bluetooth one for less than $50 these days, so you don’t even need to take up a USB port. I guarantee it will save you an hour a day.

Save your own neck.

Mobile journalism can mean standing up, moving around, but most of the time it means bringing enough equipment with you to be able to work away from the office — a hotel room, a conference centre, or whatever. This is where I see far too many people hunched over a laptop, looking like Scrooge on Boxing Day. The problem with laptops is they weren’t designed for posture. But you can fix that, with a $20 stand. These are light, foldable, and lift the screen up to a height closer to eye level, which is where it should be. You’ll need to bring an external keyboard with you, but they’re cheap and light too, and your chiropractor will thank you.

While you’re at it get a second screen.

Here’s another tip: Laptop screens are too small to store more than what you’re writing on. If all your source mverkkorahaterial is also stored on your computer, then you’ll need a second screen. You likely have dual monitors in the office, so just because you’re on the road, why should you deny yourself that luxury? There are some good cheap monitors that don’t even require a power supply — plug them into your USB port and they’ll draw the power from there. For several years I had a AOC monitor, which was basic but did the job. I recently upgraded to an Asus monitor which is a beauty, and has made me much more productive and the envy of my co-workers — even the guy fiddling around with the touchpad.

A word of warning to Mac users: recent updates to their operating system have broken the drivers necessary to get the most out of these second screens, but there is a workaround that half fixes it. Email me if you need help.

Be safe.

Being mobile with cool equipment does leave you vulnerable to theft, either financially or politically motivated. Don’t take your main laptop with you to places like China. Have a cheap backup laptop with just the bare essentials on it. Always put your laptop in the room safe, and, if you want to be super clever, buy a small external USB drive to store any sensitive data on, and keep that in your pocket. Samsung do some nice, SSD (solid state, and hence smaller, faster) drives, the latest called T3. I attach mine to the laptop with velcro and then remove it and put it in my pocket when I’m heading off to dinner.

Stay connected.

Don’t trust other people’s wifi. Bring your own. I have a wifi modem, still 3G, which does me fine. Buy a local data SIM card and fire it up. Everyone in your team now has internet access — and the bad guys sniffing the free hotel or coffee shop wireless network will be frustrated.

Finally, stay cool.

By far the most popular thing in my mobile toolkit is a USB fan. Most conference venues are either too hot or too cold, and it’s amazing what a $2 fan can do.


Article by Jeremy Wagstaff

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