What’s in Your Backpack?

Photo by Don Rollnick

As a freelancer, the boundaries between your work and personal life are hazy at best. There are those late nights of working on breaking news; the cocktail party chats that turn into an interview, and later a story; and those vacations you need to steal away to a café to file some quick copy. For those freelancers who thrive of the excitement of freelancing, preparedness is key. Any place can become an office with a few essential items.

As a recurring series, we take a look inside freelancer’s back packs, briefcases, purses, and satchels, to explore the tools of the trade.

Today I will share the contents of my own freelancing kit.

1. Moleskine Reporter’s Notebook

Few freelance writers will ever leave home with out their trusty black Moleskine notebook. As the notebook of journos and café bound writers across the world, this trusty black book is as iconic as the journalist hat with a press sign poking out. Yet, there are times that pulling out that indispensable black book isn’t always advantageous. If you don’t want to look like a journalist, say while you’re reporting in another country or even waiting at the bar to report on celebrity sightings, I suggest having a small arsenal of notebooks. Each notepad can be used for different purposes. A personal favorite is the the mini-Volant book by Moleskine http://www.moleskineus.com/volant.html , which can almost fit in your wallet. It’s a must have for those times when you’re in undercover mode.

2. Digital Recorder

Now that tape recorders have been relegated to the International Museum of Antiquity (wherever that may be), the digital recorder is king. You never know when a conversation partner will turn into an interview subject, so it’s best to have a recorder on hand to capture that lighting in a bottle. I use Olympus WS-600S digital voice recorder with 2GB of storage, it’s compact and easily transfers files to your computer in both MP3 and WMA formats via a built in USB connector. It’s about $80, but it’s a trusty workhorse that will become home for countless hours of interviews. For radio journalists, I suggest the Mini Marantz PMD620, which easily fits in a bag or even a pocket. For quick interviews that you’d like to repurpose for radio, this little guy gets big sound. For a good guide on mics (and everything for independent producers) check out Transom.org.

3. Light Up Pens

There is no doubt about it. Light up pens will make you look like a total nerd. But for freelancers who frequently review plays, films, concerts, or other activities that involve taking notes in near darkness, the light up pen is a necessity. Try to find one with a blue light as to not disturb your fellow concert goers, and whether you purchase one with a snowman on it is entirely up to you.

4. Flip Cams

Sometimes your mobile phone just won’t cut it for recording video when you need it. That’s when the flip cam comes in handy. It’s true that these cameras have a few drawbacks, including somewhat shoddy sound and low performance in low light, but what you gain in immediate ability to shoot and quickly upload your videos online will outweigh the Flip Cam’s challenges. To make your videos infinitely better, purchase a tripod to forgo the shaky handheld effect that often turns your insightful interview into the Blair Witch Project.


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