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Mobile phones, a reporter’s best friend

 | October 29, 2012

The writer feels lost without one, though he wishes there were more models with physical keyboards.


There was a time when all a reporter needed – aside from thick skin and nose for news – was a notepad and a pen.

Scribbles in shorthand would be made the moment anyone said anything, along with reference arrows and drawings of politicians in mustaches.

From there, the notebook would be carried back to the office where it would be typed out through a word processor, or if you’ve been in the business long enough, a typewriter.

Today, reporters still carry notepads and pens, even if many probably don’t use Pittman Shorthand. The clickety-clack of the typewriter has been replaced by the tap-tap-tap of the electronic keyboard.

Yet one thing trumps all when it comes to the arsenal of the modern-day reporter: the mobile phone.

No reporter today would be caught dead without one (touch wood). It is a necessary evil and if you’re stuck in a boring political speech, a lifesaver.

Most digital journalists here quickly learn that the mobile phone is not only a phone but also a notepad, typewriter, sound recorder, newspaper, instruction manual, document reader, camera, organiser, music and video player…all-in-one.

Most civilians – as we like to call them- usually go for two or three functions, and fill up with games and apps.

Even if we have our own recorders (and long-suffering cameramen), digital journalists need to use all of these and more, just to stay on top.

At a press event, a politician’s words are typed out onto an empty page. During a lull, the phone switches to camera mode and a picture is taken.

The story is typed out onto the page itself, checked for errors, and sent to the editors with the photo in minutes.

A flash of a few sentences will be sent if the story is an important one, a full piece if not-so-much (a  policy which varies from FMT to Malaysiakini to Malaysian Insider).

Short of background information? Just fire up YouTube or a web browser.

If there’s still time, the journalist can ambush the politician for a phone number, saving that into a contact list.

If there’s nothing going on, or if the event is a waste of time, then all of the above becomes an hour-long session of Plants Vs Zombies.

The way of the future

If the story is published, the journalist then checks out Twitter or Facebook to see how many people complained about Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat.

Monitoring the feeds, he may or may not get an idea for another story. Either way, he has a smoke and drives off into the sunset.

In my experience, the best mobile phones for journalists have always been the ones with the physical keyboards; like the Blackberry.

Sure, they were pretty crap when it came to taking indoor photos (outdoor ones were a different story), and crashed if you have a few tabs open on your browser.

Their desktop software also had the tendency to lag, especially when I wanted to tether an Internet connection. Made you wonder if there was a hidden porn dialer.

But when it came to pure writing goodness, the Blackberry was gold. You could bang copy while running from tear gas and self-edit while puffing on a Dunhill Red.

You could also drop it several times on the floor, and it’ll still work. Just not into a fountain (as one guy learned the hard way).

Which was why I was a little sad when my Bold 9700 finally retired to the great mobile phone factory in the sky.

So when I got a touchscreen (not saying which) as a replacement, I wasn’t all that excited.

Sure, it had more features, and it didn’t lag when you had a thousand Opera tabs, Google Maps and other stuff open, but writing a full story was like watching Keluang Man; why am I putting myself through this?

You can have all the haptic feedback in the world, but let’s face it, the grooves in-between the keys help a ton when you’re typing up something in Parliament.

Putting it simply, touchscreens – Samsungs, iPhones, HTCs – while pretty, aren’t there yet; not for me at least.

Though I have to say, the touchscreens certainly have a good future up ahead, especially when it comes to video footage and uploading them later.

For some reason, people are less intimidated when a HTC lens and not a RM30,000 TV camera is staring them in the face.

Also, they come in handy when the cops smash your cameras. It sure didn’t stop Al-Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett during Bersih 3.0, who corresponded with his office with an iPad and Skype after his company’s camera got smashed.

Who knows how it might turn out for mobile phones and reporters? Maybe one day with smoother conference calls and on-site editing, you might not even need to come into the office.

How’s that for the future?


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