We can report almost any story with a No. 8030 Gregg Rule Reporter’s Notepad (or really any other piece of paper) and a pencil.

Not a pen. Ballpoint pens and rollerballs are totally worthless in rain, snow or extreme cold. That makes them useless for more than half of the year here in Boston.

A pencil (I like mechanical pencils) and paper will get you by. A felt pen will work sometimes, but it gets messy.

Why then, is my trunk full of extra crap? And why are my coat pockets always full of various items?

Let’s take the example of covering the scene of a fire — which is my specialty. I never hope for anything to catch on fire, but when something does, I’m at my best as a spot reporter.

I carry the following things “on my person” when I’m at a scene:

  • A camera: Either my Flip camera for video or my Canon Digital Elph for stills and the occasional video. They’re not professional cameras. The real news photos can jump in and take three shots that will be better than then 20-30 I’ll snap away, but most newspapers aren’t equipped to have photographers at every event. So I have on ready, and my photos have been published, which is pretty awesome.
  • A Sony Digital voice recorder: No matter how cold it gets, or how much it rains, the recorder will be there … as long as the batteries are charged. I highly recommend a Sony. Mine plugs in directly to the computer, like a USB stick, and can send instant MP3s.
  • My scanner: I own five police scanners (though I only use three). It is an incredibly versatile tool. I can monitor the police, fire and emergency goings-on everywhere in the region. I was the first reporter on scene at a plane crash last year, and I’ve gotten to the scenes of shootings before the ambulances. This was something I learned from news photographers like George Rizer. If you have the scanner going, you know what the news is. My Icom scanner is portable, but I plug a better antenna into it when I’m at my desk at the newspaper, and I have a stubby antenna that I use when I’m on the road. At a fire, you can keep track of who’s in charge, where the main body of the fire is, if there’s some kind of rescue, if anyone gets hurt, how many alarms the fire goes to, and if the fire gets out of control.

I also find its best to wear winter boots all the time when I’m at work in the cold months. That helped covering the ice storm in Lawrence last year. You also have to carry gloves and a wool hat. If you’re caught in the cold without proper protection, you absolutely will get sick. I once went out in a snow storm to cover a protest without a hat on, and I had to run inside a bank to defrost. I also keep a set of Hot Hands hand warmers with me. They’re great for extended periods outside. They work great inside your shoes too!

What about my car? Most of the things I keep in my car, I’ve learned to keep from regrettable experience.

Things like bug spray. You ever cover a story at a lake in North Andover in July? Yeah.

Sun screen works good in the summer too.

Back to winter for a second. I carry a few pairs of socks, a change of clothes, a spare hat, an entire case of Hot Hands, a pair of shoes, a complete first aid kid, a Mag-Lite, and several sizes of batteries. I also carry lots of spare writing implements, notebooks and I think there’s even an AP Stylebook in there.

Things I could use: Those fingerless gloves sound cool. A real hat. Who the hell decided that hats had to be super small all of a sudden? Also: some kind of outdoor fold-up chair for long stakeouts. I’ve also been meaning to get a cell-based laptop Internet card, but it’s a decent-sized expense, and WiFi is almost everywhere now.

John Guilfoil, writer of PRrag, is the Editor of Blast Magazine and a former staff reporter for the Boston Globe.

One Response to “Tools of the trade”

  1. pens on December 21st, 2009 8:19 am

    Good for you. Those tools are really useful and helpful in our day to day life. Those make our job better and easier.

Got something to say?