Basic kit: Gear for the multimedia reporter

You’d think everyone would know this by now, for cryin’ out loud! But I see posts to Listservs and discussion forums from people who still haven’t figured it out (and who apparently don’t know how to do a Google search!).

Audio hardware:

  1. Audio recorder: Olympus WS-300M, or DS-2 (or the discontinued WS-200S) — these are less than $100 each.
  2. Microphone: Electro-Voice 635 A, A/B or N/DB (search B&H for these) — about $100.
  3. Microphone (cheaper): Nady SP-5 or SP-4C (search Musician’s Friend for these) — $10 to $20 each.
  4. You’re going to need a very specific cable to connect a proper microphone to an audio recorder — a female XLR to male mini, 3 to 4 feet long for face-to-face interviews (about $8). For meetings, panels, etc., you’ll like a longer cable.
  5. For a different type of microphone (shotgun), see this comparison. I have an Audio-Technica AT835b, and it’s great. Koci loves the Sennheiser ME-66. You should be able to find one of these for less than $200.
  6. A more expensive audio recorder (that you can use face-to-face without a mic): The Edirol R-09 can be found for about $350-$400.


I covered point-and-shoots in an earlier blog post here. Reporters can start shooting video with these, and in many cases, the quality will be BETTER than that of a cheap video camcorder. See for yourself.

Video gear:

Someone else will have to fill your ear with the looong debate about video cameras. Andy Dickinson recently summarized it — and offered sensible wisdom too.

Phone and laptop/notebook computer:

These are obvious, and there are too many models to discuss. If the laptop has wi-fi (and why wouldn’t it??) you can scoot into a Panera Bread and upload from there. Or buy an Internet-anywhere card from a mobile service provider.

The capabilities you need on the phone depend on the other stuff you’re carrying.

Some folks advocate ditching the computer and doing everything with a PDA phone. I never want to edit a Soundslides on a PDA, thank you very much. But I sure do love having the full Internet (Google Maps!) on my BlackBerry.


  • Audio: I linked to a two-part guide to Audacity, which is FREE, in an earlier post. Separately, I also wrote a rundown of all the options for audio editing. Practicing multimedia journalists left helpful comments on that post.
  • Photos: Of course this means Adobe Photoshop. I never thought I needed to say that, but a recent experience in training made me realize that some people are not aware that every photojournalist has and uses Photoshop. If you need a free photo editing program, look at Picasa or Gimpshop (thank you, Dave!). Be mindful, however, that professionals use Photoshop.
  • Slideshows (with audio): Soundslides, of course. There is no debate.
  • Video editing: To start with, use iMovie if you’ve got Mac, and Windows Movie Maker if you have Windows. These are the entry-level video editing programs. If you want to move up, and you have Mac, then Final Cut Pro is the obvious choice. But if you have Windows, you’ll get into another looong debate! Gannett, for example, is in love with Avid. (I think that’s a VERY expensive choice, but what do I know?) Other options include Adobe Premiere and the relatively cheap Sony Vegas product line. (Note that I have linked each software title to its entry in Wikipedia, for a succinct description in plain English.)

As for Flash — Flash is NOT BASIC. The first people in your newsroom who should be thinking about using Flash are the graphic designers, the news graphic artists — NOT the reporters!

One File to Rule Them All

Download my No-Fear Guide to Multimedia Skills (PDF, 735 KB) for a tidy illustrated package (five pages) of this information. It’s got audio recorders, mics, and point-and-shoot cameras.

Related Posts

PLEASE feel free to leave a comment that adds to, contradicts, questions or expands on this information.

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17 Comments on “Basic kit: Gear for the multimedia reporter

  1. If you’re like me and your Final Cut Pro budget just got turned into a my-water-heater-blew-up-over-the-weekend budget, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Cinelerra. The down side for the beginner is that you need Linux. But Ubuntu is so good and so beginner friendly that this isn’t nearly the hurdle it once was.

  2. Mindy,

    Very nice post. I haven’t played with Audacity yet. I have the entire Final Cut Studio so I’m using the audio editor on that.

  3. Yes, if you have Final Cut Studio, I’m told the sound editor (Soundtrack Pro?) included in that does everything you would ever want.

    When I am teaching and training, Audacity is a good choice because most of your trainees will not be able to buy an expensive program, and Audacity is free.

    Recently I did some training in a lab where they had Adobe Audition, but there’s no point training people to use that when they will never see it back in their own newsrooms.

  4. Great post Mindy. I used to use the me66 shotgun mic and it was a gem. The sound quality was amazing but I didn’t use it enough to justify owning it. For what it’s worth, I purchased it with a cheap boom pole for $350 and sold it a couple of years later for the same. I haven’t shopped for them lately but I’d be surprised if they were sub $200 now. If they are, I’d recommend them highly. At $300+ it’s a bit of a stretch for a lot of journalists. A great tool for the serious ones though!

  5. I love the list, but you forgot one thing: The bag to put all that stuff in! I am seriously frustrated trying to find a good bag with pockets and such.

    Granted, I am a reporter, and I just need a bag for my recorder, a couple of microphones, extra batteries, cables my cell phone, palm pilot, notebooks and pens and pencils. And some way to keep the cords all straightened out and easily deployable.

    Any suggestions in that department?

  6. OK, I have spent way too much time and way too much money trying to find the perfect bag to carry all my multimedia tools. There really isn’t one, but I can give you two suggestions that might work for you.

    First is a backpack style model called the CompuDayPack from LowePro. It is meant for carrying a laptop and SLR-type camera gear, but I have made it work just fine for a small video camera setup instead of the SLR on more than occasion. It also can handle up to a 17-inch laptop, which few bags do well. LowePro has a wide line of bags for photographers of every ilk, but this one has been the best fit for me.

    Second nod is to a more traditional briefcase-style bag called the Commute from Timbuk2. At the risk of being way too enthusiastic about these folks, every bag I have bought or given as a gift from these folks has been solid. If you need more room, one of their messenger bags is a good choice. I find the Commute model holds everything in my basic kit, when I am not using a lot of camera gear–either video or still. Plus you can make it your own with a lot of custom options available.

    My disclaimer is that I have no connection to either of these companies except being a happy customer after trying too many alternatives!

  7. Great question, Kate (and answer, Kirk)!

    I agree with Kirk that Timbuk2 messenger bags are awesome. That’s what I have carried for about six years (an earlier “Commuter” model).

    The other bags that I covet come from Crumpler.

    For cords, I bought a packet of plastic ties a while back. Not sure where — maybe Lowe’s or Home Depot? They are not twist-ties but rather a sturdy narrow strand with a slide-through slot at one end.

    Also: Velcro! I have a lot of Velcro bands of a similar design, with a slide-through end that allows you to attach it permanently to the cable, wrapped or unwrapped. Those came from Office Depot or Staples.

  8. Oh, and for video, I use a backpack. I have two that have a low side pocket (suitable for a fat water bottle) that is perfect for carrying a lightweight tripod. The higher-up clip strap on the side of the backpack holds the tripod in place. I found a nice Deuter backpack (Trans Alpine 25) in Asia that has separated top and bottom compartments inside. (Deuter is also sold in Europe.)

    I keep cameras (and papers) safe inside small “dry sacks” (used by kayakers) from Outdoor Research.

    I keep a lot of gear separated in small zipper pouches (collected on transoceanic air flights and emptied of the tiny toothpaste, earplugs, and funny socks). If the pouches are different colors, it’s easy to grab the right one fast.

  9. Pinnacle Studio (often bundled with MPEG grabbers) and even Windows Movie Maker have worked for me in pinches. At one time, I used Zwei-Stein, but my chops have fallen way off, and its interface is a tradeoff for how powerful it is (but its free AND Windows AND nonlinear).

    On another note, I’m glad Matt’s fearless (and I feel your pain on the plumber, man). I want to hear how it turns out.

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  12. I’ve used a Sennheiser ME66 short shotgun mic for years and it comes in two parts. The condenser capsule is $175 but you also have to have a K-6 power module — an XLR interface that provides phantom power and/or battery power. You can’t use the condenser capsule without a power supply, so the real cost of the mic is a tad under $400, not $200. Also, the Sennheiser is made for recording conversation and to be encased in a blimp windscreen. It is much too sensitive in the field if people start raising their voices (think any athletic event). For serious news audio, when you have a budget, I strongly suggest a Sanken CS-1, which is made to work in a much noisier environment (like people shouting). It costs $800 and requires phantom power, but is worth every penny.

  13. Curt, thanks so much for the helpful comment.

    A ton of people use the ME-66. A few experienced video people have told me that if you can only have one shotgun, the ME-66 is the one.

    My AT835b uses a AA battery for power — fits right into the plug-end of the mic — and it came with a decent windscreen (and a hard case too). It is not a blimp windscreen, but it’s much denser than the average cheap foam.

    If you have the $400, you should get the Sennheiser ME-66. That seems to be unanimous!

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