The right kit for the new journalism in Africa
lives in Africa and is a foreign correspondent, photojournalist, lecturer and BBC journalism trainer. Twitter: @noodlepie
There's nothing worse than running out of power in a place where there is none.
The night before I travelled to Rubona, 35km east of the Rwandan capital Kigali, to observe a pilot project aimed at bringing the World Cup to rural Rwanda, I made sure of three things:
- Power: I left every bit of kit I planned to use - the Lumix DMC-FX33 digital camera, iPhone, Sony Ericsson Cybershot phone and the iPod - all plugged into the mains overnight. I planned to be out for the whole day recording audio, taking photographs, shooting video, using the Internet, and I didn't expect to find a power point I could use.
- Space: I freed up space on my iPod to allow for a good hour or more of audio recording through the MicroMemo attached to the bottom of it. I cleared the 2GB memory card in the camera and I packed a spare for good measure. I also made sure the iPhone and Cybershot had enough free space.
- Connectivity: I needed to make sure I could access the Internet from my phone throughout the day. I loaded my pay-as-you-go MTN Rwanda phone (right) with 5,000 Rwandan francs - an amount of 'airtime', as they call it here, equivalent to nearly Â£6. That would normally last me three to four weeks.
Know your tools and be ready to use them:
I didn't really know what I was going to do in Rubona. Would I focus on audio? Video? Or - the media I am most comfortable with - text and pictures? However, I have a good working knowledge of all the tools in my 'bag' and that is key to being able to switch quickly to the bit of kit you need when you need it.
Tweetie 2 is one of the best Twitter applications for the iPhone. AudioBoo allows me to record and send geo-located, embeddable audio snippets direct to the web. Pixelpipe gives me the option to send any digital content to the 100-plus destinations I have wired up to my kigaliwire.com blog.
Lastly, wear the right clothes. There's nothing worse than ferreting around in a bag looking for the right tool. I carry a small rucksack, but if it's not too hot I wear trousers and a sweatshirt with two pockets. That's four sizeable pockets in which to put all the tools. Even the digital camera with a Gorillapod tripod attached will fit in one pocket. With the notebook and pen slipped into a back pocket, there's no more need for bag ferreting.
While I had useable audio and video from the day, it quickly became clear that I could create the narrative from the 350 or more images I had taken. I edited them down to the 40 or more I wanted to use and uploaded them to Soundslides. Soundslides makes arranging photos, adding audio and text captions relatively pain free. Once finished, I then needed to upload the file to my server.
I use Cyberduck, an open source FTP tool, to do this. On the ropey Internet connection (left) at my home in Kigali, it took most of the afternoon to upload, even though the finished file was a mere 7MB. Finally, I embedded the piece onto kigaliwire.com and sent a tweet to alert anyone who might be interested in the story. Then, using Pixelpipe, I started distributing a selection of the stills to various photo-sharing sites - making sure each photo had a link back to the slideshow.
Other tools are available:
My friend Guy Degen, a freelance journalist with a broadcast background who's based in Bonn, is more of an all-rounder than me. He continuously experiments with new tools and shows what can be done using one or two devices. While I am open to using audio and video, I'm from the school of 'do what you do best'. My strengths are words and, sometimes, pictures - and that's what I tend to concentrate on. However, it's well worth having a look at how Guy works to see what can be done.
For video, I'd have been better off packing a Flip camera. The iPod audio, recorded through the Micromemo, is not always up to standard. There's a fair bit of hiss in the background. If I had the spare cash, I'd carry a MicroTrack II.
What did I forget?
It's the rainy season. I forgot the next most important thing after fully charging all devices - a raincoat. I got wet, and my camera got wet, when I took rain shots. In addition, I possibly missed some great images because I was less mobile during the numerous downpours we experienced during the day.
I forgot how bad the iPhone battery is. It just managed to make it through the day. I hammered it by taking 100 photos, uploading some to Twitter, emailing, making calls and sending text messages. It finally died at 11pm as we made our way back to Kigali.