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5 Things a Smartphone Can’t Replace for a Journalist

There’s no doubt smartphones are revolutionizing journalism and a lot of traditional tools of the trade are now passe.

A survey released in July found that many consumers are using their smartphones and tablets to replace “older” technology, like alarm clocks, GPS devices, and digital cameras. Newsrooms have also felt this shift, to the point where it seems odd when a reporter comes to a meeting not tapping away on a Blackberry or iPhone.

Tape recorders, point-and-shoot digital cameras and newspapers are downright archaic in the dim light emanating from an iPhone screen. There are some tools, however, that every reporter should have in their toolkit, regardless of smartphones. Here are five that buck the trend and remain irreplaceable.

Pad of paper and a pen
Always carry a pad of paper and a pen (or two) with you when you’re out on a story. Yes, your smartphone can record interviews for later transcription and does have some sort of keyboard for typing.

That  won’t matter when you’re covering the trial of the century in a court house that doesn’t allow electronic devices in the building. Or when your iPhone’s battery dies at an inopportune moment, say in the middle of an important interview.

A reporter’s notebook and a pen will never be obsolete, no matter how many cool apps you can download for your smartphone. You may have to bribe the intern to decipher your handwriting, but when you’re in a fix, these two items will never disappoint.

Comfortable sneakers/boots
No doubt about it, smartphones make reporting a lot easier. A lot of documents can be accessed on your phone’s WiFi. Trying to reach the mayor? Text his spokesperson. And forget carrying around a huge camera bag. But when news breaks, you still have to physically go to where the story is. And you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes.

When you’ve been covering a standoff between a bank robber and the police for the last four hours, four-inch heels won’t be doing you any favors. They may make you look slightly more professional but when your feet are covered in blisters, that’ll be the last thing on your mind. Instead of getting the scoop on the story, you’ll be using your phone to Google the nearest shoe store.

A good editor
Smartphones are meant to connect you with others. In addition to being a phone, you can access Twitter, Facebook, and email on your device. They can spellcheck your documents and emails.

But they don’t replace having an editor. No app or smartphone can bounce around story ideas with you, suggest a different lede, or go to bat for you against angry readers the way a good editor will.

Printer/copy machine
Sometimes, there’s just no way around needing physical copies of documents. Yes, office printers/copy machines are slow, clunky and seem to stop working at exactly the wrong time. But your sources, such as governmental offices, may not be the most tech-savvy and have digital copies they can email you. The only way to get that death certificate or court filing is to print or copy it.

A strong cup of coffee
Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, news is breaking all the time. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you did or didn’t get — your story needs to be accurate and posted online, 5 minutes ago.

Whether it’s meeting an early morning deadline or staying up to cover an election, a cup of coffee will, most likely, be your best friend.

What are some other tools you use that a smartphone can’t replace? Tell us in the comments section below or let me know on Twitter at @elanazak.

Images from Flickr users Roger H. Goun and Repórter do Futuro.

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