Tuesday, November 30, 2004
What's in the gadget bag of a war correspondent?
Peter Mass is a very well known war correspondent for the Washington Post and now the New York Times Magazine (and Slate). Gizmodo asked him: What gear do you carry in Iraq? "Too much. Being a correspondent in a war zone requires a duffel bag of equipment, not to mention the trouble-shooting skills of a Tekserve geek. The most crucial piece of electronic hardware is a satphone. The best is made by Thuraya and is the size of a first-generation cellphone. It doesn't work indoors and its short antenna must be pointed in the direction of wherever the Thuraya satellite happens to be. Niftily, it has a GPS locater, so if you get lost you can acquire your GPS coordinates and call for help. With the aid of a Belkin serial adapter, the Thuraya transmits data at 19K or so, which is fine for email but slow for browsing the web or filing photos. Many photographers now use a Bgan transmitter, which is the size of a laptop and transmits at 56K or higher. You don't need a hardened computer, though breakdowns are frequent. I use an Apple iBook and took the precaution, during the invasion of Iraq, of covering the screen and keyboard in saran wrap, to keep out the sand. An item I didn't have, but dearly wished for, was night vision goggles. If you have to drive at night with the military in a warzone, as I and other non-embedded journalists did, you can't use any lights (you even have to tape over the red-light indicators on your dashboard)...
Useful doodads include a Sony shortwave radio, so that you can be aware of what's happening elsewhere. A small flashlight is essential; most journalists use maglites... As I often work with a photographer, walkie-talkies come in handy, to quickly be in touch when we're separated but nearby (Motorola T5320 works well in a radius of about a mile or so). As cellphones work in some areas, a GSM phone is necessary (I carry a Nokia 6610)."
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