Backpack journalism toolkit

When you work alone as a backpack journalist, you need lightweight, reliable gear and an efficient process for getting the job done.  In the 14 months she’s been working as NBC’s “digital journalist,” Maria Schiavocampo has figured out through trial and error what works best for her.

Schiavocampo tells the Nieman Foundation that she now travels with a 30-pound rolling backpack filled with $10,000 worth of gear–about one fifth of the cost of a full size Sony digital Betacam. Her camera, the $3,000 Sony HVR-V1U, shoots on DV tape, which she prefers over newer, tapeless models that use expensive memory cards and offer less recording time.  She writes and edits on a MacBook pro.

Her workflow centers around her video camera, which also serves as her still camera and notebook.  “I’m very scaled down–it’s just bare bones for me,” she says.  Among her guidelines for working fast:

  • When on a tight deadline, shoot sparingly; when time allows, shoot generously.
  • Plot out sequences (shoot wide, medium, tight from different angles).
  • Hold your shots, and then hold some more. “If you’re going to do a move, hold at the top, do your move, hold at the tail.”

While Schiavocampo mostly works alone, she always has a fixer or guide for overseas assignments.  And if there’s danger involved, she travels with an NBC crew, a luxury not afforded to most backpack journalists.