Staying plugged in on the campaign trail

A Mophie external battery, an old Olympus recorder, an iPhone, a charger and a laptop computer used by Sydney Ember, who covers politics for The New York Times, in Lancaster, California. INYT

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives?
Sydney Ember, a politics reporter for The Times, discussed the tech she’s using.

What tech do you use to follow politics, and what tech do you take with you on the campaign trail?

There are some really good websites that I’m always checking to see information about elections that are coming up, and how analysts are weighting certain districts. I read The Cook Political Report to see which way House districts are leaning. I also really like a website that looks as if it’s straight out of the late 1990s: The Green Papers. It is really easy to navigate and has extremely comprehensive information on every race across the country.

When I’m out on the trail reporting, I’m actually pretty low-tech. I use a backpack so I can keep my hands free. I carry around a lot of reporting notebooks and pens. I have a small Olympus recorder that I got years ago. It has a USB that connects to my computer, but it’s so old that my computer can no longer play the recordings I transfer over. It seems to have something to do with the format of the recordings, but it’s still something of a mystery to me even after copious Googling. I also record a lot of videos on my phone so I can remember what the atmosphere was like at a campaign event, for example, or how candidates looked interacting with voters.

How has tech changed the way politicians are campaigning? 

Politicians are using technology much more to speak directly to the people. They are increasingly streaming rallies and conversations online. At campaign events, there always seems to be someone Facebook-Living speeches.

Does switching beats change how you use technology to report?

When I covered the media, I spent every waking hour on Twitter. If media news broke, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Now, I try not to spend all day looking at Twitter — it seems less necessary — and check in only every few hours. This sometimes feels more like an aspiration. But I’m trying.

I actually feel it’s easier to get people to talk on the politics beat than it was when I covered the media.

Believe it or not, it’s hard trying to get other journalists to say things on the record!

Outside your work, what tech product do you use a ton? 

As unoriginal as it sounds, I really love my Apple Watch. I’m a big runner, and I originally got it because I wanted to use it as a running watch. But I’ve found other reasons to love it.

In a weird way, it gives me some freedom from my phone. Before I had it, I’d pick up my phone for every email, text or alert, then get sucked into the vortex of social media. I could lose hours this way.

Now, because I can look at my watch to see what’s going on, I can leave my phone alone, sometimes even in another room, knowing I still won’t miss anything important.

I also really like that I can read and send text messages from it. When I’m stuck on long drives on the trail, I can glance at my wrist to see a text, then respond simply by saying something out loud. It doesn’t transcribe perfectly, but it works when I can’t look at my phone.

 

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