Earlier this summer, I was contacted by Benét Wilson - the Online Managing Editor for Business Aviation (and on Twitter as @AvWeekBenet). Last year Benét interviewed me about check-point friendly laptop bags for her column "Towers and Tarmac". This year, Benét moderated a panel on "Becoming a Multimedia Journalist" at the annual conference of The National Association of Black Journalists. She asked me if I would send her some thoughts on what laptop bags would be good for journalists.
The following piece is what I came up with.
Journalists are a varied species – and the tools of the trade they carry are just as varied. So when Benét asked me to put together some recommendations for bags for journalists, I got a little concerned. But after some field research, I’ve been able to identify four sub-species of journalists and the bags that would be appropriate for each.
First up, Journalist Maximus, or the “I carry everything with me at all times” journalist. These folks were likely Boy (or Girl) Scouts and want to always be prepared – so they bring all their reporting tools with them. And the best bags for these folks: backpacks. Now, the type of backpack bag best for Journalist Maximus depends upon species variation:
Some JM’s are a little clumsy and need to protect their most sacred of tools – the laptop. But they also want plenty of room for their other gear plus easy access to recorders, notebooks, granola bars, etc. For the JM whose laptop is primary and perhaps prone to bashing themselves and their bags around, I recommend the Smart Alec backpack and Brain Cell from Tom Bihn. I have fallen over backwards while wearing my Tom Bihn with Brain Cell, landed square on my Macbook Pro, and it emerged totally unscathed.
Say you’re the type of Journalist Maximus for whom the camera is the thing. And your backup camera. And your backup backup camera. Plus tripod. And some other gear that you like to have with you “just in case”. And that laptop you have to carry so you can file the story. Well, the Aura Backpack from Slappa is a good choice. Slappa has a long history of making awesome bags for the toughest of gearheads – DJ’s. They’ve now translated that expertise into bags that are perfect for camera-ladden journos on the go. They’ve included lots of padded pockets for cameras and lenses as well as straps for tying on tripods and other misc gear. Plus you can slide a laptop in.
Finally, there are some Journalist Maximus (Maximi?!) who are, well, a little girly – and don’t want to carry around a big, bad backpack. These ladies are possibly a little in denial about how much they carry. Luckily, they have a hero in Melissa Beth Designs. Melissa Beth has created a startlingly roomy backpack, called the Piggy Back, for a laptop and other gear that has a very slim silhouette and sits well on a smaller frame that often comes with this variation of the JM sub-species.
The second type of journalist I identified is at the opposite end of the scale as the Journalist Maximus – it’s the Journalist Simplicus. The JS doesn’t want to carry a lot of gear (or if they do, it’s small gear – netbook, point and shoot camera, iphone) and needs to move quickly. Plus the JS likes to have easy quick access to their tools – no taking off a backpack and digging around. The bag is preferred to be worn across the front of the body.
Waterfield Designs has created the Muzetto (personal size) that is perfect for the JS. Can be worn across the body – has no clasp to fumble with (the weight of the flap holds it down) so that interior pockets can be reached quickly. It will even hold a netbook so if you do have some gear, it can go with you. Also, it’s a little sexy because it’s made of soft-oiled leather.
Tom Bihn manages to cater to both ends of the journalist spectrum – first with the Smart Alec above and here with the Ristretto Vertical Messenger. The Ristretto is a light-weight, across the body bag that offers easy access to its interior contents. Plus, it has a built-in padded sleeve for your netbook. Very stylish and well made.
A rare variant on the JS is the Journalist Retroicus – often seen sporting a fedora, this journalist eschews any and all equipment besides their trusty notepad. Well, we even have a “bag” for them – this smart Folio from Rickshaw Bags. It will hold their Moleskine notebook, passport, some currency and a few pens.
The third type of journalist I encountered in my field study is perhaps the most complex of journalists – Journalist Impatiens Paranoicus. This sub-species is generally a traveler – roaming to far-flung, exotic locales to ply their trade. Consequently, their tolerance for waiting in line, particularly at airport security checks is low. Plus, they’re inherently suspicious. This is what makes them good journalists, but it also makes them edgy in the lineup as well – worrying about their laptop and other gear. The solution – checkpoint friendly laptop bags that speed up time through the line and keep a laptop protected the whole time.
Skooba Design offers the Checkthrough Messenger as a panacea to the JI. A roomy messenger that will hold an assortment of gear (except, perhaps, for LOTS of camera equipment), the Checkthrough Messenger has a special way of storing your laptop and making it available to be easily scanned in a security line. No more taking your laptop out of the bag – alleviating the fear of someone walking away with it at the end of the line (they’d have to take your whole bag – much harder) as well as the dings that can happen putting it in and out of those bins. And, it actually speeds up your progress through the security line – just a touch.
Mobile Edge caters to a number of variations on the JI sub-species with their Scanfast line of messengers and briefcases. Their Scanfast Onyx Backpack really stands out because it will accommodate the paranoia of the JI AND the needs of the JM – lots of room for gear, special checkpoint friendly compartment – plus it looks good.
For those JI’s who are tired of sacrificing style for function. I hear you, sisters! And so does Mobile Edge. They have several stylish bags for lady-JI’s in their Scanfast line - notably the Onyx Checkpoint Friendly Briefcase.
And an extra added bonus of the Mobile Edge bags: they have a “Wireless Security Shield” [tm] on one of their pockets – so you can safely store your RFID passport or your Bluetooth devices without worrying about them being surreptitiously scanned. How’s that for a paranoia buster?
Finally, there is the most unpredictable and flighty of all journalists sub-species – the Journalist Fashionista. She (fieldnote: typically, though not exclusively, this species is female) wants it all. Capacity for all her gear, comfort in the carrying and style in the look. She wants to fit in on the pages of Vogue yet write for Newsweek. Fortunately, there are a few designers that can meet the JF’s needs.
Rainebrooke Designs has just come out with the Black Candy laptop tote. A stylish bag that is deceptively large. You can fit a 17” laptop in it, plus a good-sized camera. Even your tripod plus some recording equipment would fit. And with the generous handles, it is a dream to carry over your shoulder. And you don’t look like you’re carrying around the MSNBC newsroom in your bag.
CareerBags offers the Geisha Rolling Laptop Bag that should satisfy the most discriminating JF. It too is roomy enough to hold a laptop, tripod and camera equipment. An unusual spin on the Geisha is that it is a rolling laptop bag. However, the extra bits that usually make a rolling bag unpleasant to carry aren’t part of the Geisha. The wheels and handle are fashioned from very light material and aren’t obvious. So, if you wanted to carry it as a shoulder bag, you could. But then, through the airport, you could wheel it to save your fashionista back.
OK, this one isn’t super roomy – but it IS super stylish, for the JF who might want to divert attention from her probing questions. Clark and Mayfield’s Rosemont holds a laptop up to 17” as well as some peripherals. It’s not a bag for an embedded Iraq reporter, that’s for sure – but it is a solid piece of craftsmanship and will definitely bring a tinge of pizzazz to any story you’re filing.
And there you have it. Are there any other type of journalists that I've missed? Any rare sub-species who need a special laptop bag? Would love to hear your thoughts and comments!