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Why Old-Fashioned Tools Remain Key for Reporting

Why Old-Fashioned Tools Remain Key for Reporting

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017 - 10:30
Emily Steel, a media reporter, relies on a 19th-century technological marvel — the telephone — to build trust with sources. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Emily Steel, a media reporter for The Times in New York, discussed the tech she is using.

You’ve done a lot of investigative reporting, including stories that uncovered sexual harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly at Fox. What has been your most important tech tool or resource for your work?

This sounds completely old-fashioned, but the most important tech tool for all of my reporting really has been the telephone. I’ve spoken with dozens upon dozens of sources, many of whom are hesitant to talk about their experiences or may even be barred from sharing information with me. I’ve found that talking over the phone — and even better meeting in person — helps to build trust and establish a relationship.

For more 21st-century technology, I’ve relied heavily on the encrypted messaging app Signal. The app stores almost no information from users, including messages and contacts. It also allows users to make encrypted calls and set messages to disappear after they have been seen.

What do you like about Signal, and what could be better?

I love how easy the app is to use. It is very similar to chatting via iMessage. You basically download and go.

That being said, a couple of areas could use some improvement. The calling function is sometimes spotty. And it also would be nice to know whether someone has taken a screenshot of a message if it is set to disappear after viewing.

Legacy media companies like HBO are increasingly competing with streaming services and tech companies that are producing original content, like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and, soon, Apple. How do you see this playing out?

Right now, we’re seeing a very competitive race among the streaming services as they all attempt to distinguish themselves to consumers. One way to do that is through opening up their checkbooks and ramping up the investment in original programming. The money is flowing!

My colleague John Koblin reported in October on Netflix’s plans to spend $8 billion on content in the coming year. Apple already has signaled that it will spend more than $1 billion. That surge in spending has ushered in a new era of creativity, with acclaimed programs like “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu and “Stranger Things” on Netflix. It certainly will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life?

I’m getting married next year, so during breaks in reporting I am deep in the world of wedding planning. I’ve found that a lot of the wedding websites and apps are completely overwhelming. I’m signed into one that put more than 100 items on my to-do list!

But my fiancé, Dan, and I also have managed to find some cool sites and apps that have streamlined the process and allowed us to add some of our own personal touches.

One was a site called Postable, which allowed us to quickly collect our guests’ addresses and update our address book before sending out our save-the-dates. It was much easier than a series of emails and texts requesting people’s details.

After a bit of research, we also used the site Minted to turn a photo of Dan’s artwork into a save-the-date postcard. It turned out great! (We also built a wedding website with Minted.)

Like many brides, I’ve also spent an extraordinary amount of time on Pinterest, collecting and curating ideas. Our amazing florist has created a special board to help us brainstorm flowers for the big day.

And my other favorite technology of the moment is the app called 1 Second Everyday, which creates a video diary out of one-second video clips. Dan and I thought it would be a special way to track the year before our wedding.

Before I worked at The Times, I wrote pretty extensively about the pervasiveness of online tracking technologies. As a result, I’m fairly cautious about what technologies, apps and services I use. Even though Amazon’s Echo and Google Home have taken off in the past year, I don’t want a device that can listen to me all the time in my home. But I did want to be able to turn the lights on and off on command, so I bought an old-fashioned Clapper. It’s a little temperamental, but I still love it!

As a media reporter, what is your media setup at home? Are you a cord cutter?

I am a cord cutter, but I’ve still managed to watch all the programming I want to see with the mix of a digital antenna and a rotating mix of streaming services, including HBO, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

Because I’m in front of a screen all day, I try to unplug a bit when I’m at home. I love to read books, listen to music and leave my phone at home when I go for a run.

(The New York Times)

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