The Gadget That Makes A Journalist Better At Her Job

Zan Romanoff sings the praises of her digital recorder.

Written by Zan Romanoff

In our #NotAnAd series, smart people sound off on the smart devices that have changed their lives. No legal tender, swag or other forms of currency have been exchanged for these ringing endorsements.

When I first started working as a journalist, I recorded interviews on my phone. This was mostly because I already had one, and I was good at remembering to bring it places with me.

But I quickly discovered the flaws in this plan: if I didn’t put it on airplane mode, sources would get distracted by notifications or, worse, incoming calls flashing across my screen. As an object, it was un-ignorable on the table between us, a reminder that this was not a strictly friendly conversation. Recording phone calls was the worst: since different states have different consent laws, you have to download paid apps or do some annoying (and unreliable) jerry-rigging. I was recording a conversation using the PhotoBooth app on my computer before I realized it was time to throw a little money at the problem.

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"I was recording a conversation using the PhotoBooth app on my computer before I realized it was time to throw a little money at the problem."

Now I have a tiny Sony UX560 recorder that I bring everywhere with me. It’s much smaller and more unobtrusive than the phone, making it easier to downplay its presence on a table. If I need to record a call, I go somewhere quiet, put my phone on speaker, and hit the recorder’s red button; when I’m done, I plug the USB stick into my laptop and download the file to my Dropbox, no cords required. (Bonus: being on speakerphone always make me feel like I’m a character on a reality television show.)

One of the downsides of being a writer is that there’s not a lot of equipment involved: I have a laptop, and a bunch of notebooks I never use. I’m always jealous of painters’ canvases and brushes, sculptors’ clay and woodsaws— even those bassoonists whittling their reeds. So honestly, the best thing about my Sony recorder is that it’s a tool of the trade: evidence that I’m a professional with professional tools, even when I’m recording from home in my pajamas. — Zan Romanoff

Zan Romanoff is the author of the novels "A Song to Take the World Apart" and "Grace and the Fever," out now, as well as "Look," forthcoming in 2020. Her essays and journalism have appeared in Buzzfeed, The Cut, Eater, GQ, The LA Times, and The Washington Post, among other outlets. She lives and writes in LA.