Innovations that rocked our world

From the Amstrad word processor to the Wi-Fi hotspot, experts from across the media praise the virtues of the gadgets and gizmos that have transformed their working lives. How ever did we get by without them?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Digital camera

Digital camera

Jason Fraser, celebrity news photographer

"I must have been the last person to go digital, kicking and screaming, about three years ago. I still miss the smell of a fresh roll of film and the robustness of professional negative cameras. But the quality of digital is so outstanding, particularly the Canon and Nikon professional ranges, that it can't be ignored. It's quicker to use and there's no hanging around on tenterhooks in a dodgy lab on the other side of the world."

Digital Radio

Willber Willberforce, head of BBC digital radio station 1Xtra

"In the old days you had to fiddle with an aerial for a crackly signal, and you wouldn't know you had the right station until you heard a jingle. Digital radio has changed everything. With DAB radio sets all you have to do is hit a button and you are listening to near-CD quality - and with the latest models you can download and pause your favourite programmes."


Ann Leslie, Daily Mail foreign correspondent

"I began foreign corresponding in the dark ages of cable-ese, telex and copy-takers. Eighty per cent of one's time was spent trying to get a story back to the office and only twenty per cent on the story itself. That proportion is now, thanks to laptops and mobiles, completely reversed. Laptops are, of course, moody and sulk when the wind changes, but I've managed to file from all over the world - from remote villages in Africa, from the Falklands, the Middle East and from a field on the North Korean border (in full view of the Dear Leader's army). In the Soviet era it used to take days even to book an international call and the lines were invariably ropey. So I worship the laptop. In fact I began secretly using one before the print unions would allow them."

Satellite phone and videophone

Chris Cramer, managing director, CNN International

"The ubiquitous satellite phone makes the job of journalists, both print and broadcast, editorially stronger but a lot safer. No longer do journalists spend hours travelling back and forth, often in hostile territory, to file and feed copy. When hooked up to a video phone and laptop edit pack, it makes TV crew deployments simpler and considerably less risky."


Michael Heath, cartoon editor, The Spectator

"The only thing that's really changed my life is Tipp-Ex. Before it was invented we used to use designers' white, which was quite complicated and often didn't work. You can now work with Tipp-Ex in one hand and a pen in the other. It speeds you up. I couldn't live without Tipp-Ex."

Lightweight TV cameras

Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News chief correspondent

"What used to be a monumental amount of heavy equipment can now be assembled on a small trolley by one person and moved from place to place. Cheap it isn't, but complete mobility is now essential. The holy grail of TV news is getting close to, if not reaching, the kind of freedom newspaper reporters have always enjoyed in terms of being able to file any time, anywhere."

Wi-Fi hotspot

Stephen Munday, director of operations, Getty Images

"At major events we'll set up our own Wi-Fi network to allow us to move images rapidly from photographer to editor and get the pictures out to our clients in the fastest possible way. We're talking less than five minutes for key pictures, such as the 100 metres final at the Athens Olympics. When I first started, you would be lucky to get that picture out to the client in two hours."


Peregrine Worsthorne, former Sunday Telegraph editor

"Gadgets just cause me more trouble, because I can't make them work properly. The only one I use is a tape recorder, even though the battery runs down or the tape gives up the ghost at the crucial moment. But I'm entirely dependent on it and I dictate stuff for my secretary to transcribe, but it's a very complicated process."

Flak jacket

Lindsey Hilsum, international editor, Channel 4 News

"There are times when it's essential, for example if you're doing front-line reporting from a battle zone like Fallujah. But it's not always helpful, because sometimes militias or gunmen who see you carrying or wearing body armour think you're a combatant. It's heavy, hot and uncomfortable, of course. In the end, it comes down to your judgement of a potentially dangerous situation."

Amstrad word processor

Lord Bill Deedes, former 'Daily Telegraph' editor

"In 1986, when I was 73, we moved from hot metal to computers at The Daily Telegraph. Our chief executive removed all the pens and papers from the office, so we had to do direct input. I spent a month or two experimenting, and then suddenly discovered that I'd found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I got my first computer, an Amstrad, in 1987. Now, like anybody else, I couldn't live without it. In the old days we had to do five copies on a typewriter - it was a nightmare. And I lived with that for 64 years!"

Virtual TV studio

Alastair Stewart, ITV News Channel anchor

"I was apprehensive when we introduced the virtual set that we call our "Theatre of News", but I'm a convert. It enables us to paint a concave wall with imagery: live pictures from something as dreadful as Beslan to the celebrations of Dame Ellen MacArthur's homecoming. On the floor map, I'll walk you from Basra to Mosul, show you studio guests and those on remotes and, at the same time, provide facts and images of what we are discussing. Three blokes around a desk can't do that. But it's still the story, not how you illustrate it, that matters most and always must."

Mobile phone

Andrew Marr, BBC political editor

"The days of keeping huge quantities of coins in your pocket and elbowing colleagues aside as you rushed for the phone box are gone. I'm on my mobile all day, and I can talk to all sorts of people very quickly in a way that 10 years ago I couldn't. When you're on the road it utterly transforms your life. If you've got the private mobile numbers of lots of important people, you can get to them when you need them. But it's a privilege, and you have to be careful about how you use it."

Big-screen Apple Mac

Mark Wnek, advertising expert

"The big-screen Mac with all its font and layout software allows you to create ads of presentation standard without spending vast amounts of time and money in art studios. But it's no substitute for talent."


Neville Brody, art director at Research Studios and former art director of The Face, Arena and The Observer

"Letraset enabled me to have full independence from the elite world of typesetting. It was the first in the trend towards empowering the individual. Because Letraset was so easy to produce, they could publish much more experimental work. I could type around the curve or control the spacing instantly. It became a vital part of the way we work."

The iPod

Pete Mitchell, Virgin Radio, breakfast presenter

"Podcasting, where you download a radio show from the internet onto your mp3 player or iPod, is going to revolutionise the industry. From our point of view, it allows listeners to Pete and Geoff to tune in wherever they are and whenever they want. It also allows us to get our brand out onto the gadgets that everyone seems to want to have in their pockets."

Satellite dish

Andrew Neil, publisher of The Scotsman and The Business and CEO of The Spectator. Former chairman of Sky TV

"When we launched Sky on 5 February 1989, we doubled the number of channels available in Britain and we got into a million homes by the end of the first year. That doesn't seem much when you look at Sky's 500 channels today, but all polite and fashionable opinion thought it was going to fail. Now it's the most successful multi-channel platform in the world."


Mark Borkowski, public relations expert

"You have no excuse any longer not to be in contact. It's quite easy, because you could be sitting anywhere doing work that is quite interesting - more and more work can be spent out of the office with your BlackBerry. The other side is that you're a slave to technology. You're on call all the time, but you can deal with things. Its global reach also makes it more efficient. The best thing is that you can be on a beach or in a pub - you can be online everywhere - and you can enjoy better scenery. But it is another tool for media enslavement."