By Rafael Lorente
Rafael Lorente is a Washington Bureau reporter for Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel
T HOSE BULKY ORGANIZERS with hundreds of handwritten phone numbers--some scratched out over and over again--are quickly going the way of that word processing dinosaur, ATEX.
For a lot of reporters these days, the Palm Pilot, a little gizmo that looks like it came off a Star Trek set, is the way to go to organize appointments, save and categorize phone numbers, store documents, and play games during boring meetings. The savvy Palm carriers are breaking the stereotype of the techno-impaired journalist.
"I had a big black Filofax that weighed about three pounds and took up my entire purse," says Anne Kornblut, who covers Capitol Hill for the Boston Globe. She ditched the extra baggage in favor of a compact Palm Pilot.
Kornblut is not alone, at least in Washington, D.C. The Tribune Media Center, home to the Chicago Tribune and the company's other newspapers and its television operation, boasts at least nine Palm Pilots. The handheld computers can also be found among journalists at places like the Washington bureaus of Bloomberg and the New York Daily News.
While the Palm, as it is known, is not the only personal digital assistant on the market, it has become the most popular. More than 4 million have been sold since they were introduced in 1996. They come in several models, ranging from the Palm III, which can be had for under $200, to the Palm VII, which can fetch $500.
In the nation's capital, where the right phone numbers are status symbols, it has become common to see two reporters using their Palms to exchange sources with each other or with a congressional staffer.
Palms can electronically beam numbers and addresses to each other without pen and paper getting involved. With a few clicks of the Palm's pointer, a user can send an infrared stream of data from one to another. They can also synchronize calendars and phone lists with software on a desktop computer.
But those aren't the only things it's good for. Helen Kennedy, a reporter and editor for the New York Daily News' Washington bureau, bought a Palm three months ago. "Within a half an hour of getting it, I couldn't imagine living without one," Kennedy says. "I just used to forget things."
Like Kornblut and others, Kennedy has loaded her Palm with a variety of useful and playful stuff. Her Palm contains "The Merchant of Venice," the Bill of Rights and the Unabomber's Manifesto. Oh, and 219 drink recipes.
Kornblut has a thesaurus and Tetris on hers.
Other Palm software includes calculators, currency converters and games like chess. The Palm VII can access the Internet and get news headlines from sources such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal and ESPN.
It's not just reporters using Palms, either.
Vice President Al Gore, an acknowledged geek, doesn't go anywhere without his Palm Pilot strapped to his belt. Greg Garcia, the lobbyist for 3Com, the Palm's maker, says they're becoming popular on Capitol Hill among staffers and even some members of Congress, such as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
Kennedy has one warning about the Palm, though: It's easy to get attached. All the stuff on her Palm has maxed out the gizmo's memory. And she doesn't know when she's going to send it to the manufacturer to have the memory upgraded.
"I can't part with it that long," Kennedy says.