Monday, July 28, 2014

Clique to Enlarge

Witness for once the scrum undone. A wretched stretch of loiterers, sporting recordists and slot-makers, all poised to pounce should an overpaid athlete drop from the ceiling, or a free buffet open down the hall. Mostly though, they just sit there, trading batteries, alibis and fart jokes. A love of lanyards is their dominant trait, sarcasm their native tongue. They travel alone or in pairs, dragging their contraptions from sidelines to half-court to the locker room. After the hunt, they gather in noisy hordes, the clatter of their prattle giving every rent-a-cop within two square blocks a sudden and insistent case of the runs.

They are ... The Ploparazzi.

That's right: I just made up a word. But what else do you call this gallery of rogues? Lens Grifters? Paid Knockabouts? Licensed Wisenheimers? They all fit, but don't judge these jokers by the cop of their squat, for the scabs on their elbows have better war stories than you. After all, these jaded souls have witnessed the joy of victory and the agony of defeat - often while nursing their own saddle sores. (Hey, YOU sit cross-legged under a basketball hoop for two hours with a boat anchor on your shoulder, or dodge a cross-eyed running back as they tries his bet to spread your skeleton across the end zone.) Better yet, plant your keister on the couch and watch the world through the snipers' eyes, for not only have they provided fodder for countless newspapers, magazines and SportsCenter, they've vexed Presidents, humbled heads of state and slathered indelible images across the human consciousness.

Not bad for a bunch of guys (and gals) in cargo shorts.

(Thanks to AP photog extraordinaire Chuck Burton for this way cool panoramic of news crews waiting to interview the coaches of the ACC. Click and enlarge to see who YOU recognize. Look, there's Jelly in the middle!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

They See Me Rollin...

How NOT to get ahead in broadcasting: be seen yukking it up in a station vehicle. Just ask the putz driving the news cruiser recently seen losing a race at the Albuquerque Dragway (a slash of asphalt presumably reachable only after one left turn).

UPDATE! Web sources reveal the news crew was actually shooting a feature story on drag racing and, ahem, needed point of view footage! That changes EVERYTHING! Still, do as I do and keep it chill behind the wheel. That way you'll be around to drop knowledge on a generation of news nerds, instead of rushing headlong into such a brazen career move. Remember...

Seven Good Reasons NOT to Drag Race That News Car. 

7.) Two Words: Condiment dislodgement. Even if you do make it to Victory Lane, you'll surely be slathered in petrified ketchup, Starbucks stir sticks and dozens of unread press releases.

6.) Those door stickers are only rated for 70 MPH. Lose 'em and you'll have to explain to your News Director why the custom wrap job he had to pay for out of his budget is now draped across a scarecrow outside Meth Valley Mobile Home Park.

5.) Top out in fourth gear and that dealer recall your station didn't tell you about is gonna cause the windshield to implode.  You'll know when it happens...

4.) Take home whatever women is impressed with THAT performance and that video below won't be the only thing only going viral.

3.) No one ever made anchor after getting caught racing news units. Well, there was that one dude.

 2.) Eighteen seconds of dragway adulation isn't worth losing the chance to work every single holiday for the rest of your life. Or is it?

And finally, the Number One Reason NOT to Drag Race That News Car...

1.)  It ain't yours.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hell to Quell

And so begins a NEW chapter in The Book of Lenslinger, in which our elusive news shooter sheds his street cred for a peek at the bigger picture...


Weathered SlingerWhen last I left you, my head was in a fog. Some days, it still is. But if eighteen months of lurching uncertainty have taught me anything, it's that 'Living in the Past' is a better Jethro Tull album than recipe for glee. Ya feel me? Probably not. Doesn't matter. I'm writing for myself these days. When I'm writing at all. Once upon a time, frothy blather dripped from my every pore and formed unsettled puddles of snark.

No more. Now, I struggle with where to begin and how to end. What gives? I use to dry-fart shiny passages while waiting for stoplights to change. Hell, I once sneezed an entire thesis while ordering take-out! These days, I can't so much as scribble a grocery list without struggling over tone. What gives? Why can a guy who used to churn out words at a dizzying clip find himself unable to jot down a web address without hours of soul-searching? It's simple, really....


If you can't understand how such a thing can affect one's literary output, you've obviously never had your soul stepped on.  I have - the day my beautiful wife announced she didn't want to be my beautiful wife anymore. To say it shook me to the core is underselling it. I curled up into a fetal ball and wept for the better part of a year. After a great deal of wallowing, I got up off that floor and followed some of the smartest people I knew straight down the interstate. That's right, if the collapse of a twenty-three year marriage wasn't enough personal upheaval, I decided to leave a job I truly loved. Which is why you'll find me ninety minutes south of the Piedmont, thrusting lenses into the hands of Millennials and pleading for a little sequencing. You guessed it...

I turned house-cat.

Officially, my title is 'News Operations Manager'. It's a lofty appellation, alright, but after seven months of equipping young journalists with all the tools of television, it's one I'm comfortable with. And now that I'm seemingly secure in my new surroundings, I'd like to get back to writing again. 'About what?' you ask. TV News, of course. It's what I've always written about and for the past half  year I've been preaching my prose to a collection of twenty-somethings - most of whom have never even heard of 'Lenslinger'. I'd like to change that and this long-delayed blog post is the first wobbly step in that direction...

So join me, won't you, in my renewed efforts to get my mojo back. I greatly appreciate all the reader e-mail I've received - even the ones calling me a coward for staying quiet so long. I have no idea where this blog will go next, but I can assure you, it's going somewhere. The tone may change, the bitterness will surely fade - but I promise you I'll call it like I see it (at least as much as I can I can while staying employed). Whether or not you'll join me remains to be seen, but in the end it doesn't matter. A writer's gotta write, a bird's gotta sing and this bruised news shooter simply has to run his mouth on-line.

Stay tuned...

Monday, September 09, 2013

Blurred Lines


It's a fact: If you stumble around in an existential haze long enough, people will start calling you out! At work, at the deli, at the random head-on collision... if ONE MORE person asks me why I'm not blogging anymore, I'm gonna have to come up with an answer! So far though, I've only mumbled a half-response while stifling the deployment of my middle finger. Just today, I was touring WRAL-TV when some very nice strangers piled accolades on the words I used to string together. If that wasn't enough to make me stare holes through my windshield on the way back home, I plopped down in the middle of what was once The Lenslinger Institute only to discover a eulogy of sorts from News Blues editor Mike James...
"Veteran news photographer Stewart "Lenslinger" Pittman, whose Schmuck Alerts and flowery prose always made us smile, hasn't posted to his blog 'Viewfinder Blues' for more than a month. Last we heard, he was recovering from a painful divorce and was struggling with writer's block and career fatigue."
No. He. Didn't. Okay, so he did. And you know what makes it so much worse? He's 100% correct. I am recovering from a painful divorce (to-be) and I'm damn sure struggling with writer's block and career fatigue. That first condition is more my business than yours, but I can tell you this: my wedded bliss is distant history and while I will never, ever, ever understand why, it's something I'm learning to accept. This realization, of course, hasn't come without some collateral damage: depression, self-doubt and enough unanswered introspection to make Dr. Drew huff a can of paint. As for writer's block, well, she's the only mistress I've ever had ... a frigid bitch who moves in and makes me pay for all the nights the Muse had her way with me. I'll run that hag off soon enough, but probably never for good. (Perhaps I should file for a restraining order.)

And career fatigue! Does twenty three years of riding around with gear in the rear even qualify as a career? Did Dr. Seuss take over the last half of that sentence? Is this thing even on? You show me a person who's slept, stepped and crept through as many deadlines as I have who doesn't have career fatigue and I'll show you an unfeeling schlub with a musty ball of gaffer's tape where his shriveled little heart used to be. Career fatigue, PFFT! I got three week old camera batteries with more wear and tear on 'em than the occupational distress I've shared with you people! I have not yet begun to bitch! So bring it on, snarky office mate! Take your best shot, creepy delicatessen lady! And you there, with the badly-wrapped sat truck and feigned concern for my well-being - come at me, bro'! I'll turn your latest mistake into Top Ten fodder, get plugged by News Blues in the process and STILL have to drag some beauty queen into the abyss tomorrow morning!  And as for that whole blogging phase I went through....

I'll get back to it eventually.     

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

In The Short Rows...

Traipse through your days with a lens aloft and people will naturally assume you care. More times than not, you don't, for after awhile the homicides, new brides and camel rides all blend together, until a choice parking spot outside your favorite diner thrills you far more than the meth-lab bloodbath just down the road. It's why I try to keep a low profile... head down, eyes up, deadline in the middle distance. It's a crucial insouciance, the kind you find in Waffle House waitresses, cab drivers and other hollow-eyed zombies. See, only the brain-dead know what a dozen-yard stare will do for your outlook. It also comes in damn handy when you're trying to blend into a crowd of strangers with a fancycam for a face.

That's where I found myself last week, navigating through stacks of tobacco, before briefly traveling back in time. I should have seen it coming, I suppose. But who can spot a rip in the time-space continuum with one eye shut and twenty men trying to step on your feet? I can't even find my car keys most mornings. So is it any wonder I backed right into a portal of sorts, a distorted corridor where the tobacco glowed, my own hair bristled with thickness and '1999' was still just a futuristic Prince jam. Back then, opening day at any self-respecting warehouse was a gala event. Growers, buyers, beauty queens and politicians, all soaking in the aroma of the selling floor. There would be speeches and ice cream and high noon live shots. That's where you'd find me, scanning the crowd for flashes of pageantry and the free Krispy-Kremes...

 I hovered there for awhile, watching my twenty-something self almost slip on the canvas corners of now obsolete tobacco sheets. It's there I first perfected my back-pedal, that languid lope you try to fall into as the prisoner/politician/pervert at the center of your screen tries to walk right through your pupils. I faltered at first, but after getting trampled a time or ten by men with tobacco spit on their chins, I learned to get the hell out of the way. These days, my biggest obstacles are flashbacks, time warps and the occasional urge to break-dance like no one's watching. Yes, middle age isn't pretty. Neither is the view that ensued I returned to my corporeal form... The crowd was smaller, the golden leaf moldy and I ... I, was still a freakin' cameraman...

This gig really should come with a Surgeon General's Warning.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beak to Geek

New Penguin

Every once in a while, something unexpected wanders into frame and drains the moat around my soul. It usually happens at soldier homecomings, Special Olympics or certain City Council meetings. Okay, so I'm lying about that last one, but the fact is we TV stevedores ARE occasionally capable of human emotion (like those conflicted cyborgs of Science Fiction, who bring civilization to a grinding halt with their incessant meddling). Lately, I've strained in vain to keep my pathos under wraps. What can I tell ya - parts of my life continue to suck. But since I hold no patent on that predicament, I choose to lose myself within the lens. That I do, puttering around the eye-cup like some creepy lighthouse keeper.

Then along came Brenton.

A seabird of some distinction, Brenton met me at the back door of the Greensboro Science Center's new penguin exhibit. Unlike the rest of her colony, Brenton wasn't as interested in the bucket of fish as she was the cameraman who came with it. I was flattered, if not a little weirded out, at the creature's curiosity. Like a cat, she rubbed against my ankles, then stopped to stare up into my eyes like a homeless Basset Hound. So I returned the favor, twisting the macro ring on my lens until my new girlfriend snapped into focus. Brenton didn't flinch. Instead she met my gaze with deep black eyes that seemed to flicker with wisdom. Chances are she was checking her reflection, but as we stared across the great divide, the glacial malaise of these last six months melted away and for just a moment the present felt better than the past. That's when I heard someone laughing and realized it was me.

Don't worry, though. I'm sure the feeling will pass.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dreck at Eleven

News crews have it rough. They're overworked, underpaid and labor under a false sense of relevance. All of which makes me very reluctant to ridicule them - even from afar. After all, I'M one of them and when it comes to putting dodgy content on the air, there is blood on my hands as well. But never in my rashest hour have I foisted the kind of foolishness willingly broadcast by certain employees of WJAR-10-NBC in Providence, Rhode Island. Perhaps you've seen it: A young reporter caps off her live shot on a bear attack with a few helpful attempts on how to stave off a similar incident. What followed was an abomination. The reporter (we'll call her Julie Tremmel) cavorts, overacts and generally displays behavior better suited for a game of stoner charades than an actual newscast. While not privy to the logic behind this ill-advised addendum, I do believe I recognize the the sordid core of this report. Sooo, at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy (I prefer 'curmudgeon') I'd like to offer some unsolicited advice, First, though, some background:

For as long as I have hoisted a lens, local TV stations have done their best to drive themselves out of existence. The sins of the fathers have many. Vacuous ass-hats and admitted degenerates have always gravitated toward our field. Long before early engineers knitted the first color patterns from stolen Indian blankets, folks who couldn't make it in the real world have found solace and acceptance underneath our heavily-logoed tent. This is nothing new. What is new(ish) is our industry's insistence on hearing the cheap, the young and the inexperienced. Major market shops that used to hand pick journeyman staffers now fill their newsrooms with folks barely out of college. Considering the salaries they offer, this only makes sense. But the corner-office crowd has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, replacing exiting veterans with a generation of journalists whose sum life experience comes from binge watching Jersey Shore.

Don't get me wrong. I work with plenty of young reporters who strive for nuance and intelligence in their work. But I know many more whose idea of a sound journalistic skill-set is a stack of glossy head-shots, some far flung agent and a wardrobe they really can't afford. It is these pretenders I'd like next to address...

ATTENTION YOUNG BROADCASTERS: You have dedicated your days to an industry in decline. What used to be considered a vibrant signal of society is now just so much noise. Loyal viewers are dying off by the hearse-load and they're not being replaced. Your Mother may be impressed at seeing little her baby on the tee-vee, but the rest of the nation considers your ilk somewhere between tax collector and pedophile. By no means is this your fault. Generations of buffoons before have long ago paved this road to irrelevance with ego, affectation and hard hitting reports on how this washcloth could kill you(!). But while you're not totally responsible for broadcasting's prolonged demise, you did willingly jump aboard this listing ship. If you have any hope of treading water, let alone lap your competition, you must remember this:

Credibility is key. People at home and on the street already assume you're a preening idiot. Most many of you are not. If you plan to stay employed, or at the very least parlay your regional fame into a sweet P.R. gig, you must bleed validity. You must project (and protect) personal integrity with the zealotry of an suicide bomber. Sure, acting foolish on the air may land you on Letterman's couch, but it probably won't land your insipid mug on any hometown billboards. Wanna go viral? Skip the condom next time you hook up with some drunken Millennial. Otherwise you're best hope of becoming a web sensation lies in the people you interview. Let some hapless sap or idling baby-mama turn soundbites into passing catch-phrases. Your job is to play the straight man (or woman). Wanna perpetrate something stupid to ping-pong around the internet?

Ain't nobody got time for that.