With Monday’s staged implosion of the Burlington Industries building, the shell of a giant was summarily destroyed. But as the first of the staccato booms rattled windows around Friendly Center, a new breed of onlooker rose up to record it. I speak not of the swarthy camera pirate with his heavy lens and professional press pass, but of the mild mannered college professor with the brand new camera-phone, the smiley housewife with the shiny Sure-Shot, the cocksure columnist with a thesis already brewing in the laptop. They are more than erstwhile tourists. They are the rabid bloggers, the plugged-in pundits, the citizen press corps - whip-smart individuals whose very nature drives them to post pictures, links and commentary on the sudden collapse before the dust even finishes settling over once fertile ground.
From Tripod Row, the view’s indeed a little scary. Squinting civilians peering into tiny lenses, breaking bedrock principles of camera-handling with every unnecessary sweep and pan. No one expected the democratization of media to be pretty, but the attendant lens abuse is enough to break this cinematographer’s heart. But that ship has sailed, a nautical phrase as apparently outdated as Wide-Medium-Tight and Steady Sequenced Video. What use are lofty production values to the herky-jerky nature of today’s internet footage? Does proper composition really matter when the end product is viewed on a one inch screen? Of course it does - but only to us broadcast dinosaurs. This new hybrid breed of digital scribe gives little thought to such matters, instead relying on quick image uploads and push-button publishing to make up for his lack of camera acumen.
It’s enough to make those of us in the media scrum to talk of the End Times. Years of shoulder mounted betacam security are grinding to an unceremonious halt and crashing onto the shores of shrinking technology. With phone companies morphing into video portals and infidel consultants preaching the power of the One-Man-Band, it is simply not a good time to be a TV news photographer. One hasn’t got to look far into the cameraman’s past to recognize a similar shift. In the early Eighties, videotape quickly surpassed film as Television’s medium of choice. Suddenly journeyman photogs found their hard-earned tenure as film-processing auteur simply didn’t matter. Videotape was cheap, instantaneous, and far easier to use. Though the gear was bulky, there were plenty of underpaid young upstarts willing to take up the new dumb-downed format. As they did, thousands of veteran film crews laid down their lenses and for a long while afterwards, the evening newscast suffered.
Now, a new revolution is about to be televised. Tiny lenses are popping in the most unlikely of devices, powerful editing is just a laptop away and personal websites are racing towards critical mass. How long before my oversized fancy-cam looks like an early 80’s bag phone? About the same time the six o clock news begins looking like it was shot by a hopped-up junkie with a twitchy digital, I‘m guessing. The next ten years promise to feature a rapid breakdown of my chosen craft. Whatever new paradigm takes hold, it’s a safe bet the two-person news crew is an endangered species, driven to oblivion by technology and methods that are faster and cheaper, but not necessarily better. Hopefully by that time, I’ll have found more fulfilling ways to make a difference and a paycheck. Until then, I’ll be here in the media pack, one eye buried in a viewfinder, the other one keeping steady watch over a nation of digital interlopers. Now tell the accountant with the handy-cam to get the #&%% out of my shot...
NOTE: The above two photos of the Burlington Indutries building collapse - the best I could find on the Internet - are from the lens of the Blogfather himself, Ed Cone. How's that for personal journalism?