Thursday, June 30, 2005

Kenny Rogers: What A Schmuck

"Kenny Rogers shoves Cameraman!" screamed the headline. I scratched my head and wondered why in the hell The Gambler would go off on a member of the media? Come to find out, there's some other yak with Kenny's name who plays baseball for a team called the Texas Rangers. Who knew?

I'll be upfront. I know little of baseball. Fact is, much of pro sports baffles me. I grasp the entertainment aspect of it all, but I've never understood why grown men with numbers on their back are so idolized in our society. Maybe it's my own lack of athleticism, maybe it's my disdain for organized machismo, maybe it's just my impatience with millionaires throwing tantrums. Whatever the case, I got little use for programming with a scoreboard in the corner.

Which is why I'm utterly befuddled whenever a pampered athlete goes medieval on the nearest available lens. Steroids get held up at the dealer, Kenny? The limo drive over to quiet for any good ole fashioned road rage? Just realize you're a forty year old man in blue and orange silk? There has to be SOME REASON why you'd lash out at the very tools that help bring you all those undeserved millions. Oh wait - here it is...
Rangers manager Buck Showalter, who did not witness the events, said the team will investigate. "One person was frustrated -- frustrated at not being able to win."
Well, heck Kenny - why didn't you say so? Anger over your own shortcomings is PLENTY reason to assault complete strangers. I think the next time I'm getting the runaround on a story, I'll tip over some hot dog vendor's cart in the middle of rush hour traffic. Send his franks and buns a-scatter over four lanes of downtown gridlock. That'll teach the guys at City Hall not to return my calls.

I only hope the photographers caught up in this childish outburst will own a large part of Kenny Rogers' kingdom very soon. More likely, a quiet settlement will be reached as the video burns through the 24 hour news cycle before becoming Year Ender clip fodder. No doubt the incident will only fuel Rogers' justified reputation as a infantile psycho and in the process alienate a few more fans of a once noble sport. Schmuck.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Those Blogging Photogs

Be sure to check out Weaver's thought and images from his trip to to the Media Big Top at Fort Bragg. Presidential visits can be taxing - from the sardine pack on the camera risers to the Secret Service guys glaring at you from across the room. I can think of no better photog to tackle this particular gig than The Mighty Weave. Better him than me, anyway.

From Oklahoma, another dusty lenslinger rides into town. According to Pixel Wrangler, he's been roundin' up images since 1992. In that times he's lassoed a tall tale or two he wants to share. Read his latest - where he recounts the day he sold his soul to the company store. Hey, a cowpoke's gotta eat...

Closer to home, Colonel Corn checks in with a cautionary tale for everyone who drives a rolling billboard. Seems some fiendish rapscallions are cruising the Queen City and targeting news crews. Water balloons are fun but you don't soak a man of the Colonel's rank without consequences. Can you court-marshal a fourteen year old?

Out in L.A., beFrank could have used a water balloon or two as he took part in a Tom Cruise love fest. Then again befrank's too much of a proffesional to lob water at the World's most annoying Scientologist. Instead, he leaned on his lens and harkedned back to a day when Hollywood stars shut up and smiled. Ah, the good ole days...

Back in the Carolinas, Little Lost Robot is up to his usual shenanigans. Recently he left the fancy-cam back in the shop and set out for another mind-altering comic book convention. All was going well until an aging James Bond villain dropped from the ceiling and got him in a headlock. Of course LLR took it all in stride, convincing the grinning beast to pose for a picture before he crushed his skull.

Last but not least, welcome Ken Cravens, aka Bluedog Photog, to the 'sphere. Bluedog's no mortal photog himself. He runs a mean sattelite truck and dabbles in a little sports reporting, when he's not covering disasters and such. Here he poses with a certain bearded lenslinger as Hurricane Isabel crashes on shore in the background, proving that, blog or not, photogs just aren't all that bright.

But we do have fun.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Radio Daze: The Stupid Years (1)

Shortly after I conned my way into my first TV station job, I struck out to do the very same in the exciting world of radio. Hey, if I can push expensive antique cameras around the warped studio floor, surely I could master the local FM airwaves. At least that was my thought process as I leafed through the yellow pages in search of a station to grace with my undeniable talent. Maybe I was feeling cocky, having just scored a minimum-wage gig at the CBS affiliate. Whatever the case, I set aside my lack of ambition just long enough to ring up a couple of program directors around town. Besides, I thought as the phone rang, once they heard my dulcet tones, I’d probably spark a bidding war. After all, I was Captain Nemo.

No bigger than a broom closet, the broadcast booth aboard the U.S. S. Mount Whitney had been my island of solace in a sea of discontent. Had it not been for a few shipmates, I would never have known about the small compartment just down from the flag bridge, the dusty little booth with Vietnam War era turntables and boxes of LP’s and carts from the Armed Forces Radio Network. No, the buddy who first let me in to that tiny space had no idea the monster they were unleashing. Once I got a look at the antiquated control board, with its oversized knobs and still shiny toggle switches, I was hooked. The fact that the noise produced within radiated all across the ship via close circuit radio was but a distant thought;. I was seeking refuge.

I found it - soon forgoing precious at-sea sleep just so I could sit and spin the finest in late 80’s FM hits. Though I’m still not sure any of my shipmates ever listened, I quickly developed an evening radio show and a persona to go with it: ‘Captain Nemo’s Taps to Midnight - featuring an eclectic mix culled from the official onboard library and a dozen bunkmates CD stashes. I guess you could say I was playing radio, but it was one of the few things that kept me sane as my ship did lazy circles off the coast of Guantanamo Bay for weeks at a time. I’d pull the lights down low in my inner sanctum, crawl into a pair of government issue headphones and forget all about all the haze gray and underway world on the other side of the hatch.

The Navy didn’t make me a radio star, but it did leave me convinced I was somehow born to broadcast. That realization deepened when the second program director I got on the phone that day invited me to come in for an interview the very next day. Eighteen hours later, I steered my battered Toyota into the gravel lot of a rundown one-story building on the edge of town. After checking in with the world’s most disinterested receptionist, I sat and waited I the chintzy lobby, mostly sober, over-cologned and excited about my new career as a radio stud. Imagine my surprise when the Program director - a fellow in a wrinkled sweatshirt not much older than myself - poked his head through the door and motioned me back.

Though the P.D. looked like he slept in his clothes, he was all business. Tossing my cassette of Captain Nemo’s greatest hits aside, he jammed a few sheets of paper at me without ever listening to it. I was halfway through filling them out when I realized I had the job. Beaming inside, I scribbled details stole glances at the aging equipment around me. Only some of it looked familiar, but that didn’t matter; this guy obviously knew talent when he heard it. Half an hour later, the young man with the sleepy eyes escorted me out, told me to report back the following Sunday night for my first on-air shift, and promptly locked the door behind me. I skipped all the way to the car, ecstatic at being discovered and in awe of the Program Director’s astute grasp of my immeasurable talent. Little did I know, he’d merely been checking for a pulse.

(Next Time: Crash and Burn...)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Newsbreakers Get Press

In a shocking imitation of our own extended coverage here at Viewfinder BLUES, The New York Times profiles The Newsbreakers (free registration required). In doing so, the Old Gray Lady sheds new light on this silliest of media watchdog groups, probing into just what leads a man to don a ninja outift and fling processed cheese slices at a hard-working news crew. The transparency continues at the Newsbreakers' site, where founder Buck "Lucky" Owens sheds his own mask to reveal the frustrated deskie within. Say you want about these twisted interlopers - I can't get enough of them. Read the article, watch the video, then ask yourself what's ultimately more insipid - some costumed moron jumping around in the background of a live shot, or the puffed-up indignance of the talking hair-do at center-stage. I still can't decide...

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Age of Convergence (part 2)

For years I’ve pled with any news shooter who would listen to diversify their skills, to master the script and the timeline as well as the lens. No longer can a TV news photographer afford to specialize, I’d say - for a revolution is at hand, one spurred not by a quest for better broadcast journalism but by shrinking technologies and the lust for smaller budgets. Most often, my exhortations were laughed off as folly, even as heresy by some in the camera community. This derision never bothered me much, as while the other photogs were babysitting Sally Joe Hairstyle down at the courthouse, I was back at the station, putting together MY story the way I wanted to. Now, I have the extra pleasure of actually being right. Since that doesn’t happen very often, I feel compelled to expound. Still, this is not a victory lap, or told-you-so, but rather an extended survey of the quaking media landscape.

Just weeks ago, KRON in San Francisco chocked many in the broadcast world by announcing they were joining the VJ movement, forgoing the traditional two-person crew for a multi-tasking news-gatherer with a laptop and a lens. Under the tutelage of (the much-reviled in camera circles) Michael Rosenblum, this approach has already swept Europe, and small-market reporters have been shooting their own stuff since the dawn of TV news. But KRON is a former giant in a major market. For a station of that size to employ a one-person approach to news would have been unthinkable not so long ago. In many sectors of the broadcasting planet, it still is.

Now, Young Broadcasting, KRON’s owner, is announcing that another of their stations, WKRN of Nashville, is jumping aboard the solo train. Not only that, WKRN is doing it NOW. Having already purchased 30 Sony Z1 cameras (at a mere 3 pounds apiece) along with 16 Dell laptop editors, KRN management announced an eight week training course that will transform 13 traditional news crews into 30 video journalists. While it isn’t yet clear as to just what reporters will shoot and what shooters will report, WKRN’s General Manager has divulged he won’t rule out letting any offended staffers out of their contracts. Wow.

As you can imagine, word of this has caused many in the newsroom to panic and twitch. Reporters I know have no desire to pick up a camera, most fellow photographers dare not pick up a pencil. I can’t really blame them, as they’re merely adhering to the model laid down by the founding fathers of TV news. Unlike myself, most photogs prefer working as a team, concentrating on the art of capturing moving images while the reporter gathers detail and perspective. Likewise, what reporter wouldn’t prefer being able to focus on the story at hand while his partner did all the heavy lifting? If not for my anti-social tendencies and diminished tolerance for histrionics, I too might like company in the news unit more than I do. As it is, I shoot, write and edit daily news reports all by my lonesome because I feel I do my best work that way. Call me an auteur. I’ve been called worse.

As entertaining as some of the teeth-gnashing, it may be a bit uncalled for. It’s a certainty that more and more stations will adopt the Video-Journalist model; you haven’t got to be Michael Rosenblum to see that. However, there are shades of gray involved. Affiliates will have to keep a certain amount of shooters on hand to produce more in-depth work, as well as to support the stable of front-line talent. Jill Reporter-Bunny might shoot her own stuff, but chances are Chet Graytemples won’t pack his own lens when he saunters off the set long enough for a series shoot.

If he does, then that would be a revolution, one in which the star-making nature of your local news factory might indeed crumble. Imagine a TV newsroom where even the top anchor schleps gear, thus tarnishing the artifice of suave superiority inherent in the dapper newsreader model. While that’s not likely to happen, one aspect of the changing times does excite me: the gradual transformation of local correspondents from overdressed poseurs to blue-collar news gatherers. Blasphemy you say? Perhaps, but a newscast focused more on stories than storytellers is one even I might watch. Might.

But I digress. What will most probably transpire is an amalgamation of the fears and concerns wafting over the internet right now. Depth and aesthetics WILL suffer, at least until practitioners of these new methods get the formula right. Even then, TV news won’t be the same. Higher story counts will be delivered with far cruder execution. Smaller, lighter lenses will open up new frontiers, but it will be a bumpy, often out-of-focus ride. Reporters will still go live(!) for no apparent reason, but they may be a little more out of breath from shooting and editing their own stuff. Legions of reporters and photogs opposed to cross-training will leave the fold, making room for a new generation of loners with lenses who will merrily take their place. Not so long from now, this group of 21st century newsies will sit around their magic laptops, wi-fi wristbands and sat-dish jetpacks, and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Until then, I’ll see ya in the camera scrum.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

With Great Malice: The Video

In my business, I see a lot of surveillance tape. Bank robberies, gas station heists, fast food break-ins…if I’m not recording off some backroom monitor, I’m slowing down footage as police look on. But of all the smeary black-and-white images I’ve processed, nothing illustrates the casual brutality of man like a recent piece of tape out of High Point. If you live around here, you’ve seen it - a scratchy patch of surveillance footage featuring a callous act of savagery involving a fire extinguisher and a complete disregard for human life. If you haven’t seen it, you can do so HERE - but be forewarned - the violence captured within is more than a little disturbing.

Naturally, we newshounds wanted to speak with the victim, Marian McKinney. But he declined, saying he didn’t want to interfere with the investigation. Today, after learning police had arrested the husband and wife thought responsible, McKinney stepped in front of our cameras - nose broken, eye blackened, cheek swollen. Despite his injuries, McKinney listened quietly to our obvious questions. In a low voice, he spoke about the attack he never saw coming.

“I don’t have any memory of it, other than what happened in the aftermath. I remember the blood and you know, getting up and calling the police...”

McKinney said he’s seen the tape, but has no desire to watch it again. When we told him Ledeal Cockrane and his wife Shekia were each being held under 100 thousand dollar bonds, the gentle giant nodded knowingly.

“I hope they are put away for a long time...that was just a completely vicious attack on their part...”

Not one to elaborate too deeply on his feelings, McKinney kept reiterating how great 95 percent of his customers are. He plans to return to work at the convenience store, partly to show others how you cannot run from criminals, but mostly because it’s a paycheck he can’t do without. I found myself liking Mr. McKinney - his thoughtful manner and quiet stride belies his intimidating appearance. For one who was so brutally attacked, he’s not letting his justified anger get the better of him. For that, he has my utmost respect.

As for the Cockrane couple, here’s hoping the surveillance footage will do its job and help send them to the very bowels of Central Prison. If not, then our much maligned justice system is indeed broken beyond repair.

Through a Lens, Darkly

Through a Lens, Darkly "Ya ever go to like, murders and stuff?, the high school senior asked. "Sure," I said, "but they’re never as interesting as they are on CSI." The line got a laugh and a groan, so I moved on to another subject. Later that night though, I realized just how much I’d lied to the curious teen.

It was well below zero the day I saw my first body. In fact, the cold was what killed the old man found in the woods that January morning. The scanner led me there - to a vacant lot behind a bank, where a cop buddy let me in close for an unauthorized glance. Camera by my side, I approached the prone figure on the forest floor. Knees bent as if sleeping, the old man in the brown coat and gray beard lay on his side. A wind-blown mound of dead winter leaves covered half his face - the one visible eye open and unfocused. As I bathed in his blank stare, a bank teller’s metallic voice wafted in the distance. Looking around, I noticed the stacked cardboard, the tied-off garbage bag, the worn laundry draped over scraggly pine saplings. Only then did I realize I was standing in the homeless man’s bedroom.

A year or two later, I already considered myself a veteran. With growing skills and too much swagger, I wandered from one random calamity to the next. One warm morning, I followed the voices on the law enforcer’s frequency to a rundown house at the bottom of a hill, where chance and circumstance had claimed another victim. At first glance, the primer-gray Nova sitting cockeyed on the porch was downright laughable, until a familiar officer dropped the F-Bomb. Fatal. Suddenly I noticed a cop unfolding a large white sheet. By the time he draped it over the front of the car, I had him in my camera’s crosshairs. The fleeting shot led the noon that day - the forty second tale of a freak accident involving a speeding Chevy and an unlucky resident -a well-regarded grandfather who liked to sit on his front porch in the morning, sip coffee and wave at the motorists he knew.

Not long after that, I found myself on the edge of another violent demise. An early morning delivery man had sounded the first claxon, dialing 9-1-1 moments after finding a 24 hour convenience store clerk congealing in a pool of his own blood. I joined a fellow photog at the fluttering crime tape and fired up my lens. Behind us, a bloated summer sun peeked over the trees, bathing the store front in warm morning light. The bright orange shafts pierced the windows and lit up the store’s interior, lighting up the scene like some tragic diorama. A heavy detective in a too-tight shirt held his flashlight high, pointing his own beam to the floor as a second detective stepped into frame and snapped a few shots with an oversized camera ‘Bingo’ I said softly, observing the cinematic moment. For several hours I felt good about that shot - until I interviewed the victim’s mother and zoomed in on the tears running down her face.

For months the veteran nurse had mailed letters to anyone who would read them, swearing her ex-husband was going to kill her. When he finally did, I was there. To be fair the unhappy couple were already dead by the time I rolled up to the hospital parking lot. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, only that a double shooting call over the scanner had interrupted my pork chop dinner. The cops were everywhere, their blue lights swirling amid the flash of red ambulance lamps. I panned my lens around a bit, trying to decide what to capture first. In the distance two cops stood over a covered body - the husband who’d followed his first murder with a last suicide attempt. Much closer to my tripod spot, a second sheet lay draped over a crumpled form. I rolled tape on both, before pointing my camera at a pair of woman’s blood-smeared eyeglasses. When I did, blue strobe lights danced in the scratched lenses of the broken frames. My heart raced, knowing the image would soon blanket the airwaves, leaving pain and outrage in its wake.

To say these victims haunt my thoughts would be an overstatement. In fact, I can’t even remember any of their names. But the visual touchstones that surrounded their deaths, the pictures that impacted a region and caused it to recoil, are still very much with me. Sometimes, in the pre-dawn hours of my suburban bedroom, these images splay out on the darkened wall, bringing to mind broadcasted tragedies past and causing me to wonder about the kind of karma I’m collecting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fire on the Mountain

Check out this photo, via richvid at I believe it's from a year or so ago outside L.A. (Any clue, beFrank?)

Whatever the origin, it's a damn frightening sight. As one who pilots the occasional live truck, whose older brother is a career firefighter/paramedic and who is deeply enthralled with the closing chapters of Fire on the Mountain, I just couldn't resist sharing.

Hey - it's MY blog!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jami Turner - back in action!

Much love to Jami Turner upon returning to her post as main co-anchor at WCTI in New Bern, N.C. According to ENC DTV, 'Jami is back from a thirteen week maternity leave. Her new son recently had a portion of his kidney removed after a brief illness, but is now doing much better.'

Back before Jami moved Down East, she was a familiar face on my station's morning news. When I first arrived here, Jami and her husband Alan were among the few to welcome me with open arms. Jami and I worked together for six months on the punishing early morning shifts. Together, we faced blazing heat, crippling cold and endless bouts of sleep deprivation, all in the name of perky morning live shots. That very shift marked my return to news after a three year descent into promotions hell and there was no one better to run me through crack-of-dawn ENG exercises than the capable Ms. Turner. upon further investigation, I found her hubby Alan - a rock-solid photog and lighting master to be a great guy to hang out with. He taught me alot about medium market news gathering, soft boxes and live trucks. He even turned me onto mountain biking on the side. Not bad for a cat from Eugene, Oregon.

Now Jami and Alan are thriving Down East in the very news market where I got my start. I've yet to see the new baby, but if he's anywhere near as cute as their daughter, they sign that kid up for a cereal commercial. The last time I did see them, Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on the coast and I was delirious from a four day diet of granola bars and lukewarm Sprite. Ahh - the glamour of television! Congrats on everything Jami and Alan, we miss you...

The Blogs Thicken

While I'm struggling to get back into my pre-holiday groove, others who share my logo are rising up to carry the blog-load. Since the three of them have made a point of sharing their thoughts with me, I feel compelled to pass the favor on to you.

Chris Morton is one of our youngest photogs, but has quickly mastered the art of pretending to listen to self-appointed masters of the form. (Sorry about that, C-Mo). Along the way, he's finding time to blog about it in the strangely titled site, The Ear Has No Memory. Morton's efforts prove what I've always said: You haven't gotta sling a camera long to collect war stories by the pound.

Another fellow broadcaster who's bringing his thoughts to the blogosphere is Doug Taylor, long-time employee of El Ocho. Doug manages our tape room, keeping track of commercials, feeds and promos, all while fending off oddball requests from the news department. He considers himself a curmudgeon, but you'll never meet a nicer one. Drop in on him and decide for yourself . But be warned: you might leave with a case of Tape Room Blues

Finally, we come to a co-worker I've mentioned before. Jeff Varner grabbed national attention when he took on the Outback and the alliances of Survivor, Season Two. He didn't win the million, but he parlayed the opportunity into some high profile gigs in the frothy world of entertainment news. But the tinsel wore thin and soon Jeff decided to use his J-school degree from Chapel Hill for more than a conversation piece. The title of his budding blog explains the rest: The Making of a News Anchor

I'm delighted to welcome these three colleagues to the fold, as I think they're helping define just what a broadcaster's blog can be. But where does this revolution end? Will weblogs one day become as ubiquitous as e-mail addresses? Too early to tell, say the experts. Technology may come along and render the blog as antiquated as yesterday's cable box. One thing is for sure, the internet is quickly becoming democratized. While techno-wizards may one day replace our beloved format, they will never take OUR FREEDOM!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some blue and white war paint to scrape off...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Coming Attractions...

Ah yes - the first day back at work after a glorious vacation. It’s enough to make your friendly neighborhood lenslinger reconsider his current career path. But how could I - when I spent my first returning shift huddling with geographers at UNC-G, hanging out of golf carts at Grandover Resort and chasing world class speed skaters around a High Point roller rink? I couldn’t make that stuff up if I tried! Looking back, each episode was fairly blog-worthy, but since I left my digital camera and laser focus at home today, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Tomorrow I’ll try and do better by you. Let’s just hope I’m not sequestered in some protracted board meeting or the like; those can be awfully hard to sex up for a good blog post. For now though, I leave you with a quick rundown of subjects I’m exploring but am far from finished with. Consider what follows the Coming Attractions posters outside the Viewfinder BLUES Cinema. Or don’t consider them at all. We’ll still be friends...

King of the Walkdown: The true story of one Paul Dunn - a skilled ex-news shooter who had the uncanny ability to psycho-analyze people in handcuffs while doing the one eyed back-shuffle. The only thing more familiar to Paul than the on-camera confession was the subpoena that soon followed.

Through a Lens, Darkly: Though it is certainly macabre to dwell on them, I’ve hovered over enough dead bodies to write a blathering essay about them. Frozen homeless men, unlucky pedestrians, slain convenience store clerks, murdered nurses…I come not to exploit these victims of tragedy, but to simply get them out of my head.

Adventures in Radio (The Stupid Years) : If my initial career plans had panned out , I might be a overblown FM hack in a track suit and gold medallions peeking though my chest hairs, instead of a battered photog with an aching back and a chronic case of diarrhea of her keyboard. Come to think of it, I’m not sure which is worse. What I do know, is I got a story to tell.

Ode to a Greasy Spoon: As much as I enjoy taking pictures and driving news vehicles, my true love is the country diner. From Seagrove’s JugTown CafĂ© to Pete’s Grill in Gibsonville, I like ’em authentic. Extra points awarded if the waitress has a moustache and calls me ’Shug’ while pouring sweet tea strong enough to melt windshield glass.

These shockingly true tales and other assorted camera fables will soon be hitting Viewfinder BLUES screens nationwide. Check local listings for showtimes. Until then, hit the archives, walk the dog and try to forgive a crusty photog for not getting his blog on this fine Monday at Midnight. I beg of you...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

All Aboard the Sea Thunder

At the risk of turning this into a slide show, I do have some vacation pictures to share. I’ll spare you all the sandy details but let’s just say Sunset Beach is a marvelous place to spend a week in June. For now anyway, the looming demise of it's trademark floating drawbridge will alter the island beyond compare. But that’s another post. For now, I got pixels...

On the last day our annual migration, the wife and I ushered our girls aboard what can best be described as a kick-ass speedboat. The skipper of the Sea Thunder was a jovial sort; he leaned back in his chair and cracked stale jokes over the loudspeaker as he piloted the brightly-colored craft with one hand. Minutes outside the channel, the skipper leaned on the throttle. My wife smiled at the horizon as I watched the kids react to their first high-speed lunge into the open sea.

Soon we were bobbing in the waters off Bird Island, ‘No Woman No Cry’ wafting over the boat’s many speakers. Scanning the shore for the Kindred Spirit mailbox, we gave up when a throaty rumble of a competitor’s craft hove into view. Obviously, the Sea Screamer was laden with the Great Unwashed, nothing like the erudite yet shirtless denizens of my fine vessel. Still, we stared at each other as both boats pitch and dove. Before either cruiser could launch a salvo, three dolphins splashed out of the water as if on cue.

Both crowds gasped as schools of silver swimmers cavorted about between the two boats. Executing coordination unknown to man, the gleaming divers danced in unison around the watery arena. The skipper goosed the engine for a better view and ran his best ‘Flipper’ material. Each attempt to capture the mammals with my digital camera was met with yet another shot of unfocused sea. Did I mention the first mate sold ice cold Bud Lights straight from the official Sea Thunder cooler? Dollar a pop - in port and underway.

After the swimming mammals hit the showers, The Skipper fired up the twin outboards, sending our sleek craft into a determined trajectory South, parallel to the sandy shore known as Cherry Grove. There our captain stopped and pointed out c-list celebrity homes, a Nascar driver, a has been and another sports figure I’d never heard of. Truth is, I spent most of my time watching my girls as they tasted the spray arcing off the boat’s sleek hull. I’m no more master sailor, but my time aboard the U.S.S. Mount Whitney did teach me the intrinsic value of daydreaming at sea.

In the end, we covered 15 miles of shoreline, from the northern edge of the Grand Strand to the weedy backwaters of workaday Calabash. At the turnaround point, Skipper held our position off north Myrtle and started talking of cannons and condos. I thought he was kidding until he sounded battle stations, causing First Mate Noah to look up from the cooler long enough to pull a cord. ’BOOM!’ went a midships cannon, it’s vibrating echo bouncing off the high-rises in staggered concert. As the returning booms washed over the boat, passengers squinted and grinned (minus one kid who was obviously sleeping off some late night Kool-Aid binge). I was among the awake and grateful, happy to be making memories that had nothing to with deadlines and live shots.

Remind me of that tomorrow when I’m hashing out my third vosot of the day.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Seven Feet of Hell

I was perusing a Medialine thread when the following bubbled forth...

Once in a blue moon, I'll have that dream, more of a flashback really. There I'll be in the studio, rolling that pathetic red barrell out to Marvin while the local car commercial audio echoes from the rafters. Good ole Marvin takes the barrell, unlatches the door and reaches way down into the crush of thousands of hand-scribbled postcards. Pulling one up, he reads an awkward name from Lizard Lick or some other such forsaken place.

"You have seven minutes to call and claim your Seven Feet of Cash", Marv rattles off.

With that hated music bubbling underneath, the director punches a button and Marvin's visage turns to a cheesy graphic. As it does, I sprint down the hall, dropping off a copy of the postcard with the control room before heading up to the lobby to see lovely Mae.

She's always on the phone when I enter, sometimes shooing off mistaken callers, other times congratulating winners and telling them how they can get their cash. As she runs through the details, I pace and scheme, jotting notes and chewing my fingernails.

During the very worst dreams, the phone call never comes. After a flurry of confused viewers, the phone's blinking lights dim and Mae and I stare at it in near silence until the seven minute time limit is up. Reluctantly I take the abandoned postcard and trudge back to my office, where a desk full of storyboards, graphic requests and promo blather demands my attention.

About then, I wake up screaming. There in the darkness I realize I escaped that hell eight years back and I lie back down, slow my breathing until falling back into the grateful arms of slumber...

That's when some assignment dork calls my house with tales of an overturned semi, an early morning shooting or a fellow photog calling in sick. Oh well.

Send in the Clowns

My favorite gate crashing iconoclasts are at it again! Seems the Newsbreakers have shaken off their meds long enough to stage two more live shot interventions - with starkly different results. First in New Hampshire, a lady and her man-tiger interrupt a remote broadcast before yukking it up with the bemused correspondent. The encounter was coming to a friendly close when the reporter in question let loose with a braying screech that probably sounded a whole lot cooler in his head.

Next up, the electronic jesters travel to Pittsburgh for a slightly lower-key approach to media discourse. Seems the Newsbreakers can't figure out why broadcasters fill the airwaves with murder and mayhem. Pointing their un-logo'd lens at a grumpy reporter, they politely inquire about the much-hyped bloodshed - only to meet the one reporter in Pittsburgh who doesn't want anymore face time. As a fellow member of the working press, I'd almost rather he'd screeched at them. Almost.

Okay, so I may be the one broadcasting professional who loves these guys, but doggone it - I dig their moxie! One of my least favorite aspects of this insipid business is the bloated self-importance that poisons so many of our ranks. It's TV news people - you J-School grads may think you're saving lives, but nine times out of ten, we're shilling overhyped pablum between dog food commercials! Embrace the medium for what it is - and what it ain't. I certainly have. While I probably wouldn't welcome the Newsbreakers' shenanigans while I got a face full of viewfinder, here on my laptop, it sure makes for damn entertaining media critique. Check out their site, watch their videos and decide for yourself. I'll be here, conjugating verbs, polishing my lens and practicing my screech. A-WEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Eye of the Intern

I have not always been kind to the newsroom intern. It’s nothing personal. You see, as a struggling raconteur and a fully-licensed cameramanthropologist, it’s my sworn duty to bag on the unpaid assistant. For years, I’ve answered that call - portraying all interns as overenthusiastic nimrods, underdressed strumpets and myopic intruders of my personal space. Most times I was right. But as I get a little bit older (and a lot less bolder), I find myself reconsidering the apprentice broadcaster.

Perhaps that’s due to the tight formation of interns currently circling my desk. As much as I view newsgathering as a solo sport, it’s hard to turn down these eager souls. After all, they just wanna do I what I do (isn’t that sick?). The very least I can do is take one with me when I hit the field. Otherwise, they’re relegated to some unmanned desk and forced to call various cop shops and beg for news morsels. That’s a daily fate I wouldn’t wish on anybody - minus of course a certain dark overlord of a General Manager I use to pump out dreck for on a daily basis...

But this post isn’t about my undying bitterness toward an inherently evil ex-employer. (I'm saving THAT for the book.) No, tonight we’re talking interns - more specifically the oddly astute duo now regularly appearing in the shotgun seat of my battered news cruiser. Intern Mike Crump (that’s what we call him; Intern-Mike-Crump) has insisted on showing up every day this summer for another round of chase-the-deadline. So far he’s proven immensely helpful, especially when it comes to locating a certain forgetful lenslinger’s keys, sunglasses, motivation, etc…This alone should win that dude a medal - or a chance at a real career (not one as silly as mine). Another unsalaried accomplice who’s quickly earning his keep is Scott Myrick (pictured here). This Elon University student is back for his second internship at El Ocho. While normally I’d prescribe some kind of ointment for that particular condition, I know a terminal newsman when I see one. Yep - Scott’s got it bad. I recognize the symptoms from my early days as an edit bay outpatient. If I’m not careful, I’ll be working for him someday. Lousy punk!

Still, I worry about what our young cohorts witness in the daily chase. With our extreme driving, strong language and insistence on bending space and time at a moment‘s notice, we photogs ain’t the easiest dates in the world. Simply put, we’d rather burn your huts than win your hearts. Thus, what runs through the average intern’s head as the guy beside him casually speeds toward his third police stand-off of the week would make for one hell of a blog. I liken it to a petty thief signing up for a lesson in safecracking, only to be kidnapped by a couple of grumpy serial killers for a tri-state crime spree. Somebody’s gonna get hurt. So here’s my begrudging nod to Scott, Mike and all the other interns who’ve put up with my rambling soliloquies as of late. Just remember - if you're not careful, the slightly unhinged deadline-slayer you see when you look my way, could someday be YOU.

So don't say you weren't properly warned.

The Big Link

I'm back from the coast but caught in the quagmire that is my overrun garage. While I separate things by animal, vegetable or mineral, do drop by The Big Link and check out a most worthy blogger and fellow member of the Fourth Estate. I'll be back later with beach photos, hastily-erected wordplay and the very latest in half-finished thought. Hey, what do you want for nothin'?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Skate-Ray and Tall Dad

We were biking along the shoreline when we saw them: stock-still humans knee deep in the surf, staring off into the distance like sunburned zombies. On instinct, I dropped my bike and signaled my 11 year old to do the same. Approaching the crowd, we fished my camera out of a bag, guessing aloud what might be holding our fellow vacationers so enraptured. A swimmer in trouble? A stranded whale? Weird pod-creatures from a crashed UFO?

Alas, it was only a fisherman, a lone figure in shorts and ball cap, reeling in a bent-back pole for all it was worth. As the stranger wrestled with the unseen beast, murmurs of delight and concern floated up from the crowd. Sensing tension, my daughter held back a bit as I approached the center of the pack. Amid the moms and kids I spotted a dad or two sporting their own lens. Challenged by their unspoken presence, I jockeyed for a better shot...

...just in time to get the landing of the phantom creature. As the silent fisherman hunched around his reel, a slopping black mass rose to view in the surf. Suddenly applause broke out amid the Soccer Moms and beat-red kids. The fisherman looked around uneasily as he pulled his quarry closer. Oohing and aahing, the crowd leaned in to see. A stingray! Or skate! No one officially proclaimed the gleaming black swimmer as either, but the visiting crowd splashed around and gleefully debated the matter.

Hook deeply engorged in it’s flesh, the stingray/skate convulsed and whipped its thin long tail. A few feet away, a three year old in arm-floats squirmed in her father’s arms as she screeched at the sight. A clutch of women in an unfortunate bathing suits stood about and shaded their eyes from the sun. Camera pressed against my face, I circled the crowd and collected close-ups. Watching my daughter with one eye, I scanned the curious pack as they peeked and commented on the flopping fish-thing. Something about this feels familiar...

“So what are ya gonna do with it?” A tall rangy Dad asked the quiet fisherman.

“Dunno - YOU want it?”, the fisherman only half-joked. His eyes darting about at the concerned collective.

Well’re not gonna keep it are you?” Something in the tall Dad’s tone reminded suddenly reminded of the PETA photo-ops I’ve covered.
The fisherman chuckled nervously and looked down tat the skate-ray. “Naw I’m a let her go. Probably cut that tail off - it’s right dangerous.”

At that, a few in the crowd repelled in horror. The fisherman heard it too; I noticed that through the viewfinder. As he looked around at the sudden mob, Tall Dad spoke up.

“No, no - she NEEDS that tail! Let her go!” A chorus of Moms murmured and nodded, like the Oprah audience members they watched every day at four.

Looking back at the squinting onlookers, the fisherman wisely acquiesced, shuffling off in deeper water to free the beast. Whatever his initial mission, he must have figured a floppy skate-ray wasn’t worth fighting Tall Dad and the Soccer Moms. Can’t say I blame him.

With a quick clip of his Leatherman, the erstwhile fisherman snapped the line to another round of applause. As the creature disappeared in the surf, the crowd slowly, reluctantly broke up. I was deciding who to interview when I heard my daughter’s voice.

“Can we go to Bird Island now?”

Sure honey. Daddy just fell into work for a moment…

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Up for Air

It's been a highly restorative few days, filled with family, seafood and funny hats. I find I have a talent for doing nothing, once I commit to the task. And I'm just getting started! So before I get back to my intense schedule of intensely inert activity, lemme poke around the photograsphere for a few quick seaside reads...

Colonel Corn takes his camera to a massive house-move and "fills her lens with two stories of wooden history." Along the way he discovers much about old-time detail, The Job and himself. An Most Excellent Report.

On the West Coast, befrank logs another boring day behind the news wheel, taking in-house meetings, local labor strikes, and a missing persons with a twist. Remember, beFrank never bores...

Closer to home, Weaver brings us the sad tale of a wayward canine and an old lady. Along with the rest of our correspondents, Weaver's reportage resembles the high-quality TV stories he's known for daily. I can hear him giggling in the edit bay now...

If, for whatever twisted reason, you wanted to know what it's like to be a TV news photographer, you could no better than these three random posts. What that does for humanity in the long run I don't know, but it makes for damn fine reading while the planet spins.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to drag all manners of crap to the shoreline.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Stay Tuned...

Lords of the Underpass

We broadcast journalists chase our individual deadlines for starkly different reasons. For some, it’s the chance to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. With others, it’s the glow of the TelePrompter that draws them to the flame. Me, I’m in it for the access - the backstage pass of a life observing others. When I was younger, I filled my lens with the carnage and the struggle of police blotter coverage. But as the years passed, my lust for the lead story waned considerably. Today I’m more than happy to bring up the rear, filing daily reports that end newscasts, not start them.

Which is why I wasn’t the least bit upset when my bosses dispatched me to a gig of seemingly little import. The assignment - hang out with the traffic counters. Perhaps you’ve seen them on the outskirts of High Point, scruffy college kids in low slung beach chairs furiously pushing buttons on strange laptop devices. No they’re not field-testing the latest in Game-Boys; rather, they’re keeping score on the many motorists that pass by their encampment. Every summer, city engineers pay young adults to gather traffic data; and every year about this time some sheltered producer motors by and discovers them for the very first time.

That’s where I come in: wish-actuator for the deskbound and the soft. Not that I’m complaining! I’d much rather loiter with a few calculating collegiate types than cover one more minute of contentious County Commissioner Stand-off. So it was with considerable enthusiasm that I descended on today‘s unlikely subjects. The two dudes-in-waiting bristled a bit at first, but when I explained I came only for close-ups and sound-bites, they relaxed a little more (if that’s possible). Soon I found myself huddling with the dynamic duo as they clicked a button on their counting gizmos every time an Escalade, school bus or Chevy Vega zipped by.

We spoke of much as the exhaust fumes wafted over the underpass: summer jobs, new car models, even the upcoming cinematic bastardization of an H. G. Wells classic. All the while travelers came by at a respectable clip, no doubt wondering why the local TV station was interviewing Beavis and Butthead. But that’s not fair. I found my two gracious hosts to be enlightened and entertaining, brimming with verve and obscure movie trivia. Something about them even reminded me of my own salad days fifteen years back. In fact, there was only one patch of trouble on our roadside perch: One of them was interested in a career in broadcasting.

Rather than crush the young man’s dreams by a bustling interstate, I gently cajoled the youngster for not aiming a little higher on the Life-O-Meter. Sure, it may look fun, but my profession is rife with long hours, lousy conditions and less than stellar pay. Wouldn’t he rather be a baker, a businessman, an Indian Chief? Apparently not, as the young man rivaled my list of interview queries with his own curious questions. Sensing the youth was adamant about pursuing the Fourth Estate, I met his inquisition with serious aplomb.

“Yeah, this job can be a kick, but you’ll work too damn hard for your money and before long your idea of a good day will be loitering with folk half your age at a seedy underpass.”

Judging from the delight in their eyes, I could tell my dissuasion wasn’t working. So I handed them a business card with my blog address on it, told them to check my archives, and made a hasty retreat before I unduly influenced their future career paths any more than I already had. Then I got some lunch.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Everything Must Go

When a landmark shuts down, I show up. A dreaded specter through the showroom glass, my lenslinging silhouette strikes fear in the heart of broken retailers far and wide. Okay that’s pouring it on a little thick, but when you’ve documented the death of the American Dream as many times as I have, you do start to feel like the Grim Reaper.

Technically, Blumenthal’s isn‘t closing. But they are moving, to an unremarkable location in outer Urban Sprawl, leaving behind the empty husk of a dying downtown landmark. It’s a shame, really. Since 1926, this high-ceiling hall of commerce has traded in great denominations of denim. In the process, this old school trading post has clothed generations of blue collar folk in the very latest in workaday dungaree. For twice as long as I’ve drawn breath, bargain shoppers from the immediate Piedmont have made countless sojourns to this dusty retail den. At least that’s what they tell me. Before today, I’d never stepped foot in the place.

Luckily for me, the proprietor at hand is a class act. Bob Blumenthal first got involved with his father’s business the year after I was born. While I was wrestling with adolescence in the bowels of Down East, he was moving units, under-pricing competitors and winning the loyalty of a legion of customers. Today our paths crossed in the most pleasant of ways, despite the circumstances. As his staff sorted through a mountain of blue jeans and liquidators hung last-chance signs, Bob Blumenthal took time to chat with me, my camera, lights and wireless mike. A most gracious host, he chuckled sadly through it all, as together we distilled 79 years of history in a six minute interview.

He told me of his father Abe Blumenthal, a plucky businessman who’d founded a no-nonsense business and built his life around it. He spoke of decade old relationships with cherished customers, people who meant a lot more than a drawer full of receipts. He talked about downtown revitalization and the parking spaces it took from him. Finally he related the facts of a January deal, a timely sale for a tidy sum that would foster his reluctant retirement. But concern for his workers, outrage from his customers and a nagging dread of inaction coerced the lifelong purveyor of pants and accessories to set up shop across town. The American Dream, deferred.

Blumenthal knows his new West Market Street location can’t rival the dusty environs of his downtown digs. But he’s taking his trademark neon signs, old wooden tables and careworn check out counter with him, hoping to infuse some old school charm into the Great American Strip Mall. I wish him luck, and will cross his threshold the next time in need of a pair of Carharts. I only wish I’d visited this historic store before, before one more Temple of American turns into just another prefab suite of new age boutiques.

I guess there's always Wal-Mart.

21st Century VJ

Trusty Weaver files an enlightening report on the modern day Video Journalist. One-Man-Bands have been around since the dawn of television, but shrinking technologies and tightening budgets are bringing them to the forefront of medium and major markets. Here in the Piedmont, a competing station is outfitting diminutive females with everything they need to get the job done - with no lack of success! News crew purists may not like it, but this new and improved breed of newsgatherer is here to stay. Now go check out Weaver's blog for a proper introduction.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Swelter and Stew

We were somewhere into our third stand-up attempt when the realization kicked in. Summer had officially arrived. I knew it by the way the perspiration coming of my forehead made the viewfinder look like a windshield going through a car wash. Jeff Varner knew it too. Why else would he keep substituting ‘FFA’ for ‘FAA’? The guys wearing matching denim jackets back in high school might forgive the slip, but the aviation wonks standing just off screen surely would protest. They didn’t have to; Jeff caught the flub and started over, after running a few fingers through his carefully coiffed do. Perhaps the heat waves bouncing off the tarmac were baking his brain. They certainly were mine.

And so begins the season of my discontent. For as long as I’ve squinted through station-owned lenses, I’ve mopped sweat from my brow for three miserable months of each year. And boy, do I sweat. I sweat like an escaped convict trying to blend in at a prison guard social. Luckily, I work alone a lot, allowing me to hide my shame behind a revolving collection of unfortunate tropical shirts. But it isn’t easy. How could it be - when the sweltering humidity of a Carolina summer wraps around you like a force field. I know I’m not the only suffering from the heat, but when its 90 degrees at ten in the morning and you’ve just been assigned the construction worker beat…well, it’s enough to make anyone complain - especially a sticky lenslinger with a penchant for epistles and a nasty web habit.

So look for the beleaguered ramblings of a sweat-soaked madman to be a running theme here at Viewfinder BLUES until...oh, about mid-September. By then I'll have found another force of nature to bitch about - like those pesky hurricanes that terrorize our coast in the early fall. Have you ever tried to get a half dozen pizzas delivered to a satellite truck in the middle of an evacuated beach resort? I'm tellin' ya - it ain't easy. Why, there was this one time...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Age of Convergence (part 1)

May you live in interesting times’ - the fortune cookie’s message read. I crumpled the paper into a tiny ball and signaled for the check. As the old Asian man in the corner snapped to life and headed my way, I looked out the window at my dusty news unit and bit into the cookie. Interesting times, indeed...

In the fall of ‘89 I stumbled into my first television station, a small market affiliate sporting the very latest in 1970’s newsgathering equipment. Three-quarter inch rigs - large, bulky cameras attached to oversized field decks with heavy cables - were the weapon of the day. With a front-heavy camera perched on one shoulder and an ancient VCR-in-a-bag hanging off the other, making television, and deadline, was an aerobic event. Still, the lenslingers I knew ran hard, schlepping that ancient gear through drug dealer living rooms, down sun-baked railroad tracks and up lofty fire towers.

Amazingly, most of us slinging this museum-ready gear were also our own reporters, producers, editors. I wrapped up many a shoot with by slipping on a tie and stepping before an unmanned camera. Shooting your own stand-up was tricky at first, but far from impossible. The hardest part was always figuring out what to say, since you’d spent all your time on scene with a face full of viewfinder. Nonetheless, I’d always manage to record one or two passable passages before scrambling back to my bureau where an aging electric typewriter and a newfangled fax machine connected me to Mother Newsroom.

There I’d review my footage, banging my thoughts into the heavy carbon paper while chain-smoking Marlboro Lights. Once my script was approved I’d roll my antiquated office chair to the tape-to-tape edit bay in the corner and try to magic of the material I’d gathered. Less than an hour later, I’d spin the jog-wheel back on the control panel and cue up a finished piece. With a quick call to the tape room engineer thirty miles away, I’d flip a heavy toggle switch and microwave-feed my humble story home. Most nights, the stories led the newscast, forcing me to set up a live shot in the tiny bureau office.

I remember many nights of frantic movements just before airtime, plugging in the microphone, leveling the tripod, framing up that same old shot If I was lucky I’d have a few spare seconds to run my fingers through my hair before the director back at the shop punched my camera on-air. There I’d appear in a relative tight shot, tape-filled shelves and crooked station logo in the background. Tapping my inner Brokaw, I’d deliver the words I made up a few minutes earlier into the unblinking lens. When I finished my intro, the director would roll the tape with my story on it. As my brilliance (or stupidity) of the day played out on the black and white screen across the room, I’d sit motionless for fear of bumping my shot, mumbling words to myself I’d soon speak to distracted viewers from the Capitol to the Coast.

When my outro was over and the anchor moved on, I’d break down my gear in my tiny office and think about my performance. Rarely was I satisfied with how I appeared on camera, but most days I was happy with the story at hand. However I felt, the one thing I knew for sure as I rolled up microphone cables into the tenth hour of my shift, was that I’d have the chance to improve my shtick the following day, when I’d start the whole exhausting process over again.

Even back then, working as a one-man-band wasn’t the preferred method of the day. It was however, simply the price of admission if you wanted to be a TV reporter in my hometown at the dawn of the 90’s. Did I ever. Over the years, my quest for microscopic fame subsided and I hung up my necktie and overcoat. But I kept shooting and writing and editing. As I honed this one-man three-act play, I surprised a lot of coworkers with my penchant for working alone. I can’t help it - it’s how the Newsroom Elders reared me. I started that way by means of necessity, I continue those methods because I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Which is why I can’t help but smirk a little when I hear others bemoan the death of the two-person news crew. Truth is, those double-headed monsters will always roam the news landscape - as well they should. But soaring technology and shrinking budgets will greatly reduce the herd, making way for a laptop-packing, zoom lens-swinging, new age journalist, who despite his (or her) high-tech moniker and mind-scrambling gadgets, looks an awful like their predecessor - the late eighties one-man-band. Many will play, some will suck - but most will flourish. In the process, a new form of television news will be forged - hopefully one solely authored by the tech-savvy auteur and devoid of the on-scene pomp of the overdressed talking hair-do.

Hey, a cameraman can dream, can’t he?

Landslides and Take-Out

As always, beFrank's on the edge of another big story, filing his latest report from the disastrous landslides at Laguna Beach. I've never covered a landslide (that big, anyway) but I can appreciate the culinary perils of being stranded in broken neighborhoods. I just wonder if beFrank will make it back to his post at the Michael Jackson trial in time for the floor show...