Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Level of Discourse

I was sitting at my desk the other day, wondering what in the world I might blog about next, when a conversation between a nightside reporter and a photographer caught my ever so jaded attention.

"Hey, we got a find something else," the reporter said with more than a little disappointment in his voice, "the murder didn't work out."

"Really? What happened?"

"Turns out it's natural causes."

"Dude, that SUCKS!"

About that time they noticed me staring from across the cubicle. "What?" they asked in near unison.

"Nothing, nothing..." I sputtered as they turned back to figure out what they'd now pursue in the name of news. But I could only smile as I scribbled the phrase in a worn notebook. 'The murder didn't work out.' Five simple words that would strike most people as incredibly callous; a declarative sentence that wouldn't raise the first eyebrow in a working newsroom. In fact, I wouldn't have given the remark a second thought, had I not recently dedicated myself to collecting such oddities of the trade.

It's not that my friends and colleagues are unfeeling. Quite the opposite, actually. But when the trials and tragedies of a region are your daily commodity, you quickly adopt a shorthand to beter manage the never-ending influx of salacious suffering. Like Slick Willy Clinton, we know how to compartmentalize. Each week I find myself uttering profanity-free yet unthinkable exchanges that I wouldn't dare repeat around my children.

"Hey, remember last summer, when that kid died in the hole? The Mom's on the phone. She wants to talk." OR "Yo, turn the live truck around. The old folk's home ain't on fire after all. Seems some grandpa just likes to pull the alarm when they don't serve jello." OR "Why do I care if a plane's comin' in on half an engine? My Easter Egg piece airs in thirty minutes!" OR "Hey dude, we can't do Mexican after all. Some jerk stabbed his wife in Burlington and the suits are goin' nuts!"

Most of the time, I don't notice the unusual verbage inherent in news-gathering. But then I'll visit some hushed cubicle farm, where the overdressed denizens speak in whispers cloaked in political correctness. Only then do I realize that my line of work isn't nearly as normal as I assume it to be and that, for better or worse, I'm damn lucky to have found my calling at an early age. Now if you'll pardon me, the Sheriff's gonna announce charges on some shady childcare center. Can you believe that? I mean, who schedules a press conference at four o clock in the afternoon anyway?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Phone Tag, Firefighters and Floor Wax

Roger that...Okay, so not EVERY day behind your local TV news lens is a breath-taking thrill-ride through pomp and cataclysm. Truth is, some days my gig is as boring as...well, your job. Take today for instance. After a brisk morning of thwarted phone calls, I jumped up from my newsroom cubicle at the first mention of a certified calamity in progress just a few miles away. Crawling into Unit 4, I pushed last week's collection of newspapers out of the way and threw it in reverse. Screw playing phone-tag with a bunch of PR flacks, I thought as I gunned the engine out of the parking lot, I got a toxic waste spill to check out.

Floor Wax CreekFive minutes later my glee dissipated as I clung to a bamboo stalk and looked down at the alledged toxicity. Something was definitely wrong with the creek behind High Point University; what was usually a trickling artery of rushing brown water now sat stagnant under a thick milky layer of mysterious fluid. Staring into the abyss, memories of all-night galley-mopping roiled to the surface of my simmering brain pan. That's when the three firemen who had been containing the mess with shovels full of mud noticed the TV geek clinging to the banks and with seven simple words affirmed my suspicions: "Hey dude, you lose some floor wax?"

Floor Wax FiremenThat's right, floor wax. Seems an independent contractor at a nearby Food Lion thought it might be a good idea to dump gallons upon gallons of floor wax in the grocery store parking lot. Mix in a little gravity, an eager storm drain and a curious jogger and you have the three main reasons some of High Point's bravest and yours truly spent a few quality moments huddling over North Carolina's most lemony-fresh waterway. Luckily, I love firefighters, perhaps because my brother is one. As we waited for the city dump trucks to arrive, we traded insults, talked shop and admired our collective reflections in the shimmering, mirror-like surface.

All in all, it was a pleasant midday interlude I'd gladly waste forty-five minutes on again - even if I did have six unanswered phone messages waiting for me when I got back to my desk. Beats a real job.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

News Crew Injured in Iraq

The thoughts and prayers of the Photog Nation are with fellow news shooter Doug Vogt and ABC co-anchor Bob Woodruff this quiet Sunday morning. Both men received serious injuries earlier when their Iraqi Army convoy vehicle was struck by 'a large Improvised Explosive Device'. It occured in Taji, a volatile region northwest of Baghdad. The two men were in an armored U.S. humvee for a time, then they moved into an Iraqi mechanized vehicle. From assorted reports, via TVNewser:
They were in the lead vehicle of that convoy, apparently standing up in a hatch and filming a report, when a large IED exploded nearby. The explosion was followed by small arms fire. Both men were wearing body armor and ballistic glasses. The men were medevaced to the Green Zone to receive treatment. They were then flown by helicopter to Balad which is about a 20-minute ride from Baghdad," ABCNews.com said. Woodruff was reportedly in surgery at 8:15am ET. Both men have head injuries.
Serious news indeed. In today's misguided world, the grim injury of a newly-minted network news anchor will carry far more weight than the similiar fate of thousands of others. No surprise there, but I can't help but think of the guy with the camera on his shoulder and a family back home. Then again, Woodruff has four children of his own. Both are now out of surgery and listed in 'stable' condition - an all too generic term that can mean alot of different things. The next few days will be critical, but hopefully they can soon get back to their loved ones. I only wish the troops could.

Updates at TVNewser: Bios, Background, Breaking...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Most Hideous of Tendrils

It was a cold January day and I'd somehow convinced my mother, a pediatrics nurse, that I was sick. Once she left for work, I commandeered all three tiers of the keyboard -sized cable box, it's thick brown cord draped over the flowered ottoman and my 18 year old feet. Pushing the La-Z-Boy all the way back, I worked the clunky, spring loaded buttons of the old school remote. That's when I realized it was launch-day and sat up with a snap.

Even an overgrown delinquent like myself knew about the Space Shuttle Challenger, the shuttle with the teacher on board. I'd even put in a rare appearance at a school assembly where our librarian told the story of applying for the Challenger ride and being denied. Sitting there in the bleachers, I tried to hide my fascination under a wise-ass sneer, but my frontal-lobe was secretly engorged. Civilian space flight had always intrigued me, as evidenced by the tattered Robert Heinlein novel in my book bag that day.

So it was with great adolescent satisfaction that I flipped through the previously unfathomable number of TV choices recently installed at my parent's home. Twenty five in all, counting UHF. After punching several clunky buttons I settled in on CNN, the rookie network that was forging a new, 24 hour news-cycle. With the countdown itself just seconds away, I chewed my lip and leaned into the set, eager to drink from its 19 inch glory.

The unknown achor droned on as the director dissolved between two shots - a wide shot of the new astronaut's students and a long shot of the great bird simmering in the distance. In 1986, TV news didn't get any better than this...but then the hideous tendrils appeared, crazy columns of billowing smoke that had just seconds earlier been a nation's highest-soaring dream. I watched alot more that day, stunned that a mighty spacecraft could actually crash on live TV.

Little did I know then that twenty years later I'd observe the grim anniversary by interviewing one of the fallen astronaut's brother at a crowded book signing. Carl McNair and I made small talk before he told my lens a little bit about his brother Ron. I'd have like to spend more time with the affable author, but the room was small and competitors were clamoring at the door. You know how photo ops are.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sack in the Baddle

RoadwatchHaving spent far too long slicing footage of vocalists both local and hopeful, I almost grinned today as I slid behind the wheel of Unit 4. It's been a couple of weeks since I twisted my ankle in an impromptu display of clumsy Dad dexterity and since then I've thought alot about how I wanted to spend the rest of my days behind the lens. It ain't editing 'American Idol'. Hey, I'm thankful for the diversion - but after countless days of cutting tape of caterwauling milkmen, I'm glad to get out and do some driving of my own.

LeadfootNot that my mission was all that compelling. Instead, my appointed rounds consisted of the mediocre and the mundane: a press conference here, a burned out apartment building there. For once I didn't mind though, I was just happy to escape the shadows of the edit bay - even if it did mean traversing the farthest reaches of two seperate counties for news items that would make up all of eighty-five seconds on their respective newscasts. Who cares? For every eight hour shift of newsgathering misadventure, there's easily three or four days of skull-numbing errand running, days spent filling TV screens with so much processed cheese. I'm okay with that.

Back in the SaddleI just wish it made for a more interesting blog-post. Truthfully, the only moment of intrigue came at a Rockingham County stoplight. There I was, staring at the windshield and listening to Jim and the boys rip through 'Alive She Cried', when the bleating of a fellow motorist's horn invaded my cockpit. Looking over, I saw a young man positively bouncing behind the wheel of an idling Chevy, grinning madly as he flashed me and my familiar logo an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Of course I returned the gesture, glancing only once to make sure the door to Unit 4 was securely locked. Apparently happy with the exchange, the young man sped off at the first hint of green. And that was about it. I'd like to tell you the fellow asked me if 'that thing had a Hemi?', or dragged me back to his lair for a mystical transaction of ideas and petty cash - but after watching clips of Oprah (rightfully) raking beleagured memoirist James Frey over the coals, I may never embellish again...

Monday, January 23, 2006

American Idol: Greensboro

American Idol LineI don't normally like to plug the things I help put on the air, but in this case I'm making an exception. On Tuesday January 24th, American Idol: the Greensboro Audition will air on FOX. Readers of this blog may remember my coverage of the A.I. machine's visit back in September. Since then, I've spent w-a-y too much time stuck in an edit bay with the resulting footage from those five days, culling reports that will air locally over the next several days. Thus, I'm eager to see what the big boys did with their network fare. This much I do know: the Idol executive producers and celebrity judges did nothing but rave about the Gate City from the moment they exited their limos. Some of that I'll chalk up to flattery, but they must have meant it - as the Greensboro show weighs in at a full two hours.

Kellie PicklerNow, I'm not here to champion the merits of the globe's silliest talent show and I dan sure don't want to make this an American Idol blog (even though it does send my site meter through the roof). However, A.I. is a part of my gig and I'd be less than an honest blogger if I refrained from mentioning it. So, it is with professional pride and just a little bit of indigestion that I donate a small amount of space to my involvement in this bastion of indignity - especially since I may soon enter a pressurized tube to witness the ensuing drama up close and personal like. Besides, the unwashed masses that showed up for the Greensboro auditions brought it all: talent, delusion and enough body glitter to choke a transvestite. What could be more fun to blog about than that? Don't answer, just tune in Tuesday night for an episode of American Idol with a southern twist. If nothing else, tune in for Kellie Pickler, a young lady with a great voice (and even better backstory), who smiled for my phone-cam mere minutes after wowing Randy, Paula and that dude in the muscle shirt.

You Know You're a Photog When:

My buddies at b-roll are reviving an old standby, and I couldn't resist:

You Know You're a Photog...

...when you're totally at ease in crowded, tense situations - as long as you've got your gear to hide behind.

...when you identify landmarks by the odd calamities that happened there, "You know, that statue where the Amish kid got stabbed?"

...when you're totally cool with going in like gangbusters, but you far prefer to be invisible.

..when impromptu pools of natural light spilling through half-closed window blinds excite you on a visceral level.

...when you dream at night, you find yourself analyzing its shot-composition, before noticing the dream-you is carrying a tripod.

..when you've attended grow-room take-downs, hot air balloons launches and formal Governor luncheons - all wearing the same wrinkled Hawaiian shirt.

...when the smell of a structure fire reminds you of umpteen other such occasions.

...when you're no longer surprised where the voice on the other end of that 3 AM phone call wants to send you to.

...when you can identify individual fast food franchises by the silhouettes of their buildings.

...when you're on first name basis with the Chief Surgeon AND the security guard who lets you park in the doctor's lot.

...when a random fire truck screeches by, your conditioned response is to whip a U-turn and gun engines after it.

...when the very best and absolute worst workdays you've ever experienced both ended up as ninety second masterpieces.

...when your hands are scarred by tripod bruises, your lower back kinda hurts and you have a deep, unabiding pocket fetish.

...when your collection of press-passes is surpassed only by your stash of free t-shirts and logowear.

...when you'll accept just about any absurdity in life as long as it's presented to you at the end of a tube, on a tiny black and white screen.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Heroics at 11

If I really did have some Viewfinder BLUES virtual t-shirts, I'd send a whole box of them to fellow FOX affiliate photog Bobby Hughes for keeping his cool at a recent news scene. It happened in the wee hours of Friday when the Saint Louis news shooter happened upon a burning car, an unconscious driver and a few dazed onlookers. Not waiting for someone to call 'ACTION!',the veteran lensman bolted forth and helped drag driver Corey Abernathy 20 feet to safety. True to his DNA, Hughes rolled the whole time, proving you can shoulder a TV news camera and some responsibility at the same time. Check out the footage, currently bouncing around the internets. It speaks well of the KTVI shooter, who above all remained calm when the real-world calamity began spilling off-screen. Bravo!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Slicin' Time In Edit 4

Edit Bay HAze With my bum ankle still keeping me from full photog status, the chiselers here at El Ocho have insisted I pull a few edit shifts to better earn my keep. 'No sweat', I thought, I'll just crack open a breakroom soda, grab some stale cheesy poofs out of the machine and plant myself in front of a warm, dry keyboard. After all, what possible challenges could mere mortal editing present to a highly-seasoned photojournamalist like myself? Remind me to shut up the next time I spout off with those smug, rhetorical questions - would ya?

Feed Room First of all, we're not talking some sequestered closet where I'd leisurely tweak another boutique piece. No, the suits signed me up for a stint in Edit 4 - that bastion of broadcast anarchy some TV stations call 'The Feed Room'. It is a less than soothing place. With its racks of whirring tape decks, bleating playback stations and screeching phones, Edit 4 has the frenzied atmosphere of a front-lines triage unit and Air Traffic Control. All of which makes sense, as this is the nerve center of the newsroom. Every piece of tape, video snippet and digital timeline gathered by our staff passes through these four cluttered walls before spilling out into the region's living rooms. That's where your friendly gimped-up lenslinger comes in...

Run DownFor it's my duty to sort through the soundbites, map out the mug shots and spruce up the segues that go into your above average newcast. Along the way I have to take in feeds from grumbling field crews, slice out a half dozen teases and send out clips to disembodied voices from far off lands. That's a lot of organizational skills to ask of a guy who loses his car keys every sixteen hours. Nonetheless, I've stayed on-task for two solid nights, working the candy-colored keyboard of my humble workstation at maximum speed, knowing that a single case of photog fat-finger will bring a whole newscast down in flames and spark a post-show investigation that could very well end in me washing Neill McNeill's car.

Angie RileyLuckily though, I'm under the command of our Senior Editor, the all powerful Angie Riley. Chief Surgeon of Edit 4, she can revive a dying line-up with but a whiff of her perfume. Just don't let all that estrogen fool ya, fellas. The lady is a menace!. A proud graduate of HardAss U, she can rip the throat out of a cowering cameraman at a dozen paces. She's the Darth Vader of El Ocho. Ask any news shooter about the sound of her approach - a stirring in the Force followed by a curvaceous shadow and an ever so polite voice telling them they have twice as much work as they thought they did. As the walls of the small room shrink and the clockhands spin, Darth Angie is know to spin on her designer heels, scrape any unfortunate photog-plasm off her shoe and sashay back to Edit 4. And it's geting worse! Last night I watched her make a confused young shooter's eyeballs bleed simply because he didn't slow-mo his recuts! What's up with that? If she reads this, a sore ankle will be the least of my problems.

Help Me Obi-Wan!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fly On The Wall

You can do a lot of things with a TV news camera on your shoulder - chase cops and robbers up crack pipe stairwells, do the one-eyed backpedal as a Governor glad-hands his way through jam-packed ballrooms, grab for balance as your small boat scrapes the roof of a flooded school bus, we’ve ALL been there.. God knows when I started lenslinging, I wanted to do just that; strut up and down the crime tape with badly-scratched battle-axe atop my station freebie fleece. But the older I get, the more I find myself parking my one-eyed beast on a tall tripod and turn on its cloaking device. What? Never heard of the Invisible Switch? Oh yeah - we got one. It comes in damn handy at heated hostage situations, fallen hero funerals and those goofy outdoor dramas...

Of course, every shooter worth his or her sticks knows the worth of the proper perch. Be it small-plane crash or bigwig visit, TV lensers do their best work with all five feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s a hard concept for young shooters to accept, who doesn’t wanna shrug up and swashbuckle at age 23? You can slam-dance in the camera pit of life but for so long; eventually you’ll realize your three-legged friend in the back of the car can bag far better shots than you or your shoulder. County Fair midway, one-way glass stake-out, pissed off polar bar watch - it doesn’t matter where. Someday those with a zoom lens in their life will wrap their arms around their static rigs and embrace the power of the Still Side. Only then can they begin rendering themselves into the distance.

Crowds can help, as can loud noises and the deafening silence of recent grief. Mostly though, laying low behind the lens requires slow, deliberate motions. Act like you’re only babysitting the camera until the real guy gets there. Putter about like you’re supposed to be there and life forms from all walks of life will grant you unthinkable access to their inner selves. Both casual passers-by and shackled defendants assume that, like a still-camera, you have to look through the lens to capture an image, Untrue. Even before the advent of flip-out color screens, real photogs everywhere were fluent in low-key recording. How else you gonna get the good juice at the courthouse squabble?

Cop a squat, frame a shot, hit the record button and tie your shoe. While you’re lacing up the finest in photog footwear, you trusty weapon is committing all that passes through its tractor-beam into digitally pixilated full-motion memory. I cannot tell you how many times this simple technique has landed me the catch of the day, be it a handcuffed dentist mouthing curses at my camera, a construction worker falling off a three story scaffold or SWAT team members dropping a shotgun-wielding hillbilly on his front porch. So here’s my advice to all those shoulder-happy rookies with thoughts of COPS in their heads: Bring your three-legged friend, mark his territory and get to know the outer reaches of the zoom lens zone. A million vistas await the patient. Be persistent and you’ll learn to shoot whole epics from a lone camera-position. Unless, of course you’re following a troupe of break-dancing midgets through an old folks home. Last time that happened, even I had to ditch the sticks and live a little.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Introducing Chris Daughtry...

Chris and StewartI'd like you all to meet someone you're going to hear a lot more of in the coming months. Meet Chris Daughtry, a local vocalist who is about to go GLOBAL, thanks to his blistering pipes and a little juggernaut named American Idol. If you watch FOX at all, you've already seen him rendering the celebrity judges speechless with his soaring voice. Quite simply, this dude can wail.

I first met him on a September afternoon here in Greensboro, days before he flew to Denver for a chance to audition for Paula, Randy and Simon. Shannon Smith and I sat him down for a quick interview in downtown Greensboro before wandering over to a nearby parking lot where he could sing for my camera. When he opened up his throat, Shannon and I could hardly believe what came out. Chris' voice sounds like he just gargled broken glass and chased it with the finest of Kentucky bourbons. Hell, I still wanna buy him a drink, then make him sing my favorite Alice in Chains songs.

When we left Chris that day, Shannon and I agreed he had what it took to break through the din of American Idol wannabes. Whether he'll make it anywhere near the end of this schlocky yet oddly endearing talent contest depends on too many factors to list here. But one thing's for sure: Chris Daughtry's world is about to change. I sure hope he's ready.
Visit lenslinger.com. for more stories of clamoring on the edge of disaster and pageantry. For sixteen years I've covered everything from murders to hurricanes to more City Council meetings than I can remember. Check for daily dispatches from the ludicrous news front at lenslinger.com. C'mon, do a photog a favor...

UPDATE! To no one's surprise, Chris made the final 24. Check out our Hollywood chat with America's favorite bald rocker dude...

UPDATE!! Chris rocked the house last night with 'Wanted Dead or Alive', showing the rest of America just a little of what he's capable of. Look for more vocal virtuosity from him in the coming weeks. Until then, read how this silliest of talent shows is taking over my life! Or, check out my many sordid encounters with Idols past. Don't say I didn't warn ya...

DSCF0002UPDATE!!! Okay, so Chris just poured on the Fuel and even Simon liked it. After interviewing his old bandmates last night, I see why. Chris has been at this a long time, slogging through the nightclub circuit with potent, original material. The remaining three members of 'Absent Element' struck me as righteous dudes and they all wish him well. They probably also hope he'll drag them along for the ride, but that's not important right now. What IS important is how everyone I interview from Chris' past raves about what a inherently great guy he is. That makes cheering for him all the easier. Next week I'm jetting back to Hollywood for a red carpet event with the final 12 contestants and I'll be sure to tell him how many fans he has here at Viewfinder BLUES. Check back for continuous updates! Seachrest...OUT!

(Did I just say that?)


Shannon Smith & Chris DaughtryJust returned from a red event with the Final 12 Contestants of American Idol! Not only did I interview Chris at length, but I huddled with him for a few minutes at the after-party. He's doing well, checking out this site and appreciative of his on-line admirers.
"Everybody that’s doing that, writing about me, I’m reading it. Thank you so much and thank you for voting for me."
Chris was on cloud nine when we saw him the other night, as barely an hour had passed since he'd been named to the Final 12. He promises a blistering take on the upcoming Stevie Wonder theme night and confirms trhe rumors that Fuel offered him the lead singer gig after they heard him cover their song.
"They called me yesterday. It’s crazy when you got a band that you’ve been listening to ever since you were like 14 and you respect them as songwriters and they inspire you as a musician and they’re calling you offering you the job as their singer..."
Chris Daughtry  Answers UpIt's been a big week for our little bald rocker dude. Follow this link to read more, and check out the rest of my extensive American Idol Final 12 Red Carpet Coverage. Here's hoping Chris gets through any upcoming show-tunes...

UPDATE!!!!! What the hell just happened? Chris got booted. Read my thoughts on this most unexpected development...

Chris Daughtry, Soul Patrol!UPDATE!!!!!! Having just returned from the American Idol finale, I'm just now shaking the body glitter from my microphones. While I'm at it, I'm also doling out photos and details out on my blog. Check out my multi-part series on the last two 18 hour days of American Idol Season 5. Comprehensive web coverage of continuous team smotherage, TV style. Hoo Boy! Now let's talk about Chris. He seemed supremely stoked the night of Taylor Hick's final ascension to American Idol. "I love him like a brother." he said.

DSCF0105One gets the impression there is little if any ill will among the finalists (male, anyway). All the finalists raved about Hicks rightful place as Idol, in such a way that's rather convincing. As for Chris, he's excited about the future, as any new household name should be. I've gotta think the crowds at this summer's upcoming Idol tour will screech ther loudest when our favorite bald dude takes the stage. After that, the sky's the limit, with rock god status the most likely destination. Still, Chris was playing it fairly humble the night of American Idol's triumphant finale.

Chris Daughtry Up Close"I'm can only hope this isn't the end for me...", he said, gazing out at the rabid fans and adoring press. But we know better, and judging from the look on his face, so does he. At some point, Chris will return to central North Carolina, but globally known singers usually don't spend too much time kickin' it around the Piedmont. If I see him on any upcoming swing-throughs, I'll post something about it here. Until then, thanks for, reading, check out lenslinger.com for other varied fare, and be sure to check out the incredible string of reader comments nestled below. Seeya!

LONG TIME, NO UPDATE!!!!!! But now there's a reason to. Chris just dropped by the studio, plowed through an acoustic version of "It's Not Over" and even did the weather. Check out my latest entry and follow the links. Also, check back soon, as fellow blogging photog Chris Weaver caught up with Daughtry as he recorded tracks in L.A. Weaver will soon post photos, details and video links and I'll update it at Viewfinder BLUES. Here's looking forward to the CD!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Reasons To Stay

I clicked on this thread hoping to find reasons to stay in TV, for it’s an issue I’ve been struggling with lately. First though, some background:

I never planned to work in TV news ... never studied, never interned, never petitioned my local anchor for a fifty cent tour. Instead, I wandered into a tiny CBS affiliate on a dare and quickly fell in love with the lights, the cameras and the kooky characters that roamed those rundown halls. Before anyone could stop me, I wormed my way behind an unmanned fancy-cam and proclaimed myself a certified pho-TOG. Suddenly I found myself ferrying reporters across town in my very own logo-mobile, pushing past mere mortals for an up-close look at the latest sensation, atrocity or fender-bender. A deep kick indeed! Unconcerned with the lowly pay and long hours, I became rapidly addicted to the access my oversized lens afforded me. By my late twenties, I rightfully considered myself the weathered veteran of a thousand-plus newscasts, one who was all too aware that most of what I knew about the world came from looking at it through a tube. Like most young men, I equated who I was with what I did. And what I knew myself to be was a lenslinger, though it would be a few more years before I started using that word in public.

But that was long ago. These days, everything that is wrong with local TV news (and there is a LOT wrong) has pretty much eclipsed the moon-faced joy I used to feel while assembling all those ninety second video vignettes. Justified or not - rookie reporters, endless live shots and the mindless repetition of a million newscasts have turned this once eager scanner-hound into a volatile burnout prone to cubicle outbursts and news unit swearing matches. An all too predictable transformation perhaps, but it ain’t the guy I’d hoped to become when I first took up the glass all those years ago. Whereas I was once the youngest guy in the newsroom, I am at 38, something of an old-timer, a grizzled used-to-be who can deconstruct a damaged industry but still can’t quite figure out his place in it. So, literary aspirations aside, I began to look around for other ways to spend my workdays.

Trouble is, few lines of work compare to chasing news. I don’t want to fix stereos, sell real estate, deliver packages or any other skull-numbing gig out there. Why should I - when I’ve spent the better part of the last sixteen years focusing on something different every shift? As much as I detest the window-dressing and hollow glitz of local TV news, there is absolutely no more satisfying feeling than rolling up on a breaking news and kicking glass, or silently stalking citizens as they allow me (and a million viewers) a peek into their lives, or turning a small, seemingly unimportant event into water-cooler chat for the region’s masses. Recently, I had an opportunity of the cyber-variety, a chance to put down the camera and pick up the pixel. At first the idea excited me, until an interior voice I’ve learned to listen to began asking questions I’d yet to answer. Did I really want to hand over my Sony, move out of my beloved my news unit and pass up the chance to clamor at turmoil’s edge - all so I could ride a desk, take longer lunches and baby-sit a website? Hell no. I may as well turn in the keys to my storyteller’s soul.

Thus, it is with an inward grin and a hint of resignation that I once again admit a long-known fact. I’m a hopeless news geek. I’ve done this so long it’s engraved in my DNA. As much as I may bash my broadcast habit, so many other endeavors strike me as equally insipid, profoundly pointless, inherently empty. If that sounds overly negative, well, you got a point. But for me, this ingenuous outlook fits far better than a feigned disposition of optimism and light. Besides, I don’t intend to wallow in obscurity forever; instead I plan to become the Poet Laureate of the Photog Nation. A strange goal for sure, but it’s the only destiny I feel equipped to fulfill. For now however, I got a book to write. Lock up on your way out, would ya?

Back From The Slopes

Slope Time No scathing diatribe here; just a quick note to explain why the blog has been so quiet as of late. Yes, I did indeed trek West for a brief but needed family ski trip. Though my still-twisted ankle prevented me from hitting the trails, I had a great time snapping photos of all the females in my life as they handily dominated the kiddie slopes. All in all, it was a great weekend of memory-making that had absolutely nothing to do with deadlines, laptops or super-times. Now that I'm back in Viewfinder BLUES Central, I hereby pledge to get back on the blog and crank out something of worth. I'll try to make it TV-related but allow me a book review or two, won't you? I've been tearing through other people's pages lately and, as always, I'd like to blather about it. Now if you'll excuse me there's a salt-encrusted station wagon to unpack and the wife and kids are looking at me like it's MY job. I'll be in the garage if you need me...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Propane, Oreos and Dynamite

While I wallow in a painkiller haze, the photograsphere echoes with voices old and new...

Just down the road, Bluedog Photog has stepped up his game of late. Whether chasing propane spills, reliving grow-room busts or deconstructing bureau life, Ken Cravens has been filing regular, readable reports. He even popped off a shot in MY cubicle recently, but don't hold that against him.

Off the Coast, a photog by the name of CJ checks in from her 'little red box' of an edit bay. Having recently left her native West Coast for the inland prarie sea, she regularly riffs on Sudoku, Spot News and life in the I-Team. Amazingly, it all comes together in the end.

Best new blog title goes to Oreo's Crumbs, the ever reflective site of one Mike Sellers. Though awful fond of his wife's native Denver, this Baton Rouge news shooter's heart is on the Bayou. Hurricane Katrina may have swept away his childhood home, but not his hopeful perspective.

There's a New Guy In The Shop and he'd like to blog about it. With the ink still wet on his EKU sheepskin, Andy Pollard is currently making his bones on the mean streets of Lexington. But this rookie's got a second persona, He's "The Voice of the Indians" in Kentucky's local radioland.

Finally, from the outskirts of Sin City itself, Erin Winking brings us the implosion of an old casino in full Technicolor glory. With a station video link, expertly sequenced stills and a steady string of F-bombs, the endearing eWink provides extensive, one-of-a-kind coverage in a way that only a grizzled photog can. Having blogged the Burlington implosion earlier this year, I'm impressed how easy eWink makes it look. A synchronized event, a thoughtful execution, a Tour de Force.

Lenslinger Down!

Bum Ankle Life hasn't been interesting enough lately so last night I twisted the heck out of my ankle - you know, just to liven things up. I'll spare you the grisly details but let's just say I'm getting too old to run up a tall staircase at sinking-sailor speed. The last time I missed a step like that, klaxons were sounding over the ship's loudspeakers. But that was long ago. Right now I got a throbbing foot, a funny walk and something else to complain about. Did I mention I was supposed to go skiing this weekend?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Million Little Embellishments?

"Dude, one more thing. You MUST read 'A Million Little Pieces'. IN-credible." I bid Danka adieu and made a note of the title. This was after all, the man who turned me onto 'The Things They Carried', a wrenching tome that's become a treasured part of my overflowing library. A few days later I picked up a copy of 'Pieces', breaking my personal rule of staunchly avoiding Oprah's Book Club choices. But before I could get around to cracking it open, The Smoking Gun accused author James Frey of making up some of the more salacious details of his celebrated memoir. Suddenly I was intrigued, and not just as a potential reader.

As anyone who's read a few of my posts can attest, I'm something of a struggling memoirist myself. This whole blog thing has been a kick, but I'd planned to document my existence long before Al Gore invented the Internets. So it's with great interest that I watched James Frey on Larry King Live last night. Though Frey stood by his book (as did call-in guest Oprah), he didn't deny embellishing parts of his life story. Hmmm. I'm not really sure how I feel about that. Working off memories, compressing time, re-creating conversations you kinda remember; these are things anyone who writes at length about their own life does. But to trump up events to the point of dishonesty strikes me as more than a little skeevy. After all, a memoir is by definition an personal acount of one's time on Earth. Though I think authors are allowed a certain amount of creative liberty, changing the fundamental facts transforms the chronicle into a work of fiction, albeit one closely based on true events.

So here's the deal: Keep reading my drivel and I promise to stick to the facts. I reserve the right to compress time, mind you - but I hereby vow to adhere to (dare I say it) journalistic standards. Hell, if I could write fiction, I would. At least that's what I plan to tell Larry King's cryogenically frozen head, should I ever get the chance. Hey, that reminds me, did I ever tell you about the time I stumbled onto the zombie farm on the outskirts of High Point? It was a calm autumn evening, I remember the way the moonlight glinted off my steely pectorals as I cut down the brain-eaters with nothing more than a tripod leg and half-dead camera battery. It was about that time the Pod People showed up...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

With Apologies to Bud Light...

Today we salute you Mr. Parabolic Microphone Holder Guy. (REAL AMERICAN HE-ROES!) You show up game after game, sportin' orange, blue and that transparent umbrella thingie. (TRANSPARENT UMBRELLA THI-I-INGIE!) Why? So back home we can hear the spare change rattling in the referee's pocket! (A BUCK FORTY NI-INE!) And when your team scores, you don't let an army of cameras stop you from throwin' up the devil horns and barking out an encouraging "Woo-Woo!" (YOU'RE ON TEE-VEE, DUDE!") So crack open a Bud Light, Mr. Parabolic Microphone Holder Guy, for You Sir know when to capture authentic gridiron sound and when, to represent! (MR. PARABOLIC MICROPHONE HOLDER G-U-U-U-Y!)

{Via b-roll, with thanks to Warren...}

Monday, January 09, 2006

Anything but THAT

Hannah in Flight Okay, this IS disturbing. My third grader, a child of considerable charm and immeasurable wit, has expressed an ongoing interest in broadcasting. She's always been enamored with my profession, but lately she's exhibiting symptoms that are causing worried glances between her Mother and I. Just the other day, she peered in the back of my news unit and exclaimed, "WOW! This is cooler than a LIMO!" When I came to, the wife was spraying me down with the waterhose and demanding I remove the pimped-out logo-mobile from our driveway.

Flying Over FOX 8Now THIS. When Hannah told me her latest masterpiece was chosen to hang in the local art museum, I was thrilled and told her so. Then I got a look at said rendering and reconsidered my enthusiasm. Told to draw a picture of herself flying over a place she found interesting, my youngest daughter chose (gulp!), El Ocho. Now don't get me wrong; I'll support her in any honest endeavor she chooses, but in the name of all that's sacred, NOT TEE-VEE NEWS! Luckily, she's very young. There's still time to steer her toward more honorable pursuits, like pharmaceutical sales, real estate or taxidermy. I suppose it's too soon for an intervention...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Scenes from a Perp Walk

Time was every story I put on the air featured somebody in handcuffs. Curbside cuff-n-stuffs, driveway drag-alongs, crowded courthouse camera clots: I've shot every kind of bracelet parade there is. Some I even remember...

"Love to take these boys to the double-wide, watch 'em bleed." One big, mullet-headed felon to his beefy inbred friend, as they glared at me and my lenslinging buddies. When two deputies hustled the handcuffed pair past us in the all too narrow hallway, the oversized thugs filled our lenses with hillbilly menace. All was professional until a dreaded expletive and some creative shouldering caused an off-camera colleague to pipe up with three words that still crack me up: "Enjoy your jumpsuit..."

When fire fighters found a murdered woman inside a burning apartment building, police issued an All Points Bulletin for the victim's ex boyfriend - a U.S. Marine known for his temper. An hour or so later military police captured him at a Marine Air Station an hour away. When word of the arrest broke, camera crews raced to the local detective building, where MP's were supposedly rushing the accused Marine. Six. Hours. Passed. It was just shy of midnight when the unmarked van finally pulled up. Two oak trees in jungle cammies jumped out and slid back the side door. Inside a man hung his head, bruised, wild-eyed and dressed in the flimsiest of hospital gowns. Seven seconds later, the heavy steel doors of the Police building slammed shut and the camera crews stopped recording, but the footage has never stopped playing inside my head.

"I love ya'll." The last thing televangelist Jim Whittington told us media jackals, as two baliffs stuffed him into the back seat of an idling prison van. Minutes earlier, he and four other people had been convicted of stealing $848,532 from wheelchair-bound admirer Valeria Lust. As the van rumbled out of sight down a New Bern street, I realized Whittington would miss all that attention as much as, if not more, than his personal freedom and extravagant lifestyle. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

Of course no mention of Walkdowns without mentioning the King of the Back Pedal, my buddy Vernon. Low of gravity, barrell chested and insistent, Vernon would get in the face and under the skin of anyone with a police escort. But he wouldn't just hover over their shoulder as officers rolled their fingertips in ink, he'd quiz them on the reasons for their whereabouts. In much the same way the late Chris Farely interviewed Paul McCartney on SNL, Vern would fairly antagonize them with innocuous questions..."Why are the cops saying YOU killed her?" I heard him offer more than once. The questions often illicited the juicy soundbites Vern loved, but at least twice they landed him colorful, profane on-camera confessions that his station played until the videotape melted or was subpeonaed. Years back, Vern left the news biz for the private sector where, as far as I know, he makes for one hell of a telemarketer.

I've even been spat at. One backwoods thug had enough of his D.N.A. strand intact to dig deep and come up with the biggest, nastiest redneck loogie ever captured on videotape. He let it fly as he passed our position - the lethal concoction of snot, Mountain Dew and tobacco juice warbling in slow-motion right for me. Luckily, the inbred saliva projectile fell just short of full contact splashdown and only a little spittle struck the center of my lens. Instinctively, I racked focus to highlight the hillbilly spit running down my camera's eye. It made for great tease video and my esteemed colleagues played it back in the edit suite about a million times before eventually losing interest. But not before a half dozen photogs offered their finest analysis of the snot-rocket's aural qualities, phlegm-consistency and intended flight path.

And think , All this AND benefits!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Phone Cam Follies

Despite having written extensively on the impact of diminutive lenses, I really haven't explored my own cell phone's various camera functions. I'd like to change that in the new year, since the infernal contraption accompanies me everywhere I roam. It's a safe bet that if spindly-fingered aliens ever do tumble out of a freshly-wrecked spaceship, their images will first be captured by these ubiquitous gizmos. Thus, I hope to grow proficient with my own weapon , lest I ever get the chance to become the Joe Rosenthal of the camera-phone set. My first step in that quest: Rid my cellie of all any residual imagery build-up...

Phone Cam - Talisman The first photo that has to go is this one, a low-rez shot of my at-work talisman, a rubber-limbed skinny alligator outfitted with the finest in Betty Spaghetti day-glo camcorder. Countless are the days I've stared at this little bugger as the afternoon cacophony of a typical newsroom afternoon erupted all around me. The patron saint of all photogs who cop a passing squat at my desk, little Greenie promises met deadlines and trusty tripod legs.

Phone Cam - Cindy & Danny Speaking of legs, this veteran news team's got 'em. Eternally perky Cindy Farmer and Sat Truck Cowboy Danny Spillane have been cranking out newscasts since cell phones came swaddled in shoebox-sized leather cases. Here they fiddle with a much later model, demonstrating to yours truly how the modern day phone can juggle hundreds of numbers, image and sounds. Either that, or they were playing Tetris, I can't remember.

Phone Cam - Matt Down the hall, Major Matt Jensen ain't got time for no stinkin' cell phones. Instead, the Edit-Bay Jedi is using all his skills and magic to implement sizzle to the most mundane of reports. Slicing and dicing, stretching dissolves and launching the occasional flying box - watching someone edit is like watching a stoner carve soap. Still, if you're gonna hang out where the minions spin gold into straw, there's no better guide than this most bitter of hippies. Just don't jostle him. We've lost three interns that way ...

Phone Cam - Angie I'd planned to show you more of El Ocho, but a certain senior editor stopped me in my tour guide tracks. Whereas I might crank out a story a day, young Angie Riley is in charge of the dozens of ancillary elements that go into the average newscast. Teasers, bumps, hot opens - all different names for snippets of video and sound. Here, Angie uses her advanced penmanship to tell me, pioneering technology or not, she needs that shot of the dog in the funny hat and she needed it NOW.

Knowing better than to vex this editing vet, I closed the phone and got on it. Otherwise she'll wait until I leave and harrass me via telephone, bludgeonining me with confusing tape numbers while I'm at home, twirling bourbon and trying to get my blog on. That's a close encounter I don't need...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Media and the Miners' Plight

An old buddy of mine called from the cockpit of his news cruiser today. Scott was speeding away from his beloved Pittsburgh, straight for the hospital where the one surviving coal miner was being treated. It was his second mad dash to West Virginia in so many days and the fatigue tinged his young voice. Having left the station at midnight, he spent the first half of the two and a half trip en route to a celebration. But a phone call from his producer changed the mood as it altered his course. Now he found himself racing toward a community reeling in disbelief . As he closed in on the mushrooming media circus, we discussed the joy and sorrows, and scars of The Job. Scott’s shock and dread paled in comparison to the victims’ families of course, but as an ancillary attendant with an all-access pass, he’d already felt the ache and the heartbreak in a way those of us watching from afar never will. Mostly, I listened while he whiled away the last dozen miles. He spoke of little sleep, endless live shots and too many cigarettes. I asked about his bride and his voice brightened. After that and a little office gossip, I handed the cell phone off to another co-worker eager to chat up an ex-colleague.

Later in the day, as I passed a bank of monitors shouting details of the miners’ plight, I thought of Scott. I remembered his first immersion into televised tragedy, a impressionable morning at Richard Childress Racing headquarters the morning after Dale Earnhardt’s final, fatal race. Scott was agog at the instant army of empty-eyed mourners, the countless, network news crews and the massive, sat truck encampment. ’Welcome to the Shit’, I told him at the time, but I wasn’t as wise as I pretended. Shell-shocked or not, chasing the salacious and the sad is part of the gig. The trick is to not become immune to it, to retain a level of decency underneath that crusty journalist shell, to keep your emotions in check but not incapacitated. I’m reminded of another morning in Norfolk, Virginia, when I ambled out of a TV truck in mid-giggle only to remember why I was there in the first place. Whole families clad in black ambled past, some weeping openly while clutching framed portraits of young dead sailors, unexpected victims of the USS Cole attack. Shame washed over me as the pier-side memorial service began and I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the aircraft carrier looming overhead and thinking of my own treasured shipmates.

As much as I love mass communication, the modern day 24 hour news cycle can leave one hell of a burn. Whereas distant calamities used to be hammered into print by a few on-scene scribes, today every nuance is played out live as it happens, to a spinning globe of wide-eyed voyeurs eager to teeter on the edge of their sets. That includes me, a person who clamors at the edge of massacre and catastrophe for an hourly wage. But I do wonder where this ramped-up, amped-up, endless telethon of suffering and strife is taking us. I’m not suggesting we forsake technology and return to the primordial ooze, mind you - but what effect does all this team smotherage have on the collective psyche? News doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and satellite trucks don’t park in limbo. Our mere presence, loud, lit and heavily logo’d, influences events as much it does cover them. We are not silent scribes in the back of the pack, but outfitted gear-heads with a thousand bristling gadgets, impinging on the perimeter when not taking center stage. At what price? When distant crisis becomes a global commodity before the pixels are even dry, where does the unexamined tribulations of the lesser exposed rank in the grand scheme of things? Don’t ask me. I just point and shoot for a living.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Careful What You Wish For...

'Do you remember when you weren't in the TV business?' asked the on-line thread...

I remember...

I remember when the six o clock news seemed like a dispatch from God, delivered by silver-haired, infallible beings in sharp suits and huge lapel microphones.

I remember when the rundown shack of a radio station down the street enthralled me with the magic voices that emanated from within.

I remember when the burned-out hippie photog from the local newspaper struck me as the most dashing human on the planet.

I remember dropping to my knees in adolescent wonder as the Raleigh TV station unveiled their latest toy - an honest to God news chopper named 'Sky Five'.

I remember being interviewed by a local reporter about the weather, and then racing to my girlfriend's house to catch my dopey mug on Tee-Vee.

I remember watching young reporters in my small market town and imagining what their glitzy, glamour-filled lives must be like.

I remember riding past the ramshackle CBS affiliate two towns over and coveting the fate of those lucky enough to be allowed inside.

I remember shooting pool with my old man and proudly announcing I'd scored a production job at that very station. He broke into a wide grin and slapped me on the back, congratulating me for landing the minimum-wage gig.

After that, it's pretty much a blur...

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's 2006! Now what?

So it's the third day of the new year and, aside from the rather skeevy Chinese buffet still roiling in my gut from yesterday, I ain't got alot to report. Sure, I could tell you about my last workday - but do you really want to read three paragraphs about how I spent eight hours in a small room editing American Idol footage? Don't answer that. Instead, join me as I spin the globe and check in with those delighful photograbloggers ...

Out in L.A., beFrank took a break from his usual diet of crime scenes and showbiz premieres to shoot an event that strikes dread in the heart of most photogs: A WEDDING! No sweat, though - it was for a buddy, he was shooting stills and the resulting envelope almost made him put the the FrankMobile in a ditch. Do they have ditches in L.A.?

Closer to home, Colonel Ken Corn covers a raucous New Year's Eve celebration in Charlotte that went stupid w-a-y before midnight. 'Why are teenagers allowed to rumble in the streets while their parents doze in the La-Z-Boy?', ask the Colonel. Good question - one I have no answer for. All I know, is you don't shoot a riot ... you're IN a riot. Now GET OFF MY LAWN!

Over in Hippieville, Jorge Guapo is standing Schmuck-Watch and the dolt in question is our very own Kenny Rogers. This time out, the overpaid pitching-thug isn't dragging cameras off photog's shoulders, HE'S CHEATING ON HIS WIFE! Or so it appears. Either way, the Texas Rangers have sent this simian packing to Detroit, where he'll no doubt bring further shame to his sport and suffer the wrath of the photog nation. Happy New Year, Schmuck!

In the City That Never Sleeps, eWink continues to lay down a most righteous blog. Recently he lamented the lack of local illumination while covering the darkest crime scene in the world. As anyone who's stared through a noisy, viewfinder will attest, that BITES! Once Winky's vision cleared, he took a good long look at himself and vowed to quit smoking come 2006. Good Luck on that, Erin...

But of course, photog woes aren't limited to the contiguous U.S. W-a-y down in New Zealand, a news shooter who goes by 'Invervegas' files regular reports that sound awfully familiar. Wild goose chases, stubborn gear and labored productions: these are facets of the trade anyone who's squinted through the tube can identify with. Personally, I take great solace in the fact that The Job is the exact same all over the globe - even where the toilet water swishes backwards.

That's all for now. Check the 'Photogs Who Blog' section to the right for even more misadventures behind the lens. Meanwhile, I gotta get ready for work! Someone has to pay for that wide-screen ...