Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lens of Coersion

NORWALK, Ohio -- A television news cameraman paid a $145 fine after police said he enticed three teenagers to ride their bikes through waist-high floodwaters.

The boys told police that Gary Abrahamsen of WEWS-TV in Cleveland offered to put them on TV if they rode through the water on a bridge, according to a police report...

Abrahamsen denied coaxing the two 13-year-olds and one 14-year-old to ride through the water, and told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that paying the fine was cheaper than fighting the citation.
Who knows what exactly happened on that bridge in Norwalk? I sure don't, but a few different scenarios come to mind... from overzealous camera jackals exploiting innocent tykes on bikes, to a roving pack of hoodlums blaming an innocent lens, to renegade cops concocting the whole matter as vengeance for media transgressions past. Okay - that last one's a stretch, but speculation has always been a slippery slope. Rather than plummet off the edge of credibility, let's cling to what we know:

As file footage and police reports can attest, otherwise rational adults regularly underestimate floodwaters. Young teens tooling around on bicycles can be counted on to do the same and don't need the enticement of limited celebrity to send them pedaling into the abyss. Still, we at the Viewfiner BLUES home office do not endorse the practice of 'staging' - that news camera tabboo that covers everything from asking a receptionist to pick up a telephone that's not ringing, to luring hapless adolescents into the drink. It's just bad business ... and it ain't journalism. Rather, it's theater - and very often bad theater at that. Don't believe me? Consult your local listings for the reality fad of your choice.

Besides, who needs to verbally cajole anyone into ill-advised action, when the very presence of a TV logo often does the trick. It's just one way electronic newsgathering differs from our brethren in print. Where as a newspaper reporter can blend into the scenery of the smallest of melees, I and my swaggering fancy-cam often crash through the gates like oxen on a bender. That lack of stealth can be a detriment, but it often pays off in time for deadline - for the unblinking lens of a local affiliate is a far more coercive lure than any print reporter's skinny notebook. I'm not saying it's right, but when's the last time you saw a boisterous crew of juvenile delinquents bum-rushing a distracted scribbler at a high school football game? Doesn't happen, yet I can't shoulder my lens in the parking lot without picking up a few dozen well-wishers, goons and stalkers.

The moral of the story: Careful where you point that thing, as it can hynotize both object and operater. Now if you'll excuse me I have some old evidence to erase, uh, I mean tapes to archive...

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