Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dead Van Squawkin'

With all the clamor over YouTube, camera phones and backpack journalists, I sometimes wonder what will become of the Sherman Tank of the newsgathering front: the mighty live truck. Okay, so I rarely give these logo’d goliaths a second thought - until I’m stuck inside one, squinting over an ornery laptop and editing from a script some reporter wrote on a KFC wet-nap. Then, I got plenty to say about these ‘mobile newsrooms’ - though usually with words I don’t use on the blog. But rather than spew any more live truck bile, I’ll save it for a healthier species, for it’s becoming clear these lumbering beasts will soon go extinct. Forgive me if I don’t spearhead a petition demanding their rescue. I got my reasons.

Soon after the arrival of videotape freed TV crews from having to pause between shoot and show to process their film, it occurred to some engineer-type how very cool it would be to take this new instant technology on the road. Suburbans, Econolines, old ice cream trucks - vessels of most any heft were fitted with retractable masts, oversized dials and never enough cup holders. The modern live truck was born - and somewhere an old film guy grumbled. Not that the suits heard him. They were far too consumed with dispatching their crafts to they very edge of disasters. At first, it was a noble pursuit. With only a truck or two per affiliate, stations reserved their fleets for the kinds of stories that deserved a live eye. But a terrible thing happened on the way to the broadcast. Live trucks multiplied, their glossy hides slathered in numbers and promises. Before anyone really knew it, even backwaters stations had a truck or two outback and the requisite for the every use came down to how quickly someone could drive it to a late-breaking bake sale.

Today, the overworked live truck is as ubiquitous as the frothy cross-talk between the anchor guy and the sports chick. Some live shots showcase the drama of the day like no other newscast component, but most serve as hollow window dressing for passion plays better left un-pimped. Yes, I’m no fan of the lowly live truck - and not just because they invariably extend my workday. An avoider of top news in general, I’ve always been more into telling stories than flipping toggle switches, more into caressing my every edit than pulling 500 feet of muddy cable up a courthouse stairway. Call me crazy - just don’t make me go live from the sanitarium’s lobby. The beefy dudes in the white coats get real pissy when I roll up in my billboard and start riggin’ up lights.

But like I said three paragraphs ago, live trucks aren’t long for this world. How can they - when cell phones capture sight and sound, when wi-fidelity blankets whole downtown, when even discount laptops troll for signals to leech from. Granted, I ain’t smart enough to predict which new and improved technology will replace the microwave truck, but one not need be a futurist to hear the air-hiss leaking from all those leaning, pockmarked masts. Hopefully, we’ll be smart enough to preserve these garish beasts for future generations to gawk at. Imagine the questions my kids’ kids will ask when confronted with the swooping hues of yesteryear’s paint schemes, not to mention the feint reek of a thousand unfinished value meals. Just don’t ask me. I’ll be way too busy tuning in my eyeglasses, trolling for a hot-spot or berating my robot to detonate the transponder. After all, a producer’s live shot lust won’t die with last month’s technology. They’ll merely morph into a more demanding gadget and give a whole new generation of newsgatherers something to bitch about.

I guess some things never change...


Anonymous said...

AMEN Brother!

in-gun-ear said...

They may be gone quicker than you think. Enjoy them while you can!

HockeyPat said...

An ice cream truck?!?!? Nothing says breaking news like "would you like sprinkles with that?"