Monday, April 30, 2007

Trains, Pangs and News Mobiles

Train 1I didn't really want it until the cop tried to wave me off. Until then, I'd been merely going through the motions, leaning on my tripod by the crossing arm as my perched camera rolled on a passenger train stalled on distant tracks. Fifteen minutes earlier, I'd sauntered into the office, my head still very much stuck in Weekend Dad Mode. But all thoughts of paternalism dissipated when an assignment editor rushed me right back out the door with a vague address and only one word: Train. Having raced toward localized apocalypse with f-a-r less information than that, I did what I've been doing since 1989. I 'put some eyes on it'.

Train 2There wasn't much to see at first, just a handful of cop cars parked in the middle of an inner city street. Further investigation revealed a clutch of uniforms loitering on the nearby train tracks. Parking my camera atop the tripod plate, I recorded the scene. When a portly officer noticed my silhouette, he waved me away. He should have just beckoned me forward, for his dismissive gesture energized me anew. Jumping back in Unit 4, I drove off, crossed the tracks, parked my ride and hoofed it on foot. Minutes later, I popped out of the woodline - incredibly close to the gathered officers. They didn't see me. They were too busy pointing at the ground. When the one cop who'd waved me off bent at the waist and pulled back a white crumpled sheet, I suddenly wished I'd listened to him earlier.

Next time, perhaps...

The Edumacation of Joey Flash

When Joe Avery first joined our staff, he didn't have alot of newsgathering experience. But his journeyman camera skills, quirky exuberance and unmistakable tone intrigued the suits enough to offer him the job anyway. Knowing he was in for a whirlwind tour of gear-portage and drive-thru food, I congratulated him while trying to avoid any real eye contact. Ever since though, I've enjoyed watching this elfish young stranger transform into full-fledged photog (though I do reserve the right to deny any and all involvement should litigation ever come to pass). Consider this: In his three months at El Ocho, Joey has grooved in a room with Hall and Oates, roamed the grounds of fresh tragedy at Virginia Tech and, just this weekend, weathered a verbal attack worthy of a Stage 3 Schmuck Alert. Yes Sir, I see a real future for this kid...

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Scrum and the Numb

'It's TV news at its best and TV news at its worst.'

That was the assessment of one colleague last week as broadcasters from across the hemisphere converged on a shell-shocked Virgina Tech. I can't agree more, for rarely have newsgathering forces turned crisis into commodity quite so precisely. Before the sun set on the day of the shooting, a growing herd of TV trucks grazed on a campus hillside, a labyrinth of cables and light stands spilling out from behind their overly lacquered logos. As the unfathomable death toll echoed across the globe, more and more media outlets dispatched crews to Blacksburg. Midwest affiliate reps, foreign bureau chiefs and every network hotshot you can think of soon roamed the grounds of what some consider the largest sat truck summit ever convened. At dusk, hundreds of tripods lined every inch of the grassy ridge, those tricked-out HMI rigs spotlighting the very edge of Virgina's darkest day. Over coiffed correspondents stood almost shoulder to shoulder and nodded gravely on cue, before introducing their own uniquely assembled dissection of the day. Walk that line of talking heads and you'll find whatever spin you're looking for, from the shrill demagoguery of cable news outlets to the melodramatic whispers of the public broadcasting set to the indecipherable rapid-fire of the Spanish-speaking channels. Translation aside, the incident at hand had already transformed. Hours before, the massacre at Virginia Tech had been but a madman's depraved fantasy. By nightfall it was a slick and salacious sat-shot juggernaut, available in every skewed perspective the 24/7 news universe has to offer.

But at what cost? For every talking head, sound tech and camera-hump scouring the Virginia Tech proper, there were countless more local folk sleepwalking in grief - trying to wrap their heads around the crushing loss and a dark new legacy, all while news crews clamored for close-ups of their still-falling tears. With classes cancelled for the week, only the media and the bereaved remained to duel it out. The resulting frenzy was ugly at times. No sooner could a crew corner a subject than a gaggle of new logo'd lenses would descend - turning an impromptu one-on-one into a gang-bang of obscene proportions.The melee of microphones was pack journalism at its worst - a phenomenon in which truth is lost in fervor and the signal turns simply to noise. Certainly not every member of the Fourth Estate so egregiously devolved on spot, but even the accepted tactics - from celebrity reporters using their household names to get to the victims' families to the rampant bum-rushing of the many memorials - were pretty damned unsavory. But don't take my word for it - I was only there for a day. Listen instead to a VT student named Jason M., who left this reply to an earlier thread:
During the candlelight vigil, a group of friends and I were standing next to another group of people, one of whom lost it about halfway through. Instantly the cameras began to swoop in and wouldn't go away when we all told them - to basically piss off. So one of our group began singing and walked straight into his shot. Seeing this small spectacle, others joined and formed a wall around the grieving group - a wall that moved in tandem with the asshole photogs until they gave up and went away. I'm all for freedom of speech, but it seems like much of the media (especially TV, local just as much as the big guys) tends to hide behind the mantra of first amendment rights in order to ignore the fact that they're being completely insensitive pricks.
However you might envision the above scene, it wasn't our finest hour. But among the victimized were members of the media itself. For many local news crews, the long-gone crush of jet-setting competitors has left a lasting impression on those who remain.
You national/international folks really messed up my community. A place where I've done more than a hundred stories is no longer welcoming. The people stare and harass us, something never done before. I know it will never change, but a lot of y'all need to check into the school of respect. I'm glad you're gone as is my community. I hate it that we have to pick up your mess. Thanks to all the unethical bastards that invaded my space. Those that posed as students, hospital staff and who knows what else. Thanks to god that there's a new disaster to take you away so our community can start to recover from our disaster. Adios. -- Newsman
It must be noted that Newsman has been pretty much eviscerated by his fellow photogs, most of whom credit the assassin Cho for Blacksburg's remaining woes. I don't totally buy that, for asinine behavior on the part of strangers cannot totally be blamed on a homicidal college kid lying dead in a classroom. In my short time on the drill field a full week after the attack, I saw enough boorish camera behavior to make me wonder why I ever wanted to sling a news lens at all. That's not to say I think we should revert to two cans and a string . Wonderful new tools are at our disposal; hell, the web alone makes the idea of a 500 channel universe seem hopelessly quaint. But is it too much to ask that we retain some air of civility amid all this mass communicatin'? Apparently so. It's something this reformed southerner will never get used to - even when I myself am caught up in the ugliest of scrums. It sure doesn't make defending my profession any easier - not when its glaringly obvious that despite your favorite newscast being late-breaking, localized and live(!), basic human decorum is all but dead.

No news-flash there, I guess...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Schmuck Alert: Hercules Fence

Via Photog's Lounge, video of another merchant roughing up a news crew. Okay, so that's even considered a crime in some states, but there are other reasons to avoid spending money at Hercules Fence at 4660 S.E. Maricamp Road just outside Ocala, Florida. Let's start with why the camera crew showed up in the first place - to inquire about a peculiar sign blazing out front. We've all seen them: magnetic letter boards bearing cutesy messages or bible verses for passing motorists to enjoy. ignore or ponder. Figuring any publicity was good publicity, the fine folk at Hercules Fence put their heads together and came up with a joke that is at once unfunny and patently offensive: What has 4 wheels and flies? A dead cripple in a wheelchair. Man, if THAT won't sell fencing, I don't know what will. Strangely enough though, the riddle in question didn't spark a rush on cedar planking. Instead, it caused a minor uproar in Ocala - obviously a rather uptight community with zero appreciation for middle school playground humor. Come to think of it, I'M offended - a considerable feat for anyone who's done serious time on warships and in newsrooms. Why it's enough to make a little news crew pushee-pushee pale in comparison ... Still, such actions are unilaterally uncool and I'd simply be remiss in my duties as self-appointed blowhard of the photog nation if I didn't sum up the situation with the following heartfelt assessment:

Schmucks...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Split Indecision


Who IS this woman? How come's she's just standing there? Why does she look like Sandra Bullock? Three questions that run through my mind as I stare at this photo taken by Rich Abrahamson of The Coloradoan. Seconds after the frame was captured, Colorado State receiver George Hill reluctantly plowed into four year old Caden Thomas. The resulting gash would require thirty stitches, launch a whirlwind media tour and place all involved in the viral video hall of fame. Just this morning the gang appeared on the Today Show - the kid, the football player and the parents kibbitzing with Matt and Meredith while the slow-motion hit played and over and over again. It was all enough to tear me away from my punishing regiment of morning Pop-tarts, uh, I mean push-ups - long enough to wonder what kind of dillweed of a parent lets his kid roam the sidelines during padded gladiator combat. After that I pretty much forgot about it...

And then I saw this picture. It's a beguiling enough shot, fraught with implications that are probably unjust. After all, who knows how you'd react if you found yourself cradling a video-camera in the end zone as a human rocket homed in on a passing toddler. I'd like to think I'd somehow save the kid, but I know guys who'd zoom in and roll on their own demise - let alone some kid's undue clock-cleaning. Still, I'm struck by the lady's choice to do neither. Wielding a lens but not really using it, she seems to be watching for the collision that is surely about to ensue. Hmmmmm. I don't wanna play armchair quarterback here - I'm just some goob with a web address and a writing compulsion. But as someone's who's had his own melon thumped by an incoming quarterback, I can tell you - that shit hurts. George Hill should be commended for doing what he could to lessen the impact. Little Caden should get a free scholarship. His parents should be more embarrassed than giddy. And that lady with the camera ... well, she should probably look into another line of work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mopping Up In Blacksburg

Blacksburg Sat CityBy the time I got to Virginia Tech, Sat Truck City had shriveled to a village. But with a parked armada of media trucks still sprawled across the west end of campus, the electronic circus hadn’t completely left Blacksburg. Katie, Shep and Geraldo were gone - having winged their way back to Manhattan after the initial blitzkrieg of live remotes and breathless updates. In their wake, an army of lesser known faces roamed the grounds, regionally known wretches still forced to use both their names when signing off. As always they were flanked by countless photographers, sound crews and truck operators - casually dressed technicians who bore the true brunt of transmitting calamity 24/7. Everywhere you looked, they straightened cable, tweaked lights and attended to the many thankless tasks that makes all this continuous team smother age possible in the first place. Many were from local affiliates splayed across the country, some were network of course and a few didn’t seem to speak a word of English. It was through this wretched hive of trucks and tripods that I steered Unit 4 yesterday morning - just in time for the first day of class since madness and side-arms ended thirty three lives last week. I knew I’d end up here.

Bob at RestI wasn’t alone, however. Reporter Bob Buckley rode shotgun, offering conjecture and analysis, when he wasn’t scanning the dial for something more palatable. To my great relief, we arrived in Blacksburg before El-Rushbo took to the airwaves, sparing me a round of unbridled dittos and color commentary. No bother. We had a job to do. Seven days after an angry young man turned a serene campus into a killing field, the surviving student body was returning en masse to their beloved Virginia tech. Tasked with filing three separate reports on their arrival, we switched into work mode the moments our boots his the ground. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Before we began our hike to the now famous drill field, Bob and I made a wide arc around the satellite encampment, chatting up distant colleagues and admiring the rented tents and refreshment stashes of the well-heeled network crews. We even bartered for tape from the Fox folks, eliciting promises of shared footage at the end of the day. Not even the local guys batted an eye at the latest newcomers - with a few exceptions. Thrice, strangers with press passes of their own approached me to inquire if I was ’Lenslinger’. While not a wholly unpleasant sensation, being asked that always rattles my cage a tad.

More CrewsStill, whatever self-satisfaction I’d scored at camp dissipated on the way to the drill field. Trudging along with camera and tripod in tow, we grew silently as students in maroon and orange shuffled by. Most ignored us, but a few others bore holes into our skulls with angry glares, while others simply stared at the sidewalk as we passed. All thoughts of cyber-fame vanished a few minutes later when Bob and I turned a corner to find a landscape alive - the bucolic green drill field in the distance, dotted with mournful specks of maroon and orange. ‘Gimme my sticks’, I said and Bob gladly obliged. I powered up the camera and lined up shot after shot, struggling at times to catch up with the moving portrait before me. Gone were the Frisbees and grab-ass of normal college outdoor life. Instead, students sat on blankets and stared or stood in groups and whispered. Others milled about under white tents, stopping to scribble messages of remembrance on blank placards left by the college. It was a somber enough scene, and one I had no intention of invading up close. Using every bit of my glass, I gathered all the long shots I could before moving in closer to the makeshift memorial. All around, other camera crews did the same - moving in determined slow motion toward the heartfelt photo-op at the front end of the field.

Two Live CrewIt’s my belief that Virginia Tech handled the after-massacre media onslaught rather well. My many colleagues who spent last week here may disagree, but yesterday at least, we pretty much had open reign. Though I felt the eyeballs of many an official, no one from Virginia Tech’s vast faculty ever approached me. The same could not be said for the students. Still shell-shocked from their loss, they are understandably tired of the electronic press - the roving band of lenses and boom mic‘s that won‘t leave their campus. ’Media Go Home!, read a sign I saw - a sentiment shared in the grumblings of a few lads who brushed by me on the sidewalk. I understood their ire and offered nothing in return. One young fellow though insisted on engaging me . When I pointed out how unobtrusive I was being here on the crowd’s edge, he softened a bit. Eventually Bob and I interviewed him on camera, where railed against the papparazi invading his school. Afterwards, we couldn’t shake the guy, but that‘s cool. His rancor (and attraction) is quite justified by the actions of many in the Fourth Estate. I couldn’t help but realize this as I watched a muttonchopped dude with a tricked-out consumer-cam, working the pack of mourning kids like he was shooting a concert. Too cool for sticks, he cradled his lens awkwardly in his upturned palms, jamming the damn thing repeatedly in the faces of sobbing freshmen.

Jack-ass...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Smells Like Team Spirit

No doubt about it, we TV news crews tend to gather in packs. Pressers, plane crashes, pickle queen fests - you can't sling a lens in most markets without clocking a younger version of you holding a Sony of their owny. Then of couse, you gotta man up and act like you meant to - lest you be booted from the Curmudgeonly Cameraman Club (3 million members and growing!). But go easy! Defend you turf too vigorously and you just might find yourself rolling around on the floor with a competitor on the floor in one of those awful press pit dust-ups that prove once and for all why no on one pays to see pasty suburbanites fight. Next thing ya know, the cursed clip's on YouTube and your daughter's threatening to run away if the neighborhhood boys don't stop singing the theme from Rocky III every time you step outside in your bermuda shorts and knee-socks. A daughter's shame - all because you wanted a wide shot without some cable punk's handycam in it. And you call yourself a parent...

Since your kids do, you'd better chill. You'll be part of the scenery soon enough anyway, probing some distant news frontier with not enough sunscreen on your lips and notions of trophies in your head. There you'll have plenty of elbow room and by jove, you'll need it! No station chiseler green-lights a trip without his own vision - one that usually involves lots of re-cuts, promo shots and if possible a two-gallon jug of photog sweat to use a set-prop (you know - something for the anchors to fondle as the houselights fade). Loss of body fluids aside, most shooters I know jump at the chance to schlep their tools to remote locales. Where else ya gonna clear your head? Besides, I'd rather clock a prarie rat at a thousand paces than guess what kind of deodorant Otto the camera-slug chose to leave untouched this morning. Maybe then the kids will respect what I do for a living. Speaking of which, I gotta scram, There's yardwork to do out back and unless my vision fails me, those little bastards are lining up by the fence again. I'll show them some 'Eye of the Tiger'...

Friday, April 20, 2007

King of Pain

From the time my cousin Brian slipped me his twice-read copy of 'The Stand', I have been an eager disciple of Stephen King. As I read it, the apocalyptic potboiler fully engorged my twelve year old cortex. Instantly I forgot all about that Time-Life series on UFO's I'd been eyeing at the school library and began trolling the paperback racks for King titles. Quickly I devoured his full catalog, catching up just in time to gorge on every new zombie-filled novel he'd unleashed on the 1980's. But it wasn't the lurching axe-murderers that drew me to the Maine native's dark canon - it was his freakin' readability. Populist horror yet so much more, King's winky kink for brand name placement, odd character cameos and twisty narratives made every tortured tail of gore worth far more than its reckless heft. My collection grew and my mother worried. Assurring her I'd read this particular author if he churned out only cookbooks, I dismissed the unspeakable evil within. Today if you asked my brother just what I read, he'd still say "Stephen King", even though I haven't cracked one of his novels in almost 20 years. Still, I credit the man with inflamming my adolescent brain and teaching me early that its perfectly okay to take dictation from the madman in your head.

So what's my point? None really, other than to say I absorbed every syllable of King's books as a kid and have yet to breech the walls of a cemetary in the dark. Well there was that one time in high school, but that's only because that's where the liquor bottles were stashed. I wouldn't have dared to do anything too creepy, despite having thrilled at every fresh shovel crunch into King's eternally haunted sod. In a book he's now distanced himself from, the author foretold the future with an unfathomable tale of a troubled student opening fire in a classroom. I still remember the stilted conversations the character Charles Decker had with police over the classroom loudspeaker. Back then, the very scenario was ludicrous it was safe as entertainment. These days not so much. When Entertainment Weekly asked the bestselling author what to make of the Virginia Tech murderer's violent screeds, he found little correlation between imagination and intention.
For most creative people, the imagination serves as an excretory channel for violence: We visualize what we will never actually do...Cho doesn't strike me as in the least creative, however. Dude was crazy... Essentially there's no story here, except for a paranoid a--hole who went DEFCON-1. He may have been inspired by Columbine, but only because he was too dim to think up such a scenario on his own.
Too dim indeed, Stephen. I only wish his unthinkable acts were still just the stuff of your cinematic nightmares - instead of the trademark arc of another marquee massacre. Maybe then I could forgo the unfortunate carnage and tell these good people about your most indelibe tome yet, 'On Writing'. Until then, I'll be out back, grooming my prose and sharpening my meat cleaver.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sat Truck City

So just how many TV crews are at Virginia Tech? Not as many as they're were certainly, but a sat truck city of staggering breadth still clots a fat swath of Blacksburg. One dish truck driver I know says it's the biggest satellite scrum he's seen in his twenty years of transmitting calamity. Local crews from around the nation, accented presenters from across the pond, a Who's Who of network press. It's enough to make your low-laying lenslinger wish maybe he'd poked his head up when the marching orders were being issued. Then again, I've spent the week providing counter-programming for all the producers in my life. Today for example I milked a volunteer luncheon for seventy five seconds of feel-good theater. More of a viewer reprieve than a full-fledged feature, not once does it mention handguns, lockdowns or manifestos. Here's looking forward to a quiet weekend...

Citizen Psycho

I find it haunting that between killing sprees, Cho Seung-Hui stopped to vlog. Using video, words and digital stills, the Virginia tech student assembled a rambling screed of murder and hate he needed the world to see. Apparently, a disturbed young man known for speaking little had a lot to say when he was all alone. 1800 words of venom, countless photos of him and his weapons, first person video clips of his monotone yet murderous rage. Cho Seung-Hui wasn’t just obsessed with smiting his self-perceived enemies. He wanted the globe to know why he did. So he snail-mailed his ‘reel’ to NBC, certain the news-gathering goliath would unleash it on an unsuspecting planet. Did that satiate his rage - the knowledge that his twisted message would be seen far and wide shortly after the bodies fell? That his YouTube-infamy was guaranteed, affording himself a place in history that an old school wacko like Mark David Chapman could never even conceive?

I’m reminded of those scenes in the movies where the villain addresses the hero from beyond the grave. A flickering screen of a overacting mug, smugly explaining every detail of his madness and laughing diabolically. But played out in reality, its fare from entertaining. Instead, the pictures and clips ricocheting across the web feature a lingering peek into a mass murderer’s mind. It makes the notion of cops traveling to a prison to grill a serial killer feel positively Baroque. Yesteryear’s Zodiac letters are today’s ‘multimedia manifesto’ a term that will grimly go down as a Word of the Year. Thus, Cho Seung-Hui not only ended 32 lives and then his own. He changed the lexicon of evil, upping the ante for mass killers to come, asssuring that no dastardly deed in the 21st century would be complete without a cyber-portfolio of madness. It was blund to happen In a new frontier teeming with personal journalists, activists bloggers and MySpace moguls, I’m afraid we now have a new kind of cyber-savvy, plugged-in super villain: Citizen Psycho.

Pity the victims won't be so well remembered.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Far Flung Friends

This Just In: I'm not in Blacksburg and from the looks of our manpower plan, I probably won't have to be anytime soon. For that I'm grateful, but it hasn't stopped me from falling victim to the malaise that has gripped this fair region. Then again, I love me some good malaise. So while my colleagues are crafting comprehensive team coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy, I'm doing my part by not watching any of it. Instead, I'm holed up in my normal roost, tending to my hens and thinking of old acquaintances. Let's meet a few...

robot nabWhile I stew in my own juices, Little Lost Robot is traipsing around Las Vegas. He's there for NAB of course, the annual summit of broadcasters, pimps and shysters. No fan of Vegas myself, I opted to stay at home. Hey I'm all for wanton debauchery but one trip to the Skeeve Capital every three years is enough for me. Still, I wouldn't have minded attending the yearly b-roll bash again. Why? Fresh beer, tipsy photogs, a chance to win a free tripod - where else can you see Kevin Johnson drink himself into a six foot five stupor? It's not on Pay-Per-View. Not yet, anyway...

Years before I'd ever heard the word 'blog', then-partner Rashunda Tramble had her own website. Of course Rash also made homemade soap, tolerated my nightly wide-angle habit and paid membership dues to Mensa. Next to that, how hard could learning HTML be? No longer an entertainment reporter, Rashunda is now a soul sister in Switzerland . When she's not busy being geographically exotic, she web-publishes photos, reflections and conjecture that still make me feel like a dumb white boy from the sticks. Ain't technology grand?

Paul DunnOne of the smartest things I did today was ring up my old buddy Vern. No longer a news photog, Vernon Paul Dunn's life still mirrors mine in many ways. We're both married to short, aggressive women, we both got girls we mostly chauffer and TV news runs in both our bloodstreams. Back in the day, we'd both lay back on the hoods of our news units and wonder what other gig on Earth could possibly be so exciting. Years ago, Vern left the business to find out. I never did. While the real winner has yet to be determined, I come away the victor everytime we talk. Love ya man.

Bucky Covington Blur 3Six months after we visited him in the studio, Bucky Covington's debut CD drops today. Though my country music collection consists of one well-worn Hank Williams Jr. album, I'll gladly plunk down my cash for this Rockingham native's freshman release. How come? Bucky's got chops, tone and wit. He's by far the most deserving survivor of the American Idol ordeal and quite possibly the sweetest hillbilly you'll ever meet. Now a citizen of Nashville and the world, I'm still hoping we can get together someday and drown some more of that good brown likker.

Next time: Something else...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dreading the Trip

I’ve never been to Blacksburg and I damn sure don’t want to go now. But when the worst campus massacre in recorded history happens less than three hours from your TV station, a sudden jaunt North cannot be ruled out. Friends of mine are already there, dispatched early in the day before the scope of this ghastly event was fully realized. I don’t envy them. Clustered around satellite trucks and a makeshift podium, they’re left to process whatever scraps officials feed them as unseen producers scream in the ear for one more tidbit, one more live shot, one more grim-faced wrap-up of the ‘unspeakable tragedy‘.

To make things infinitely worse, broadcasting’s most over-coiffed correspondents are there too. Lauer, Williams, Couric and the like - all flanked by deadpan camera crews and excitable producers. Before I even think to turn my TV back on they’ll have draped their most somber logo over every facet of this fresh cataclysm - grilling witnesses, lining up guests, jockeying for a better camera spot. By show-time, Virginia Tech’s darkest day will be expertly accented in network-level three point lighting. Roll the news music’s most plaintive cut, cue the grimaces all around and standby for Columbine 2.0.

I don’t mean to take away from the victims’ families. Their pain has just begun. I just hope their trauma isn’t too exacerbated by the feeding frenzy of the local yokels and media elite. For they deserve better. Losing a loved one so senselessly is punishment enough. Being goaded by a hungry press while your pain is still so new is often more than I can take (or dish-out at times). Still, there won’t be any shortage of breathless bystanders on the late and early newscasts. This is, after all, America in the year 2007. We even grieve in Hi-Def. Thing is, I no longer yearn to wrangle misery though a tube. I’ll go if I have to, but forgive me if, this time, I don’t volunteer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fifty Years In...

From the 'I didn't even think that was possible' file - a Minnesota photog goes the distance, clocking in a staggering fifty years behind the lens. Fifty years! That, my friend, is alot of ribbon cuttings. Just ask Brad Jacobs, who first joined KSTP-TV in 1957 - a full ten years before this humble lenslinger was even born. Since then he's covered the Twin Cities up close, personal and from afar - mastering a mind-boggling progression of technology as generations of ever younger news-gatherers came and went. I'm getting winded just thinking about it! Lauded for both his mad camera skills and industrial-strength resilience, Brad Jacobs is also known for something few photogs ever succesfully pull off: a positive attitude. I could pile on the accolades all day, but you'd do better to head over to KSTP's site and hear from the man himself. Were I in the area, I'd saunter right up to Mr. Jacobs and insist on carrying his tripod, but with only 17 plus years in the bag, I fear I'm Simply. Not. Worthy. Congratulations...Sir.

(For an Australian's take, check out Widescreen...)

The Invisible Class

FOX 8 WGHP PhotojournalistsMan, just when my self-esteem was on an upswing, the clever newspaper website video people weigh in with another dismissive assertion. This time they're out to learn why TV News shooters don't post 'web-exclusive' video on-line (something the average TV photog doesn't really think about alot as he's racing to fill HOURS of airtime a day), but I'm not here to fight that fight. Or fight at all, really. I wish, rather, to be an ambassador - to brook a better understanding of my most beleaguered TV breed. But to build a relationship, you have to know how your new partner views you and therein, lies the rub...
'Just as the print media has always had a better reputation for their ability to cover a story in depth and have larger staffs to cover more community news…their photographers seem to have better reps too. Print photogs are seen as visual artists and have a history of being part of the journalistic tradition. They are seen as independent individuals with their own identity and vision. Video/TV photogs do not seem to have the same polished reputation - even though they provide pretty much the same commodity to their medium and have equal aesthetic and creative abilities. This may be because (opinion again) they work with a reporter who is seen (first) as a TV star and (second) as a reporter. The amount of equipment traditionally carried by TV photogs turns them into living breathing pack mules. They set up live shots and run microwave trucks. So there they are: the perception is subservient, technician, pack mule.'
Wow, I feel like I should go shower off or something. Derision aside though, these print people do have a few good points. We TV News shooters do appear slovenly compared to our on-air partners. I mean, have you seen the amount of hairspray those people travel with? I once saw a consumer guy take out an entire family of woodchucks with a single can of Aqua-Net.
'Unlike still photogs who shoot the story along-side, but independently from the reporter, the TV photog’s visuals are driven by the style of their reporter and interwoven with the words written and narrated by the reporter. The identity of the photographer is lost in the shadow of the on-camera person, who is recognized every day for their efforts. Rarely is a TV photog given recognition - while their print counterparts get a byline whenever work appears.'
Actually the photog usually sets the visual pace. Ask any reporter who's had to stretch a tape full of shaky and blue footage into something coherent. As for the inherent lack of credit, it's hard to outshine the spotlight you helped manufacture. Then again, no TV shooter worth his or her first white-balance sticks with the gig for plaudits alone. There's more glory in gutter-repair. But that really ain't the point.
'This lack of identity has made television photographers an almost invisible class. While they are what sets television news apart from print and radio, they are not given recognition as individuals or even allowed to post their images to the web so they can earn some individual recognition - because somebody else might profit from their work besides the company that owns them and their images. The no-competition contracts most photogs sign even preclude them from doing much video on their own that might compete with their own stations.'
Personally, invisibility is a professional goal of mine. I work hard to blend into the backdrop, so the person in my crosshairs forgets I'm there. Sure I could worm my way back on-air but I learned a long time ago that being gestured at in the Wal-Mart parking lot don't feed the bulldog. I'm far more interested in visual storytelling, be it my preferred solo methods or as part of our continuing team smotherage on the clamor of the moment. I'm all for my work appearing on-line (as it regularly does). Hell, I'd gladly recut an extended mix-master version for the web alone, but until the suits lop off a few newscasts, I'll be out in the sat truck camp, feeding the on-air beast. I see no shame in that. As for non-competes, I ain't signed one of those since Bush the Elder upchucked on that Japanese dude. Now that was great video...

The Organic Cameraman

Gallagher at Work
Kevin Gallagher will be the first to tell you he's no news shooter but he does cut a striking figure in his crunchy earth-tones and retro film-cam. Seen here careening atop a Habitat for Humanity roof, this seasoned promotions producer works his high-end lens in muted, earth-friendly fashion. Then again, no one rocks the neo-hippie lenslinger look quite like Sir Gallagher. From the old school battery belt to his homemade skull cap to that scraggly chin cabbage, Kev's got a look that says' "Sure, I'll shine twenty ozone killing spotlights on your sponsor's doodad, but those chicken sandwiches I see on the Craft Services table over there HAD BETTER BE FREE-RANGE!" Okay, so perhaps I'm projecting a little, but the truth is I've always dug Kevin's look - even if he did once try to kill me with my own mountain bike! I just wish someone hadn't given him those kick-ass Dale Earnhardt gloves. Dude's hands were so warm and toasty up there, he took FOREVER! Thought it would never be my turn...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Wizard of IZ

Mehringer in the IZWhile I spent the morning chatting up Hip-Hop C-lister Fonzworth Bentley, an old cohort of mine picked his way through a war-zone. Steve, a mild-mannered newscast producer, is in Baghdad. Apparently life in a Florida newsroom wasn't stressful enough, so this young family man followed a whim and applied for a position with the US Embassy in Iraq. Much to his surprise, he got it and after some training, found himself huddling on the floor of a sleek black chopper with a couple of nervous new cohorts as the sand-blasted rooftops of Baghdad hove into view...
The Blackhawk drops into the LZ (landing zone) like a stone, but lands like a feather. We scrambled to heft our luggage to the ground and move quickly away from the whirling blades of the chopper. We were all wearing 35 lbs. of body armor and helmets and trying to lug a year's worth of gear across the tarmac. The Blackhawk lifted off again and the thud-thud-thud-thud-thud from its rotors faded into the sky.

As the silence washed around us we started looking around the LZ. It was just a giant paved parking lot surrounded by tall cement barriers (T-Walls). So there we stood. We'd come halfway around the world in 4 days. We finally made it to Baghdad and there was no one even waiting for us. Never one to overlook the obvious I said, "Where the hell are we supposed to go?" There were no guides, no one to ask for directions, not even a sign with a big arrow saying "This Way ===>". So we moved toward what looked like an opening in the T-walls and hoped for the best.
Read the rest of his unnerving arrival in Iraq at his already amazing blog. The Steve I know is clever and capable. I trust he'll keep his wits about him and make it back to the states safely. While he's there though, I 'll look forward to every one of his trenchant missives from a most perilous locale. Just be careful...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rocks In His Pockets

Compared to the grown-ups riding on the rumbling harvester in the field, those of us unloading the barn had it made in the shade. At least that’s how I saw it back in the summer of 1978, as a man I knew only as Mr. Dan‘l passed me fragrant bundle after fragrant bundle of crinkly, flue-cured leaves. Still a summer away from riding the harvester myself, I’d spent the summer doing whatever light work Mr. Franklin could find for me. He got more work out of my older brother Rich, who’d already won a seat on the punishing underside of that rickety harvester in the distance. Slung low on a plastic seat, Rich snapped the finest leaves off every passing stalk, before attaching them to a chain-driven pulley that trundled the roughage above. That’s where the older girls stood, pulled the sticky green flora from the rotating clips and tying them to rough-cut three foot poles. It was dirty work all around and at the moment I didn’t mind missing out on it.

Besides, there was plenty to do back at the barn. Once the dim interior was emptied of every leathery golden leaf, there were tractor carcasses to crawl over, dirt circles to draw and Mountain Dews to pilfer from forgotten drink coolers. For now however there were hundreds of leathery gold leaves to unload and Dan’l and I worked fast to upsize any downtime. If we could just finish up before the harvester crew brought back a pallet of their sticky wet cargo, I’d have time to plunder and Dan’l could sit and dip his snuff in the shade. At least I thought it was snuff. Truth is, I wasn’t sure to make of the grizzled old man in the John Deere cap. A speech impediment of sorts cloaked the meaning of his words in eroded syllables. He wore crusty overalls and carried rocks in his pockets. I never understood much of what he said, but I did marvel at his ability to nap on command. In return, he seemed to tolerate my presence the way an old porch dog might regard the runt of someone else’s litter.

I guess that made us friends. Dismissed as a simpleton by many in the community, Mr. Dan’l (never Daniel) taught me an important life lesson that day. He did so - by dropping dead, right in front of me. Actually, my head was turned when it happened. Stretching my neck to check the harvester’s progress, I heard a muffled thud behind me and turned to see old Dan’l laying face-down in the dirt. The next few minutes were a blur. A nearby adult saw the old man drop and he tried to shoo me away as he ran up and rolled the prone figure over. Dan’l’s face was purple. The very sight caused me to backpedal in the dust and as I did, my brother and others raced up on foot. Already a volunteer fireman, Rich dropped to his knees and with the help of others began pumping the old farmhand’s chest. Dan’l didn’t respond. As my brother and the grown-ups huddled over him, farm trucks poured into the path leading to the barn. Eventually an ambulance screamed into view, its driver and attendant confirming Dan’l’s death. As if on cue, it began to rain.

I witnessed many firsts that day. I watched my brother keep his cool in the face of calamity - a character trait that would define his coming career as a firefighter, paramedic and all-around hero on-demand. I saw how unexpected death affected people differently, from the melodramatic gasps of the teenage girls climbing off the harvester, to the matter-of-fact chatter of Dan’l’s rustic contemporaries. Mostly, I remember the sudden arrival of Dan’l’s brother, who took one look under the stretcher’s sheet and began wailing in a way I would never have guessed a man in his sixties could. It must have embarrassed his wife, who shooshed and shamed him until he wandered off in the rain to grieve among the tobacco plants. Sad as I was, I don’t remember crying that day. I was too busy taking in the scene. From Dan’l’s purple face, to my brother’s efforts to save him to the unspoken summit of weathered faces that showed up to cast dry eyes on an old friend’s corpse -- I can see it all so clearly 29 long years later.

I hope that you can, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Fertile Milieu

Style and ProfileIf John Grisham can make legal briefs the stuff of thrillers, surely I could work up something in the newsgathering genre. What other profession offers so many twisted senarios for the budding scribe to hang prose on? Consider the following true scenarios - in an ever annoying Foxworthy-like format...

Ever follow a love of lights and language down a long plastic hallway, until you realize the exciting career you never dreamed you’d have is about to drive you up the broadcast tower out back? Ever watch UPS drivers deliver packages and wonder how it might differ from the silly gig you got?

Ever wish for death as every war veteran in the freakin’ retirement home clamored for the cameraman’s attention? Ever fake a forest fire pager alert and slink out of the room to the cheers of your lap-quilted admirers? I’ll surely pay for that one.

Ever cringe behind the lens as the mullet-wearing daughter of a murder victim jumps out of her beat-up Nova and screams at the burly Sheriff deputies digging up her father‘s six month old grave? It‘s the kind of thing that sticks with ya.

Ever regret not charging that last battery as the Governor hugs the podium and every brick you got goes dead? Ever rooted around your fanny-pack in stark denial as network field producers scoff at you from behind their cappuccinos?

Ever bitch about the flood zone, the heat and the bosses with your sat truck buddies all day - until catching sight of an old man sorting through his every flood soaked possession on a sweltering park bench made you not wanna talk at all?

Ever feign empathy as the distraught citizen in your lens explains how the nut-bag down the street is ruining the entire condominium complex? Ever pull that same reassuring nod with said nut-bag only minutes later? Ever not stop to care who’s right?

Ever use a drop dead gorgeous intern to enchant the smarmy faculty yaks of a private college - all so you can get the kind of leafy enclave footage out of stock at the local community college’s dumpy smoking hut? Every threaten to taser an aging horn-dog in a thousand dollar suit?

Ever drive fast with your ass off the seat as state troopers tear by you with their lights and sirens blazing? Ever follow ‘em at unthinkable speeds until the guy in front driving the stolen highway patrol car wipes out just inside the county line? Ever schlep a camera past a frozen parade of badly-parked patrol cars?

Ever whip an elementary school lunchroom into a scene from ‘Lord of the Flies’ simply by poking your lens into the room? Every try to convince a reading rug full of pre-schoolers not to bum-rush the nice cameraman? Every wish you’d done better in school yourself?

Yeah, me neither...

New Media Jim

Jim Long and his HMIThere's a new blogging photog on the scene and he's got a truckload of opinions. Why shouldn't he? Jim Long's been honing his photog chops for 18 years, mostly as an NBC cameraman. In that time he's seen alot pass through the glass, but it hasn't seemed to soften his focus one iota. Instead, Long zeroes in on emerging trends with a sniper's eye, displaying an enthusiasm for our ever-changing craft rarely found in journeyman lensers. I think I have a new hero. Well, maybe that's pushing it - but I do so dig Jim's prolific output. Every time I pass by his slick-ass site, he's posting videos, floating concepts, taking on Rosenblum and generally tilting at whatever windmills pop up on the electronic horizon. Who can keep up with that? I won't even try, but I will keep a close eye on this shrewdest of news shooters. Check him out yourself. His vigorous missives are far tastier fare than the warmed-over angst casseroles I've been serving up lately...

Next Up: A.man.I -- The Urban Reporter

Monday, April 09, 2007

Mooning for Clooney

Clooney Goons TwoPlease Lord, let Leatherheads wrap. The George Clooney vehicle has been shooting in and around the Piedmont for weeks now and quite frankly, I'm growing weary. Why? Every other morning I walk into work, some show producer accosts me with a road map and an 8x10 glossy of the Sexiest Man Alive. This, I can do without. But ever since a newspaper picture of Rosemary's nephew overpaying for lemonade hit the stands last week, there has been a fatwa of sorts on the actor's visage. Today that image jihad struck your local lenslinger and before I could check my station e-mail, I was dispatched forty minutes down the interstate, late for a sorta-date with that dude from 'Syriana'. God, how I hate Mondays.

My mood improved when I spotted the logo. Until then, I wasn't sure I would get anything. But when I saw the News 14 truck parked by the entrance to the Transportation Museum, I knew I wasn't the only one on Operation: Overgroomed Goose Chase. Aaron Mesmer already had the museum's PR chick framed up when I sidled up beside him. A one man band himself, the young reporter and I exchanged cowboy nods as the lady with the name-tag prattled on for our cameras. Yes, Clooney and crew were just beyond the gate and no, lowly TV types like ourselves were NOT invited to come in and do Botox with them. No surprise there. I knew before I ever left the parking lot that I stood a better chance of running over Osama Bin Laden somewhere outside Thomasville than score any onscreen time with Mr. Dimples. So I eyed the perimeter for other prey...

And then I saw them. Like birds on a wire, they huddled close in the shadows, heads bobbing in unison with the glimmer of every distant gaffer's laminated backstage pass. Balding father-in-law types with birdwatcher lenses, thug-wannabes sporting Unabomber hoodies and shiny camera-phones, grinning grandmothers with lawnchairs and homemade signs - just the kind of homemade paparazzi that could help fill the ninety second void that would go between the anchor intro and outro I'd already written. Aaron noticed them too, and five seconds after the PR chick stopped talking, we were engaged in an awkward foot-race as we hauled glass toward the clamoring crowd. Mistaking us for friendlies, they foolishly cheered our approach.

That's when things got blurry. Like a scene from the Matrix, Aaron and I dove into the throng all slow-motion like - separating the chatty from the drifter, pinning tiny microphones to the lucid and the cute, fending off those who thought we wielded authority - instead of zoom lenses and silly questions. Mere minutes later, young Mr. Mesmer and I had worked the crowd of Clooney goons for every angle and entendre that sprang to mind. Even the extras dressed in itchy 1920's garb across the street looked form the craft services tent, stretching their per diem necks to see what was going on over in the cheapseats.

TV news, that's what. Mr. Million Dollar Grin may be whining and dining flight attendants in his trailer somewhere, but I got a slot to fill. If that means televising giddy housewives instead of pampered matinee idol, so be it. I'll still eat at home tonight. Of course, the suits will probably send me back here tomorrow, so if you could just pass Mr. Clooney my card, I really would appreciate it. If you need me, I'll be over in the park, trying to get an interview with that guy berating the big oak tree. Hey, I know my place on the food chain...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bliss at 20 MPH

Bicycle BlissApril's in full swing, so you know what that means ... New Years Resolution time! One that I've finally managed to check off my list is the resurrection of my once beloved mountain bike. Was a time I rode my Trek every day - but with a job, kids and a delusional website, I've let the damn thing gather cobwebs in the garage for far too long. No more. After dropping some change on a major tune-up, I've crawled back aboard and rediscovered the bliss of zipping along under my own power. So far, I've stuck to the paved greenways that I used to dismiss as mere stroller-fodder, but once I get my legs and balance back I'm gonna rip into the root-infested twisty river-bank single-track I used to haunt on a daily basis. Until then, I'll be dodging toddlers and housewives in designer sweatsuits - when I'm not fumbling with my camera-phone to document the ride, that is (Hey, it's what I do.) Just don't call me a lightweight! Soon enough I'll be back in true earth-surfing form, pushing myself to the very limit of my middle-aged ability and gathering roadrash with every other outing. Along the way I hope to shed a few pounds, terrorize a few squirrels and above all, soak up the solitude. It's even good for the blog. See, I do some powerful thinkin' in the saddle and the renewed physical exertion often inspires me to sit in front of my computer - provided I don't wrap myself around a tree first. It's happened...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Escape from Chocowinity

By 1995, I was withered and torn from the mindless grind of making news five nights a week. Recalling fondly my formulative months in of production, I took my TV skills down the hall. What followed was a turbulent two year career in Promotions - that internal department vested with projecting, branding and embellishing the affiliate’s image both on-air and off. I regretted the move almost immediately. Quite frankly, cranking out tripe for the man left me hollow and spent. Eventually I staged a daring escape to a larger market, freeing myself forever the shackles of corporate camera servitude. Since then I’ve worked hard to forget that time, but a few memories of action and angst will always stick with me. Like…

Rolling a big red barrel stuffed with postcards over a warped studio floor so a catatonic weatherman could sleepwalk through one more post-forecast grand prize drawing. Huddling just off-screen with stopwatch and praying he wouldn’t mangle the winner’s name again. Cringing every time he did.

Corralling hundreds of high school seniors together in stifling heat as fellow production grunts struggle to keep antique cameras going for one last wide shot. Cajoling college dean through his six words of on-camera dialogue. Suppressing rage when ass-hat GM repeatedly apologizes to crowd for the fact that I was wearing shorts.

Working for weeks on a campaign to promote GM’s latest slapdash scheme. Nodding emphatically as Pinpoint Mobile Weather van concept was explained. Stifling concern as ballyhooed vehicle arrives at station in the form of stripped Ford Aerostar. Learning the power of hype when the silly thing becomes minor sensation.

Scrambling to produce quick-turn promos on station’s ongoing hurricane coverage. Trying to get used to spacious office as heartless boss dictated latest whim over speakerphone. Watching with envy as old news buddies broadcast live from storm-lashed coast. Realizing I’d made a horrible mistake.

Backpedaling over horseshit as jacked-up cub scout troop showers my lens in fresh taunts and frozen tootsie rolls. Trying not to get run over by Santa’s float as the director in my headset screams for a shot. Wiping out hard when hippie grip girl behind me gets distracted and wraps camera’s cord in a passing elf.

Attempting to ignore jiggling Budweiser girls as local basketball star mumbles incoherently into my lens. Sighing with relief as tuxedo-clad anchor breaks in to mention tote board for the twenty-seventh time that hour. Shifting from foot to foot in hopes of ending fiery lumbar pain. Swearing off telethons forever.

Collapsing in cushy office chair after an extended seafood buffet lunch, happy that boss and chief lackey were out of town. Pushing aside paperwork and gathering shoot tapes. Retreating to soothing confines of dimly-lit edit bay for soul-cleansing edit session. Receiving phone call from receptionist that the platoon of girl scouts I’d forgotten about scheduling had just arrived for their station tour.

Staring at GM’s massive aquarium as he droned on and on about all I didn’t know from the jaunty perch of his in-office dentists chair. Fixating on bosses beloved fish as fellow department heads chuckle and nod at station head‘s smug soliloquy. Digging my nails into my palm as floating menace stared back. Seriously contemplating Piranha-cide.

Okay, so I never did kill that damn fish. Instead I slunk away to the comparative sanctum of midnight murder scenes, county commissioner temper tantrums and flipped-over semi's on the interstate. That’s been ten years ago this September and while my return to news hasn’t been total bliss, it sure has provided better fodder than the tortured sacraments of a junior executive. May I never sell out again.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kisses and Curses

Danger AheadSpend enough time behind the wheel of a marked news unit and you’ll elicit every type of reaction possible - from the adoring gaze to the pantomimed death threat. I’m not sure which one skeeves me out the most. On second thought, I do. When the driver next to me is thrusting their middle finger upward and mouthing obscenities at 70 miles per hour, I get it: they hate me - or at least what they think my logo represents. Sure I could try to explain how that dreaded ‘F word’ on my hood has little to do with the perceived evil cabal they’ve deleted from their cable line-up, how I’m more likely to profile Easter bunnies than demonize the far left, how I’m probably the most apolitical member of the Fourth Estate they’ll ever meet - but what good would that do? I may as well try to convince a Guilford College student that regular hygiene will still be in style l-o-n-g after the angry shepherd look falls out of fashion. Yep - seething hatred I can handle with great aplomb - though I once did almost cause a VW bug full of hippies to run off of the interstate by returning their vitriolic shrieks with gooey kissy faces.

Wide-eyed adulation however, throws me for a loop. Hey, it’s perfectly normal for a passing motorist to gun the engine to see if the news car up ahead contains that guy with the hair they see in their living rooms every night. But nine times out of ten, all they see is some bearded nobody polishing off the last of his dollar menu cheeseburger while staring holes through his windshield. A look of disappointment I understand; fevered waving and ecstatic shout-outs make me slowly reach for the power-locks. I remember once when I pulled into a corner gas station in a very small town. Lost in thought as always, I proceeded to fill up the tank when that unmistakable sensation of being watched caused me to look over my shoulder. There, standing in a semi-circle around me, was a collection of good ole country folk with wide eyes and scarier grins. Seems they’d never seen an honest to God news car before - let alone some scruffy dude in a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt. By the time my tank was full, I’d signed autographs, kissed a few babies and fondled the 9-1-1 pre-set button on my cell phone. Watching my new best friends grow smaller in my rearview mirror, I made a mental note not to stop there the next time I was blowing through town with an anchor riding shotgun.

Yeah, I’d much rather someone just flip me off…

With Great Dread

While I craft winking features on marathon basketball games, Ken Corn covers the kind of story that keeps you up at night...

You never know what to expect when you're a photographer working the night shift on a Saturday night in a city as large as Charlotte. I've pointed my lens at riots erupting in uptown after a New Year's Eve countdown. I've witnessed the aftermath of a shoot out between two rival gangs at a neighborhood block party. I've seen more twisted metal and broken glass piled high in city streets than your average tow truck driver. Yeah, you just never know what kind of images you will record when covering the news on a Saturday night.

Reporter Frances Kuo and I had just wrapped up an eleven o'clock live shot at a DWI checkpoint when my cell phone started ringing. Our work shift usually ends after the eleven o'clock show. But more often than not, we have to visit another crime scene or two before we can turn in the live truck keys for the night. Knowing the ringing box on my hip probably meant there was a scene somewhere waiting for us, I hesitated to unclip it from my belt.

I did not expect the words that flowed out of the electronic speaker pressed to my ear.

"We have a cop shot, up off of Milton Rd."

News photographer auto pilot kicked in when my brain registered the magnitude of the sentence I just heard. I handed the phone over to Frances so she could write down the details while I looked for the next exit off of the beltline. I could feel adrenalin seeping into my blood stream making my foot heavy on the gas petal. My mind started running scenarios of what we should do when we arrived on scene. We needed to find witnesses to interview. I needed to capture officers and other emergency workers rushing to the scene with my lens. Frances needed to find the public information officer to confirm the information our assignment editor had heard over the scanner. We needed to be on the scene right now instead of twenty minutes away.

Continue reading With Great Dread...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Navel Gazing Ahead...

Viewfinder BLUES Home OfficeIf readers of this blog get the notion I’m one melancholy bastard, they should consider themselves perceptive. Plagued with self-doubt, stricken with introspection, addicted to apathy - I’m guilty of ‘em all. It started in my childhood. Devoid of athleticism and ripe with reticence, I plodded through my youth with the growing knowledge that failure just might be my strong suit. Sure, I could always make the girls laugh, but rarely - if ever - could I make them swoon. My teachers were equally vexed - pulling me aside at regular intervals to remind me I still wasn’t living up to my potential. None of this I blame on my parents. They did the best they could with a kid who never could seem to get very psyched about success. When adolescence hit, I giddily embraced my new excuse for being sullen. Cigarettes, truancy, and a mountain of THC followed. Before I knew it, I’d blossomed into a red-eyed hoodlum wannabe - albeit one with a better vocabulary than the rest of the losers fumbling for ecstasy in the back of a Trans-Am. By all accounts, I should have followed my gifts for indifference into a life of factory work, acid-washed denim and petty crime. But Mama taught me better. On a whim I joined the Navy, met the love of my life and conned my way into the local TV station.

So why am I telling you this? Hell, I don’t know. I merely made a pot of coffee, locked myself in my upper lair and threw myself into a trance. That’s what writing feels like to me - during the good times, anyway...that dreamlike sensation of watching my fingertips dictate my interior voice - the voice that has always been there - even back when I was unsure of everything around, about and inside of me. For the most part, those days are gone. I sit before you a working journalist with a nice house, a fantastic wife and two wonderful daughters who confound and enchant me on a daily basis. Were I struck by a bus tomorrow, I’d breath my last gasps knowing that somehow, I’d won the game of life. But it ain’t that simple. While mildly successful at what I do for a living, I - like everyone else on the planet - yearn for so much more. Not material possessions, mind you. I don’t lay awake at night coveting my neighbor’s new speedboat. Nor do I hunger for any degree of renown. I know way too many marginally famous people to ever think happiness comes with being recognized at the Food Court. No, I ache to simply write. To make love with words and perhaps leave something behind that will better explain my thoughts and actions to any descendants. I'm telling ya, life would be a whole lot simpler if all I wanted was a pair of jet-skis.

‘So, write!’ you say. For the past five years or so I’ve done just that - first with turgid short stories, then serial message-boarding and finally this very blog. It has been my salvation. Always one to marvel over simple written words, I knew from the moment I first learned to read that scribbling my thoughts made me happy. I just wish I’d gotten around to it earlier. At a young age, it occurred to me I expressed myself best on paper - but I thought everyone did. As a boy, my Uncle Jennings - a man of words himself - made a big deal over a letter I’d penned. I doubt he remembers it, but I sure as hell do. In the Navy, I earned the nicknamed ’Poet’ - after foolishly drooling over a particularly eloquent paperback passage to my porno-watching shipmates. As a rookie photog, I jumped at the chance to write my own scripts and not just to get away from vapid reporters. When I first moved to the Piedmont, I began haunting the periphery of local writer groups in hopes I’d learn the secrets of journaling. I didn’t. It took 35 years and one mother of a professional slump to force me to sit down and transcribe my more linear thoughts. I’m so very glad I did, though I foolishly assumed it would only get easier. It hasn’t. I still struggle with what in the hell I’m trying to say and lately, I delete more than I share. But don’t worry. I ain’t depressed; I’m just me. If writing truly is in my blood, it only makes sense that I occasionally have to open a vein. Sorry if I got any on ya.