Few are the photogs who make a lengthy career of TV news. Many more give it a temporary go, until the dizzying hit of a live newscast feels like a soft hammer to the forehead. That’s when they bail - to bartender jobs, law schools, and the occasional ice cream truck gig. I sometimes think they’re the lucky ones. For those of us who never leave the scrum are destined to schlep down a familiar path. Come along, as we high-step through the lifespan of a typical news shooter (me, of course). Hey, you don’t mind carrying my tripod, do ya?
By the dawn of the 90’s, I was a smart-ass studio tech, usually found somewhere runnin’ my mouth - when I wasn’t runnin’ camera for the morning and noon news. Come 12:30, I’d drift through the news department and see what the dork squad was doing. I learned to love their overwrought vibe - their insistent persistence that what Chet McHandsome rattled off the teleprompter every night really mattered. They were like a cult, I thought - but then I was baptized by SWAT Team fire and I became the newsroom’s most fervent apostle. Armed with a fifteen year old lens and a cell phone the size of a lava lamp, I roved the territory with religious zeal, bearing electronic witness to the tragic and the trite - when not studying the crumpled text of police scanner 10-codes. It all seemed so important. House fires, bake sales, drive-bys and groundbreakings… I covered them all with the passion of a true believer…
But a tragic thing happened on the way to salvation. Fate set me adrift in a sea of endless deadlines and clichéd headlines. At first I didn’t mind repeating myself, convincing anyone unlucky enough to be trapped in a news unit with me that I was honing some sacred craft. It was during that time I discovered many truths: how TV cameras make lousy flotation devices, what not to say to the Secret Service, the seven different ways to shoot a ribbon-cutting. Years passed, but the feeling I’d covered this stand-off/pancake dinner/burning church bus before remained. So I snapped. Running off to the land of branding, I forsook my journalistic calling for a stint as promo dreck evangelist. It was hell. Microphone cable tucked between my legs, I made a pilgrimage to a Piedmont affiliate and presented myself as a prodigal son. They took me back allright, but banished me to the badlands. Soon I was crustier than thou, a wild-eyed disciple of the Temple of Bitch. How far I’d fallen…
That ain’t me yet, but I’m on my way. Having finally come to terms with my newsgathering affliction, I take life on the street one assignment at a time. No longer the brash upstart with the porno mullet and low-slung battery belt, neither am I a member of the Eternally Cynical. Okay, I still get the newsletters, but I haven’t attended a meeting in months. Those dudes just bring me down, their ceaseless ire and predictable whine grow old even quicker than I do. But it’s not entirely their fault. After all, it’s hard to age gracefully when you’ve got a noticeable groove on your right shoulder, when you’re still paid to chase bent sheet-metal, when you’ve yet to stop dressing like a third grader on a field trip. But a few elders do attain a level of enlightenment. Guys like Woody Spencer and Timmy Hawks, who teach rookies deep secrets by simply making small talk and who inspire neophytes with their knowing nod and incongruent grins. It is this high priest status I now seek for myself. I’ve got my time in behind the lens, gathered my heavily logo’d frocks and pounded out a tutorial or two. All I need is a sourpuss exorcism and the elders just may let me a lead a service or two.
Either that, or I’ll become a writer.