Monday, August 20, 2007

Confessions of a Failed Reporter

Serge Brockman ReportingLens Puppet, Meat Stick, Talking Hairdo … I have lots of fun disparaging reporters. That’s because the very worst of their lot are three-dimensional buffoons; on-screen charlatans whose antics eclipse the finer efforts of their more qualified cousins. Over the years I’ve worked with ‘em all: the pampered mama’s boy, the glowering feminist, the genetically deficient. Though it made for awfully long shifts, those future flunkies have given me so much to think on and write about - far more so than whatever lessons I learned from the Truly Great Ones. While I could fill post after post with tales of these master storytellers and all they’ve taught me, it’s frankly more fun to highlight Those Who Sucked. And I feel slightly entitled to do so too, for once upon a time, I too was a lousy reporter.

Okay, so technically I was a one-man-band - one of those small-market schlubs who ran around in a sport jacket and blue jeans, the kind who kept a collection of wrinkled neckties right next to his oversized bag-phone and rusted-shut light kit. At the time, I thought I’d be one forever. Why wouldn’t I? Inspired by the great Andy Cordan but nowhere near as talented, I followed his footsteps into the world of crime and grime reporting and loved every shoulder-mounted minute of it. Trouble was, I usually stunk up the joint. Sure I could run, gun, shoot, write and edit with the best of them back then but the poor viewer rarely ever noticed. They were too busy watching me hiccup my way through awkward live shots. When I wasn’t delivering my nightly clichés in a booming ‘anchor’s voice’, I was fumbling words or sweating profusely. Other times I was merely squinting like a Prisoner of War, or just making a goofy-as face that detracted from whatever scandal I was relating. I’d invite you to ask the good people of Eastern North Carolina but I’m pretty sure no one there remembers me. At times, I wish I could forget.

But, alas, I can’t. See, the nearly four years I spent on-air taught me a lot. It taught me there was more to communicating on-screen than having your facts straight. It taught me the value of being versatile, the consequences of being cocksure, the pitfalls of being unprepared. I was always pretty adept at pointing the camera correctly, words rarely failed me and I truly loved to edit videotape - but the on-air shtick - the one part of the reportorial repertoire that Sally Joe Housecoat remember after the credits roll, - that I sucked at so distinctly. That’s why walking away from it all to crank out promo tripe was so easy. And while I deeply regret ever pretending to abide the wishes of one Michael D. Weeks, my time away from news did give me time to think. For it was there I realized how ill-equipped I was, how my penchant for ten dollar words, southern-fried stammer and brazen hatred for daily shaving made me the perfect person to eschew the spotlight.

It’s something I dwelled on long and hard upon plotting my return to news. Though I had no desire to be the classic photog (still don’t), I damn sure didn’t want to taste the acrid backwash of a butchered live shot. That’s a special blend of live(!) humiliation I wouldn’t wish on many people. To this day, whenever I see a reporter choke on-camera my heart aches for their real-time suffering. I tell ‘em too, just as soon as I catch my breath from laughing so hard. Most times, though, I’m alone. I prefer it that way - not because I hold reporters in especially low regard but because I feel I do my best work unaccompanied. In the world of local affiliates, that makes me a certified weirdo and occasionally the passing reporter will take my tic as a personal affront. It ain't. I simply do not play well with others - never have. So when you hear me pile-on a certain type of reporter, know that I mean it. But know too that there are just as many on-air correspondents who do hold my respect, for more than most photogs out there - I truly understand how much work it can take to appear so damn relaxed on the evening news.

That said, I still reserve the right to heap endless derision on whatever human microphone stand I deem unfit. I feel as though I've earned it.


Anonymous said...

You didn't give yourself enought time... two more years and you would have smoothed it out! I was never a one-man-band but I had my fair share of slaughtering live shots, babbling, um, sweating, deer in the headlights... yes it's all part of getting your reps in. I guess I wasn't the only one.

IamMe said...

Same thing runs on the radio side of broadcasting. I started out in radio, loved radio (still do and still have dreams of all kinds of radio stations that I will never own or run) but within a few years realized that my "pipes" weren't Don LaFontaine (not even close!) or Larry LuJack or Don Imus or even Casey Kasem for that matter (one of the worst radio voices ever but maybe the most recognized). So it was either sales or engineering if broadcasting was to be my mode of legal cash. I can smooze as good as the next Herb Tarlick, but I HATE sales so engineering it was.

Sometimes you just HAVE to play to your strengths, whether you want to or not.