Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In Other News...

We now interrupt your train of thought with the following blurbs:

I now wish to become a professional bass fisherman. That epiphany washed over me today as Eric White and I wandered through a gleaming fleet of tricked-out boats, matching pick-ups and logo'd jumpsuits. Sure, I haven't so much as drowned even a plastic worm in more than a decade - but after hangin' with the laid back lureslingers of the Bassmasters American, I'm ready to tap my inner Ahab. Wonder if those ESPN-Outdoors dudes need an extra cameraman - one who really just wants to drive the boat?

E LizzleDid my former partner and death truck survivor Erik Liljegren recently resign from Fox News Channel? That's how the rumourmongers have it. According to them, the Jersey native traded his correspondent's gig for a chance to open his own video-sharing service. That's big news - as Lilly's news chops are bested only by his savvy business acumen. Already, an army of old coworkers are fantasizing about going to work for him. That includes me, of course, though I'd rather schedule a sit-down with his sister. The one who works in publishing.

DSCF0420"You really should read the local Greensboro blogs - they can tell you alot about what's goin' on..." I nearly bit my tongue in two when I heard an anonymous manager drop this bon mot in the newsroom today. Why? It's pretty much verbatim what I been saying for, oh, TWO FREAKIN' YEARS! Upon swallowing my bile, I fought the urge to jump on my desk and pinpoint the issue with a warbling shriek and spastic hand motions. Instead I hunkered down and marveled how it is possible to chuckle through gritted teeth.

Next time: Something with a theme...

Breakfast with Bob


Before I fully realized Weaver had deployed to Lynchburg, he was back - stubbled, exhausted and muttering something about there being no wi-fi at the Fallwell scrum. So we took his pager, restricted his Nascar intake and sent him home. Being Weaver, he noodled on-line before he collapsed, uploading a wealth of photos from his overnight jaunt. There are some ringers indeed, but my favorite is this frame of Bob Buckley enjoying a little fast food between satellite shots. Reminds me of another spot news entree...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Arc of a Lifer

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?

NEWBIE

DSCF0330By 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

BURNOUT

Inside Mobile OfficeBut a tragic thing happened on the way to salvation. Fate set me adrift in a sea of endless deadlines and clich├ęd 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

SAGE

Lenslinger broodingThat 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.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Remembering Joe Loy

Most assignment editors don't enjoy a stellar reputation among us photogs. Why would they? In charge of how we spend our days, they regularly thrust us into the void without so much as a second thought. Why, even the best deskies are forced to endure a relationship with their shooters that is, at best, highly adversarial. Not so with the late Joe Loy. A grandfather, husband and longtime employee of South Carolina's WHNS, Loy sounds like one of those rare newsroom treasures - a guy who could and would do it all, with a name and face his station's most loyal viewers will never even hear of. Until now, that is.

Joe Loy died Monday. Sent to the scene of an interstate accident, this versatile assignment editor parked his news unit on the side of the road and did what many who frequent this site have done hundreds, if not thousands of times. He went to work. Or at least he tried; no sooner had he exited his station car when a red Ford pickup truck reportedly weaving in and out of traffic struck and killed him. Unbelievably, the red pickup never stopped. All of which makes the loss of this kind man all the more incomprehensible to his friends, family and colleagues. I personally had never heard of Joe before his death, but it's obvious to anyone reading about his life, that he deserved a much kinder fate. Rest in Peace.

(If you have any information about the death of Joe Loy, call the South Carolina Highway Patrol in either Greenville at 864-241-1000 or Spartanburg at 864-585-6629.)

The One Word

Yellow Tape ShuffleI was just about to bolt from the newsroom for the day when a shadow fell over my cubicle. ‘Hey, on your way home put some eyes on this and call me,’ he said. I didn’t look up. Instead I scoured the Google map the shadow thrust upon for me for any discernable landmarks. Finding a few, I rose from my desk looked at the clock and did the math. 5:10 PM. Not due on my daughter’s soccer field for another ninety-five minutes, I’d have plenty of time to swing by the location before picking up the two dozen juice boxes I’d need to fulfill my duties as ‘Snack Dad’. Besides, I thought as I scanned the address I was suddenly late for, ‘this has to be nothing’.

I was wrong. No less than four police cars blocked the street listed on the crumpled paper now resting in Unit Four’s floorboard. As I drove by, the familiar glint of billowing crime tape told me a prompt u-turn was in order. Two minutes later, I strolled across a busy thoroughfare, my dangling lens and shouldered tripod causing passing commuters to tap their brakes and crane their necks in the direction I was walking. I barely noticed. I was too busy reading the scene before me, comparing its shapes and patterns to the many spot news templates in my head. A clutch of cops gossiping under a tree. Check. Yellow tape strung from street post to mailbox. Check. An ambulance idling with no sign of its driver. Check. Badly-dressed detectives pointing to a ditch-bank. Chiggety-Check. I didn’t need buzzards circling overhead to understand what had happened: someone, had found a body.

The cops looked up in unison as I approached. But when they recognized my silhouette as that of just another news shooter, they resumed their tough-guy banter. Across the street however, another group of people waved me over eager grins. A woman in housecoat, two older men in ballcaps and beard stubble, a boy no more than five years old, clutching a coloring book and crayon box. All stood together on the corner as I joined them, the adults all pointing to a spot in the grass. Following the direction their fingertips, I saw what held their attention so. A crumpled white sheet covered a lump in the grass, the sole of one brown boot visible enough to erase all doubt what lay underneath. One of the men chided me for being late. ‘You been here fifteen minutes ago, you’da seen him without the sheet!’ Looking on, I didn’t regret my tardiness. Besides, even with the body completely covered, my producers wouldn’t put it on the air. I shot it anyway.

After that, I really got busy. From my one tripod spot, I recorded different sectors of the scene in ten second blasts. A detectives straightening his clip on tie as he muttered into a tape recorder, a couple of grannies peering down from a nearby porch, a tow truck driver hooking his chains to a mysterious Town Car. Every scene featured a clue of course, but buried there in my viewfinder, I hadn’t the foggiest what they all added up to. It didn’t matter. All I had to harvest the images, collect shot after shot that together might unravel the mystery and at worst at least prove that I’d been there. That’s when my cell phone began buzzing. First, The Shadow called to tell me he was sending back-up, reinforcements in the way of a night-side crew and their ubiquitous live truck. Next the six o clock producer rang me up, quizzed me for details and asked that I edit something for his newscast that would begin in a scant twenty minutes. Then, a fellow photog called to ask where he should park the live truck when he arrived. As the crisis congealed into commodity, visions of juice-boxes danced in my head.

A few minutes later, it got crowded. A news crew from another station showed up, flipped me a good natured bird and began replicating my steps. There was no sign of my own live truck yet, but colleagues started to materialize on the edges of this small disaster. Behind me, a reporter and a photog who share my logo ambled up with the resigned air of veteran third-responders. Across the way, another El Ocho photog sauntered through the crowd, looking very much like a young Fidel Castro. That vision threw me for a moment, but I shook it off long enough to convince a lady in hair-rollers to tell my camera what she did (or didn’t) see. Fishing my microphone out of a pocket, I stopped long enough to get a shot of the sheeted body, now strapped into a gurney, being placed into the back of a coroner’s van. ‘The canvas is drying’, I thought as I looked around for signs of my live truck. I was just about to call and tell them to step on it, when a uniformed cop mad eye contact with me and mouthed the one and only word that could make me, my colleagues, my cameras and my competitors instantly disappear...

"Suicide."