Sunday, January 25, 2009

Glass of the Past?

How long before a gathering of glass like this look as old-fashioned as a fedora with a press pass stuck in the hatband? Don’t ask me; I’m just a photog. But even a lowly lenslinger like myself knows the media landscape is changing -- and quickly. The reasons are myriad: quantum leap equipment, a faltering economy and that series of tubes known as the internet. Together, they’re about to reconfigure the way we collect and disseminate information. Whether that’s a good thing or bad depends on just what part of the Fourth Estate you call home. Me, I tend to straddle the line between shooter, writer and editor. Occasionally I get ‘em all right, but most often I make up for a lack of acumen in one department by upping the ante in another. That of course offends some purists in my field, who believe excellence lies in the separation of TV stevedore and glossy correspondent. Mayhaps, but if you’re a young person itching to get into the biz, you’d better take a long look at the above photo and know it ain’t gonna be like this much longer.

Sure, cameras will always collect at the scene of breaking news, but the full-bodied heavy glass rigs of today are soon to be replaced by visual recording devices the size of baked potatoes, operated by folks who have more in common with ordinary fry cooks than highly specialized technicians. Does this make me happy? Not really; I’ve spent nearly twenty years whittling away at my craft only to see its very value plummet. Was a time a TV news photographer could draw oohs and ahhs simply by shouldering his brightly logo’d axe. No more … not when teenagers slice and dice video on family laptops, not when cell phones and music players record sight and sound on the side, not when the very idea of waiting for a newscast strikes my daughter as laughable as Daddy’s 80’s era mullet (Wait ‘til she sees my collection of Members Only jackets).

Anyway, what’s my point? I don’t know that I have one, but one thing IS for certain. The future is nearly upon us, for those of us who still have a future in this silly business. Think the move from film cameras to videotape caused a rift in the TV station time-space continuum? You ain’t seen nuthin yet! Large market reporters schlepping their own gear, photogs doubling as talent, producers learning to edit, CATS AND DOGS LIVING TOGETHER! If you think I’m full of shit, you better wake up and smell the dung heap - or better yet, go ask your old ex-coworker … you know the one who’d gladly learn a new skill if only to get back in the game. Don’t get me wrong: if you’re certain you’re safe doing only what you do, more power to you. But of you’re like a lot of us, you’re not quite as cocky as you once were, for the thinning of the herd is upon us. Will this blazing new paradigm result in some uglee Tee-Vee ? You betcha!

But maybe, just maybe this inevitable schism will lead to a better place, where station strewn across the land don’t so closely resemble each other. I mean, have you seen a newscast outside your immediate area lately? Dispatches from the Great Northwest shouldn’t look just like Southeastern broadcasts, but they do. Much like the homogenization of local radio, television news has grown fat, dumb and way too happy with itself. Once upon a time neighborhood newscasts were as unique as the areas they so claimed to love and cover. These days, it’s all so much cookie-cutter, shallow pap. Ever wonder why snooty newspaper people look down on their broadcast brethren? It ain’t ALL jealousy.

Much of it has to do with the dumbing-down of the form, the consultant-driven delirium, the profit-driven cannibalization of a once potent platform. But hey, who gives a hoot what a bunch of ink-stained wretches think? Their medium is dying! Here’s a clue: So is yours. There’s still time to revive it, of course but vital signs won’t be regained by the status-quo. Rather, it’s going to take a revolutionary procedure to revive this beast; if you want to be a part of the cure, you better scrub up and be prepared to leave that caveman medicine at the door. Me, I’ll be working on my bedside manner.

(Dip of the lens to beFrank, whose (above) picture got my noggin throbbin’.}

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