It takes a certain personality type to stick with this career, a rugged individual undeterred by indifferent officials, tragic accidents or - URP! - Happy Meals. Me, I've been doing it for damn near two decades. In that time I've noticed a pattern of behavior in the best of the vets. Cynicism. Giddiness. An affinity for distance. That's not so say we're ALL embittered drifters. Some of us is quite social! Why even in my tight circle of lifers, I know guys (and the occasional gal) who don't need logos to hypnotize the masses, Honest to God showmen who wandered behind the scenes and found they dug the view. That's not to say on-air talent doesn't have its place. Hey, some of my best friends are reporters! But if I'm going to be stranded on a desert isle or stuck in an elevator, I want not scribes in my tribe but seasoned shooters. At least those Prima Donnas know how to use a Leatherman!
But, alas, the breed is evolving and it's gonna take a lot more than a fancy pocketknife to alter our DNA. These days, it's not enough to haul gear and ass in heavily decorated chariots. It's not enough to wrangle lamplight, bend time-lines or drive like a fireman. It's not even enough to field-strip your lens on the edge of a hurricane. No, to get ahead in today's shooter circles, you have to bring story germs to the morning editorial, connect soundbites with actual sentences and quiz new widows all by your lonesome. Yes, it can be done. But the transformation from artistic roadie to utility player is forcing some press conference vets to seek a higher podium. It's not uncommon to watch a fresh eyed youngster give news shooting a go, only to run away screaming. But now I'm seeing folks whom I figured would die with a station logo on their tit leave the fold for jobs that don't involve live trucks or nightly deadlines. That's a drag...
But there is hope. For every grizzled shooter that's hightailing it to another industry, there are easily a dozen more that are quietly holding on. But with shrinking budgets, diminishing gizmos and inflated expectations, The Job just isn't as fun as it used to be. That's not to say there isn't good television being made out there. But more often than not the photog's role is being marginalized - or simply stretched beyond recognition. Some folks call it progress - but they ain't got tripods in their trunk. Those that do pretty much thought they'd seen - and shot - it all. But few of us expected the upheaval that is now upon us, not when we were all sitting fat dumb and happy back in - GULP! - the good ole Nineties. Who knew? Not the photogs - we were all too busy making slot - knowing that, like Janet Jackson, the newsroom suits only want to know what we've done for them lately. So if there's a news shooter in your life, buy 'em a drink, won't ya? Chances are their workplaces aren't what they used to be. If they are, that will soon change, for highly skilled artisans were never any match for a ballyhooed new paradigm.
Now if you'll excuse me I gotta teach this intern how to power up the auto-cam. Pretty soon she'll want my keycard.