Never exactly a model student, it's no surprise I ended up slingin' lenses for a living. After all, you only need three things to be a tee-vee stevedore: a keen eye, a firm grip and a glaring lack of career options. I possessed each and every one of those traits when I staggered into WNCT-TV in the fall of '89; maybe that's why Lori Scott looked past my dearth of real world experience and signed me up for an exciting career in broadcasting. Chances are she was just looking for a warm body to show up at four in the morning and dry-hump a studio camera. Either way, I was more than happy to be that schlub. Before better judgment could take hold, I told my car selling boss where he could shove his beamer and committed myself to the study of street-level camera management. It was such a rush. The magical gadgets, the access, those plastic jackets with the logo on it...I. Was. Hooked. Never before had I found a field of interest I couldn't royally eff up and while I blaze new paths in mediocrity at first, no one ever demanded I cough up my keys to the camera closet.
Good thing. I had no place to go.
Fast forward twenty years. Still in servitude to a licensed broadcast affiliate, I fill time for a daily wage. Two minutes. That's the average chunk of newscast I'm responsible for - five days of week. If I possessed the math skills of a community college student, I'd figure out how much that's added up to over the years. Then again, if I had a better grasp of mathematics I'd have no business driving around with tools in my trunk. As it is, I'm well suited for this distillation of misery, this processing of gossip, this truncating of tripe. Sure, there's something about afflicting the comfortable in there, but mostly I skim the list of morning story ideas for something visual. Normally I find it and without so much as scintilla of an agenda, I bag it, tag it and serve it up somewhere between the furrowed brows of tonight's tragedy and the frothy anchor crosstalk. For an undereducated yet fairly erudite slacker with a lot of pent up energy and the attention span of a junkie, it's an ideal way to while away a lifetime.
But it's a young man's game.
And while I'm not exactly a senior citizen, I'm well past the age when most photog-types seek more fulfilling employ. Yes, I've lost a ton of buddies to corporate video, fledgling freelance or pursuits more noble than news, like, say... strip club management. When each of them went, I died a little inside - not just over the loss of a friend, but because every departure reminded me of the deal I signed with the devil in the closing days of the '80's... 'Teach me how to make Tee-Vee and I'll do it 'til I'm bloated and floating down the river Styx.' I know, I know" I should have held out for some chance of advancement, but when you're rockin' an acid-washed jean jacket and a mild buzz, long range planning doesn't figure into the equation. A rush does, though. Knowing I'd have a backstage pass to life molded to my shoulder and keys to news cars of varying vintage, I plunged headfirst into a pretty shallow line of work. Do I regret it? On occasion. I have a right elbow that throbs 'round the clock and the respect of my superiors - as long I bring em something fresh every twenty four hours...
Oh - and I got stories.
Tons of 'em - even more than I've shared over five years of blogging. Every news shooter does. That's what keeps us coming back. It damn sure ain't the pay. No, what the hooks the average photog is unfettered access to tripe, tragedy and triumph. We're not ghouls, mind you. We just get used to being ushered in past the crowd, be they screaming teens at a boy-band concert or addled crackheads at a prostitution sting. Live that life long enough, an eternal outsider with an inside hook-up and the very idea of videotaping widgets or capturing commencements for a living turns your blood to sludge. Not that there's any shame in the private sector. No if reasonable workloads and every holiday off is your idea of a vacation, there's a rhubarb processing plant in dire need of video guru. Just don't call me. I'll be busy out in the field, chasing fresh felons, dozing off at groundbreakings, or holding court at some sat truck encampment as twenty-something news shooters roll their eyes at the ramblings of the badly aging gas-bag. I can live with that.