Friday, December 31, 2010

Schmuck Alert: OH N-O-O-O!!!

Schmuck Alerts were once reserved for crimes against the video community, but as technology grows so too must the wisdom and vigilance of the Lenslinger Institute. Thus, I submit the first ever Schmuck Alert issued solely for still photographer abuse...

Macon SchmuckWoody Marshall was doing what you might expect a newspaper photographer to do at the scene of a press conference: taking pictures. That was until a lumbering oaf took issue with his technique and tried to wrestle the camera from his hands. Or maybe 28 year old Malik Brown had another reason for rolling through the lobby of Macon, Georgia's City Hall like some evil Mr. Kool-Aid bent on ripple and vengeance. OH Y-E-A-H? Oh shit. The evidence is on the tape. It begins with Malik Brown pinning the smaller Mr. Marshall against a wall, then attempting some kind of do-si-do maneuver before exiting the building with all the grace of a buffalo in his death throes. Once outside, Mr. brown grapples with another snapper, pushing and pulling the man while imploring him to relax. "Better calm down, better calm down..." the concerned citizen is heard advising. Hey, I got an idea. Keep your beefy meat-hooks off me and my pulse will slow. Until then, I'm gonna do everything to distract you until some bailiff decides to man up and hit you with his Taser. Or tranquilizer dart. Schmuck!

2010: The Best of Viewfinder BLUES

Sure, Twenty-Ten is all but finished - that doesn't mean I can't milk it for (at least) one more blog entry. Pathetic, I know, but we all have our little tics. Some folks wipe down each doorknob they touch; I drape the day in platitudes. If that sounds obsessive, it really isn't. Most nights, I forget what I've written before I ever hit the pillow. Still, there were a handful that didn't make me cringe too bad the following morning:

The Unforgiving Scrum 2When it comes to still cameras, I'm little more than a tourist, but on a totally frozen February One, I snapped a frame I'm still quite proud of. The scrum was thick that day, my friend and I was determined to bring back something for the blog. When one mother of a mosh pit formed around scissors and a ribbon, I saw my chance and risked missing the snip for a shot of The Perfect Swarm. The rest, I believe, was history.

Gerald K. Hege, Esquire 2For a brief shining moment this year, it looked as if former Sheriff Gerald K. Hege might actually pull off his comeback. It was not to be. But when the fallen lawman swaggered before the cameras looking fabulous enough to both win back his jurisdiction AND drop-kick Steven Segal, well - the fashion critic in me swooned. Black jeans, a matching Henley, a high-waisted motorcycle jacket... this gas-bag has panache! In an instant, I knew how to cover the controversial constable, not for his hillbilly-ninja history, but for his Back in Black apparel and para-military flair! I'm just glad he didn't win his constituency back. Johnny Cash fashion aide, dude's a loon...

Weed SafariJust when I thought I'd mined my past for every possible parable, an old mentor appeared out of nowhere and dropped a time capsule at my feet. Woody Spencer has always been an American Bad-Ass. Through his tutelage, I sharpened my street level news gathering skills early, long before I assumed the position of curmudgeon in the making. In Scenes From A Pot-Pull, I actually got to see a younger me in action - and thanks to my lack of balance , I can honestly tell you, it was a trip.

The Late Great Roy HardeeWe all have individuals in our past who left us better than before. In my case it was Roy Hardee, legendary News Director of WNCT-TV. Gruff yet lovable, this pioneering newsman took me under his considerable wing and infected me with his wisdom. I've been chasing current events ever since, though it took me years to process all that Roy taught me about guts, hustle and chopper struts. When he succumbed to illness early in the year, I felt compelled to Remember Roy Hardee. When his son Lee asked me to share my impressions at Roy's memorial service, I was honored. To be honest, I still am.

Deep Freeze MeIt was damn near the hottest day of the year when I came up with a little counter-programming. 'Hey, I know - let's go find the coldest job out there! How about those cats who pack boxes at the ice cream factory?" The Bosses bit and before I knew it, I was headed over the dairy with visions of wide shots in my mind. Too bad I didn't have a parka in the trunk. At Twenty below Zero, I could have used it. But then again, I wouldn't have come up with Frosty the Moron had I properly prepared for combat that day. Three weeks later, my spleen finally thawed.

Presser Stupidity 3Ever had life jump up and slap you silly? It happened to me in August, when, while wondering what I might blog about next, I noticed the answer forming before me. Some companies have a dastardly habit of blocking the sun. No sooner have the dogs and ponies been unpacked, than they usher everyone underneath one of these rented Tents of Resentment, where a little show and tell with what looks like gangsters on the run plays out far from the glare of that oh so shiny sun. Meh - it may make for comfy CEOs, but it results in lousy television. Made for a good post, though.

Small but heartySpeaking of dark spots, things looked pretty bleak back in May, when the El Ocho elders ripped the Fancycam from my grip. In its place they gave me a slimmed-down Panasonic that shot glorious Hi-Def, yet felt like an empty shoebox on my shoulder. If that weren't enough, they also upgraded our edit suites with the tough but clunky Final Cut Pro. What followed were a few painful weeks in an old dog learned to make TV by turning a few new tricks. Wracked with uncertainty, I eked out a thesis Questioning my Weaponry. Since then, I've grown to love Final Cut, but the FetusCam still feels like something ripped from the womb too soon.

I didn't do it.Luckily, I was still rockin' a full sized rig when tornadoes turned High Point into one Twisted Vista. Good thing too, as I needed every inch of glass to capture the madness of Guilford County's newly dented motor fleet. 148 mile an hour winds will stir-fry even the nicest of neighborhoods, which was certainly the case when an EF3 tornado skipped over the trailer parks and took a not so righteous dump on the suburbs. Moments after this picture was taken, I flew counterclockwise loops around the planet until everything wrecked was once again upright and whole. I don't like to brag, though...

Bill Cosby Death StareHey, ever had America's favorite Dad dismiss your on-camera query as 'fundamental'? None other but The Cos himself did that very thing to me back in the Summer and I still wanted to high-five him for it. What can I say? The man had a point and obviously I didn't. Chances are I was still chuckling over his presentation. He'd just told a room full of Bennett College belles not to act like a bunch of hoochies and, being a dad of daughters myself, I was kinda taking notes. Who knew when I finally got a chance to bend his ear, he wouldn't really dig my MushMouth impression?

Me and Betty LynnSpeaking of celebrities, you're better off NOT meeting them. All too often, they disappoint, never living up to your delusional ideals. A glaring exception is Betty Lynn, that national treasure better known as Thelma Lou, Barney Fife's faithful date. When I first met her a few years back, I was taken with her gift for gab a good half hour before I realized who she was! So you can imagine my displeasure when I heard some jackhole stole her purse. He's already been caught by the time I caught up with my favorite septuagenarian - so I smeared his ugly mug across the airwaves and stopped for a hug with my favorite gal-pal. Yep, that's Betty and Me...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reality Bytes...

Yellow Tape Babysit
“Ya’ll here talkin’ about that murder?”




G. Lee glanced up from his camera and took in the beefy mailman. He seemed older closer up. A few minutes earlier, the postal carrier had been but a distant silhouette in G.’s viewfinder screen.

“Not really. Cops released a study saying they cleaned up the neighborhood. Called last week’s murder a, uh...”

G. Lee turned to the pretty blond mumbling to herself underneath the street sign.

"Hey, Cammie, what did the chief call that murder?"

"An anomaly," she replied, never looking up from her narrow notepad. "First homicide in a year and a half. Says community policing is to credit."

G. Lee noticed the mailman's eyebrows rising. "What's the real deal?"

"Off camera? This whole street's a shithole. There's not as many prostitutes walkin' around as they're used to be, but the kids from the high school over there come over here and smoke rock in the middle of the street. Suck on them pipes like their Popsicles."

The mailman's voice trailed off as he stared off into the distance. G. Lee couldn't help but stare at his thick neck straining the man's blue uniform collar.

"There's an abandoned house one block over the city needs to bulldoze. Last week I watched eight Mexican girls crawl out from under the porch. Told 'em I was gonna call the law if I saw 'em there again."

G. Lee nodded but said nothing. He could tell from the mailman's clenched jaw that the riffraff really bothered him.

"Well, the Chief says it's nuthin' but butterflies and cupcakes up in here... You know that is."

"Yeah," the mailman said as he readjusted the strap on his shoulder. "Chief needs to walk my route."

G. Lee chuckled and found himself nodding. Three houses down, two grown men huddled on a porch and passed a bottle back and forth. One nudged the other and pointed at Cammie, who seemed oblivious to everything but the Blackberry in her clutches. G. Lee couldn't really blame them. She looked like a Playmate.

"Tell me somethin'," G. Lee said to the mailman. "News crews can go about anywhere and be left alone. What do the gangbangers say when YOU roll up?"

"Ah, they leave me alone, too" said the mailman, s smile creeping across his face for the first time, "but mostly 'cause I got their checks. Plus they know I'll go to that ass..."

With that, the muscled mailman turned to leave, then stopped for one more look at Cammie's short skirt and clingy top. "Speaking of which, you may wanna get her outta here before dark."

G. Lee laughed and told Muscles to be safe. When he turned his lens back on Cammie, she cleared her throat and nodded to no one in particular, before launching into her stand-up.

"Three-two-one... Police say if any one neighborhood's benefited from community policing, it's THIS west-side community, where violence was ONCE commonplace, but is NOW virtually crime free..."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Last Man Standing

Stuck in the TruckHaving long voiced my loathing for logowear and live trucks, it's difficult to explain why I was recently spotted atop a snow overpass, holding forth on driver safety while swaddled in a station parka. In short, The Suits made me do it. Obviously, they've a sharp eye for talent. Obviously, they're embracing a whole new paradigm in solo journalism. Obviously, not another living soul was available. I'm cool with that; nothing like the occasional on-air appearance to put you in your place. As a younger photog I flirted with the spotlight, only to discover that to really succeed on camera you had to be A) totally comfortable in your own skin, or B)  a totally smokin' Hispanic chick! I was neither, so after a few years my career as a reporter ended as dimly as it began. Oh well - no more getting recognized by Holly Housecoat - something that only seemed to occur when I was either hungover or buying condoms.

These days, I enjoy a full life without thrusting my furry mug on the unsuspecting public. No doubt the Piedmont appreciates it. Most days, I do. But I've more than enough ego to want to do it well and while popping up on some frozen roadside once or twice a year isn't gonna help me get better, the bosses didn't have to twist my arm to try. The resulting chunks of television won't win me any Emmy's, but I did manage to climb down from that overpass without ever having said 'booger' on the air. Small victories, my friend. Just don't think I'm some kind of pioneer. At my shop, dirty weather always brings a few photogs to the surface. One by the name of Weatherly has shot his own live shots for years and most recently our own Chris Weaver did it very, very well. It's all part of becoming a dominant hominid, a free ranging species that shoots, writes, edits, hustles and yes, occasionally fronts their own stuff. Will it change the face of television? Naah, probably not. But it will make me more employable than that Barbie down the hall, though no one's going to fire some polished hottie to make room for a suburban father of two with thinning hair and thickening lenses. This IS television folks. Pretty people will continue winning.

Still, it's fun to make an occasional cameo, even if I have to do two jobs at once to make it happen. I just wish I could appear on camera without having to 1) constantly fiddle with a handful of dying Double-AA batteries that threaten to bring the whole show to an ignoble close, 2) don thermal underwear and suffer through a morning of snow blowing up my nose, or 3) keep a third eye on the steady line of homeless men passing by my unlocked live truck. Oh well, enough excuses. I should just feel lucky I didn't have to shovel all the snow off the blacktop as I warned home viewers not to do what I was doing. Come to think of it, I'd better shut up before The suits get any more bright ideas. Now roll that beautiful bean footage...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hunk of the Junket

Team Senator
Sure, fake vampires are all the rage right now, but for my (lack of) money the real celebrity in this photo is the guy behind the glass. Check him out: Drab dress, frozen pose, dead expression... What a bloodsucker. Wait a minute, that's no glammed-out parasite -- that's The Senator, a Louisiana lenslinger with immortality issues of his own. Legend has it he's knocked around Baton Rouge for years - haunting the Legislature, affecting the airwaves, propping up the walking dead. But unlike most ethereal beings, the good Senator doesn't avoid reflections. In fact, he excels at them. Since 2007, he's operated a blog that's won him legions of fans - myself included. I swear, one of these days I'm gonna wing my way down to the Pelican State and tip a few spirits with the many lubricated shooters that populate that not so sacred place. Until then, you'll find me here, avoiding those silly chick flicks and re-reading Queen of the Damned.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas...

Slinger ClausYou there - with the mouse in your hand and glazed look in your eye - THANKS! By simply clicking on this site, you've made a delusional father of two just a little bit happier. Why that is exactly, I can't really say - but knowing there are humans out there who willingly give my drivel a spin warms the cockles of my cold photog heart. Look at it this way: until I get my shit together and turn Viewfinder BLUES into a book (projected completion date: Spring, 2027), you have an exclusive inside look into the mind of a guy the rest of the planet hasn't even heard of. Okay, so that was a lousy sales pitch, but that's wholly appropriate since I'm not trying to sell you anything. Yet. All I'm really trying to say is THANK YOU. Your sporadic patronage almost makes me think there's hope for an undereducated schlub with a writing compulsion. Whether or not this blog ever turns into anything more doesn't entirely matter. I could stop writing right now (honest!) and still have exceeded my literary expectations. Lower your standards and the world's your oyster. Now if you'll excuse me I have a host of other goals to fall short of. This kind of mediocrity doesn't happen by itself, ya know.

Oh - there is one more thing: If you really want to do me a solid (or even if you don't), do yourself a favor and pick up this guy's new book. Brian Clarey's a friend of the blog, his writing is warm and funny and he's a righteous dude to boot. Tell him Lenslinger sent ya. Just don't expect a discount. Fella's gotta eat, dontchaknow... Now go have yourself a Happy Holiday. You deserve it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Least I Can Do...

Clapper in the Snow
Ya know, as I sit here: warm, dry, perhaps a little stir crazy, I can't help but think of all those lenslingers out there less lucky than I. Photogs like El Ocho's own Stephen Clapper - seen here assembling what can only be an earth-shattering report on our seasonal precipitation. No doubt about it, dude's a PRO, a highly-seasoned 'slinger who's not only working Christmas because he'd dedicated to keeping the public informed, but because he couldn't get the holiday off. That's moxie - the very kind that enables old farts like myself to sit home and avoid talking to our families. Sooo, here's to you Clapper (and all the other half-blue news shooters out there): your youthful exuberance and endless energy are just the kind of qualities I'll gladly toast - just as soon as I pour my next tumbler of Maker's Mark.

After all, it's the least I can do.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Points for Style

Desperado
What DOES one wear to a mudslide? I never really know. But that doesn't seem to be the case for Jose Hernandez Jr., a freelance photojournalist for NBC LA. Recently, he was spotted rockin' a bonnet straight from Down Under as he picked his way through a Laguna Beach neighborhood. It's a look that says, "I can document destruction all day long and still look like a complete bad-ass!". Touché, Jose, touché... I only wish I could pull of such a look. Every time I try, I look like Crocodile Dundee on a three-day bender. Perhaps a beret....

(Photo by Toni Guinyard)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We Get Letters...

Dirty News...and by that I mean email, tweets and Facebook messages. The latest comes from friend of the show Guy "Crash" Ayers, who touches upon a fundamental:
"Why do the stations send a reporter & camera crew to remote locations to do a shoot where nothing is happening? I saw one recently, it was 630am, the reporter was talking about some misfortune that had happened to a little kid, from the kid's elementary school. No kids/teachers/anybody around, it's dark and very cold. What numb-skulls send you out to do that? It hardly seems worth the time for a remote on something like that.
"Well, Crash (if that is your real name), you're obviously not a very sophisticated TV News viewer. If you were, you'd know that seemingly meaningless live shot actually added immediacy, heft and intrinsic street cred to your local affiliate's continuous team smotherage. At least that's what those well-dressed strangers told us back in the 80's. Since then, the notion that unrehearsed remotes lend credence to important stories has morphed into the same old song and dance. Stations beefed up their fleet and now they move them around the region like so many overly logo'd chess pieces. "Live for the sake of Live", the field rats say as we unwind the same spool of cable we've unwound a thousand times before. Which leads us to a most unworthy term.

DOG LICK LIVE SHOT: A live shot performed at a place and/or time that is fundamentally irrelevant to the story. Spawned by consultants, done by rote. Named for the old joke "Why does a dog lick himself? Because he can."

Katie Nordeen, freezingThat's right, Crash, you fell upon a 'Dog-Lick Live'. You might want to wash your hands. But while you do, know that those of us under the shadow of the mast are (mostly) at peace with our roadside fate. Sure, we may whine a little when we're ordered to babysit a four day old pothole, but anyone who bitches for more than a minute is wasting everybody's time. You might as well stop by the vending machines and yell at the Moon-Pies for being more than six months old. Lately, I MYSELF have been spotted working the mobile newsroom. Why, just the other evening the tough yet lovely Katie Nordeen and I camped outside the Alamance County Sheriff's Department, miles away from the scene of the crime we'd spent the day digesting. The particulars were grim, the shift was long and the weather so frigid, I wiped away my eyelashes. As for Katie, she held up well - though you know it's cold when the Minnesota girl is shivering. Luckily, we could warm ourselves us with the knowledge we were doing important work.

Just ask the consultants.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Is there a Photog in the house?

Hospital Dan
Could it be? "Satellite Dan" - reconfigured as a top flight surgery nerd? We had the technology. But since I'm prevented by microchip implant from divulging just what operating rooms my old pal might be stickin' a lens in, I'll just say this: Dude's in South Carolina, working for fancy-schmancy hospital and living on a boat. Could I make that up? Okay, yeah, I probably could, but the fact remains that five months after the grizzled vet left El Ocho, he still tops the very short list of ex-employees we actually miss. Ya know, every so often a phone rings in the feed room and a voice very much like Danny tells us all how much he loves us. I'd almost swear it was actually him, but dude sounds so ... content. We pass the phone around nonetheless, but no one's thoroughly convinced the man we knew as a video ninja is now dressed like a smurf and radiating inner peace. Still, this recently leaked photo sure makes it look that way, though until I see an unobstructed head shot, I'm just not prepared to believe Danny made that quantum leap.

Next, you'll expect me to believe there's life after TV News.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So You Want to Be in TV News...



I don't know much about this video, other than the fact that it's brilliant. While the dialogue is most probably fiction, anyone who's dodged the latest Newsroom Barbie or been repeatedly excoriated by some tortured news executive can attest to its veracity. But enough with the SAT words, enjoy the above video and know that you won't even be quizzed later. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to explain to the college senior intern why I don't have a sound guy like he sees in the movies...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pity the Fools...

Ten years ago, a crack unit of camera commandos was sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the local television underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as 'slingers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else shows up, if you can help them find their focus, maybe you can hire... The A/V Team.

ROIGHT!"The Chief" - Reportedly the group's leader, this alleged British expatriate hides behind affability and a pleasing accent. Do not be fooled. He's trained in the art of over-lighting, favors clean head-shots through distant doorways and once choked an intern with his own resumé tape. Not above using nonsensical foreign colloquialisms to impress the lay-dees, he indulges a four dollar a day ice cream habit. Thought to originally be from Iowa.

Jo-Jo in the cup"Joe-Joe" - With his laid-back nature and total recall of Country Music Classics, this Tennessee native draws his victims in by posing as an easy going good ole boy. In fact, he's a video assassin, the group's hopped-up trigger man with legendary edit bay speed, deep knowledge of satellites and barely concealed survivalist leanings. Can kill a man with a single fishing lure or lone tripod screw. Personal friend of Bigfoot.

Weatherly "Puppet Master" - This shadowy figure has been on the agency's radar for decades, as he's been skirting the edges of legitimate news scenes since the Reagan Administration. Known for his mastery of all communication formats, collection of all-terrain vehicles and love of folksy knick-knacks, he's said to hold several on-air personalities under his svengali-like mind grip. A self-trained pilot, he holds a black belt in Shaq-Fu.

Wrenn Dawg"The Siler City Assassin" - Another of the group's rural combatants, this one's especially slippery. Able to frame a spiraling football at a thousand paces, the man sometimes known as 'Wrenn Diddy' is believed to oversee several backwoods sleeper cells. A master of improvised weapons, he can kill a man with a single half-filled spit-cup. Thought to be THE off-air technician responsible for Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.

American Gangsta"Bruisers Two" - Less is known about these two goons than any other members of the camera cabal. At first glance, they're comic relief, but a closer look reveals their collective role as the group's 'muscle'. Dude in Blue never shows his face in public, lest his many victims seek their vengeance. Guy in green once held a packed school bus hostage until a missing 9 volt battery was returned. Approach with extreme caution. And maybe a Pizza Inn coupon.

Frozen Photog"Blowhard" - Perhaps the most despicable member of this unsavory association, this slinger of mud fancies himself a wordsmith. Mostly, he aggrandizes his own sordid history, when not acting as the team's Minister of Disinformation. Not above inflating his own skill-set, this weasel actually believes the lies he writes. Weaknesses include a love of leather jackets and a deep seeded fear of live trucks. Widely considered mentally unsound.

No wonder their plans rarely come together...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

View to a Kill

NBC Cameraman Bob Brown
For all the thought posited upon the tragedy at Jonestown, it's a pity so little has been written about NBC Cameraman Bob Brown. After all, he alone provided irrefutable proof of the madness that first overtook members of the People's Temple in November of 1978. In doing so, he recorded his own death. It was late in the day when Brown and other members of the media covering Congressman Leo Ryan's visit to Guyana tried to fly out of that troubled land. But Jim Jones wouldn't allow it, sending his henchmen to gun down Ryan's group at the Port Kaituma airstrip. Bob Brown's TK-76 was rolling when the gunmen arrived. Witnesses say the 36 year old news vet immediately moved forward, lens up...
"Bob Brown stayed on his feet and kept filming what was happening, even as the attackers advanced on him with their guns. He was incredibly tenacious."
Seconds later, the gunmen cut Bob Brown down, first wounding him from afar before moving in and executing him and others at point blank range. His footage, both of the splintering village itself and the last few seconds of his life, helped a shocked planet grasp the events that led to the mass suicide of 909 Temple members. But who WAS Bob Brown? A cursory search of the internet uncovers few details of the man before the massacre. The most I was able to discover comes from this dated NBC profile of Brown and slain on-air partner Don Harris. It describes Bob Brown as an former local TV reporter turned network photog; a man known for his sense of style and flair for human interest stories.

Bob Brown reportedly expressed concern over the Jonestown trip, but it didn't stop him from showing some Guyanese children the wonders found inside his camera's viewfinder. It's the photo of that encounter that has stuck with me long after I finished 'Raven', Tim Reiterman's exhaustive history of Jim Jones and his doomed followers. The picture shows a man in his prime, bending at the waist to share his everyday view with a child who most certainly has never seen such a thing. That alone makes me want to know more about Bob Brown, a dashing photog from another era who deserves a far better legacy than the flickering images leading up to his violent demise. I'm not sure anyone reading this can help me in this endeavor, but I'll gladly share whatever I learn. Now do me a favor and go hug a cameraman.

Above Photo: NBC Cameraman Bob Brown shows his TV rig to Guyanese children as NBC sound technician Steve Sung looks on. Brown was among the journalists killed by Jonestown members shortly before the mass suicide. (Photo by Ron Javers, San Francisco Chronicle)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Deplete the Fleet!

Blacksburg Sat CityFor some time, management and market forces have conspired to take the crew out of 'news crew'. Now, they've come for our cars. That's right, some local news photogs in the nation's fourteenth largest market will have to drive their OWN vehicles to all those ribbon-cuttings, house fires and county commissioner meetings. The mind boggles. Station-owned news units - those functional, tacky and often odorous automobiles - have been a staple of electronic news-gathering ever since the first affiliate slapped a logo on a driver's side door and tried to pass it of as a 'mobile newsroom'. These days however, every thing you ever knew about local broadcasting is crumbling, er, evolving. Just ask the news shooters at WFLA. Soon they'll be piloting their private rides to exciting news scenes across Greater Tampa - all at a reimbursement rate of 32 cents per mile - well below the federal rate of 51 cents.

Predictably, the depletion of their fleet hasn't set well with the fine photog staff down Florida way (or anyone else with a tripod in their trunk, for that matter). Who might be responsible for insurance liability, what happens when equipment is stolen, and just how long might they have to wait for reimbursement... they're just a few of the unknowns troubling the WFLA photojournalists -- and with good reason! Now, proponents of the plan will point to newspaper photographers, who've been driving their own cars to news scenes since before that soggy lump of fish-wrap you backed over in the driveway this morning lost all relevancy. Have you SEEN a newspaper photog's car? It's not the kind of thing you'd want to cover in rainbow-colored peacocks. Think 'Hoarders: Pimp my Ride Edition'. Or better yet, frequent a few tempests around Tampa in the coming months. Chances are you'll find all kind of half-crippled hoopties slathered in hand-drawn logos and freestyle, rhyming lies. At least if this highly entertaining thread is to be believed...

You know, it's tempting to go with that line of thought, to joke about thirty year old Gremlins stuffed to its ugly gills with high-tech recording equipment worth ten times the P.O.S. it sits in. But, really, there's very little funny about this soon to be standard practice. Company cars have long been an unspoken incentive to this less than lucrative line of work. While (most) managers wouldn't dare encourage a photog to speed en route to a story, they're regularly expected to bend space, time and physical feasibility. It's quite the grind, even behind the wheel of a late-model SUV full of scanners and free gas. Replace that with the beater your pizza delivery guy tools around in and you have one more HUGE reason why this gig ain't what it used to be. Just how station owners will hammer out the details remains to be seen, but one aspect is a foregone conclusion: Other stations will soon follow suit. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of hackery. I just wonder, what's next? Producers bringing in their own TV's to stare at at all day? Assignment editors kicking in for newspaper subscriptions? Anchors doing their own hair?

You're right. That's just crazy talk...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Insanity Be Damned

Elizabeth Smart speaks
(Photo by Matt Gephardt/ KUTV)

No snarky remarks tonight, just a great big dip of the lens to Elizabeth Smart, seen here addressing my ilk outside a Salt Lake City courthouse. After what she's been through, it would be perfectly understandable if Ms. Smart shunned the scrum. Instead, the now 23 year old has exhibited unswerving courage, offering crisp testimony that helped convict the reprobate that enslaved her. That she has remained so poised under the crush of numbing inquiry has (almost) restored my faith in a legal system that too often adds to the maladies of the bankrupt and the vanquished. Elizabeth Smart is neither and her resiliency is to be admired, if not studied. As for her tormentor, he can trumpet his delusions in the penitentiary, where hopefully there's an even bigger victimizer just itching to feast on the bones of one Brian David Mitchell.

Were it up to me, they'd be soot by now.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Paint the Town Brown

2010-12-07_10-23-10_552
Ever wonder what it's like to be a UPS Driver? Me neither, but when the bosses brought it up, I knew enough to feign interest. Next thing I know, I'm strapped into the jump-seat of a speeding cargo van, wondering if all that truancy in high school was completely necessary. Turns out it was, for without that lack of career planning, could I have possibly enjoyed the spoils of so many different gigs? College professors don't get to dress up as delivery men and play 'fly on the dashboard' - and with good reason! Would YOU wanna sit through some labored dissertation on the repetitive ebb and flow of the proletariat? Hell to the No! You'd much rather half focus on a series of flickering pictures as an off-screen voice dribbles out factoids in a rhythmic, soothing cadence. Looks like this IS a job for Lenslinger!

All of which still doesn't explain WHY I'm decked out in resounding brown. Quite simply, they made me. Yes, when the savvy folks at the local UPS hub green-lit our story pitch, they had but one condition for the cameraman: Dude better represent! I chuckled at first, but having already worn everything from a surgical scrubs to an insincere grin just to score a story, I quickly crumpled. When I called in my measurements a day later, it was all I could do NOT to request my shorts be of the Jim Dangle variety. That was probably wise, as the day I chose to ride along didn't see temps rise above the thirties. Luckily for me, I was by then swaddled in the finest non-broadcast logo-wear this side of that Hooter's down by the airport. You know the one...

In retrospect, the undercover duds were a stroke of genius, as it allowed me to blend into the scenery. When my host driver - a prince of a fellow by the name of Christopher Pritchett - stormed the gates of a swanky office building, I fell in behind him and buried my face in the cup. Let the security guard wonder why that UPS dude is rockin' a TV camera, instead of a box of printer ink. Later, I found myself loitering outside as my brand new bestie dashed in and out of businesses. Had I NOT been incognito, a few passers-by might have called the law on that scruffy putz hanging around the UPS truck, As it was, I only caught one lady fondling her cell phone and that thing was so outdated, it had an exhaust pipe! Still, lady had my ticket. Must have been the beard.

See, UPS drivers are clean shaven. Maybe some of them have mustaches, but the kind of chin cabbage I grow is strictly forbidden! I nodded knowingly the first time one my new brethren in brown mentioned it, but by the third time, I was beginning to wonder if they expected me to shave for the occasion. No bother - ten minutes into our stop-and-start journey, I was pulling my hair out, thanks to a wondrous device known as the Go-Pro. A high tech HD camera in a rugged case, the Go-Pro resembles little more than a cube on a stick. But plant that sucker on a windshield and watch the point-of-view footage pile up. Or, do like I did and screw with the damn thing while it records your frustration in a series of unflattering JPEGs.

But enough of my mug - let's meet the players! Christopher Pritchett is a 20 year veteran of the corrugated force and, given any opportunity, will tell you just what Brown did for him. A few syllables in, you realize the guy is sincere. Then you realize what a stand-up company UPS must be, for when the local news crew came calling, this global giant didn't refer to us to some suit in New York. Instead, they threw open the doors and let me shoot whatever I saw fit - as long as I sported the appropriate colors in the process. As a result, El Ocho got their sneak peek, UPS generated a little local love and I added more coursework to my Doctorate Studies in Cameramanthropology. So thanks, UPS! I don't know that the following piece of TV will win you many new accounts, but I for one will never look at those big brown trucks in quite the same way again...


But I ain't shavin'.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Logos in the Mist

Live Truck Convoy
Sure, it's just a snapshot from yesterday's Obama visit, but something about this picture Weaver took yesterday morning really weirds me out. The threatening sky, the blurry logos, all those retractable masts - YEESH! Makes my skin crawl. Still, I do recognize my hives for what they are - an allergic reaction caused by overexposure to these ornery beasts. Too many times I've hunkered down inside one of these immobile newsrooms while a hairspray addict clamored for a clever way to narrate calamity. Am I projecting? You betcha, but we all have chinks in our armor and mine is a deep-seeded disdain for box-vans wrapped in gaudy promises. Luckily for me though, these vessels of editing and angst are already on the road to extinction, soon to be replaced by wafer-thin eyelid implants. Yeah, it may take a while, but I envision a day when all it takes to go live(!) is a twitch of the temples and a pile of wi-fi enriched recyclables...

Though chances are I probably won't like that, either

Friday, December 03, 2010

Two Guys Named Mike

2 Guys Named Mike
Either there's been a rift in the time-news continuum, or key members of the Fourth Estate have switched brains with my teenage daughters. How ELSE do you explain a picture of two battle-hardened photogs gaping at their phones like a couple of food court zombies? What's up, fellas? Hello Kitty drop a new cat counting app? Justin Bieber tickets go on sale? Candyland finally offer dual citizenship? Hey, how you spend your downtime is up to you, but it's awfully hard to mythologize our breed when you guys go all Hannah Montana on me. Hmmm? What's that? The President is in town and you're killing time during the security sweep? No problem, I once knitted an entire Cosby sweater waiting for Bill Clinton to polish off an intern.

Or was it the other way around?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Signs Your Presser is Tanking...

Slide Show Coma10) The unmistakable sound of Droid Tetris is emanating from deep within Tripod Row.

9) The TSA Agent you convinced to drive the VIP's over from the airport is insisting on a cavity search.

8) The lavaliere microphone the in-house audio guy insisted you wear has slipped down your trousers and is amplifying your flatulence.

7) Your intern stocked the press kit bags with muscle relaxers and cans of Red Bull.

6) The perky PR flack you hired to beam reassuringly at you from the back of the room is for some reason flipping you off.

5) That jack-ass with the blog has turned off his fancycam and is now pointing his camera-phone at you

4) That tool from Wikileaks switched your opening joke index card with a recipe from The Anarchist's Cookbook.

3) Who knew the all-nude bagpipe revue rehearsed in the space next door?

2) That writer from the free weekly is using the press release you handed him to de-seed his dime bag. Don't worry though, it's medicinal.

And the Number One Sign your press conference is tanking...

Silhouette Student1) You turned out the lights and no one noticed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kringle Slinger

Big Al, the Weatherman's Pal
Not a lot of folks know this, but Santa Claus himself spends the off-season under glass. No kidding - nine months out of the year he shoots morning television down in San Diego. From what I understand, the local mostly leave him alone. Good thing, too - 'cause the old guy really gets into it. Rising early to run cable, Standing all handheld for hours on end, nursing his girlish figure every day at a different drive-thru... why, it's an exiled figurehead's total fantasy! Best of all - none of those filthy elves running around the place! At least that's what ole Kris Kringle said when he caught me stealing batteries out of his live truck. Said he was gonna out me on some kind of list --

--Hmmm? What's that? It's NOT Santa Claus? It's some dude named 'Big Al, the Weatherman's Pal' - that elusive shooter for Meteorologist Dave Scott on Good Morning San Diego Weekends on KUSI Channel 9?

Way to cancel Christmas...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blue Heron Bliss

Mangler and Me 2.0Indulge me a moment, for there are things far more important than local TV news. Like, my bike! It's a standard enough Trek with front suspension and a rigid seat, but when I climb aboard it becomes a heavenly vessel, one capable of defying gravity, folding time and bloodying my shins. It is quite possibly, my favorite possession. But for the better part of the past four years I've let it gather dust in the corner of my garage. Now, however, I'm back in its rock-hard saddle, thanks to a break in the weather and a totally intact mid-life crisis. No, I'm not gonna go drop coin I don't have on a shiny news Corvette (What kind of choad do you think I am?), but I WILL toss the Trek in my truck, find a winding path through the local jungle and forget my troubles as I surf the Earth. What I won't do is wiggle into those biker clothes, you know - the gay superhero look. Hey, you can 'don't ask don't tell' all you want, but if you're hanging out in the woods in day-glo spandex, it might be time to have that talk with the wife. But I digress.

OuchieOf course, to really get off track you need a narrow, twisting path full of bowls, berms and other nut-busting luxuries. Here in the Piedmont, we got that in spades. Why within a stone's throw of my humble abode, lies the kind of tail-derailing trail that can make a forty-something father of two feel a quarter of his age. That, or end up in traction. And while there are other, more fabled bike paths around these parts, I've become enamored of a place called 'Blue Heron'. With far fewer roots than I'm used to a nice, open flow, Blue Heron features the kind of jostling topography I could only dream of when I lived closer to the ocean. In fact, I'd only lived here a couple of months when a photog by the name of Allen Horton turned me on to the endless network of bike trails that tattoo our many parks. Since then, I've reveled in the scenery, the solitude and serenity of this thing called 'singletrack'. You can have your skinny-tired cycle and lime-green Lycra tights. I'll be down in the holler, rocketing over hilltops and trying NOT to wrap my torso around a tree.

Jelly and Da ManglerStill, I had to know where I stand, er crouch. So I called on some folks with chain grease in their DNA. Jerry Wolford and Michael McQueen are friends of the blog and its somewhat humble author. Now, technically, they're both newspaper employees and talented ones at that. But I know them as crime scene connoisseurs, recorders of the the highest order and bruised enthusiasts of the pedaled pursuit. What I didn't realize is how hard they ride. The day I joined them on the Blue Heron trail, they easily outpaced me without breaking so much as a complimentary sweat. The nerve... not to mention the corpuscles! That HAD to be why 'Jelly and Da Mangler' could carry on a casual conversation while I fought to keep up and catch my breath. McQueen especially - with his BMX past - can turn a handful of scattered pebbles into glorious air. Why, I saw him bounce off a woodchuck, taco his wheel and still beat me back to the truck. That's including the breather he took while I stopped to hack up a few ghosts of cigarette past.

Weaver takes a trail break.Though I felt like I'd been run over by a dump truck the following day, I did return to the scene of the crime long enough to turn the tables on someone even less prepared to bike than I. Weaver - he of the positive attitude and McGyver tattoo - brought his boys, bikes and brawn along for a Thanksgiving morning ordeal that would leave anyone with a monster appetite - provided you still had any teeth left at the end of the ride. As for the Weavers, they left with their bicuspids intact, but not before spending a couple of hours negotiating hairpin turns and unexpected dips at less than breakneck speed. Yeah, we weren't the fastest cyclists out there that day, but we were among the giddiest. Don't believe me? Watch the video below and listen to Weaver giggle, huff and snort. Those, gentle readers, are the sounds of a grown man shedding a few dozen years along with a couple of quarts of sweat. I'm not saying he had a good time, but the last time i heard him squeal like that, his Droid was wedged in his watch pocket and stuck on vibrate.



Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pry some tree bark from my teeth.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It'll be worse in Wellington!



There's certainly nothing I can add to this brilliant send-up of photogs and boot camp, so why even try? Enjoy... then check out the priceless thread it inspired...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lifer's Lament

Slinger on ScenePay no attention to the man behind the van. He's only doin' time. Okay, so a twenty year gig in local television ISN'T a prison sentence; those of us with numbers under our necks just like to pretend it is. See, I'm a lifer. I staggered into this silly business two decades ago and haven't worked up enough momentum to stagger out. I'm okay with that. Sure, I've seen many inmates plot their own escape - even helped a few clear the wall. Back in 1993, I myself even bailed. Fed up with being a one-man-band in a thankless bureau, I ignored my gut instinct and took a job pumping out commercial dreck for the man. I hated it and it hated me. So I followed some of the smartest folks I knew to a place called El Ocho. There I found a home where I could write, shoot and edit for a daily wage. Yeah - I thought my news bosses would take one look at my coterie of skills and insist I go back On Air. It did not happen. And as my hair's grown thinner and my glasses thicker, even I've grown less enchanted with my own reflection. So here I stand, a medium market television news photog who's pushing 44. Gimme a minute, will ya? I got to go breathe into a paper sack...

Okay, I'm back. Now, where was I? Oh yeah, teetering on the edge of a corporate stepladder. Honestly, it's a view I'm used to. Why, from way up here I can see the future of TV News and it's a broken, plastic landscape littered with the bones of poor souls like me, who never wised up enough to seek a new horizon. Or maybe that's the past. Truth is, no one knows what local TV news will look like a few years from now. Loyal viewers are dropping like overstuffed houseflies, new gadgets and fewer escudos are taking the team out of team coverage and everywhere you look, people are staring at hand-held screens, chortling at what some neighbor just out on their taco platter. I suppose we gargoyles of the Fourth Estate should continue to squint, cast scary shadows across the land as we fly away, the remains of our once beloved institution crumbling under our stony claws. Well, as my esteemed Father would say, "piss on that."

Honestly, I'm optimistic about the future of TV News. Sure, it's about to shrink, ripple, and remold itself into something new, but can you name another industry more overripe for reform? I can't, but then again, my eyes are a little off from staring at life through a tube all these many moons. But new bifocals aside, I'd say my vision's pretty clear. And what I see is a whole lot less people. Already, studios and newsrooms have found ways to do without half their staffs. There's more (or less) where that came from, for sure. And while I only wish joblessness on a precious few, no one can say they haven't been warned. Really, it's been in all the trades, not to mention that new thing the kids call the internet. Fewer producers, smaller anchor teams, less techies underfoot... it's all a bit of a drag. Unless of course you're a competent shooter who can write, edit, shuck and jive. Then you might be tempted to think the future is kind of bright, for once we get rid of the pretty people and pretenders, all that's left will be the likes of ME.

Take a moment to let that soak in. Feel free to lunge for the remote if you must.

Just don't get me wrong. I'm not celebrating the extinction of long-held jobs. Nor am I predicting any of this will make for a better viewing experience there at home. Quite the opposite, actually, for over the next five to ten years, broadcast news is going to get even uglier than it is today. But it's my utmost hope and half-held belief that whatever form local television news takes, it will be grittier, harder to watch, finally free of most of its hokum. I for one can't wait, for if local TV news stayed the same, I'd be even less inclined to show my lifer card in public. As it is, I'm still a bit hesitant. Too many talented people have let the fold already. Perhaps if I had more exciting options, I'd consider it too. As it is, I'm stuck under glass, biding my time, watching and waiting in hopes new opportunities will crop up before I resign myself to pumping out reruns. Am I kidding myself? Perhaps, but nowhere near as much as the spunky new reporter chick who's counting on a posse of underlings to do her heavy lifting. Who knows, I might even get out from behind this van...

Probably not, though.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Legends of the Scrum

One Musketeer 2.0
Attention Rookies: Beware the dude looking totally chill in the middle of a shit-storm. He's about to block your shot. It's nothing personal. He's just been here before. He knows the podium and the players, his sat truck is perfectly parked just outside the door and he already knows what he's having for lunch. Don't hate him. He used to be you. But the rub of ten thousand newscasts has left him more than sore. It's left him strangely centered, gifted with a sense of Zen so implacable you'd be ill-advised to jack with it. Give him room. Know that he's made every mistake in the book, including a few he invented himself. So do yourself a favor. Be nice. He'll be nice back, for if decades of dealing with drifters, incumbents and news directors has taught him anything, it's that you don't HAVE to be an asshole just because you can.

Oh, and remember this: his time is more precious than yours. The suits know full well the powers he's honed. They expect him to bend space and twist time without getting his mullet in an uproar. If he came in one day able to levitate, his bosses would shrug, say it's about time and immediately assign him a three part series on Teaching Anchors to Fly. He'd do it too - not because he believes in the project, but because he refuses to put anything but his best on the air. How else could he stay so smitten with such a limited field of view? Don't answer, plebe. Just know that with enough fortitude, time and grit, you too can emit the vibe of a lifer.

Who knows, you could even rock one of those Three Musketeer mustaches the ladies love so much.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cecil and The Beast

Security!
With TV news crews increasingly coming under attack, a few shooters are taking matters into their own calloused hands. Take Cecil, for instance. Dude got himself a bodyguard. And not some ex-bouncer oaf either, but a straight-up Eastern European killa. I first saw the guy outside the courthouse, smoking a clove cigarette next to Cecil's live truck. None if us camera schlubs thought much if it - until Vinnie walked over to bum a nine volt. Man in Black bent his fingers back. Now everyone's afraid to so much as brush up against Cecil in the scrum, lest his new bestie gouge a fella's focus out. A stringer I know swears he saw the same guy working security every time The Scorpions blow through the coliseum. Says his name is Vlad and that he smells like cabbage. All I know is my pal's new goon is killin' the vibe down by the crime tape. I can't even remember the last we all swapped war stories, traded stroke tapes or even hazed a newbie. Funny thing is, Cecil's a real pussycat. No one can figure out why he's blowing his own coin on a heavy. Hmmm. Maybe he got jacked by some elementary kids at one of those career days shoots.

That would do it for me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Schmuck Alert: Silent But Stupid

Hothead Coach 2.0
Audio be damned, I'm calling this one on looks alone. I mean, really, get a load of this guy! The beady eyes, the glowering scowl, that overly bowed-up posture... who wants to bet he's got a shiny Corvette waiting for him in the parking lot? But that's not fair... I don't even know the dude. Until now. For when Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Carl Pelini honed in on TexAgs.com photog Brandon Jones, he clearly appeared on the Lenslinger Institute's internal radar and earned himself the right to be called a Schmuck on and off the field. Even if the evidence isn't entirely conclusive...

It happened Saturday, moments after Texas A&M handed Nebraska their cornhusked ass. The score was 9-6, but judging from judging from some folks' reaction, it was a crippling defeat. Not for Brandon Jones, though. He took to the field with a fancycam of sorts. As co-owner of TexAgs.com, he was out to capture all the post-game action for his website. Boy, did he! No sonner had he made it about mid-field, Jones captured footage of little man Carl Pelini seemingly berating a man. I say 'seemingly' because Mr. Jones neglected to attach the microphone before running onto the field. Thus, everything he recorded from then on out was devoid of noise. Silent. Nada audio. Hey, it happens.

What followed is a classic case of pantomimed testosterone. Little Carl notices the opponent's camera pointing his way. Turning on the proverbial dime, the Defensive Coordinator makes a bee-line for the lens, with straight up offense in his eyes. At this point, cameraman Jones makes another tactical error: He lowers the camera to his side. Thus, the alleged attack was not properly documented. All we see is a jostling as the frame goes out of focus. According to Jones, though, what happened next was clearly uncool.

“There’s this awkward moment where we’re eye-to-eye with each other,” Jones told me. “And I say, ‘What are you doing?’

It was then Jones claimed the diminutive coach tried to wrestle the camera from his grip. Not able to best the absent-minded cameraman, Lil Carl then breaks the eyepiece in several pieces, throws them into the surrounding crowd and storms off (no doubt to berate the nearest waterboy for some imagined slight). The viedo - while strikingly quiet - is avail;able on the web in glorious slow-mo.

I've watched it several times now and have come away rather convinced it happened just the way Brandon Jones said it did. There's simply no other explanation. Neither is there any good reason for an almost fully-grown man in a polyester uniform to act like such a child. A pox on you, Carl Pelini. You took a simple loss on the gridiron and turned it into a showcase of your own shortcomings. Is that what you teach all those corn-fed youth? No wonder you lost.

Schmuck...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Event Horizon

Event Horizon
If you drove by a certain toiletries emporium the other night, you probably saw me leaning against that live truck. Truth is, I was barely hanging on. But you'd feign consciousness too, had your last eight hours been spent rushing headlong into happenstance. Most days, I dodge this kind of fruitless pursuit. Friday, I didn't have much of a choice. How it all came about never made much sense, but with a fresh deadline rapidly approaching and not a helluva lot else going on, logic is the first to fall. Which is why it's hard to explain just how exhausted I was as I watched traffic stream by my live shot. Who knows what all those motorists thought when they glanced my way? More than likely, they were just looking for someone famous. They couldn't have fathomed the truth: that a reporter they'd recognize was inside that very van collecting breast milk, that together we had launched and abandoned a hard-target search of every Christmas Tree lot in town, that we'd been saved from this insipid mission by some dude claiming to have a bomb in his duffel bag.

It all began in the morning meeting, when some well-meaning soul mentioned they thought they saw Christmas trees for sale on their morning commute. Exactly who foisted this deception isn't known, nor does it really matter. All that really matters is this simple fact: Before anyone could question the veracity of this unseasonable claim, the words 'Christmas Trees' were written under mine and a reporter's name. Somewhere down the hall, a guy in the Art Department began working on the over the shoulder 'Christmas Tree' graphic. The deed was done. Now all my reporter and I had to do was wrench reality in such a way that would fit the worldview of those who so rarely got outside. Did I mention the local tree lots stood empty? That the big box stores hadn't received their first shipment of former saplings? That even the local tree farm family was laying low until next week's Christmas Season kick-0ff? God knows I tried...

But to be fair, my words weren't worth a lot. I knew it too. In the world of morning meetings, a lousy idea still trumps nothing at all. So until I came up with something better to pitch, I was more than encouraged to swallow my opinion and go find some damn Christmas Trees. Besides, no one huddled around the conference room table believed such a story would ever make air. Surely some kind of spot news would crop up before the Six o Clock open rolled. A bus wreck, a meth-lab domestic, a demon sinkhole. Certainly something would crumble, jump up or erupt long before we took to the airwaves with tales of trees that weren't yet anywhere to be found. First though, we had to go through the motions - which means we had to hit every empty lot that's trafficked in trees since Bill and Hilary Clinton slept together on a regular basis. Hey, no one ever said this behind the scenes stuff was pretty!

We. Looked. Everywhere. Up and down the busiest thoroughfares, out behind Boy Scout huts, down around that garden center with the yard art out front. No matter where we went, we heard the same thing. This place will be hoppin' with trees this time next week. All seemed lost, until one of our many phone calls was returned. 'Yes', in fact, ' a few local Food Lions had trees on the premises and up for sale'. Without another word, my reporter and I raced to the nearest franchise and found a stash of unadorned trees leaning against the outer wall. Positive we'd hit pay dirt at last, we strode inside to congratulate the manager on his newfound free publicity. We expected him to go corporate. Instead, he went douche-bag and we were invited to take our cameras elsewhere. Knowing our chances of finding anymore cut trees was next to nil, I pointed my news unit due South. Thirty minutes away, the Spillman Christmas Tree Farm sat full but silent. The good people there hadn't answered their phone all day, but I was now prepared to drive straight there and take a hostage if that's what it took to get a cursed evergreen on tee-vee...

That's when it happened.

The Droid on my side blasted out a tone that told me the assignment editor had struck a vein. When I finally figured out how to make the newfangled phone stop ringing, the voice on the other end launched into a soliloquy. "Someone walked into the Bed Bath and Beyond on High Point Road and told the clerk he had a bomb. Stole some cash and the clerk's car ---" He didn't have to go any further. We raced to the store in question and found a cop car convention out front. The store folk weren't talking but the cops were feeling chatty. After no more than ten minutes on scene, we had everything were gonna get: shots of detectives smacking their gum, hardened shoppers rendered less than agog and enough store signage to remind everyone they're not even safe picking up a towel set for Grandma this Christmas. Laying in wait, we pounced on a few shoppers as they exited the store. We peppered them with questions. Did they want to be on camera wasn't one of them. Then, as quickly as we arrived, we left.

Two and a half hours later we returned, this time in a live truck. Since leaving earlier, we'd returned to the station, high-fived a producer or two over the sound news judgment and went to work on their new lead story. Not another word was said about Christmas Trees. Not with real news in the hopper. True, our story wouldn't change any lives. As robberies go, it was pretty inconsequential. Sure, the clerk lost her car and the company cash, but the average viewer would have to receive regular payments to even pretend to care. but the story of one loser's jihad against high thread count had more than enough to lead off a news cast. It had cop cars in the distance, a setting soccer moms knew well and, of yes, it had wordplay. 'Bed Bath and Bomb' the lower third graphic would no doubt read. The alliteration alone was worth it weight in promos. So as you can see, five hours of frantic effort can shatter upon impact when just a few minutes of the right kind of outrage presents itself in a timely manner.

I just wish the towel-hating bomb bandit would have struck a little earlier. Might have saved me a ton of runaround...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Have Logo, Will Block Fire Lane

The Right to Park Like an AssIt's said to be the only true perk of broadcasting: the right to park like a putz. Actually, I've scoured the by-laws of our profession and can't find anything about free-range vehicle placement. But you can't rewrite history and neither can you convince some 20-something slacker he's not allowed to snake the Mayor's spot. It's been that way ever since a TV station first slathered a Packard with false promises. It's as if those early call letters bestowed the fleet that followed with an eternal, mysterious power to pull over anywhere we damn well pleased. Why is that? I'm guessing it had something to do with the heft of our weaponry. Back then, even the most basic gear induced hernias in 4 out of 5 photogs. Or is it because our very tools sparked panic/joy/loathing in the hearts of otherwise placid taxpayers? Perhaps. Even to this day, the citizenry affords news vehicles and the crews within them access they don't always deserve. It's the kind of thing you won't find me pointing out to the crime scene crowd as they step back to let me place my unit right up against the yellow tape.

These days, of course, I roll sans logo. The unmarked life has its merits. I can slow-cruise a shopping mall parking lot without tipping off the rent-a-cops. I can space out at a green light without the dude behind me threatening to kick my weatherman's ass. I can even drive past a liberal college's student union without a single overindulged neo-hippie kid flipping me off. It's all rather refreshing! But stealth has it's downside. No more rolling up to a house fire like an ambulance driver. Now I gotta go through a lot of windshield pantomime to convince the firefighting underling I'm not just some freelance looky-loo but instead am a respected member of the local media scum, er, scrum. Sure, I got a laminated sign with El Ocho's logo on it, but it's not just the same as driving a minivan wrapped in day-glow peacock feathers. Been there, and got a heckuva better spot for my troubles. Oh well, at least I can live vicariously through the infractions of others by visiting the latest Facebook group, Media Parking.

Basically, it's pictures of cars. News cars. From massive sat truck gatherings to a lone news unit's refusal to park like a mortal van, this ad-hoc collection of logo-mobile porn leaves me strangely titillated. Maybe I'm just pining for the old days, when I could commandeer some executive's parking lot perk without any real fear of retribution. Whatever the reason, I'm not alone in my fascination. Already a butt-load of vehicular pix have been uploaded and the admirers of said site increase with every click. I believe that to be just, for if I can't get get away with spot-squatting like I once could, it's refreshing to see others break all kinds of social mores in cyberspace. Hey, isn't that why the internet was invented in the first place? Don't answer that. In fact, don't move. There's a grandmother hunkered down in a Cushman nearby eyeballing us both while stroking her citation pad. As soon as I throw this baby in PARK, hop out and run for the front entrance. She can't ticket both of us...

Just be careful how you open the car door. Those fire hydrants leave a nasty mark.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Here Comes the Pitch...

IMG_5755
Who needs a gym membership when you schlep a camera everywhere you go? Even for a guy like me - whose current rig has all the heft of an empty shoebox - simple portage leaves me sore. Perhaps I should put together some kind of reality show exercise tape in which I'm flanked by two portly photogs in glistening wet rain suits. We could do the dead battery lunge, the hatchback slam, the cross country cable pull. Just imagine the plumber crack possibilities! If that's not enough, we could follow that up with a cooking segment using old Big Macs and room temperature energy drinks... Yeah, you're right - we should definitely work in the McRib. Maybe afterward, we'll cram everyone into an enclosed space the size of a live truck driver seat, hook electrodes up to everybody and see who can go the longest without passing gas. Unwanted exercise, a lousy diet, squelched flatulence - I'm telling you, it's Tee-Vee Gold! But what to name our new show... I guess 'The Biggest Loser' is officially taken. OOH! I know! We'll call it ...'Wednesday'

(Apologies to Corey Welch, whose kick-ass photo of freelance photographer Matt Gregoire got me thinkin'...)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Droid You're Looking For

Weaver behind the wheelWe were jamming sandwiches down our necks when the first fire truck flew by. I glanced at Weaver and he at me. Not a word was said but I couldn't help but notice he was fondling his Droid. Seconds later it was on the table, bleeding a steady stream of static and southern accents all over that Subway sandwich shop. I tried to ignore it, but between the fading sirens and my buddy's twitchy eyebrow, I couldn't help but chew a little faster. It's a good thing I did; within a minute or two Weave's Droid turned back into a phone. When it rang/buzzed/burped, I immediately knew three things: 1.) Something really was on fire down the road. 2.) I probably shouldn't have ridden with Weaver to lunch. 3.) A chocolate chip cookie wasn't in my future.

Boarding House fireWhat followed can only be described as an out of body experience. No, I didn't hover above my own crumpled form while mumbling lyrics to an old Kansas tune, but I DID manage to gain a new perspective on something I've done a thousand times. Okay, so maybe I haven't covered a thousand house fires, but it damn sure feels like it. This time, however, I was unarmed. My own stunted fancycam was locked up back at the shop. Weaver and I had driven to lunch together and now I found myself digging fingerprints into his dashboard as he readied his famed triple lane-hop maneuver - all so we could watch a house of ill repute ooze a new kind of funk. "Get me killed over a crack house fire and I'll haunt your next ten descendants', I promised Weaver. He just grunted a hung a HARD left.

Unloading GearOne terrorized church bus later, we arrived at our destination. Too bad the great unwashed beat us there. Yes, if you could have peddled popcorn to the crowd forming around that semi-inferno, you could give that Redenbacher fellow a run for his money. Why DO folks stop and stare at bent sheet metal, melting vinyl siding and the like? Why do they bother turning on the local news just so pretty people can spew death and destruction into their dens? How 'bout you forget I ever asked such a dumb couple of questions, since my very paycheck depends on the deep seeded need to rubberneck. Now, where were we? Oh yeah - in a Food Lion parking lot on the wrong side of town. It was there I realized I was lens-less. Then I remembered the Droid nestled on my belt. Have I mentioned this wondrous device?

Firefighters on SceneI swear, the fine folks who make the Droid ain't payin' me to rave. Sadly, no one is. But I'd be less than blog-honest if I denied the news-gathering prowess of this (and other) smart phones. Mine's only a couple of weeks old and already I've called in an air strike, ordered three cheese pizzas and struck a number of rumble strips staring at the damn thing when I should have been looking out the windshield. I resolve to do better. In fact, I've kept it holstered for the most part as of late, which is why it took a moment to realize how easy it would be to document said - ahem - 'pharmacy inferno'. This I did with vigor, snapping off far more frames than this little calamity called for. Hey, it's what I do.

Weaver at workAs for Weaver, he was all up in the cup, scanning the crowd for faces and finding them. After all, that's where the story is. Smoke, flames and hoses only stretch so far on screen, to make good TV you need peeps - be they wiseacre firefighters dropping commentary or trouble junkies leaning on a pole. Then again, thirty seconds of news only needs so many characters. Unless Osama Bin Laden burst through the front door with his turban on fire, this particular conflagration wasn't gonna make the half minute mark. Which is why, five minutes after we arrived, Weaver and I bailed. With separate shoots looming, we both had places to be. I guess cutting edge technology and Jedi like driving skills don't mean diddly when there's only a little smoke showin'...

Shoulda grabbed that cookie.