Editors Note:

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fresh off a three year managerial stint, your friendly neighborhood lenslinger is back on the street and under heavy deadline. As the numbing effects of his self-imposed containment wear off, vexing reflections and pithy epistles are sure to follow...

Monday, July 02, 2012

Twenty Nine Clips

EtheridgeBag enough happenstance and you quickly forget to care. It's not a conscious decision, mind you, but a defensive reflex: a way TV news photogs and other such third responders cope with the constant barrage of froth and atrocity. Most of us aren't as callous as we pretend to be. But we do lose count as the video clips pile up and before we know it, the victors and the vanquished all look the same. That's when the universe tilts and you catch a glace of humanity you've all but sworn to ignore. Just ask Dustin Etheridge. The young Charlotte photog had all but perfected his thousand yard stare when a chance encounter with a doomed crew made him reconsider that far-flung focus. An Air National Guard group was preparing to leave for the Colorado wildfires when a hurried news shooter blew through, his mind already on the next assignment.
I was told to shoot enough of it that we could potentially use it for a long form story known in the news world, as a package, for the 6 o'clock news. I arrived, set up my tripod, put a mic on my interview subjects, gathered some b roll, and came away with 29 clips of video. 
 Twenty nine clips he didn't think much about, until he learned one of the three C-130 Hercules planes his new friends flew off on won't ever be coming back.
When I learned some of these airmen had died; specifically Lt Col. Paul Mikeal, a man I'd interviewed less than 48 hours ago... I genuinely had tears in my eyes. I cried... and I keep asking myself "why?". 
It's a normal enough question , but one that young Dustin can't believe he's asking himself. After all, doesn't constant exposure to calamity and claptrap eventually numb the senses? Not when you know the players - even if you just met them...
I shook his hand. I looked him in the eye and told him my name. I saw the confidence and genuine patriotism that he carried himself with. All before he died. 
A brief introduction. A kind word or two. A tenuous connection at best, but it's enough to give any old talking head the benefit of body and soul. It's something I last learned on a Randolph County highway as a group of college students I'd just interviewed held the crumpled form of a dying friend. I wish I could say the memory fades, but in truth it's one day on the job I don't ever plan to forget. It's the least I can do, and in the long run I think it will make me a better journalist and, perhaps, a better person.

Just like Dustin.

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