Saturday, April 09, 2005

Welcome, Jeff Varner

As first broken by Monday Night Live, Jeff Varner of Survivor fame is Fox 8's new weekend anchor. I had the fortune of working with Jeff during his interview process and found him to be highly likable and sincere in his desire to conquer the world of Electronic Newsgathering. His on-screen debut may have been in the contrived world of reality TV, but his journalism degree and ease around a camera is authentic indeed. Should be interesting...

Overheard on the News Hunt

I don't remember EVERYTHING I hear at work, but some quotes just won't stop echoing in my head...

“Drop the mast dude - it’s lookin’ like Ghostbusters out here!” -- a slightly panicky Eric White, describing the dark purple clouds roiling over the Greensboro skyline. I was inside the live truck, editing furiously when the late afternoon storm rolled in.

“I was rolling on it purely for the train wreck quality of it all.” -- an unnamed photographer, on why he wasted disc space on a reporter’s botched attempt at bilingualism while an interviewing a migrant worker. Seems she didn’t understand the torrent of Spanish her feigned understanding of the language unleashed, and thought speaking louder would help.

“I believe the man was murdered and robbed!” -- a disheveled old gentleman theorizing on what may have happened to the dead man being wheeled out of his ransacked house. The old man’s grasp of the obvious was matched only by his liquor-soaked aroma. For some reason, I'll take that man's voice to my grave.

“You must get a lot of chicks with that thing.” -- a tattooed biker with a gray ZZ Top beard, admiring the Sony fancy-cam on my shoulder as we stood amid fifty jacked-up third graders at the N.C. Zoo Polar Bear exhibit. Try as I might, I couldn't convince him otherwise.

“What time’s this gonna be on?” -- a night-gown clad old woman clutching a poodle, inquiring when I might air the footage of the churning inferno in front of us. I found it weird she was concerned with showtime listings, as it was her house burning down.

“I smell darkness.” -- a fellow photog, as we both shuffled our gear into a dimly lit Catholic Church for an extended service observing the passing of the Pope. He was right, the late-afternoon remembrance was swathed in low stain-glassed light.

“When do you think they might find the body?” -- a persistent show producer, asking me via cellphone the exact time authorities planned to stop fooling around and locate the drowning victim they were dragging a lake for. I cannot repeat what I told her.

“What you got there is a broken tooth off a wood-chipper." -- an anonymous voice with a deep Southern accent, solving the mystery of the weird metal object that had fallen form the sky and landed in a woman’s living room. So much for UFO's

“Must be wild, man - out here, livin’ on the edge...” -- a young, first-day intern in a clip-on tie, bristling with excitement as the weary news shooter in the driver's seat fought I-40 hell to get to his 4,00th ribbon-cutting. There were no survivors.

The Big Link

This week on The Big Link, a local blogger who taught me there IS a word that rhymes with 'uncle'. Check him out...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hurricane Stew:The Video

In an impressive display of technical acumen, my partner-in-crime Chris Weaver has harnessed the power of the internet to most embarrassing moment. Allow me to 'splain:

Back in 1994 I was a news-punk in a station windbreaker covering the aftermath of Hurricane Gordon at Kitty Hawk, N.C. All was going swimmingly until a rogue wave kicked me square in the keyster, sending me and my fancy-cam into an impromptu underwater breakdance. To make matters infinitely worse, my network counterparts rolled tape on the incident from the safe perch of a nearby beach cottage. That night my Nantucket Sleighride dominated the opening moments of the ABC, CBS and NBC Nightly News. Headline News aired it every half hour all day, even playing the shot of me pulling my dead camera out of the water in slow motion. It was not my finest moment.

But the memory of my on-camera baptism lived on; as did the dusty videotape that contained my shame. About a year ago, I sat down to unfurl the long, twisted saga of that day - in hopes other young photogs would learn from my mistake (or at least wet themselves giggling at my misfortune). However, sharing the video itself proved more problematic and I shelved the idea for a while. But now blogging technology and a far savvier colleague have enabled me to spread this case of "When Nature Attacks!" far and wide. So dim, the lights, break out the popcorn and enjoy this one minute clip. I'll be out back, wringing my clothes dry and hiding my head in shame. Wouldn't you?

If the video doesn't play correctly, follow this link to try it in you favorite media player.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Cameraman's Conundrum

I was sharing a diner booth with an empty notebook when it hit me: Good days behind the lens make for lousy nights on the blog. Take this morning for instance. Having spent a couple of fairly low-impact hours at the N.C. Zoo with our perky morning anchor bunny, I had precious little to blog/bitch/write about. Sure, I could relate the horrors of surfing through hundreds of hyped-up third graders with a fancy-cam on your shoulder - or analyze the motives of the scary biker chick who followed me around for a half hour - or simply tell you what an incredible time of year it is to visit your local zoological park. But what fun would that be?

No, for real blog-fodder I need drama, ridicule, intrigue - just the type of thing I’ve work so hard to avoid these past five years. Allow me to explain. After years of wallowing in the muck of crime and grime TV news coverage, I began specializing in features - you know, soft and fuzzy feel-good pieces that give the hair-do squad reason to chortle as the houselights fade. It may not be the noblest of pursuits but trust me - it beats babysitting some rookie down by the police barricade. No, these days I spend most workdays all by my lonesome, traveling from goldfish rodeo to opera camp to belt loop convention in an unending quest for news stories that don’t chip away parts of my soul.

But now I’m a certified blogger, which means I’m constantly looking over my viewfinder for highlights and low points to skewer and spew. Most days I get it done - clearing my daily succession of newsgathering hurdles before going home with a thing or two on my mind for the blogosphere. Funny thing though - some of my most memorable and well-received posts have risen from the ashes of truly crappy days. In other words, if I escaped the News Gods’ wrath relatively unscathed, I have to sit and ponder on what to expound about. But when I log a ten hour day in the bowels of a live truck, documenting someone else’s unfortunate in bite size chunks suitable for the dinner hour, well - the late-night diatribes practically write themselves.

So what’s a burned-out cameraman/writer wannabe to do? Volunteer for every grisly gig that comes across the assignment desk, in hopes of exposing the great truths and travesties of a life behind the lens? Or continue cherry-picking my daily news deeds with an eye toward harmless television; blogabilities be damned. I suspect I’ll keep surfing the line between the two and let the blog-chips fall where they may. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get some sleep. Tomorrow’s another news day and whether it be filled with murder or monotony, I’ll have to punch all the right buttons in the correct order. Beats my old job at the windshield wiper factory. . .

Terror Alert Van

Via McColl at, a link to The Onion's excellent
coverage of WMFB-TV Channel 11's brand new Terror-Alert Van...

"TerrorDoppler can detect a dirty-bomb detonation of any significant magnitude from up to 40 miles away..."

"Terrorists better think twice before targeting the good citizens of the greater Murfreesboro area," said station manager Carl Bogert. "Terrorists, if you're watching, I have one thing to say to you: If you attack, the Fox 11 News team will be on the scene just minutes later."

Funny, and not that far-fetched...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

More from the Photograblogosphere

I've been looking forward to Ken Corn's blog premiere for quite some time. I just had no idea his inaugural post would center so heavily around me. But in a blistering debut of allegorical fiction, Ken's unleashed a dusty tale dripping in cowboy imagery and overwrought praise for yours truly. Simply put, I ain't worthy. But I appreciate the kudos nonetheless and welcome this seasoned and eloquent photog into the mix. The thing is, Ken Corn didn't just ride into town on a stolen pony. He's the veteran of several newsrooms, he's rolled tape on hostile soil and written about both quite effectively. I've been pestering him to bring these insights to the blogosphere for quite some time and its great to see him finally saddle up. Welcome, Colonel Corn.

Strangely, Corn isn't the only the photog blogging my praises. At
'Lights..Camera..Jackson!' a hulking Kentuckian is laying down a most
sophisticated site
- when he's not racking up awards for his own camera work. They call him Smitty. We worked together ever so briefly, but it was long enough for me to get a peek at his immense powers. When he followed his heart back to the Bluegrass State, we understood. I just wish I'd had a chance to more closely examine his greatest hits reel. Now he's transcribing his own adventures and showing off some incredibly cute baby pictures in the process. Drop by and see for yourself.

Of course these two camera scribes aren't the only TV news photogs aloft in
the blogosphere. A growing number of us are posting regularly now,
unleashing a torrent of behind-the-scenes banter that is much like the insipid business we all toil in: ridiculous one moment, tragic the next and never dull for too awful long. In the 'Photogs Who Blog' index to the right, you'll find a growing list of lensers who do more than just point and shoot. Read enough and you'll feel like you're right there in the camera-scrum, without all those pesky deadlines.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Still Remembering When

Holy Screen-Shot Batman! Every time I think I’m through raving about the fine work of George Crocker JR. at ENC DTV, he goes and digs up more unignorable images from my past. Whatever stash of tapes he’s pulling from, it’s a collection of television from my earliest days behind the lens. I gotta meet this guy!

But first I have to show you this frozen image from another time. As anyone who grew up East of Raleigh with a TV set can tell you, this is Carolina Today. For more than 35 years, this esteemed broadcast started everyone’s weekday morning with news, information and the down-home stylings of one Slim Short and Diane Bowen. What the show lacked in glitzy production values, it more than made up for in technical difficulties, cornpone delivery and intensely loyal viewers. I first stumbled onto the set in the latest of the eighties, just another half-sober drifter pretending to know a thing or two about television. Before I knew it I was dragging an ancient studio camera across the floor, juggling an avalanche of free ham biscuits while I marveled at the homegrown legends all around me. There was a time I thought I’d do that forever.

But then my wife’s co-worker David Melvin took a friend of ours hostage at an area restaurant. When he did, I rushed to the scene and wormed my way behind the viewfinder of one of my station’s news cameras. The next several hours dragged out as jacked-up SWAT cops, gaping onlookers and one very nervous gunman made time stand still. In the end, the gunman’s level-headed uncle coerced him to let the hostage go and give himself up. When the front doors opened, a surprisingly handsome frat boy type, strode out in camouflage pants and an ECU sweatshirt. I can still hear the still cameras' rapid-fire shutter as the SWAT team moved in and dropped him to his knees. David Melvin changed a lot of lives that morning, the least of which was mine. But from that day I gave up the studio cams and the cheesy car commercials. It’s been a lurching blur of murders, mayhem and meetings ever since.

There’s a lot more to the hostage story. I’ve written about it before and will no doubt do so again. Someday it will be the oipening chapter of my memoirs. Until then, these faded frames will continue to live inside my head, looping over and over in glorious Viewfinder Blue.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Tarheel Tavern

The Tarheel Tavern, an impressive compendium of North Carolina blog offferings is currently in it's sixth and perhaps finest edition yet, over at friend-of-the-program's Chewie World Order. As always the lovable Wookie sets an awful high standard, one I'll have to reach to achieve when I host the Tavern in the coming weeks. Do drop in...