Saturday, April 30, 2005

Birth of the Blogcaster

Via the most excellent portal Lost Remote, news of a Nashville TV station hiring a full-time blogger.

WKRN has hired long-time blogger Brittney Gilbert to bring her considerable skills to their already impressive web presence. This excites me on a number of levels, not the least of which is opportunistic. Currently, TV station websites vary from the grinning postcard to the encyclopediac broadcast atlas. Where the local blogeratti figures into all this is still being formed. With Gilbert's hiring WKRN places their station at the forefront of this movement. I'll be eagerly reading her dispatches, curious to see how she'll meld her punk rock verve into the Nashvile affilliate's station mantra. Now, how do I get a gig like that?

Hercules and Robot

The quirky photog who blogs under the moniker Little Lost Robot never fails to slay me. Here he reacts with subversive glee at a used-to-be-Hercules Kevin Sorbo photo op. I swear if a fellow lensman shot me a look like that in a camera scrum, I'd drop my Sony from laughing so hard. I can't wait to meet this guy someday...

I Want My Blog TV

Ever since launching this flimsy craft into the blogosphere several months ago, I’ve yearned to televise some of the trip. Why? Well, it’s what I do for a living. Also, I enjoy pointing the big end of my lens at things that interest me. Mostly though, I think its newsworthy. Citizen journalism is changing more than the media, it’s bringing vibrant voices to digital town squares everywhere and extrapolating the global export of information in the process. That’s more than enough reason to feature it on the local news.

But how to make it interesting for the casual viewer? As riveting as I and others find these sites, they’re still just computer screens - not the most exciting things to aim a TV camera at. To get to the core of the local blogosphere I knew I’d have to visit the people behind the pages. No problem. There are enough self-publishing virtuosos in Greensboro alone to warrant a series of special reports. Knowing I’d only be able to skim the surface, I gathered my tools and called for back-up.

Enter Bob Buckley. The veteran reporter agreed to captain this voyage into cyberspace and wrap his thoughts around the material we gathered along the way. So off we went together and separate, rendezvousing with writers and meeting minstrels, all while covering the news of the day. A few weeks and half dozen optical discs later, we had the footage and findings we needed to fashion a Buckley Report on the Piedmont Blogosphere. While I returned to my litany of feature pieces, press conferences and breaking news, Bob banged out a script, a highly-detailed three and a half minute opus we editors not so lovingly describe, as a ’Buckumentary’.

Thus, I find myself ensconced in the edit bay. For all the physical effort that goes into gathering images with a hefty TV news camera, twice as much energy goes into the art of slicing and dicing. Whereas that used to involve the whirl and growl of synchronized tape decks, I now find myself hovering over a non-linear timeline and hurtling editorial thunderbolts from on high - all with the click of a mouse. I love it. Editing has always been one of my favorite parts of The Job; it’s a (mostly) delightful process of folding reality, enhancing images and bending time. So as I search for nuance and cadence in this sea of footage, mark your calendar for Monday night at 10:00 pm, as that’s when the Buckley Report on the Piedmont blogosphere will air on FOX 8 WGHP. If I get in done in time, that is...

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Big Link

This week on The Big Link thrill to the nihilism and death metal stylings of one Patrick Eakes! There is none higher...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Of Murder Trials and Survivors

It was a gorgeous Spring morning - what better time for a grisly murder trial? The April Greer trial certainly qualifies. Ten weeks after the eight month pregnant woman disappeared two years ago, a farmer found her dismembered body floating in an Alamance County creek. Police arrested her boyfriend, Jerry Stuart and charged him with the heinous act. All in all, it’s a pretty horrid affair. If Jerry Stuart didn’t kill his girlfriend, then the person who did still walks free. If he did do it, well, I personally volunteer to pull the switch and send this cretin to the Great Beyond.

But my business cards don’t read ‘Executioner‘. Instead the tattered rectangles at the bottom of my desk drawer bear the title ’Photojournalist’ - a sticky label indeed, but one I begrudgingly committed to more than fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve covered my fair share trials, from accused child molesters to corrupt televangelists to addled hostage takers. As a chronic purveyor of feel-good fluffy features, it ain’t my favorite gig. But a man’s got to pay his bills, and in my world that means doing what the bosses say - even if it means spending the day listening to the kinds of horrific details they don’t even talk about on CSI.

When I arrived at the Graham courthouse around mid-morning, my partner for the day was already ensconced in the corner of the balcony reserved for the media. Jeff Varner is best known as a contestant on the second season of ‘Survivor’, but since joining our news team, he’s tackling challenges of a different sort - a daily gauntlet of seemingly-impossible deadlines. When I checked in, he barely looked up from his scribble-filled notepad. As in most trials, the judge only allowed one camera in court - forcing the rest of the media pack to gather around hastily-arranged monitors and records the proceedings from the most uncomfortable far corner the bailiffs could come up with. Logistically, this arrangement can be a nightmare. If I said I wasn’t a little concerned about my new colleague’s ability to handle this grim blend of reality television, I’d be lying - and that’s something I try really hard not to do on this blog.

As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Throughout a very long day, Jeff proved himself more than capable, from digesting a glut of acidic testimony to writing under the tightest of deadlines to scoring an exclusive with The Accused’s chain-smoking mother. When the judge dismissed everyone for lunch, we sped off to a key location in the case and shot Jeff’s on-camera stand-up. After that, we grabbed a couple of bags of fast food and headed back to the courthouse, whereupon Jeff disappeared into the hall of justice as I began setting up a stripped-down TV station on the sidewalk outside.

When he emerged from the courthouse an hour later, crunch time was on. Sequestering ourselves inside the live truck, we took part in the age old newsgathering tradition of writing, editing and the occasional expressed profanity. Ninety minutes later, a director named Carl punched a button back in the control room and Jeff’s face popped up in living rooms across the Piedmont. As I tweaked the focus ever so slightly, I nodded in agreement as this veteran of a half dozen Tribal Councils related the sad facts of a sensational murder trial with the appropriate gravitas. When the first of two remotes was over, Jeff leaned on the live truck and caught his breath for the first time all week.

“Man”, he said, flashing his trademark grin, “I thought laying around bored in the Outback was tough…this is hard!”

Welcome to my world, Jeff. Welcome to my world.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

News Unit Time Travel

I was drifting off behind the wheel yesterday morning when the cell phone ripped me from my slow lane stupor.

“High Point P.D.’s chasing a bank robber off Hasty School Road. Scanner’s goin’ nuts. Where you at?”

”85, just shy of 109...” Now I was awake, hurtling down the interstate and late for a date with inconvenience. No longer drowsy with b-block feature fodder, I leaned into the wheel and pressed the accelerator, my marked news unit weaving a taut thread through the mean streets of Thomasville.

As I negotiated the gauntlet of stoplights and city buses, I thought about what lay before me. Covering the immediate minutes following a bank robbery was never easy. While the violated building wasn’t going anywhere, a growing contingency of law enforcers would no doubt be scrambling after the brain surgeons who’d staged the robbery in the first place. Since neither parties gave a damn about the TV cameras that inevitably joined the chase, it could be a bitch to cover.

But before I could cover this latest foot race fiasco, I had to get there. Doing my best to get through town without braking too many laws, I gunned the engines to close in on an old Caddy up ahead. As I did, three unmarked Crown Vics fell in behind me. Through the rearview mirror, I could see the jug-eared silhouette behind the lead car’s steering wheel. Studying the outline, I recognized the breed as small town detective - from the angry flat top haircut to the unfortunate clip-on tie holding everything intact. Wishing they were ahead of me instead of behind, I punched the gas to give them space….and almost slammed into the Cadillac in front of me.

The knuckles and blue hair gave her away, though both were barely visible above the Caddy’s front seat. Through her side view mirror I could see the stoic face of a family matriarch who was in no rush to get to the grocery store, or church, or quilting bee. Whatever her destination, she held three cars full of law enforcers and one grumpy news photog hostage as she poked along on the two lane road. In a scene reminiscent of the slow speed pursuit of O.J.’s white Bronco, we reached speeds of 34 miles an hour for an excruciatingly long ten minutes.

Mercifully, the road eventually turned four lane and I happily let the law-dogs behind me be the first to blow past Granny. Once they did, I followed and the rolling countryside outside my news unit’s window turned back into a bright green blur.

By the time I reached Hasty School Road, life had amped back up to spot-news speed. Up ahead, the unmarked units turned down different side streets, joining the roving fleet of squad cars that was combing over every inch of the rural stretch. The law was also on foot - everywhere I looked sheriff deputed were sprinting across yards, knocking in doors, interviewing farm wives. With a curse and a shrug I whipped into a gas station’s gravel lot and threw the Ford Explorer in park. Outside the news unit, two women in NASCAR t-shirts watched slack-jaw from the store’s doorway as a Dukes of Hazzard episode unfolded before them.

“Hey ladies,“ I said as I pulled my tripod and camera from beneath the tailgate. “Where day at?”

The one in the Intimidator shirt unfolded her beefy arms, revealing an old, oversized cell phone and lots of jiggly arm-flesh,

“All da law’s headin down thar…”

I followed the direction of the woman’s outstretched hand and saw more blue twinkling in the distance. Instinctively, I leveled my lens and hit the Record button. Through my viewfinder I could see police cars pouring into a subdivision. Zooming out, I followed the sound of a thunderous engine and caught a perfect frame of a tinted-window Crown Vic thundering past me.

“Scanner’s saying they caught one of them! Back in some neighborhood…” I was back behind the wheel, the cell phone jammed in my ear and barking instructions.

“Left on Century, Right on Peacock, then it should dead-end.” I could hear my assignment editor’s map book rustling in the background. But by that time I had to drop the phone to grab the steering wheel, whereupon I quickly parked my news unit in a cockeyed driveway. Leaping out of my ride, I grabbed the camera and ran toward the cluster of cops cars and uniformed officers down the block.

I was halfway there when the police cars began pulling out. Skidding to a stop I shouldered my camera and brought the first black and white into view. Half out of breath, I had to brace myself to steady the shot. Hitting the VTR button with my thumb, I followed the approaching cars on a tiny screen an inch from my eye. The first zoomed by in a huff of but several large men with walkie-talkies were holding the third one up.

With my sonar pinging, I kept the car in frame while I jogged toward it. When I did the deputies stepped back from the car and it began inching forward. I zoomed out and stepped closer. Through the car’s window and my lens I saw a handcuffed figure with sandy blonde hair trying to become one with the floorboard. I smiled inside, glad to have bagged my quarry. But just as the suspect’s image embedded itself onto my disc, the deputy driver hit the gas and my video trophy shot out of sight.

Police radios cracked in the distance as I stood there, breathing heavy and reviewing the shots in my mind. Quite certain my footage would consist of no more than thirty seconds on-air, I caught my breath and tried not to think about the appointments I was now late for. Still, as I trudged back to my idling SUV, I quietly savored the flavor of a job that still occasionally gets my pulse going.

Of course that was all forgotten two hours later when I found myself stuck at a press conference, half-listening to the German CEO of a Chemical plant prattle on in heavy-accented deadpan about how excited he was to be coming to the Piedmont. There’s a clock stopper for ya.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Isabel and Me

Okay so it's not a flattering picture but a guy's gotta have something to blog about. Besides, I have a pretty good reason for not looking my best here. When the picture was snapped, Hurricane Isabel had been raining up my nose for a good ten hours. The dirty weather with a name came on quick, turning our pleasant parking spot by the fishing pier into a seaside encampment under seige. Still, that's what we came for, so as the swirling malestrom descended upon us, we dug in and went LIVE! The rest of the week stretched into an aching blur of soaking wet electronics, damp catnaps and too many granola bars. It was GREAT!

Or at least the memory is. It certainly makes for a good Top Ten list. Isn't that what life is all about? I think so - that's why the next time a malevolent cyclops bears down on our coast, I'm throwing my packed bags on the bosses desk and soon heading East thereafter. Because when you're huddled in a seedy hotel doorway before dawn, lashing down electric lights as flanks of seawater whip across the parking lot and a flimsy fishing pier trembles in the distance....well, that's story fodder you can't find at the office copier. So rest assured I'll be back for more - and this time, I'm taking YOU PEOPLE with me...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Tar Heel Tavern (#9)

Hello and welcome to the 9th edition of The Tar Heel Tavern. Submissions were slow to arrive at first, but after a little shameless begging the floodgates opened and entries from around the state poured into the Viewfinder BLUES home office, (which is really just a spare bedroom in my suburban High Point abode). Now that I have a respectable number of screeds, editorials and commentary, I can respectfully open the Tar Heel Tavern:

Melinama over at Pratie Place kick things off with an enlightening essay on appreciating what life gives you, including a brief rundown of intriguing experiences and images she’ll take all the way to grave. She calls the act of savoring what comes your way fighting ‘kiasu’. I call it common sense.

Speaking of which, Ogre thinks it may makes no sense that the dire predictions of the lousy economy are in the air when North Carolina exports SO MUCH STUFF around the world, especially everyone’s favorite walking state delicacy, the lowly pig.

One of my favorite IMPORTS is good coffee; in fact I’m pretty wired on a nice Guatemalan blend as we speak. Over at Josh Staigler’s site, he’s listed several of his favorite coffee shops in the Raleigh area, proving high quality bean doesn’t always have to start with ‘Star’ and end with ‘Bucks‘.

In the first of several TV news related entries, Chris Weaver at TV Photog Blog reveals the truth: Not EVERY day behind the big lens is an exercise in breathless adventure, in fact some shifts are a prolonged lesson in loitering . And here I thought I was the only who catnapped at stoplights.

While we’re wallowing in all this inaction, let’s take a look at Dirty Greek’s offering - a sobering post on how quickly we're depleting the Earth’s resources. The stats and links he provides are indeed scary - especially considering there’s no spare planet floating just off shore.

Closer to home, Terri-Lynn at Nearest Distant Shore checks in with what she calls ’a tale of bad parenting’, but to me she just sounds like a loving Mom who happens to be human. Read her pain-filled post and you’ll agree, little Liam is in good hands.

No, for real dunderhead behavior, check out Phin’s blog, who offers a tale of adolescence, alcohol and the Emerald City. I commend Phin for submitting this particular anecdote, as epic tales of bad decisions aren’t always easy to share. Having staged my own orchestras of stupidity in the very city Phin speaks of, I can relate.

Something else I can relate to is chasing newborn celebrities with a face full of viewfinder. A ludicrous assignment, yes - but it’s one of the many thankless tasks that falls on the weary shoulders of the TV news photog. But don’t take my word for it. Read this post from Colonel Corn and you’ll never look at a live shot the same way again.

But let’s turn off the tube and focus on deeper matters. Over at his site, the ever-admirable Ron Hudson provides a thought-provoking post on what we can do in life if only we try. Whether its translating Spanish poetry or dealing with his own mortality, Ron continues to educate us along the way. Read Ron Hudson. You’ll come away a better person.

Speaking of better people, the eponymous operator of Sue’s Place checks in with a delightful expose on the real Amityville Horror. As a child of the 70’s I grew up intrigued by the Long Island house with the funny windows. Now Sue’s debunking all my youthful misconceptions and providing a few laughs along the way.

While we're on the subject of real-life horrors, TV meteorologist Eric Chilton is being haunted by too much technology. From too many computer passwords to all those damn acronyms, Eric yearns for simpler times, when banks were crowded on Friday afternoons and blue tooth was something you used to convince the kids to brush their teeth. And you thought he was just a weatherman.

I’m told the weather was good for The Masters, but since what I know about golf could be spray painted on the surface of a micro-chip, I turn to the Grunkle Guru for all my links-related news. This week Grunk checks in with a rundown of golfdom’s premiere event, and explains why Vegas is a lousy place to blog. Who knew?

Back in North Carolina, Alex Wilson submits the latest entry from his audio book project at Telltale Weekly - an interview with Cary-based publisher and writer Jason Lundberg. It’s A 75-minute candid and informative exchange for anyone interested in their own publishing venture. I’M listening…

I’m also reading. So is Bora at Science and Politics. In fact, he recently raced to Raleigh to attend a book signing. The Good Father is a tome about being a Dad and what that means, particularly when the society is sending mixed messages about what it means to be "a man". As a father of two little girls, perhaps I should check it out.

Kent Bates also reads, and not just glowing letters off the teleprompter. At his burgeoning blog, he breaks down just who is to blame for soaring gas prices and why they look a lot like that person staring back at you in the rearview mirror. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go gas up my Hummer.

But before I leave broken pavement in my path, let’s check in with my favorite rapscallion of all time, William Teach. No longer terrorizing the Carolinas Coast, Teach holds up in his Pirate’s Cove and launches regular salvos of conservatism across our cyber-bow. This week the uber-blogger drops the politics for something we can all agree on; the beauty of a goose in a mall parking lot.

That’s it, people - The Tar Heel Tavern is closing down for the week. But before I chase all you drunks into the breaking daylight, I must issue an appeal to all who’ve made it this far. The tenth edition of the Tar Heel Tavern is currently homeless. Won’t one of you fine barkeeps step up and host it next week? The duties involved are far from taxing and the dense blogosphere that clings over our state will be a better place for it. Click here to add your name to the role and I’ll forever sing your praises. Until then dear reader, this is your friendly neighborhood Lenslinger hoping everyone’s upcoming week will indeed be something to blog about...