Friday, July 01, 2005

The Fruitless Pursuit

I hate summer. Not the season so much, but the adverse effects it has on my working life. First there’s the weather. Schlepping gear from one random incident to another is labor in any climate, but when a wet blanket of humidity wraps around your every pore whenever you walk outside, it is downright torturous. Then there’s the ratio effect. Simply put, when the reporters outnumber the photographers, I get called in to even the score. This happens a lot during the summer months when fellow photogs selfishly go on ‘vacation’ - thus shaking me out of my soft news coma and onto the front lines of the newsgathering war. Suddenly, I’m threading a live truck through interstate traffic, staring at the bug stains on the windshield and asking myself for the millionth time ‘Is this all there is?

I know, I know - every human pushing 40 asks this question. I’ve been pondering the matter for a few years now. Leaning against the back wall of a county commissioners' meeting, wedged in the shotgun seat of a police cruiser, skirting the perimeter of a school auditorium; it doesn’t matter where I am. Call it Viewfinder BLUES - the nagging feeling that you’ve framed up this shot a thousand times over and you don’t wants to do it no mo’. But repetition at a breakneck pace is a cornerstone of TV news, I tell myself. Add a good dose of artifice and a smattering of facts and you have my chosen profession. Things didn’t seem so bleak at the starting line, when I was younger, reckless and not entirely of sound mind. Back then, the daily chase was intoxicating stuff - these days it feels like the final hangovers of a drunk on the verge of rehab.

Melodramatic? Perhaps, but these are the undiluted thoughts of a 38 year old photog as he goes about the act of repeating himself to death. Maybe that’s what happens when you mine one of your loves for career possibilities. Before you know it, you’ve transformed passion into occupation until you can’t remember why you were ever so intrigued in the first place. Pretty bleak, eh? Don’t worry - there’s no need to hide the cutlery. I’m just deleting files in my mental inbox - right-clicking mass copies of the same damn riddle and trying desperately to drag them to the cerebral trashcan. Okay, I’ll ditch the metaphors and dumb it down for you folks in cheap seats: I love what I do - in theory. But the practiced application of said duties is wearing thin - eroding my shoe leather, my lower back and my soul. It’s what happens when you spend your life processing the trials and tribulations of others. You sometimes forget to live your own.

Speaking of life, I’m full of it (full of shit, some of you might say). As much as this post sounds like the tortured exhortations of a doomed madman, it’s merely the reflections of a weary lenslinger. Still, I’m excited - as I’m growingly convinced I’m on the cusp of something greater than TV news. What that is exactly still escapes me, but one thing is undeniably obvious: life’s too damn short to ride around in a live truck full of regret. It ain’t just the humidity talkin’ either. I first viewed edge of the precipice two and a half years ago, while pacing through the blackened slush of a icy overpass while a co-worker in a station parka yammered into the lens about salt trucks and school closings. I knew it that day as I know it now: Act II is long overdue. In a way, this very blog is my first few hesitant steps onstage.

Either that, or I’m having a mother of a mid-life crisis.

The Big Link

This week on The Big Link, the blog of a woman I look forward to meeting someday.

Life After News?

It's always scary to see a co-worker leave the cloistered enclave of the TV newsroom for a crack at the real world. But that's exactly what Mark Grzybowski is doing, setting aside ten years of producing excellence to become a real estate shark, or house-painting tycoon, or trampoline magnate. Whatever field he pursues, I have no doubt he'll rise to the top, as Mark is smart, talented and a fun guy to be around.

For years I've given this five o clock producer a hard time for never leaving the building, for adoring the band 'Tears for Fears', for never missing an episode of 'The Price is Right'. What I never told him is what a fine newscast architect I considered him to be. You see, Mark never panicked and (most) always trusted his field crews - traits not shared by all of his producing brethren. It is for these and other reasons that I will miss this particular punk and forever savor the eight years we worked together. It's a shame he's leaving us really - I just did figure out how to spell his last name. So good luck, Mark. If the world of high finance doesn't work out, you can always come back and stack shows for us.

For a substantial pay-cut of course...

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Kenny Rogers: What A Schmuck

"Kenny Rogers shoves Cameraman!" screamed the headline. I scratched my head and wondered why in the hell The Gambler would go off on a member of the media? Come to find out, there's some other yak with Kenny's name who plays baseball for a team called the Texas Rangers. Who knew?

I'll be upfront. I know little of baseball. Fact is, much of pro sports baffles me. I grasp the entertainment aspect of it all, but I've never understood why grown men with numbers on their back are so idolized in our society. Maybe it's my own lack of athleticism, maybe it's my disdain for organized machismo, maybe it's just my impatience with millionaires throwing tantrums. Whatever the case, I got little use for programming with a scoreboard in the corner.

Which is why I'm utterly befuddled whenever a pampered athlete goes medieval on the nearest available lens. Steroids get held up at the dealer, Kenny? The limo drive over to quiet for any good ole fashioned road rage? Just realize you're a forty year old man in blue and orange silk? There has to be SOME REASON why you'd lash out at the very tools that help bring you all those undeserved millions. Oh wait - here it is...
Rangers manager Buck Showalter, who did not witness the events, said the team will investigate. "One person was frustrated -- frustrated at not being able to win."
Well, heck Kenny - why didn't you say so? Anger over your own shortcomings is PLENTY reason to assault complete strangers. I think the next time I'm getting the runaround on a story, I'll tip over some hot dog vendor's cart in the middle of rush hour traffic. Send his franks and buns a-scatter over four lanes of downtown gridlock. That'll teach the guys at City Hall not to return my calls.

I only hope the photographers caught up in this childish outburst will own a large part of Kenny Rogers' kingdom very soon. More likely, a quiet settlement will be reached as the video burns through the 24 hour news cycle before becoming Year Ender clip fodder. No doubt the incident will only fuel Rogers' justified reputation as a infantile psycho and in the process alienate a few more fans of a once noble sport. Schmuck.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Those Blogging Photogs

Be sure to check out Weaver's thought and images from his trip to to the Media Big Top at Fort Bragg. Presidential visits can be taxing - from the sardine pack on the camera risers to the Secret Service guys glaring at you from across the room. I can think of no better photog to tackle this particular gig than The Mighty Weave. Better him than me, anyway.

From Oklahoma, another dusty lenslinger rides into town. According to Pixel Wrangler, he's been roundin' up images since 1992. In that times he's lassoed a tall tale or two he wants to share. Read his latest - where he recounts the day he sold his soul to the company store. Hey, a cowpoke's gotta eat...

Closer to home, Colonel Corn checks in with a cautionary tale for everyone who drives a rolling billboard. Seems some fiendish rapscallions are cruising the Queen City and targeting news crews. Water balloons are fun but you don't soak a man of the Colonel's rank without consequences. Can you court-marshal a fourteen year old?

Out in L.A., beFrank could have used a water balloon or two as he took part in a Tom Cruise love fest. Then again befrank's too much of a proffesional to lob water at the World's most annoying Scientologist. Instead, he leaned on his lens and harkedned back to a day when Hollywood stars shut up and smiled. Ah, the good ole days...

Back in the Carolinas, Little Lost Robot is up to his usual shenanigans. Recently he left the fancy-cam back in the shop and set out for another mind-altering comic book convention. All was going well until an aging James Bond villain dropped from the ceiling and got him in a headlock. Of course LLR took it all in stride, convincing the grinning beast to pose for a picture before he crushed his skull.

Last but not least, welcome Ken Cravens, aka Bluedog Photog, to the 'sphere. Bluedog's no mortal photog himself. He runs a mean sattelite truck and dabbles in a little sports reporting, when he's not covering disasters and such. Here he poses with a certain bearded lenslinger as Hurricane Isabel crashes on shore in the background, proving that, blog or not, photogs just aren't all that bright.

But we do have fun.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Radio Daze: The Stupid Years (1)

Shortly after I conned my way into my first TV station job, I struck out to do the very same in the exciting world of radio. Hey, if I can push expensive antique cameras around the warped studio floor, surely I could master the local FM airwaves. At least that was my thought process as I leafed through the yellow pages in search of a station to grace with my undeniable talent. Maybe I was feeling cocky, having just scored a minimum-wage gig at the CBS affiliate. Whatever the case, I set aside my lack of ambition just long enough to ring up a couple of program directors around town. Besides, I thought as the phone rang, once they heard my dulcet tones, I’d probably spark a bidding war. After all, I was Captain Nemo.

No bigger than a broom closet, the broadcast booth aboard the U.S. S. Mount Whitney had been my island of solace in a sea of discontent. Had it not been for a few shipmates, I would never have known about the small compartment just down from the flag bridge, the dusty little booth with Vietnam War era turntables and boxes of LP’s and carts from the Armed Forces Radio Network. No, the buddy who first let me in to that tiny space had no idea the monster they were unleashing. Once I got a look at the antiquated control board, with its oversized knobs and still shiny toggle switches, I was hooked. The fact that the noise produced within radiated all across the ship via close circuit radio was but a distant thought;. I was seeking refuge.

I found it - soon forgoing precious at-sea sleep just so I could sit and spin the finest in late 80’s FM hits. Though I’m still not sure any of my shipmates ever listened, I quickly developed an evening radio show and a persona to go with it: ‘Captain Nemo’s Taps to Midnight - featuring an eclectic mix culled from the official onboard library and a dozen bunkmates CD stashes. I guess you could say I was playing radio, but it was one of the few things that kept me sane as my ship did lazy circles off the coast of Guantanamo Bay for weeks at a time. I’d pull the lights down low in my inner sanctum, crawl into a pair of government issue headphones and forget all about all the haze gray and underway world on the other side of the hatch.

The Navy didn’t make me a radio star, but it did leave me convinced I was somehow born to broadcast. That realization deepened when the second program director I got on the phone that day invited me to come in for an interview the very next day. Eighteen hours later, I steered my battered Toyota into the gravel lot of a rundown one-story building on the edge of town. After checking in with the world’s most disinterested receptionist, I sat and waited I the chintzy lobby, mostly sober, over-cologned and excited about my new career as a radio stud. Imagine my surprise when the Program director - a fellow in a wrinkled sweatshirt not much older than myself - poked his head through the door and motioned me back.

Though the P.D. looked like he slept in his clothes, he was all business. Tossing my cassette of Captain Nemo’s greatest hits aside, he jammed a few sheets of paper at me without ever listening to it. I was halfway through filling them out when I realized I had the job. Beaming inside, I scribbled details stole glances at the aging equipment around me. Only some of it looked familiar, but that didn’t matter; this guy obviously knew talent when he heard it. Half an hour later, the young man with the sleepy eyes escorted me out, told me to report back the following Sunday night for my first on-air shift, and promptly locked the door behind me. I skipped all the way to the car, ecstatic at being discovered and in awe of the Program Director’s astute grasp of my immeasurable talent. Little did I know, he’d merely been checking for a pulse.

(Next Time: Crash and Burn...)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Newsbreakers Get Press

In a shocking imitation of our own extended coverage here at Viewfinder BLUES, The New York Times profiles The Newsbreakers (free registration required). In doing so, the Old Gray Lady sheds new light on this silliest of media watchdog groups, probing into just what leads a man to don a ninja outift and fling processed cheese slices at a hard-working news crew. The transparency continues at the Newsbreakers' site, where founder Buck "Lucky" Owens sheds his own mask to reveal the frustrated deskie within. Say you want about these twisted interlopers - I can't get enough of them. Read the article, watch the video, then ask yourself what's ultimately more insipid - some costumed moron jumping around in the background of a live shot, or the puffed-up indignance of the talking hair-do at center-stage. I still can't decide...