Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Glamour Within

First of all, no junkyard kittens were harmed in the making of this photo. But this idle shot of Jeff Varner holding an over affectionate feline at bay while convincing a reluctant interview subject to come play television illustrates the less-than-glamorous conditions of your average news-day. Broadcasting aspirants should take note: For every expertly-lit live shot from trouble’s edge, there are hours of choking on generator fumes. For every far flung and exotic backdrop, there is a seemingly endless, ass-numbing road-trip. For every workaday story on ruptured sewer line, there a half session of roadside negotiations. The news doesn’t always make air willingly. Often It has to be cajoled to the door, sold on the notion of appearing on-screen and quizzed unequivocally once under the scope. Thus, the daily deadline chase can sometimes feel like a re-purposed rerun of a old detective show. Just substitute all those taciturn lawmen in salt and pepper crew cuts with badly-dressed cameras geeks and their far more telegenic front-men.

Which is how you find yourself outside a rural mechanic’s shade-tree garage, overdressed and under deadline, while a furry local sniffs at your heels to smell where ya been. In this particular case, Jeff picked up the varmint in question and began dispensing love through a series of chin-rubs and baby talk . When the cell phone rang, all that heavy petting gave way to juggling and I fired off a few shots without anyone getting hurt. Five minutes later we were back on the road, but not before spending 120 or so seconds convincing the cat to move out of the path of my reversing news unit. The kitty moved but not before shooting the news duo a most bored series of unimpressed expressions. WE may consider ourselves a crack crew of digital interlopers, but to this heavily-whiskered salvage yard veteran, we were just the latest two rubes in a long parade of easy marks. Had that cat been a panhandler, we would have left a few bucks shy of our daily lunch budget. Instead we egressed with little more than black hair all over us, glad to have met another scavenger along the way.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Night Smite

Thanks to Weaver for alerting me to a video clip now playing on involving a cameraman, a football player and some unfortunate inertia. Sliced and diced in wonderous slow-mo, the footage is worthy of Zapruder-like inspection. Other than reminding me of why I never liked shooting football, the clip also brings back the memory of fall Friday nights just like this one...

Years ago a friend of mine was shooting high school football with the help of an intern. It was back in the days of 3/4, when your average videotape record-deck was quite literally an oversized VCR in a bag, attached to the camera by a thick bulky cable.

To keep himself fresh and unfatigued, my friend enlisted the intern's help. He placed the straps of the heavy deck around the young man's shoulders and instructed him to stay behind him. Now my friend, whom we won't call Scott, could shoot the game in relative ease - focusing on the action inside the 'finder, while his collegiate packmule brought up the rear and the backbreaking weight that went with it.

It all went well for awhile. The intern fed just enough cable between himself and not-Scott to avoid tripping either of them up. When one moved, so did the other. But somewhere in the closing minutes of the third quarter, communication broke down. Still trying to master the spinning brown bullet zoom, not-Scott lost himself in the lens, never seeing the heavily padded gargantuan speeding toward him at an uncontrollable speed...

The intern however, did and didn't hesitate to take action. Tapping into his inner flightpath, he instinctively jogged backwards a few too many steps, stretching the cable tight between he and my still oblivious buddy. Scott (or not) was still working the focal ring when the camera suddenly stood up on his shoulder and tried to crawl down his back. The viewfinder rubbed a nasty divot in his eyesocket as it scrubbed up his head, clearing his field of vision just in time to catch sight of the numbered shoulder pad that was about to unmake his day.

The resulting video was a hoot - a tumbling kaleidoscope of sky, turf and lights. A second view from atop the bleachers shows the irrefutable evidence of the intern's hasty retreat. Not-Scott escaped with only a black eye and a few bruised ribs. We called him 'Crash' for awhile but the mickname never stuck. As for the intern, he skulked back to campus, never again to be seen leaving a man behind on the field of battle.

Since then, I've always kept both eyes open. I'd suggest you do the same...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thoughts on the 'ViPod'

Now that Apple has finally unsheathed the video iPod, media pundits and trend analysts are pointing each other in the eye with it, some calling it a brilliant masterstroke while others deem it a bumbling overreach. Though not an Apple-user at the moment, I am a Mac-head from w-a-a-yback and think the company that has brought so much innovation to the home computing will do just fine, thank you very much. Maybe I’m just stoked I put off buying that iPod until now. Either way, let’s hear from a few other cyber-critics for I chew up any more bandwidth on my own opinion.

My own personal media guru Mark Hamilton (of Mark on Media) kicks things off with a salient point. It’s not the tiny new screen, but what you can (cheaply and easily) put on it:

“This launches a whole new market, the way that iTunes and the iPod kick-started the music download business. And it establishes the price, too: $1.99 for commercial-free, yours-to-own video. Anybody that wants to play in this new sandbox is going to have to either match that, beat that, or have such compelling offerings that they can afford to charge a few cents more.”

Phillip Swann begs to differ, seing the addition of video as an unneeded feature born of arrogance and greed.

“The video iPod will be Steve Jobs' folly. "Americans will not watch full-length videos -- or perhaps even short music videos -- on 2.5-inch screens on portable devices. It makes no sense. The music iPod is successful because it replicates something we've been doing for more than two decades -- listening to portable music players while on the go…The video iPod will require you to stop what you're doing and focus on a video. Who has the time to do that during the day?”

Terry Heaton, perhaps. The Emerging Media savant thinks plenty of people will pay to squint, pointing to Apple’s deal with ABC to re-purpose content to the ‘ViPod’ as the first rumblings of a great seismic shift.

“Now that ABC has broken the mold, the others will follow suit. And once it's discovered that people will pay a couple of bucks for programs on demand, other "sizes" of the programs will follow as well. Only the distribution method remains in question, and technology will take care of that...The pre-bundled media model is dead. Broadcasters can slow its demise, but it cannot put the genie back in the bottle.”

Perhaps Cory Bergman at Lost Remote says it best with a catalog of reasons the video iPod WILL succeed - a list that includes some intriguing predictions.

"Video podcasting ("vodcasting") will overshadow podcasting as the coolest thing since sliced bread. Shoot some video, edit it and upload it to iTunes. Or just upload it to your video iPod and show your friends. Forget baby pictures. Now it's baby video. Right here on my iPod. "

Though the market for a handheld video portal has been mostly theoretical until now, that all changed about twenty fours ago. I think the ViPod (my term, but I love it) will be quickly embraced by tech-savvy , the young and the unencumbered. After that, it’ll get around to folks like me, mortgage holders with limited cash for such personal indulgences as things with headphones who cannot ignore a media revolution but for so long. Apple’s deal with ABC is integral to the launch, but I think the video iPod’s real success will come via the easy portage of personal media, not the hoarding of network fare. As for whether a new generation of viewers will embrace such a tiny screen, you ought to watch my 11 year old re-program my camera phone...

Bloggers Blogging Bloggers

This blogging thing is getting out of control. Yesterday while covering day two of the jungle cat drama in downtown Greensboro, I ran into two (2!) local push-button publishers. First, The Shu (of bloghunting fame) strolled by, stopping to chat while reporter Tera Williams got her live shot on. Minutes later, none other than Billy the Blogging Poet materialized, grinning maniacally as he clicked a photo of Danny Spillane and I breaking down the truck.

While I fully understand the strange thrill of documenting every facet of the local blogosphere, try explaining that to my co-workers, who cannot fathom why some dude in a ZZ Top beard is popping off shots of little old me. I told him he was a long-lost uncle who didn't get out much, but I don't think they believed me. Oh well, at least it gave me something to post on an otherwise slow blog-day. Thanks, Billy!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ocelot...Or Not

Normally when I point my Sony at an African jungle cat, my good friend Rod Hackney is standing around in a North Carolina Zoo golf shirt and making small talk with inqusitive visitors. But the 'Zoo Filez' host wasn't around today when I leaned down on one knee and squinted at what I thought was an ocelot. As I did, the spotted feline glared and hissed - exposing a set of razor-sharp teeth custom-made for ripping into the flesh of bearded cameramen of any continent. Behind me, a narrow-framed animal control officer tightened the grip on his catchpole, despite the fact the captured animal was lounging comfortably in a padlocked cage.

"Don't get him all squirelly, now..."

Not wanting to end up on 'When Animals Attack', I took his advice and kept my distance. Still, I framed up shot after shot of the incarcerated mammal, working quickly to record as many different images of the vexed predator as I could, before cageside got too crowded. Glancing around, I met the gaze of one Nelson Kepley. The softspoken News and Record photographer has a habit of appearing in my peripheal vision. We fell into our usual bus-stop chatter as we aimed our collective glass at the apprehended cat.

"He's my baby boy, he sleeps with me."

The tone of voice was urgent and after my head turned toward the sound, shoulders and lens naturally followed. A distraught young woman, wearing flip-flops, sweatsuit and a grimace paced around the edges of my one-inch screen. As her rather tall male companion shot me the dirtiest of looks, I smiled weakly and looked around. The nice lady from the Animal Shelter who'd let me in minutes earlier was now frowning into her cellphone. Behind her, my partner for the day Tera Williams appeared, questions in mind and microphone in hand. As we moved in on the drama at hand, I scanned the perimeter for enemy lenses. Seeing none, I centered up and smiled behind the viewfinder.

"I've had him for six years. I've had him since he was three weeks old, he came out of Nashville...he goes everywhere with me."

Megan Morris wasn't the only person to have claimed dominion over the exotic animal, but the look on her face told me she was in fact the true owner. Contained yet strained, her voice all but quivered as she told us how she'd purchased the Serval from a breeder in Tennessee. According to her, the animal was legal in North Carolina, but the County Attorney on the shelter cell phone begged to disagree. This opinion inflamed Miss Morris, but to her credit, she kept her measured tone.

"He's not an aggressive animal, he's had five surgeries, he hates being in a kennel."

Use that one for the tease", the producer said before exiting the edit bay. With a few not so random few keystrokes, I isolated the soundbite, dropped it to a timeline and trimmed the audio. Hitting the save button, I collapsed the window and fed the segment to the server down the hall. 'Ten more to go', I thought as I dragged and dropped icons across the screen. By the time I finished, a half dozen electronic incarnations of the runaway cat sat in my Save Bin. I still had no idea if a Serval was was legal to own in North Carolina, but for me it didn't matter. What did hold dire consequence was whether or not I made my deadline, though it was really never in question. While the alleged pet marked hard-time across town, I hacked its image and hiss into bite-size morsels, to be sprinkled liberally across the evening newscasts. It was about that time that Outer Space called.

"Network wants your ocelot piece", a familar voice said behind me, "Can we get it on the bird in five minutes?"

"It's not an ocelot," I said, but the voice's owner had already vanished. Knowing my place in the jungle, I didn't bother to look around, instead I leaned into the screen and whittled away. 'Hope that lady gets her cat back.' I thought as my fingers danced over the keyboard. Either way, it's a safe bet someone of my logo will do a follow-up tomorrow, for a locked-down non-ocelot is just a few series pieces shy of a waterskiing squirrel. And we all know what good TV THAT makes.

FOLO-UP! After meeting with Megan Morris, the Guilford County Attorney agreed to return Sabre to her, along with a stiff order: Get it out of Guilford County. Morris says she'll probably relocate to neighboring Rockingham County, where exotic animal ordinances are less stringent. Somewhere outside Reidsville, a young apartment dweller will soon start hearing myssterious thumps and low growls emanating from the new neighbor's unit. We'll keep you updated!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

On the Edge of Calamity

What with ConvergeSouth, American Idol and the CCG, its felt a bit like 'theme week' here at Viewfinder BLUES lately. But now that all that's history, I'm determined to get back to my primary mission: exposing the inherent absurdity of life behind the lens. To that end, check out this telling photo from the great beFrank:

While the L.A. photog has let to post a narrative to go along with this image, it hardly needs context. In it, a roaring blaze towers in the distance while a fetching young reporter summarily ignores it. Chances are she's about to go live(!) and is wise to focus on her script, not the billowing conflagration behind her. Chalk it up to the well-honed detachment of your average news crew. I myslef have played cards inside a sat truck while divers outside searched a river for bodies. I've nodded off to sleep while hundred mile an hour winds rocked my parked news unit. I've drawn bored circles in the dirt with my boot as wispy tendrils of smoke rose from an hours-old plane crash in the background. None of this makes me cooler than you - but in the daily news-hunt, chilling out on the edge of calamity is just something you get used to.

That, and working holidays...

1105 Words on ConvergeSouth

Childcare issues prevented me from attending ALL of ConvergeSouth, but what I did manage to get to proved to be a highly worthy of my semi-precious time. Organized by key members of Greensboro’s vibrant blogging community, this free, two day event explored the digital revolution in publishing and self-expression that’s changing the way we communicate. If that isn’t your idea of a good time, I understand, but if you’re reading THIS, you’re already taking part in a new media renaissance. And you thought you were just killing time cruising the interweb…

For me, ConvergeSouth was a day of intense data-analysis after a yearlong experiment. Less than twelve months ago, I started this humble site with two goals: develop a more stringent writing discipline and get some more eyeballs on my work. Little did I know when I began posting my anecdotes, images and essays for public consumption that I was stumbling into a revolution, but that’s exactly what it feels like - for I soon found out I wasn’t blogging in a vacuum. Instead, mine was merely one voice in a cacophony of mostly eloquent viewpoints. For reasons we still don’t understand , Greensboro has established itself as a pinnacle of push-button publishing. Professors and politicians, educators and elected officials, techies and truck drivers - all using incredibly easy software to share their wit and wisdom with the world.

Before I fully realized what I was doing , I attended my first local blogger’s meet-up. This in itself is pretty remarkable, for despite my glib sarcasm, diarrhea of the keyboard and reluctant people skills, I’m pretty damn anti-social. Still, I pocketed my reticence and rendezvoused with these strangers, eager to put faces to the many on-line personalities I was suddenly infatuated with. Am I ever glad I did. Not only do I consider the following cyber -scribes to be daily required reading, but I count Ed, Sue, Hogg, Billy, Patrick, Roch, Jay, Ben, David, Sam, Chewie, Lex, Michael and quite a few other talented folk as personal friends of mine - people I’d gladly share a coffee, a joke or an adult beverage with. As a result, I now regard Greensboro as a place to be proud of, not just another set of unremarkable city limit signs appearing in the blue haze of my professionally-detached viewfinder.

So when my new pals began talking of a gathering of sorts, a free forum designed to encourage even more hyper-local creativity on-line, I scheduled time off from work and began counting the days toward what quickly became known as ConvergeSouth. Now that the inaugural event is all but history, I can honestly report it was anything disappointing. ‘Why‘s that?’, you (didn’t) ask; I’ll tell you. It ain’t the magic laptops, the RSS feeds or the nifty new vernacular surrounding it all - it’s the people. Be it Bora, Seymour, Boyd, or Lassiter, they’re were many attending talents I was delighted to finally share air with. I only hope they feel the same after laying eyes on your friendly neighborhood lenslinger. I’d gladly offer them their money back if they felt they were cheated, but just what part of free don’t you understand?

Of course with any cyber-summit of this stature, there are the requisite headliners that dominate the spotlight. Thanks mostly to a certain Cone’s influence, ConvergeSouth was not lacking for internet icons. Atrios, Congdon, Winer and Wales - these are certified rock stars of the blogging world. If the very notion of these self-confessed cyber-geeks being compared to swaggering musicians makes you laugh, get over it. People a heckuva lot smarter than you or I already have. Speaking of higher intelligence, two out-of-town attendees really fired up my synapses and I’d like to spend a paragraph or two sucking up. If you simply can’t take that kind of groveling, it might be time to go make a sandwich.

Jay Rosen is a towering figure in the global blogosphere. A professor of journalism at NYU, he authors the influential PressThink, a weblog about the Fourth Estate and the many dents in its aging facade. A tall cat dressed in black, Rosen anchored our session on ethics with quiet authority. Most of the audience's questions centered around print journalism, complete with ongoing potshots at my broadcasting brethren (speaking of which, Up Yours, you scribbling pukes - tear yourselves away from the safety of your desks long enough to join me in the field and YOU might learn something. The sunlight could also do wonders for that pasty shade of superiority you insist on wearing). AHEM...where was I? Oh yeah, Rosen. When I asked the famed pressthinker why so many TV stations were so hesitant to embrace the blogosphere, he replied with the correct answer : fear of losing control. From there, he had me at hello. Later, when we chatted over rain-soaked bar-b-cue on Hoggard’s porch, he confirmed my suspicions that he understood the message and not just its many mediums.

L.A. based blogger Michael Bowen, known on-line as Cobb, has been contributing his thoughts to the internet since its very inception. Self-described as Black and Republican and Civil Libertarian and Righteous and Uppity and Provocative, I suspect Cobb is ALWAYS worth reading. Truth is, I’m not that familiar with his site, though I’ve certainly heard his monosyllabic moniker bandied about the blogosphere. Simply put, Bowen knows everything there is to know about fostering a one[-word on-line identity. For some reason this really interests me (hint: rhymes with Phlem-dinger). Bowen/Cobb shared his many tactics for persona branding with everyone present at his late-day session. Most of what he suggested were things I’d harbored long vague notions of, but had never really crystallized before. If you soon notice subtle thematic changes to Viewfinder Blues, blame Cobb. Just don’t challenge him to name two dozen obscure Eighties-era video games. The dude remembers Arkanoid, for cryin’ out loud.

Well, there you have it - my reflections on what will hopefully be the first of many, many ConvergeSouths. There’s a half dozen other memorable moments I haven’t touched on, but something tells me I’ve yammered enough for now. Certainly one highlight was helping lead a session on ‘Katrina and the Internet’. For someone who barely scraped their way through public high school, standing at the front of a college classroom and fielding questions from bloggers and students alike about the current state of journalism was indeed a kick. Lastly, thanks to Ed and Sue for spearheading this seminal event.

(And thanks to Weaver and Sue for allowing me to cadge the above images from their esteemed sites. Hey - there’s a topic for next year!)