Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lenslinger Dot Com

Rainbow KeyboardIn an ongoing effort to boost perusal of Viewfinder BLUES, I'm making it easier to find it in the first place. Thus, I've dropped the thinnest of coins and secured unfettered clearance to No more struggling with that awkward 'blogspot' if you don't want to, just type in my ten letter alter-ego, plus 'dot com' and you'll wind up here, at Lenny Slinger's House of Pablum. Come for the grit, stay for the glitz!

Night Shift at the Accolade Factory

-- 1
Okay, so not every camera assignment is a gritty exercise in street-level journalism. Last night's backstage gig at the Miss North Carolina USA pageant was downright glitzy. Here, Jeff Varner and I pause to pose with ten finalists from the teen(!) division. Now, as the father of two young girls, I look at these contests alot differently than I used to at say, age 16...but it's hard not to be impressed with these young ladies' accomplishments. From their dazzling smiles to their confident posture, these young ladies are coiffed, polished and ready to rip that glittering sash from around each other's necks if need be. Just kidding - each and every one of the princesses-in-waiting politely beamed the whole night through, never failing to radiate on cue whenever a lens or spotlight swung their way. Many expressed plans of pursuing careers in TV news, a somewhat dubious choice for all the rarefied DNA. Nonetheless, I'm sure some will enter the fold, joining the long line of pageant vets who've pitched in to help pretty up the Fourth Estate. I don't suppose that's such a bad thing...

Tweaking the Vernacular

As a collector of words and father of an eight year old, I tackled yesterday’s dictionary giveaway assignment with unwarranted vigor. But kicks are hard to find, so it didn’t bother me in he least to spend an hour stepping over third graders and lingering on my love of language. It started early. Though not overly coordinated or entirely confident, I was, if anything, a child with a vocabulary. Credit my mother with that one. She always tolerated my bibliophilic tendencies, even when what I was reading fairly alarmed her. But she couldn’t keep up. Cereal boxes, TV listings, tattered roadmaps; nothing was beyond my scouring gaze. As a boy, it wasn’t usual to find me wedged between the La-Z-Boy and the wood paneling, squinting at a perplexing passage in the family‘s encyclopedia through smudged lenses. To this day whenever I stumble across a good book of reference, I‘m inclined to recline.

But that’s in my off hours. Dayside, I’m paid to reconnaissance, armed only with a state of the art camera, prehistoric tripod and soon to be middle-age grimace. But I pretty much abandoned my three-legged perch altogether, choosing instead to shoulder my axe and wade into the crowd. It helped that the crowd consisted of distracted elementary kids. Splayed out on the gymnatorium floor of Triangle Lake Montessori School, the kids flipped through the pages of their very first printed omnibus, courtesy of the local Kiwanis Club. As the kids ignored me I bagged shot after shot, grateful for the invisibility. Occasionally they’d look up and gape at my logo but for the most part they furrowed their brows and repeated strange new words under their breath, providing a target-rich environment for a cameramanthropologist on a synonym binge.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the glossary. Once my camera was full of sound and images, I put the thing down, checked my watch and put the cell phone on mute. Minutes later I was ensconsed in eight year olds, sitting cross-legged with six new best friends and sounding out the word cra-ni-um. It’s not often I ignore the Prime Directive of newsgathering and interfere with the life forms I encounter, but having documented the moment with lenses both moving and still, I couldn’t help but join the tikes for a little syllable breakdown. Though some of them were more intrigued by the wireless microphone hanging from my waist, the rest willingly joined me on my word hunt. This pleased me immensely, as it is my hope one of these fine youngsters will continue collecting words and, like me, someday know the joy of lining them up in particular order for tens, nay, dozens of people on a daily basis.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Most Trivial of Pursuits

I’ve been a bit lax in the digital camera department lately, and for that I’d like to present you with this full and complete refund. Now that we have that out of the way, let me disclose another regret: I’m in a rut. Just days after the rush of accomplishment following my little anniversary thingie, I now sit before you a man bereft of any real missive, premise or epistle. But that’s one of the sacred tenants of blogging, I‘m finding: Never let a lack of subject matter stop you from filing a report. In that vein, I offer the following daily digest, a cameraman’s conspectus, if you will…

It was last Friday that Jeff Varner and I rendezvoused just after dusk to stage a tactical assault on Winston-Salem nightlife. Armed only with camera, wireless microphone and Jeff’s dimples, we forced our way into a dozen clubs, always causing a stir with the sudden appearance of a fancycam and semi-famous face. We hit‘em ALL, from the strobing mosh-pit to the pitch dark jazz club, the seedy pool hall to the over-perfumed wine bar, the throbbing crush of packed deejay booth to the zombie-like quiet of open mic night at the poetry slam. At the end of the evening my shoulder was sore and hearing was gone, but it was a refresher course in the allure of the lens. What do I mean? It’s hard to explain, but imagine the reaction you get when you stroll into a packed house after packed house of drunken revelers with a shiny camera on your shoulder. It kind of like being Bono, minus the groupies and that pesky quest for world peace, of course.

Monday wasn’t nearly as manic, but a deadline’s a deadline, so I gave it my all. The topic of the day? Flu Shots, and the possible shortage thereof. A lightning round of phone calls to different health departments told me supplies varied from county to county. I was surfing a line of blushing inoculators in Alamance County when my cell phone called my back to Greensboro. Seems a local physician had just been told his clinic wouldn’t be receiving their long delayed flu shot shipment. The news sent the good doctor into an apoplectic seizure and his nurses summoned the media for an emergency on-camera seething. Thirty minutes later, I cornered the grandfatherly MD in an examining room, marveling quietly at how much he looked like Bob Barker while he railed the injustice of the recently reneged prescriptions. This morning, I bent at the waist to pick up the newspaper off my driveway, running my fingers through my bedhead as I read the same story in black newsprint. This afternoon, a couple of coworkers revisited the issue. Funny how news works.

Twenty four hours later I found myself mired not in missing medicine but music. Well, high school band music, anyway. I showed up at Western Guilford High School without an appointment but with a mission. A hallway interlude with the school’s resource officer led me to an impromptu visit to the Principal’s Office. Familiar territory for a former delinquent like myself, but this time I wasn’t under threaten of expulsion. Instead I was promptly marched to the band room, where I roamed unencumbered among a group of seated young instrumentalists, following the whim of my lens as the surrounding sophomores plucked, drummed and blew. Minutes later, I braced for impact as the teenagers flooded around me into the instrument storage room, the place where a half dozen flutes, trumpets and piccolos recently formed a band and hit the road. That, or they’re sitting in the dusty recesses of some Piedmont pawn shop, waiting to launch a world tour of black lights, bartering, and bad decisions. Be sure to catch them when they come to your town.

On Wednesday, I finally got a `chance to meet two people I’d heard about all week; the Cancun Couple. Two days earlier El Ocho reporter Caron Myers had traveled to the Boonville home of a most distraught family by the name of Vestal. Through pain choked tears a fifty-something told Kevin Wrenn’s camera about his grown son and newlywed wife. Four days earlier the young couple has left for their Cancun honeymoon. Soon after, Hurricane Wilma rolled over the Yucatan Peninsula and took a seat. Now however , the young honeymooners had returned home, sunburned, exhausted and eager to recount their maligned vacation for my camera. They told a tale of five days spent on beach chairs inside a large resort hall, as Wilma drove wter droplets through ceiling tiles. With eight thousand Americans still stuck in Cancun by the time my story aired, it made for a nice localization of an (inter)national story…if you like that kind of thing.

And then there was today - a hurried shift of phone calls and cross county road trips. The topic: all terain vehicles and the kids they crush. Okay, that’s a bit harsh, but with a wife who’s an ER nurse, I’m heard too many horror stories to endorse these four wheeled sternum-crushers. Still, I kept my opinions to myself as the positively pleasant proprietor of a local motor-sports store told me how safe ATV’s really were - provided you didn’t speed, ride without a helmet or crank the engine. To his credit, the retailer knew his stuff, quoting the minutia of a new law that banned six year olds from driving ATV’s. Afterward, the store manager ordered a lackey aboard a four wheeler so I could shoot some video of the much maligned vehicles slingin’ nasties outback. We all had a good time out there behind the store, even if I did pretend to be appalled by the very idea of motorized transport an hour later as a trauma surgeon reeled off the many ways a throaty four wheeler can stop your pulse. Fun guy, that doctor.

So there you have it, a six day exercise in the random access that I call my life. It ain’t pretty, it rarely makes sense, but it ALWAYS makes deadline. Possibly the only thing weirder than dedicating your every waking hour to this most trivial of pursuits is sitting up all night writing about it. Speaking of which I gotta get some sleep.

Next time: Dictionaries, beauty pageants and the pictures to prove it…I hope.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tera's Song

In the short time that Tera Williams has been at my place of employ, she's fostered a cult of personality heretofore unseen in the Greater Piedmont Googleplex. Be it the constant mentions by a certain local columnist to the breathless fawnings of a wacky morning radio zoo, people are talking about this pretty young Floridian. That's not that unusual. Fetching TV news reporters have garnered more than their fair share of attention since the invention of the station promo. But now, Josh - radio sidekick of local blowhard Murphy in the Morning - has composed an infatuated ditty worthy of your attention. Wrapped around a laidback blues shuffle, 'Tera's Song' is an ode to the unobtainable that gets in your head and just won't go away. Listen for yourself...

Catchy, eh? I think so - otherwise I wouldn't be wasting your time. As for the subject of this stalker-esque sonnet, Tera's flattered - if not a bit befuddled by all the attention. But young Ms. Williams is more than just easy on the eyes. On the job, I've found Tera to be seasoned, capable, even shrewd. Even more telling, she's become a photog's favorite. That's high praise, because as I've pointed out before, we greasers behind the glass aren't predisposed to like much of anybody. You'd probably feel the same way, if you traveled in the same circles we do. Further proof of how well-regarded she is by the lens-toting set: The Mighty Weave is currrently slicing and dicing a video for the extended, mix-master jam version of Tera's Song. Stay Tuned...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Roker Goes Down

Now that America's favorite bug-eyed weatherman has taken his celebrated spill courtesy of Wilma, the 2005 hurricane season has officially jumped the shark. If you didn't catch it on-air (who did?), there are only a million web portals hosting the video and dissecting its every frame. In the groundbreaking footage, Roker files a live report while an oddly barefoot lackey attempts to keep him connected to terra firma. It didn't work. As if on cue, the insistent tempest blew Al and pal over halfway through the stapled-stomach one's canned punchline. No NBC staffers were harmed during the impromptu slip, but Roker did lose grip of his dignity and the Today's Show's last shred of credibility rolled somewhere out of sight.

Now, Al ain't the only broadcaster to take a hurricane dive lately, though he may be the highest paid. Reporters have been perfecting the human windsock schtick ever since GungaDan strapped on his first oversized logoed parka (all the better for on-camera billowing). But now, with the world wide webs up and running, a vapid moment such as this is instantly disseminated, deconstructed and parodied before the goofy weather dude even dries off. Is THIS what all our fabulous technology has wrought? Is THIS what Al Gore toiled in his lab for all those many moons? So some schlub with a press pass could throw caution to the wind and soak up a little internet glory in the process? I mean, WHO DOES THAT? Hmm? What? Oh, THIS? Oh. Uh. Well, Hmm-Mmm...never mind.

LR's Guide to Newswriting

Steve Safran of the indispensable Lost Remote has been positively on fire lately, waxing funny and philosophic on the emerging state of the New Media. Along with fellow insider/gadfly Cory Bergman, Safran deconstructs the never-ending news cycle with speed, precision and several pieces of flair in plain view. A recent dispatch, the Lost Remote’s Guide to New Newswriting, seeks to update some outdated news phrasing with the usual droll results. While I cannot condone or corroborate any of the following, I do reserve the right to chuckle knowingly. See if you agree:

"We interrupt this program to bring you a Special Report":
OLD: The president has been shot.
NEW: A cute girl is missing.

"Breaking News":
OLD: The president will resign.
NEW: There's a car on the side of the road with a flat.

OLD: We are the only people he would do an interview with.
NEW: We are the only people he would do an interview with from 7:43 am - 7:48 am.

"We have a crew on the way."
OLD: We have a crew on the way.
NEW: We just saw the story on the other channel and we're calling in our truck guy from his day off.

"We have new details..."
OLD: We have found out additional facts that are new and pertinent to your understanding of this complex story.
NEW: We got nothin', but we're rewriting the copy in the present tense.

"Our Team Coverage"
OLD: Four reporters on a big story that requires several locations to tell properly.
NEW: Eighteen reporters on a non-story, possibly standing within inches of each other.

"We are the number one news station in town!"
OLD: We won in the ratings.
NEW: We won in the ratings among 34-59 year old middle-income white females earning $34,500 - $52,875 with two or fewer kids who are expected to purchase shoes in the next quarter.

Funny stuff. Now if only these brain surgeons would list me in their media sites...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

VFB: One Year In

WARNING! The following passage is one of those narcissistic anniversary postings so easily disparaged by the non-blogging public. If rambling critique and half-baked introspection isn’t your idea of a good read, check back tomorrow. Otherwise, the navel gazing begins in five seconds. 5..4..3..2..1...

A False Start

Back in June of 2004, I stumbled onto Blogger, chose a template and named it Viewfinder BLUES. After dropping in a couple of short stories from my stash of drivel, I sat back and waited for the magic to happen. When it did not, I promptly forgot about it and went back to contributing to my favorite message board, emphatically underwhelmed by what I’d even yet to hear referred to as ‘the blogosphere‘. But four moths later I revisited my dusty little shelf and quite by accident, hit the ’Next Blog’ icon in the right-hand top of the screen. Great Gutenberg! With the twitch of the fingertip I reeled through a universe I never really knew existed, an endless stream of homemade web-pages screeching thought and opinion on subjects as diverse as the internet itself. The speed of it all blurred my vision and as I rubbed my eyes to regain focus, I considered the implications: free and friendly software like this had already enabled the citizenry to join the conversation, if it hit critical mass it would change the face of communication, or at least be the most significant development in The Media’s history since the invention of the printing press. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, I was reinvigorated - manifestly destined to forge a place on the web for my own particular point of view. Since that momentous day, precisely twelve months have passed.

Kindness of Strangers

Much to most people’s surprise, I am not the least bit technically adept. My brain spews over-baked prose at a frightening clip, but don’t ask it to read an instruction manual. I’d rather summon a 700 word epistle on the joys of electricity than change a light bulb, rather re-categorize my library than reprogram my cell phone. Thus, my launch into the blogosphere was with my typical lack of schematic acumen. Luckily, I ascended into a most promising patch of local cyberspace. Through the magic of Google, I staggered into my first aggregator - a site understandably entitled Greensboro is Talking. There, a mysterious figure named The Shu graciously aided me in my quest, quietly answering my quizzical e-mails and turning me onto a true gentleman with the meekest of monikers, Patrick Eakes. Patrick pointed to the bearded fellow in the paper, and soon I fell in with the revolutionaries. No one was more surprised than I when I attended the first of many meet-ups, coffee house rendezvous with poets, geeks and madmen. These monthly summits soon congealed into a scene of sorts and before I knew it, a whole bunch of new friends were reading my work and sharing theirs. Recently, these insatiable communicators attracted far-off pioneers and local attention with a landmark symposium, ConvergeSouth - an inaugural conference sure to be dissected, embellished and best of all, repeated. I can hardly wait.

With the Help of Weaver

Not only has push-button publishing introduced me to intriguing strangers, but its helped me get to know some familiar faces a whole lot better. Many of these were co-workers, people I passed in the halls who, suddenly privy to my late night thoughts, now stopped to talk. More than a few of them have reciprocated with excited dispatches of their own, proving that its far easier to start a blog than keep one going. I’ve enjoyed reading every word of it - even when they only number in the dozens. But this paragraph isn’t about output analysis, its about saying thanks. Aside from my lovely bride, who openly abides my electronic mistress, Chris Weaver deserves my unending gratitude, for this fellow shooter/blogger/auteur has saved this flimsy craft from crashing into the horizon more times than I can count. Whether he’s uncovering errors in my source code or tweaking a difficult non-linear edit, the Mighty Weave has hooked a brother up time and time again. Why exactly, I don’t know, but if you like this site do me a favor and go visit tvphotogblog himself. Just don’t ride shotgun in his news unit without strapping in snugly. The man races through the breakdown lane of life, logging each breakneck mile with the same clever, affable vibe - whether he’s hurtling toward a gory plane crash a Nascar race or a Taco Bell drive-thru. He is Southern Photog: Defined, and a true Friend of the Show.

Habits of the Obsessed

Enough of my accomplices, let’s examine the mechanics. At the outset of my experiment, I vowed to file a post EVERY DAY. This was easy in the beginning, when I was pulling pieces from my collection of b-roll rants. This material; idioms, allegories and anecdotes compiled from a year or two of message board binging set the tone for what I wanted to blog about: the Perils of Electronic Newsgathering. But when that well went dry, my stale repository turned into a live blogcast and I was forced to log quality time with my keyboard, the very reason I started this site to begin with. Since then, I’ve averaged five posts a week, mostly composing screeds in the midnight hours or early morning light, sometimes on my laptop in the den, but mostly in my upstairs lair - the one filled with nautical knickknacks, dusty hardbacks and broadcast bric-a-brac. When I write, I often enjoy Guatemalan coffee, Kentucky Bourbon, the electric Blues and the squawking, large-billed bird that sits atop the old dead tree outside my window. I’m a great speller, a vociferous reader and a lousy typist. My wife calls me ‘Peck-Peck’, a most dubious nickname based on the clickety-clack sound emanating from my late night sessions. Having learned never to ignore The Voice, I tend to work in furious spurts, usually hitting ’Publish’ without the first revision. Sometimes I delve back into the text to tweak phrasing, but mostly I leave it alone once its online. This, I hope, helps to explain the many misspellings, deluded second references and twisted metaphors that populate my prose. Hey, you get what you pay for.

A Dearth of Dead Presidents

Speaking of funding, I’ve studiously avoided spending money on my yearlong obsession. Minus the purchase of my now-battered digital camera and a monthly DSL bill, I’ve dropped no coin on Viewfinder BLUES, determined all along to do it all on the fly. Instead, a recent check of $5.24 hangs above my flat screen, profits reamed from the AltMedia101 advertising scheme I have a small part in. Like a framed dollar bill at a Chinese Buffet, said check represents the beginning of my empire and I thus have no plans of ever cashing it. Sorry, Roch. As for content analysis, I ain’t done much but most of my postings do fall into a few basic categories. Most are picture safaris, visual souvenirs fresh from the daily hunt with narratives fresh from my burbling brain-pan. These are the easiest to write, as they are impressions only hours old. Harder to conjure but equally rewarding are the recollected epics-in-waiting I’ve managed to record, virtual transcripts of half-forgotten tales I’ve recounted over crime tape or cocktails. By far though, the biggest readership spikes have come from the occasional ’think piece’ I’ve posted, partly due to the work’s timeliness but mostly due to my habit of pimping out the work I’m proudest of. Much of the rest is comprised of thoughts wrapped around a particular link, easy enough fodder for a guy who surfs 40 to 50 different sites pretty religiously. In the future, I hope to master the daily quote, occasional cartoon and Top Ten list, as these things translate well to title-based linking. Speaking of numbers...

Stats and Spikes

If you’re still reading this, you’re either really bored or still fairly intrigued. If it’s the latter, I’d advised you have that condition checked by a trained physician. For now though, merely adjust your safety goggles, as we are entering the Site Meter Zone. It’s an amazing tool, really - one that allows me to track my readership quite closely. At this sitting, there have been 43,278 visits to my site, barely a ripple in the cyber-sea, but respectable numbers considering a year ago the only people reading my mind were the hearty denizens of Currently I average 125 hits a day, though I have logged mind boggling spikes of a few thousand daily readers, once after uber-blogger Jeff Jarvis linked to my essay, ’Birth of the Personal Journalist’, on his well-traveled site ‘Buzz Machine‘. I enjoyed another dizzying 24 hour tally when a Hungarian website featured ‘my ‘Maximum Overdrive’ video one day, proving the delightful sight of cameramen scrambling for cover transcends all language barriers. Geographically speaking, most of my readers hail from the same continent, but a few clicks on the Site Meter tells me I have regular readers in Chile, Kuwait, Warsaw and inexplicably, New Zealand. For a guy can still remember floundering on a seventh grade world map quiz, this is pretty heady stuff. Of course my favorite aspect of traffic analysis is knowing what website my readers leave to get to mine. This tells me what links live and which ones die on the vine. I’m especially delighted to report an uptick in Google hits, visits resulting from someone typing in ’Lenslinger’ and hitting search. If I can increase these instances by a few million, I might finally be able to swing that speedboat.

More To Come

Until such time, I’ll keeping swinging a camera by day and babbling about it by night. It’s quite the paradox: As a blue-collar schlub who dreams of leaving the workaday woes for literary greatness, my primary muse is the job I love to hate. In other words, if I ever do escape this thankless gig, what the hell am I gonna write about…gardening? Not likely. Maybe one day I’ll conquer the world of fiction, but for now, I can't remember the last novel I read. I’m far too busy, scanning blogs, scribbling phrases and indulging my notebook fetish. I’ve thought for years now about getting published before I turned 40. At 38 and 9/12ths, I’d better get crackin’. For now, I plan to keep on plugging away, propping up a title I always thought would be the name of my memoir, not some amorphous blob cloaked in pixels and vinegar. Oh well, it beats my earlier attempts at meditating on page. For years I only half-listened to the crusty commentator in my head. Sharing my inner narrator with others in this living compendium has been one of the most rewarding acts of creativity I’ve ever managed to stick with. It may never line my pockets with silver, but it’s already paid off in more ways than I can mention. If nothing else, being a photographer known primarily for his writing is a pretty deep kick in and of itself. Thanks, as always, for reading...