Saturday, November 12, 2005

Once More Up the Widow's Porch

Friday’s assignment was a grim enough trip, the kind where the snapshot camera stays in the car. But since it’s the sort of story I’ve shot a thousand times, I felt I’d best tell ya about it. We were running late anyway, a side trip ferrying news cars had put us behind. Still, it was only five past ten when we passed Fantasia’s Grandma’s house. Two blocks later we were there, a faded yellow one story on a rundown street. As I pulled in behind an idling Monte Carlo, Jeff hopped out and walked up the modest yard, toward the two tall black men hovering on the porch. Behind the back of Unit four I popped the lid and pulled my gear together: camera, run-bag, tripod. Glancing up, I saw Jeff and the men had disappeared inside the house. I looked at the house and tried to guess the home’s age. Not able to, I played it safe and searched for the doohickey that allowed me to plug three prong lights into an old school, two prong outlet. When I found it, I closed the lid, triggered the lock in my pocket and waddled up the gray, flaking porch.

Inside, the front room glowed an unnatural shade of orange. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I couldn’t help but stare at the walls, helter-skelter brushstrokes frozen in time, with pumpkin-colored paint that looked like dried roofing tar. I could hear Jeff half-whispering in the next room, but I hardly listened as I set up shop. Dragging a chair to the center of the room, I stashed my light and pulled back on the thin brown curtain that was struggling to cover the window. Going slow as not to bring the flimsy curtain rod crashing down, I had the whole room bathed in sunlight by the time Jeff and The Widow entered the room. A few months shy of thirty and a mother of three, she had a warmth that eclipsed even the garish orange walls of her south-side rental. Seconds after staring into her deep dark eyes, I found myself liking her - taking special care to pick just the right filter so her brown skin and orange walls glowed in the mid-morning sun. Sliding the cameras and sticks to the left, I framed the shot so that the plastic green plant in the corner sat just out of focus over her left shoulder. Happy with the look, I nodded to Jeff, who turned to the lady of the house and engaged her in small talk. Slowly, her story unfurled.

“We met at the place we both worked, and it just started from there.” The Widow’s eyes lit up as she described the beginning of her marriage. On Halloween night, that union ended abruptly when her husband, walking along the I-85 at midnight, was felled by a speeding SUV. The father of three died there in the breakdown in the inaugural hours of November 2005, as a river of metal cloaked his killer in southbound traffic. Two weeks later, few clues had emerged, leading the police to suggest the family appeal to the public. Which is why Jeff and I found ourselves sitting quietly in the stricken family’s home as the young matriarch recounted her still-fresh crushing loss. Throughout the fifteen minute interview, The Widow never broke down, much to my relief. Had she, I would have been obligated to quietly reach up and slowly zoom in, in hopes the sunlight would glint off her falling tears. Instead I stared passively at the viewfinder, taking in this strong woman in matter-of-fact black and white. The times when her voice did crack, Jeff backed off in his easy-going, distinctively Southern way. This too pleased me, as I’ve wanted to bash in the skulls of less mannered interviewers during similar sit-downs in the past.

When The Widow ran out of words, we interviewed the dead man’s brother, one of the tall men from the porch. We quickly realized he was a doppelganger of the deceased’s, an identical twin who felt nothing mysterious the moment his lifelong look-alike was cut down by the callous traveler. As he shifted from foot to foot in his sister-in-law’s den, I could feel his rage from across the room. Behind him, I could see his mirror image in the picture of his slain sibling sitting on the battered TV hutch. After he spoke of justice denied, I set my camera directly over the coffee table and shot footage of the victim from far happier times. The photo albums were filled with photos of smiling children, beautiful kids who came out from the back bedroom to meet the visiting news crew before they left. I recognized the youngest girl’s shirt as being just like on my own daughter wears. That simple coincidence finally pierced through my crusty photog‘s shell, reminding me for just an instance, that this sad passion play was all too real, all too unfair and all too common. Who knows for what reason? Fifteen years of hunting calamity through a tube has left me no less confused as to why things happen the way they do, but it damn sure has made me hug my own kids more.

Luckily, that’s an occupational hazard I can live with.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Smitty's On Call

I promise I'll cough up some original content in the coming posts, but for now check out the latest from Lights.. Camera.. Jackson! Smitty is on-call this week, a fact he discovered only when his telephone rang in the wee hours of the morning. Man, have I been THERE. What Smitty found once he rolled out of bed was common enough for a pre-dawn call, but it offers a quick tutorial of how spot news finds its way on-screen. Here's a hint: Magic pixies have nothing to do with it. That is all.

The Unbundled Newsroom

I urge anyone who works in television news to read Terry Heaton's latest essay, The Unbundled Newsroom. In it, the TV veteran envisions a broadcast outlet of the very near future, one in which updates are provided on-line all throughout the newsgathering process. This shift in emphasis addresses the growing cyber-audience surfing from work and transforms the evening newscast from a 'well-honed speech' into a less formal summary of the day's events. But it won't happen by itself...
An unbundled newsroom begins earlier in the day, and its systems are built around immediate publication via the Internet. That means field crews need tools for directly publishing to the Web, including text, stills, video, blogs, e-mail, cellphones, handhelds, and especially RSS. We need to see ourselves as pushing content at every turn in the creation and development of our journalism. Nothing is too insignificant to justify a departure from this goal.

A single story, therefore, contains elements for publication at various points.

We're pursuing this and why.
Here's what we're finding.
Here's what we've found.
Here's reaction.
Here's our finished product.

Think of these "points" as unbundled bits of media that we can distribute. We're dispatching a minimum of five elements on this story during the day in this model. That's five opportunities for a person to read, watch or listen and five opportunities for us to serve them an attached ad, assuming that's the revenue model we've chosen. Regardless, we're churning out a continuous stream of content choices for people in our community.
As probable as Heaton's predictions seem, most news executives will no doubt consider it heresy. But I believe some form of The Unbundled Newsroom will come to fruition sooner than later. Better technology, smarter consumers, and a breakdown of longheld news-consuming habits make a shift in the information-sharing paradigm all but inevitable. My only question is, where do I fit in in all this?

Melee Down Under

Some days it just doesn't pay to be a cameraman. Okay MOST days it doesn't pay to be a cameraman, but that's not important right now. What IS important is that I milk another blog post from a frighteningly slow week. Thus, we hand matters over to Tim Rutherford at Photog's Lounge, who in turn points us South. W-a-a-a-y South.

Dateline: Melbourne, Australian. At a court proceedings charging several men with planning terrorist acts, the accused group's thugged-out buddies showed up en masse and scowls at the ready. The tension was high in the courtroom, but the stupidity didn't break out until around noon. For the rest, we turn it over to the good folks at The Sydney Morning Herald, who describe the incident in a way only Australians can:
At the lunch break the stocky supporter had a niggle at one of the task force in the lobby and found himself being frogmarched from the premises. Outside, he and his friends launched into the crowding media. They leaped on a Channel Seven cameraman, Matt Rose, knocking him to the footpath. As he went down, at least four others kicked and punched him.

Rose's sound recordist, Daniel McCarthy, and a Herald-Sun photographer, Craig Borrow, were both punched in the jaw and the five hurled metal tables and chairs, cursing and screaming.

The attack was sudden but less than smart. Police will be looking at the hundreds of photos and TV footage before laying charges. As they left, so they may be going back to court.
Here's hoping the Aussie authorities catch the camera-hating goons and the camera crew recuperates. Personally, I've never been attacked while behind the lens. I HAVE been spit at, threatened, cursed out and of course, dumped in the Atlantic. Hey, who says being a cameraman doesn't pay?

UPDATE: A grainy video depicting the attack. Worth it for the sound alone...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Charlie and the Tower Factory

A man whose wife regularly dispatches me to train wrecks and ribbon cuttings is overseeing the construction of our station's new antenna tower and this being 2005, he's blogging about it. At his new site, 'in-gun-ear' Charlie Layno is documenting the erection of our new digital tower in terms that I almost understand. He's also playing photog with a 'Frankenstein' camera, capturing the antenna's lofty ascension while shooters like myself chase crime, grime and dogs in funny hats here on the street. Charlie's also posting stills on his site, proving that in-gun-ears don't just take cameras apart, but they can actually use them too. Who knew?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Picture of Lilly

Lenslinger and Liljegren
Early readers of this site may remember my lamenting the loss of a certain reporter last December. Well, HE'S BACK!...if only for a day or two. Erik Liljegren, the man with the most misspelled name in the news business, has spent the past year traversing the country as a Fox News Channel correspondent. From the Michael Jackson trial in L.A. to Katrina-ravaged Mississippi, Lilly has flashed his pearly whites in every time-zone in the contiguous U.S. Now, he's back in the Piedmont on 'special assignment' (a phrase that sounds a whole lot sexier when it means something other than counting pick-up trucks on I-40). Last night he took time from his allegedly busy schedule to break bread with a group of ex-colleagues who still don't give him any respect, even though he's the epitome of a class act. More cognac!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Book Review: Jarhead

In an effort to keep this humble site relevant, I reserve the right to occasionally wander off-topic. Thus, the following book review, the first in an ongoing series...

Anthony Swofford waited ten years to write about his Gulf War experiences and the result was a best selling memoir. This weekend the book, the author and Operation:Desert Storm are getting a lot of press thanks to the premiere of the Sam Mendes-directed film of the same name. I haven't seen the film, but the reviews confirmed my suspicions. 'Jarhead' is a languid, internal story of a Marine's struggle with his place in the War and the world. The very lack of action drives the narrative, but not in a way that easily translates to cinema. That moviegoers would come away feeling empty is ironic, since that's the exact same sentiment Swofford so aptly writes about.

But I didn't log in to pick apart a movie I haven't seen, but rather to praise a book I really enjoyed reading back when it first came out. In print, 'Jarhead' is a bleak tour through the sand-choked landscape of modern day warfare training. Swofford pulls no punches, revealing ugly truths about his fellow soldiers and himself that imbue the text with an undeniable realism. That it refuses to adhere to the novel-like mainframe of climax and resolution makes it all the more bruising and life-like. Simply put, 'real' trumps 'heroic' - a concept this crack sniper turned gifted writer never lets wander from his sights. Starkly apolitical, 'Jarhead' speaks from a troubled grunt's point of view and uncovers the minefield he must cross while waiting for a war to define him. If you dig unvarnished, thoughtful non-fiction, you can do no better than this debut work. You may even want to see the movie...

P.S.) I cannot tell you how inspiring this book was when I first read it. Along with such works as 'Chickenhawk' and 'The Things They Carried', 'Jarhead's warts-and-all account of military life makes me want to recount my own peace-time coming-of-age experience in the U.S. Navy - something I fully intend to do, as soon as I work up the courage. Dismissed!