Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ray Coleman's in Iraq

Ray Coleman, US ArmyI don't know how you feel about the War in Iraq and quite frankly, I don't really care. But whether you feel it's a righteous campaign or hopeless quagmire, you gotta give it up for those with enough balls to put on the uniform and walk the line. That's why I'm here to give props to Army Staff Sergeant Ray Coleman, a Greensboro native currently serving far from his wife and three small children. Truth is, I hadn't thought about Ray Coleman for a couple of years. Last time I saw him, the U.S. Navy reservist was quietly showing me artifacts he'd recovered from Ground Zero while helping his employer D.H. Griffin Demolition clean up the rubble of the World Trade Center. Little did I know the 40 year old High Point resident had left the Navy reserve to enter the Army, just in time to be shipped off to Iraq last October. I found out this morning, when I dragged camera, lights and tripod into his mother's home and recognized his picture amid a makeshift shrine on the coffee table.

Ray Coleman's Mom Suddenly, the story about the 'War Mom' held special meaning; as her tears streamed down her face and onto his framed photo, I dabbed my own moist eyes behind the viewfinder. For the record, Ray's fine. But two pictures tell the story of how a hostile theater can wear away one's resolve. The first shows Coleman at the outset of his deployment, standing in front of a bullet-scarred wall in full combat gear and beaming proudly. The second, much more recent photo, shows a similiar Ray - all cammo'd out in front of a bombed-out Hummer. The broad smile is still there, but the shoulders seem narrower, the waistline thinner, the uniform dirtier. His mother's breathing hitched at the implications of her son's weight loss and for once, I was glad the camera wasn't rolling. If you need a reason to feel differently about why we're in Iraq, I don't know that I can help you. But understand this: the war is being fought by flesh and blood Americans who normally stand beside you in the checkout lane. Their sacrifices, big and small, deserve every American's gratitude, not just some fleeting blurb on the evening news.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"I'll log in the car..."

Together again, for the first timeAnd so Bob did, cradling my XDCam in his lap while I snaked through the streets of Winston-Salem. With my headphones around his ears and his reporter-pad in hand, he flipped a switch on the camera and footage of a woman sitting by a humble Christmas tree flickered in the viewfinder. As she spoke, Bob scribbled her words, looking for bite-sized chunks of narrative to compliment the script in his head. While he searched, I threw Unit 4 into a hard downhill left, merged onto the crowded interstate and checked my watch. Five minutes ago we'd been standing in the lady in question's worn living room. In less than a hour and a half her story was scheduled to air on our 6:00 newscast. In thirty minutes the 5:00 producer planned to show some of our footage for a 'tease', but not before I make the twenty minute trip to the station to begin the editing process. 'Oh well', I thought as I wedged my news chariot between two jockeying 18 wheelers, 'at least there's no need to rush'.

Journalism at 70 MPHWith it's sat trucks, helicopters and logo'd windbreakers, TV News is more Amazing Race than Paper Chase. Sure, we want the truth but the facts fall flat if it ain't on time. While our brethren in print sit at their desks and work the phones for notable quotes, we in the broadcast corps saddle up and move out, dragging high-dollar gear and a penchant for hype wherever we go. I won't claim it's the more dignified of the two, but it sure makes for a better highlight reel when the old office Christmas party rolls around. But I'm not here to slam the newspaper guys, for despite my love for language and grocery store coupons, I know little of that realm. How could I, when I've spent the past fifteen-plus years hurtling through a daily gauntlet of ever-increasing deadlines. Heck, after this long I'm lucky I still got a driver's license, let alone the capacity to flip through a paper or two over my morning cup of rotgut.

Chasing the SunAnyway, where was I? Oh yeah - zooming down the highway in search of a newscast. As I did, Bob never looked up. Instead he leaned further into his notepad until he assumed some kind of journalistic fetal position. Looking over at him, I wondered if college kids studying broadcasting had any idea of what they were getting into. TV news seems very swashbuckling from the comfort of a dorm room, but all that swash and buckle comes with a large dose of inconvenience, ulcer-inducing stress and constant exposure to unsavory elements. Pros like Bob Buckley take it in stride, understanding that less than pristine conditions are an integral part of the gig. If he'd wanted to ride a desk to a five o clock quitting time every day, he could have majored in business, computers or some other less messy field. As for me, I could have kept pursuing my early career as a radar-reading scope-dope in the Nav...that, or become the world's most reflective cabbie. But neither would have granted me the mind-bending adventures I've had behind the lens. I just hope the next generation of newgathering partners packs their motion-sickness pills.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Air-times and Other Antiquities

Allison Romano of Broadcasting & Cable has written an article so enlightening, it should be posted in every newsroom in the free world. It's not that broadcast outlets aren't aware of the changing media landscape, but the terrain is shifting so quickly, only the most agile affiliates will keep from losing their footing. From B&C:

Twenty-nine percent of Americans say they go online regularly for news, up from virtually zero a decade ago, according to the Pew Research Center. The migration has caused tectonic shifts across media sectors, shrinking the audience for TV news—both national and local—and sending shockwaves through the newspaper industry, which has seen readership tumble sharply in the past decade. According to the Pew study, 71% of adults 18-29 say they get their news online, yet only 46% say they regularly watch local TV news. In the early 1990s, 75% of Americans said they watched local news.

From 75% to 46% in only fifteen years. If that ain't proof local TV news is on the decline, I'll sell my closet full of station logowear (just kidding, Karen!). But as grim as these numbers are, the future can be made brighter by just a click and a drag...

By 2009, more than 70 million Americans are expected to have high-speed Internet access, according to Kagan Research. As technology improves and more people upgrade to broadband services—an ideal environment for video clips—TV stations think they have an edge. Thirty-second video clips and exclusive Web programs are certain to beat the competition, they say. “TV stations have assets to gather news 24/7,” says station adviser Seth Geiger of consulting firm SmithGeiger. “Now they need to take advantage of delivering news 24/7.”

Easier said than done. Since the inception of the test pattern, TV stations have centered their efforts around the morning, noon and evening news. To give away the goods before airtime is tantamount to treason. But with movies coming to cell phones, fresh reruns available on video iPods and a globe teeming with splenetic bloggers, the very idea of 'airtime' will soon seem as archaic as well, VCR's. And who remembers those?

UPDATE! Via Lost Remote, a pithy, dead-on riff from someone named 'Rocker', on the original B&C article:

"In fact, for 90% of the people in a typical TV station building, this whole 'internet thing' is something they're still in their heart-of-hearts hoping will go away, or at least be handled by 'somebody else' at the station. Maybe the web-geek or two we have off in that old converted closet downstairs will take care of it all, so we can continue to pretend the world revolves around producing a series of OTO 'shows' every day. The consciousness level is rising, but at a rate that is so slow that I still really think it's a race to see whether most TV stations will survive. The ad marketplace is reaching an inflection point fairly soon now, and from a pure bottom line perspective, this industry is not ready. Real pain (revenue/margin) is right around the corner now."

Someone get that man a towel...

The Wedding Shooter

Jorge's back in Hippieville and in fine form. In fact, he just returned from a jaunt to California, where he encountered the lowest form of lens-packing slime: The Wedding Shooter. That's right, those cats in bad tuxedo shirts and crooked consumer cams hold a special place in the Photog Hall of Shame. Why? Let Mr. Guapo tell it, in ten simple words:

...Pan...Zoom...Swish...Crash...Scamper...Double-Punch...Swish Back...Zoom...Collapse.

As licensed practioners of cameramanthropology, it pains us to witness such blatant lens-abuse. No where is this swish-pan school of cinema more flagrantly exhibited than among the documentarians of matrimony. As anyone who's slung a lens for longer than six months can tell you, weddings are a certified bee-yautch. They take place on sunny Saturday afternoons, last forever, and new mother-in-laws rarely understand if you miss a shot. I personally would rather cover a half-dozen County Commissioner meetings than point my glass at a single vows exchange. But nuptials ain't gotta be ugly, as Jorge will attest. His latest post should be mandatory reading for all aspiring wedding 'togs, as well as all those citizen camera-journalists currently trying to master the perfect pan. Now, say it with me: TRI-POD...

Close to Home

I love this photo, if only because it's so familiar. Not to belittle the inherent tragedy of such a picture, mind you, but it's an aesthetic example of a career full of midnight calls. The flames licking the roofline, the casual stance of the firefighters, the battered lens in the foreground...a variation of this image has burned into my retina and filled my clothes with the smell of smoke more times than I can even pretend to remember. This particular shot comes to us courtesy of Newshutr, a veritable bear of a photog who runs a tight blog, when he's not cruising the mean streets of Cleveland. Check out his site to find out how this blaze literally hit close to home. Then, head over to b-roll for more examples of news shooters rolling on their own turf. Scroll down far enough and you'll even find a tale of my own, one in which a phone call, a smoke plume and a camera made for a very memorable morning. Then when you're through, change all the batteries in your home's smoke detectors. You don't want me and my lens outside your door at four a.m. Trust me.

Weaver Cleans His Rig

I was leaving work this evening, wondering what I'd blog about when a faint light from the parking lot caught my eye. Following the mysterious beacon, I wandered upon a most unlikely sight: Chris Weaver. Cleaning out his news unit. I swear. Now for those who think I'm overreacting, consider this: Weaver's of a certain breed, Photogifus Hoardicus, I believe they call it - the kind of shooter who never turns up at to a crime scene without three phonebooks, sixteen scanners and half a pack of tube socks. Think I'm kidding? Take a sweeping glance around Unit 15. In the short time I watched him forage through his backseat, I spotted two fishing poles, enough roadmaps to choke a tollbooth operater, sixteen types of lightbulbs, foul-weather gear for three large-sized men, several Happy Meal toys, assorted kitchen utensils and at least four basketballs - lest a rival station pick-up game break out.

In case a pick-up game should break out...Land of the LostHappy Meal Space Aliens

By the third flash of my camera, Weaver looked up from his highlighted index of scanner frequencies, mumbled something about installing GPS on his camera batteries, the started sorting his collection of ketchup packets by fast food franchises. I don't know what's gotten into the old boy, but I'm not too worried. He goes on vacation tomorrow: he'll be home by the hearth while I'm rooting around Unit Four's floorboard for the proper condiments to go with stake-out bar-b-cue. Then who'll be the real slob?

UPDATE: Weaver himself weighs in with a rundown of what he found inside Unit 15. Witness the Insanity!