Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Tree Lens

Here's a sincere hope that your holidays are happy ones. I for one have had a most relaxing week or so off; nine straight days of reclining with my family and a few new gadgets. What could be better than that? Monday, of course, I return to work for a scintillating week of newsgathering trauma while the rest of the free world is off. That's okay. While I toil away over steaming hot newscasts, do take some time to hang out with those you love. It's done wonders for my sanity. Now, let's see if I can remember all that in a day or so, when I'm stalking department store return counters for talkative mall-goers and holiday horror stories. Egads. Until then, I'll be here at the ranch, installing batteries, overeating and trying my best to put together this blasted driveway basketball goal. Wish me luck, and thanks as always for visiting this not so humble site. By doing so, you've helped make my 2005 a surprisingly rewarding year. Now, hand me that wrench...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Used To Be Me

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Say what you will, but this blurry shot (courtesy of my old partner in crime Dustin Miller) proves three things: First of all, I really did use to shoot Friday Night Football, though honestly I never knew much more than to simply follow the ball and avoid getting hit. Secondly, I wasn't born with a beard; it took years for me to realize the less of my face visible the better. And third, I was once happy just to be in the game. Yes, running up and down the sidelines of life was a thrilling way to spend my 20's. At 38...not so much.

2005 in Review - January

In an effort to pad out the next two weeks, I offer the obligatory and totally self-obsessed look back at a twelve month case of Viewfinder BLUES...

By January 2005, I had already been blogging for three months - but in truth I was coasting off momentum built up elsewhere, doling out stories I'd written years early during my formulative period on 'Hey, this blogging thing's easy,' I said as I dragged yet another pithy epistle from my stash and hit 'PUBLISH'. Little did I know then how hard it would become once the hoarded drivel ran dry. But that was weeks away, for most of January I decimated my archives by posting fundamental tales of news gone stupid.

There was the weird saga of MoonRock Madness, a true, twisted epic that haunted me far longer than it took the six people who bothered to read it to do so. I recounted one of my easiest scores with The Handcuffed Hippie, told what it was like When The News Gods Smiled and even confessed My Favorite Mistake. If that weren't enough I tried in vain to replicate the excitement of my very first news gig with The Applebee's Incident, before printing the results of my Prison Yard Litmus Test.

Sensing my cold-storage confessions were all but thawed, I shoved my digital camera into my run-bag and became an unabashed snapshot gatherer. It quickly paid off when I found myself decked out in scrubs with nothing much to do. Digging my camera out of a pouch, I handed it to a competitor and smiled behind the mask. Presto, a never-ending series of cheesy cameos was born...

The Unbundled Awakening

The first of several Year in Review articles I'll be sampling is Terry Heaton's manifesto of media trends, The Unbundled Awakening. In it, the newshound turned oracle assesses the splintering of mainstream media and cites the rise of the Citizen Journalist. It's an intriguing document, even if you're not as mired in emerging media as your friendly neighborhood lenslinger. Still, if you're reading this you must be semi-aware of the period of communication upheavel we find ourselves in - though acording to Terry, you're not as pioneering as you thought.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported earlier this year that half of all teens in this country — and 57% of those who use the internet — have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations. This awakening of creativity among our youth — and their ability to do something with it — is the essence of what's known as Web 2.0.

That's the best explanation of Web 2.0 I've heard yet. It's the exact thought I've had as I've watched my 11 year old troubleshoot my laptop. Her intuitive grasp of multimedia mechanics comes from a lifetime spent interacting with glowing, rectangular screens. Those of us in communications field would do well to emulate her generations electronic immersion, as Terry notes.

Increasingly, we'll see media companies hiring people with multimedia skills as the drift away from expensive specialization continues. The New York Times, for example, recently laid off 85 people but continues to advertise for those with web and associated skills ... More and more, we'll see recent graduates more qualified for mainstream media jobs that demand multimedia skills than people with considerably more experience. The only way this won't happen is if media companies invest in retraining to provide their mid-career employees with a multimedia skill set, but this will be fought by those who'll insist that it's only being done to save money.

Speaking of the bottom line, it's the main reason some stations want to take the 'crew' out of news crew. The VJ movement, as envisioned by Michael Rosenblum has drawn the ire of many of my camera-swinging buddies. Terry's taken a few swipes in that fight and launched a few haymakers.

Single journalists with cameras and editing systems force the newsroom out of the ruts and routines of a way of operating that contributes to the decline in news viewing. In most places, local news viewing is off 30% in the past ten years, and there's no sign of that slide ending. We simply won't bring viewers back doing things the same way, and the VJ model dramatically breaks something that really needs breaking and demands that people think creatively across-the-board.

I love solo newsgathering; done right it can be potent, personal and downright liberating. But the average news geek has no desire to broaden their skills, choosing instead to languish in long-established comfort zones. Many have years invested in their specialized fields and would just as soon lay down on the interstate than abandon their particular niche. That will change slowly as the next generation of journalists enter the broadcasting ranks, but by then, who will be watching local TV news anyway?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bloggus Interruptus...

New Toy I know, I know ... it's been two whole days since I've posted anything, but I got one heckuva excuse: 42 inches of Sony High Def hypnosis, an early Christmas gift to replace the big-tube RCA that died couch-side a few weeks ago. Throw in a cable upgrade and free month of DVR, and you got three reasons this humble blog has been so quiet for the past forty-eight hours. But fear not lone reader, for I'm about to take my coffee-addled carcass upstairs to get cracking on Act 2 of 'Danny and the DUI'. But first, I have to run the new set through a diagnostics test that should tax every facet of its many features. That's right, we're watching 'The Blues Brothers'.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Ubiquity of Diminutive Lenses

By posting video clips of his beloved Tar Heels' basketball team on his well-traveled blog, crafty columnist Ed Cone has raised an issue not previously considered. In a world where the most ancillary of objects can record moving pictures and sound, what is and isn’t fair game? Ed’s ticket to the Smith Center expressly forbid video cameras, but allowed still photos. But his tiny Nikon did both, and he came away from the game with footage he wanted to share. Enter the blogosphere. With the punch of a ‘Publish‘ button, the tech-savvy writer made his thirty second seat-cam cinema freely available to all who would pause long enough to give it a click.

Ed did so not to make a buck, but to show his enthusiasm for an entity he loves (and supports, no doubt). But no matter how well-intentioned his video homage may be, it’s unclear how the folks who get paid to market UNC Basketball feel about it. It’s one more example of how rapidly-improving technology is outpacing other facets of American life. How long before such venues such as a university coliseum update their policies regarding new recording devices in the Information Renaissance? How ill it affect the distribution of proprietary imagery when every patron has a high-powered lens hanging off their hip?

As Pam and Tommy Lee will attest, once an image, sound or sequence is cast upon the internets, no amount of lawyers can stuff the genie back in the bottle. Ed’s subject matter isn’t anywhere as salacious as that, but his quiet camerawork could very well trigger a schism in the plate tectonics of intellectual property. Trouble is, no one knows what the landscape may look like once the aftershocks fade. And plenty of people smarter than me are scanning the horizon...
‘Colleges zealously guard their images, logos and athletic marketing. TV broadcasters pay schools big money for sole rights to televise the events. It's not in the best financial interest of either to let any schmoe with a video camera shoot whatever he or she feels like and stream it online. (Not without them getting a cut of the action, at least.) This is another case of institutional policy and the law lagging behind technology and the consumer.’ -- John Robinson

I have no problem with a rule against commercial use of video clips, or clips of a certain length. But is my use of a brief clip at a site that accepts ads 'commercial use'? I think not. What if I aggregated clips from a bunch of users, and sold ads around them? Probably so... -- Ed Cone

‘These small vids are viral advertisements. A type of social activity that basketball fans, young and old, can enjoy. When you give a community (ie ACC basketball fans) a common activity that layers on top of another (ie following the tar heels) you have a very strong synergy. Creativity + fans x love = money.’ -- Brian R.
One thing’s for sure. No matter how we rewrite the rulebooks of image gathering, it sure won’t stop some cat with a badge, a flashlight and a GED from hassling me and my heavily logo’d fancy-cam at the gate. Save me an aisle-seat...

Ice, Logs and Love

Poor Little Lost Robot. The Northwest native turned Southeast photog is still without power thanks to the ice storm that ravaged South Carolina last week. It's gotten so bad he's been forced to cannibalize his toy robot collection for their heat-giving battery supply. I feel for ya, 'bot - as nothing sucks more profusely than a home deprived of electricity ... something I learned a few years back when an overnight winter storm left central North Carolina encased in ice and utility-free...

I got an early start the morning after the ice-storm, digging out of my frozen driveway and piloting my two wheel drive news unit to the station. Once there, my 'superiors' sent me right back out, with orders to traverse the tundra that was once the Greater Piedmont Triad Googleplex. I hit all the stops: from hanging off salt trucks to chasing down power crews to stalking old folks as they shivered in their outdated living rooms. Just before noon, I rendezvoused with another crew at a stranded live truck, where we edited our footage, went live and tried in vain to crank the ice-encrusted masted-beast. When that proved futile, I crawled in trusty Unit 4, and slip-slided all the way home to check in on the fam.

What did I find but my lovely bride, who was...a little 'manic' that week, wrapped in several layers of clothing, hanging blankets over doorways and cursing my name. The good woman was absolutely livid that I had left the house to go to work without first rounding up a suitable supply of those grocery store logs we then used in our undersized fireplace. I was guilty, too. My news radar had sounded early that morning and I had left my home without fishing the firelog box out of the perpetually-messy garage. But no amount of lame excuses could satisfy the wife, who was perhaps the maddest I've ever seen her. At one point, my normally quite perky better half yelled,


As her accusation bellowed forth, I glanced out the kitchen window to see my two lovely girls out with the neighbor kids, sliding down an icy hill on trashcan lids among shouts of unabashed glee. When my youngest saw me, she waved excitedly, her smiling face barely visible through hat, hood and scarf. Knowing that logic wouldn't apply to my wife's misplaced wrath, I dropped the box of firelogs at her feet, spun on my heels and drove back to my live truck outpost.

I grumbled incessantly on the ice all day, warming my hands on the live truck's exhaust pipe and complaining to all who would listen how ill-timed irrational mood swings could be. To prove my superiority and take my mind off my troubles, I promptly lost my station-issued cell phone and spent much of the day stomping around in the frozen slush looking for it. I never did find it, but two days later the power came back on, my wife returned to a more rational state of mind and life became almost normal again. I LOVE that woman, but I hate ice-storms. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go dig some firewood out of the garage...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Danny and the DUI (Act 1)

Early in his career, a favorite colleague of mine suffered an injustice behind the lens so remarkable, so excruciating, my eyes water every time I think about it. Fifteen years have passed since the incident. Even back then, Danny Spillane considered himself a news-veteran, but the truth was he was a scrawny redhead with a heavy lens and a cute partner by the name of Cindy Farmer. Together the duo worked every kind of story there was, but the one Danny might like to forget the most happened one summer night somewhere here in the Piedmont.

They’d ridden in the back of the Highway Patrol car all night, tagging along with a no-nonsense state trooper as he enforced the newly enhanced DUI laws. But the going was slow. All night long they’d stopped speeders and litterbugs, but had yet to come across anyone who’d imbibed and decided to drive. That was until late in the evening, when a faded Buick Riviera made an awkward lane change and caught the attention of the straight faced sergeant.

“He’s 10-55..” the gravely voice declared from the front seat.

“Really?” Danny said, exchanging glances with Cindy. “How can you tell?”

“I been doing this a long time…” The trooper’s voice trailed off as he fell in behind the beat-up Riviera and flipped on his roof lights. Up ahead the driver’s silhouette didn’t flinch as the blue strobes bathed his hulking shoulders in unnatural light. Instead he flipped his right turn signal and wheeled his rumbling sedan into a dusty trailer park. The trooper followed, parking close behind the driver before grabbing his Smokey-Bear hat and leaving Danny and Cindy in the backseat. Bracing his lens on the back of the driver’s seat, Danny squinted into the viewfinder and rolled tape. Through his earpiece, he could hear the trooper’s voice through the wireless microphone attached to his state-issued clip-on tie.

“Sir, how much we have to drink tonight?”, the trooper’s voice crackled in Danny’s ear.

“Yeah, I had a few drinks,” came the slurred reply, “ but I’m home, dude, I’m s-s-safe.”

Danny could hear the trooper chuckle under his breath. “Sir, this ain’t baseball, and you ain’t safe. I’m gonna need you to step out of the car.”

With that Danny shuffled around in the backseat for a better shot. By the time he brought the parked Riviera into frame, Trooper Straight-face had the much taller man cuffed and stretched across the old Buick’s hood. Danny and Cindy high-fived each other at the last-minute bounty, relieved they’d finally scored what they’d ridden around all night looking for. But their grins turned to grimaces as their pilot and host force-marched a very large, very drunk, very pissed-off redneck toward the front passenger door of the very car they were sitting in.

Next time: Low Blow...

UPDATE! No matter how I wrinkle my forehead, the details of the above story's second and third act currently eludes me. OOPSIE! After the holidays, I'll gather with Danny over some fine Country Bar-B-Cue and hash out the particulars. Serves me right for rushing a half-sketched tale into print, er blog, er, whatever...

You Know You're a Photog When:

From, the on-line watering hole of lensers everywhere...

You Know You're a Photog When:

You know a shortcut around the eternal red light, avoiding the drawbridge, through the projects and behind the courthouse. -- Blues Daddy

You see the days light progress through the kelvin scale. -- Aussie

You're on vacation in Disney World, watching the local news in you're in your hotel room, and you start yelling at the photographer for his poor shot composition. -- TheBluesisStill#1

After watering the lawn, you figure-eight the garden hose. -- Newshutr

Your kids think it's normal for you to come home for lunch one day and after bedtime the next. -- Blues Daddy

You've never seen a hockey game with both eyes. -- Tyna

and my favorite...

You can talk on the phone, listen to the scanner, search for the smoke plume on the horizon and eat a seven-layer burrito while steering with your knee going 75 on the freeway. -- Blues Daddy

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Room to Write

Icon RowChristmas has come early to the Lenslinger household in the form of five days off. Thus, I won't be out on news-safari this week; rather I'll join the great unwashed at the shopping malls, where legions of procrastinating husbands will congregate to wander amid meat tray stands and jewelry stores. When not there however, I'll be here at Castle Pittman, giving my shoulder a much-needed rest and trying not to spoil my bride's weekday feng shui. Luckily, I have an upstairs lair I can retreat to, an escape pod for when the estrogen level skyrockets. That's a regular occurrence in my house, as the guinea pig and I are the only fellas to speak of. Whereas he lives in the laundry room, I'm most often found ensconsed in the inner sanctum of a spare bedroom turned think tank. If you've every wondered what I see as I spew forth my drivel, you really should get out more. Before you log off however, this post is for you...

VFB HQ SRV To be honest, it's the only room in the house I have much say-so over. That's probably a good thing however, as filling both floors with low-end nautica, dusty hardbacks and assorted Stevie Ray memorabilia would make this place awfully hard to sell someday. Better I confine it to these four walls, where my penchant for clutter can be locked away like some weird wall-eyed uncle. I'm okay with that, just ignore the thumps emanating from within late at night. That's just me, wrestling with my muse. No big whoop. Some Dads build trophy rooms for the favorite teams, others erect woodshops in the garage and whittle away their time. Me - I retire to my quarters, where I hunt and peck while the voices in my head dictate their plunder. 'Hey, I ain't playin' Donkey Kong up here', I tell my wife, who only pretends to listen over the melodic din of her beloved piano.

Viewfinder BLUES Home Office So if this behind-the-scenes look at Viewfinder BLUES Headquarters seems a bit too self-aware, you'll have to take it up with my staff. See, we held a meeting and decided in the interest of transparency it would help to pull back the curtain on our sector of the push-button publishing conglomerate. At least I'm not in my pajamas...or speaking of myself in the third person collective. That would be creepy. Instead I'm fully dressed and only midly distressed. You see, work has been a woeful blur as of late, an ever ratcheting cycle of unforgiving deadlines and soul-sucking assignments. I need this weeklong reprieve like a shell-shocked foot soldier needs a little R&R. I'll be back on the front lines of the newsgathering war soon enough. Until then, you can find me here, shaking layers of dust off the random thoughts I've collected until they're suitable for your perusal. Don't say I didn't warn ya...