Thursday, May 11, 2006

Surly Attitude Not Included...

JL's got his robots, but here's what I want in my Christmas stocking: a 12 inch war journalist action figure. Decked out in blue jeans and a sensible plaid, this swarthy lenslinger comes complete with betacam, body armour, laptop, digital camera and GPS. Hell, this molded piece of dashing plastic is better equipped than I am! The next time a GI Joe takes hostile fire outside the Barbie Princess Compound, this guy is ALL OVER IT! Ahem. Sorry, but the idea of a photog doll (er - action figure) fills me with joy, as I've always thought the Accesorized Toy Kingdom was under-represented by its Fourth Estate. Best of all, this bearded lenser is available on eBay! Extra hands included. Honestly, the only thing that would make this mini-me more realistic would be a string in back that when pulled would unleash a torrent of gripes, complaints and highly opinionated lunch suggestions. Add that and I'll order a truckload...

Ode to the Cameraman

Former ABC News senior correspondent Jim Wooten files a report for the Columbia Journalism Review detailing the injuries his friend Doug Vogt received while covering the war in Iraq. Vogt, who Wooten describes as 'a modest, soft-spoken Canadian with a flat Alberta accent and the chutzpah of a jewel thief', was riding with newly-minted ABC anchor Bob Woodruff in an Iraqi armored personnel carrier when an IED exploded in the middle of the road and small arms fire erupted from three directions. Soon after, news of the dashing young anchor's life threatening injuries ricocheted across the globe, his veteran photog's slightly less serious wounds mentioned as barely an afterthought. Wooten's report rights that wrong by explaining what an accomplished adventurer Doug Vogt is. Then the veteran TV reporter does something unexpected. He turns his descriptive eye on the legion of cameramen and women he's accompanied to hostile lands and honors them all with an enlightening leer at those 'independent cusses' behind the lens:
There are liberals and conservatives among them; intellectuals, too, as well as plodders and diligent yeomen — and yet without exception, despite their distinct idiosyncrasies, what cameramen and women all have in common is that they know for an undisputed fact that whether anyone says so or not, they are not merely important, they are absolutely essential, and because they clearly understand that, there is about every single one I’ve ever known a muscular sense of self, of dignity and pride in themselves and their work. Individually, they’re very much like the seasoned platoon sergeant who knows that although the lieutenant is ostensibly in charge, he is indispensable. It is his skill and his experience, not the lieutenant’s, that will see the unit through the tough times.
Read the whole thing. Then go buy your favorite photog a drink.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daughtry Gets the Door (?)

Color me stunned. Despite a full workday of industry gossip and insider guessing, I was certain Chris Daughtry would make it to the Final Three of American Idol. But unless my TV's on the fritz, a nation of fickle viewers just cast off him into exile. Well, not exile. Everyone who's heard Chris' chainsaw-soaked-in-whiskey voice agrees he will soon make powerful recordings. In fact, not being coronated America's latest pop sensation may very well help him in the rocker credibility department. But I was hoping the unassuming service rep who melted my microphone with his soaring pipes last summer would win the whole damn cheesy thing. I guess now he'll just have to settle for being a globally-known rock star. Not a bad fall-back plan certainly, but I'd be lying if I said the unexpected joy of this year's AI season didn't just come to a screeching, unceremonious halt.

No doubt I'll soon see Chris in person and become the gazillionth person to tell him how badly he was robbed. That sucks! Since he first sang for Shannon Smith and my lens in downtown Greensboro, I've greatly enjoyed covering his meteoric rise from caterwauling everyman to thunder-tongued Rock God in training. The same goes for his wife Deanna, a lovely lady whose infectious nature makes you want to invite her to your next backyard bar-be-cue. Let's review, shall we? Chris will NOT be the next American Idol. He will NOT be returning to Greensboro in two days for a whirlwind hometown tour. He will NOT be forced to take part in yet another dorky Ford commercial. He WILL go on to make more money and receive more acclaim than a thousand TV cameramen. And his almost ordained ascent will forever remind your humble lenslinger that storybook endings rarely happen as scheduled.

Oh yeah...Go Elliot!

The Roy Park School of Broadcasting

Over at, NoJobTog poses a riddle for the practicing camera jockey: Do you believe that the (TV news) market you grew up in has an affect on where you are now? Hmmm….interesting question, NoJobTog - enough to pull from my forecasted doldrums.

Having grown up outside the bustling metropolis of Goldsboro, North Carolina. I feasted on the edges of two TV news markets. To the West, the bustling Raleigh market boasted mid 80’s helicopters and flashy graphics, but to me Capitol City was a world away and I just couldn’t relate to the almost urban feel of the news emanating out of that region known as ‘the Triangle‘. I was far more entranced with the airwaves to the East. A drowsy yet competitive beginners market where the average news reporter still attended college keggers, the Greenville-New Bern-Washington area was and always will be a place to earn your broadcast bones. As a result, the nightly dispatch was downright rollicking; news stories pasted together by rookies with far more enthusiasm than acumen. Towering above this throng of perpetual rookies and former interns, a rat pack of slightly cornpone Cronkite types held fast to the spotlight they‘d helped create back in the fifties. The resulting newscasts were delicious non sequiturs - surreal episodes in which heavy-lidded Masters of Gravitas threw it to horn-rimmed young news nerds whose on-air delivery still crackled with nervousness and puberty. For a budding satirist, it was stimulating viewing - even if I didn’t exactly know why yet.

By the time I’d turned 14, cable television had burst on the scene, draping the nation’s living rooms in bulky, hard-wired cable boxes. Amid this potpourri of new offerings, a monster lurked - in the form of MTV. Nothing short of revolutionary, this 24 hour stream of newly invented music videos provided the soundtrack and shot-sheet of my repeated stabs at adolescence. Pretty soon, I was spiking my hair and flipping my jean jacket collar up, in hopes of channeling just some of the cool my new hero Sting seemed to exude . When that didn’t work out too well, I repaired to my parents’ den and dissected every intoxicating frame of this new age of music video. Lost in this day-glo parade of hammy camera techniques and quick cut editing, my love for the straight and narrow newscast faded into static.

But that interior signal came back loud and clear the day I conned my way into an interview at WNCT. Agog at the very latest in twenty year old broadcast gear, I almost swallowed my gum when the late great Jim Woods strolled by. I don’t remember what I said exactly to the local icon that day and I’m sure he forgot the moment he managed to shake me. (Who can blame him? I was probably the fifth young smart aleck to call him ’Dude’ that day.) Once I’d secured a minimum-wage spot on the morning show crew however, I went about paying my respects to the living legends that still populated that low-budget studio. In return, Jim Woods, John Spence, Slim Short and Roy Hardee served as my vocational professors, teaching me how the daily news machine worked, and explaining why it was so much better before all those gadgets got in the way. Did the TV news market I grew up in have an effect on where I am now? You betcha. Since my salad says at WNCT, I’ve practiced the craft the Masters taught me exclusively in my home state of North Carolina. No doubt I could go elsewhere, but this is after all, the world I know. If I’m carrying on a tradition of dedicated newsgathering in the Old North State, I’m honored - knowing that when I do fall short, it ain’t due to lack of proper training.

A Little Less Conversation

As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m running out of things to blog about. Sure, I’m still encountering enough news and nonsense on a daily basis to choke all manners of bandwidth, I’m just having a tough. time. getting. focused. Thus, my dilemma: Do I let the posts slow to a crawl and blog only when truly inspired? Or do I crank out empty paragraph after empty paragraph dissecting the fact that I got nothing’ to say? Both approaches are fraught with peril and the very conundrum raises some disturbing questions... Why am I blogging in the first place? Will I blog forever? Who reads this crap, anyway? Wait - don‘t answer that last one. Just know that your lowly lenslinger is rather flummoxed of late, wondering where his muse went and why it took his mojo along for the ride.

After much consternation, I’ve decided not to litter my humble website with filler. I’m quite capable of manufacturing post after post saying nothing, but that just doesn’t seem right. I’d much rather stay on target and let the posts grow on natural occurrence. That way I’ll be able to point to my URL with pride, knowing it only boasts that which belongs there. In the meantime, bear with my lack of inspiration, won’t you? Before you know it, I’ll be cranking out the tripe at my normal clip - be it a dispatch from the littered alleyways of general news or breathless reports from my upcoming return to Hollywood for the American Idol finale. Either way, I got your back - for the eyeballs that scan my words are important to me and the last thing I want to do is lose their gaze.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a news unit windshield to stare holes through...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Polyester News Gods

I don't know what I like most about the above photo - the once futuristic yet now antique video gear, that mid-seventies compact car or just the shooter's jaunty moustache. Either way, this old school news duo brings to mind a very special episode of Lou Grant - one in which a young Penn and Teller get their broadcast on ... Starsky and Hutch style. For the story surrounding the origin of this landmark shot, visit the latest dust-up in the photograblogosphere, Behind The News - courtesy of 'Widescreen' - a veteran news shooter way Down Under. After that, check your own photo album - then perhaps, your closet. Remember, the Members Only jacket you burn could be your own.

Vagaries of the Chase

Rig and RideSorry if the blog has bogged down a bit, but work has been pretty typical as of late … if you can ever call my silly gig typical. With the May ratings period in full effect, my fellow photogs have been busier than ever - crafting special reports and series pieces with unparalleled zeal. This, of course, clogs up the edit bays back at HQ and displaces special operators like myself. Before I know it, I’m back on patrol, slurping a Big Gulp behind the wheel of a wobbly live truck and making macabre small talk with the reporter du jour. It’s a living, but not as interesting a one as you may think. Maybe that would change if I paid more attention, but after a while all those breathless dispatches run together - until the victims and charlatans of a thousand unrelated dramas make small talk in my head. And you wonder why I blog...

Low Slung CellieIt’s therapy. Why else would I re-examine day after day of processing trivia into commotion? There are far better hobbies - ones that involve score cards, male bonding and scheduled revelry. Instead though, I retreat to my upper lair and rifle through the meaningless impressions of the day. Surely this behavior won’t get me voted Grand Poo-bah down at the lodge, but I’ve found there’s far more to life than clinking frosty mugs with guys in funny hats. No, I’d much rather talk to you; tell you a little bit about my day and hope that some of it sticks to your subconscious. Why that pleases me so, I can’t really say - but my insatiable desire to communicate leads me to bleed on screen most every evening, even on nights like tonight, when I ain’t got a lot to say. Don’t leave, though! Stick around and see if I can milk two more paragraphs out of this twaddle.

TV ScriptageNow where was I? Oh yeah - scenes from the news hunt. Like these random photos I took of Eric White during this evening’s live shots, the mental imprints of your average news day come fast and furious, often devoid of any caption or context. Take the other day, when I wandered the concrete catacombs of my umpteenth wastewater treatment plant, finding new and artistic ways of photographing streaming feces without focusing too much on all those sewer-lillies. If you have to ask - don’t. Just know that it wasn’t the first (or the last) time I’ve toured such a labyrinth of shit. Nor was it my first time getting ejected from an upscale parking lot this morning. Seems Channel X got the story wrong, forcing the owners of the snooty and under seige shopping center to expel all interlopers of the electronic variety. At least they smiled when they walked me to my car.

Whitey at WorkAn hour later, that strip mall exile was all but forgotten as I hunched over my lens and stared into the maw of a Tazer gun. “You ready?” asked the hulking sheriff as he fondled the trigger. On my signal, he contracted his index finger and chuckled under his breath as angry blue sparks erupted between the stun gun’s contact points. The sharp bark of the electrical charge sent my camera’s audio needles into syncopated spasms and I knew immediately this twenty seconds of disc space would air repeatedly in the afternoon newscasts teases. At once forgettable and indelible, that close-up shot of the stun gun’s arc will stick with me for quite some time, though in all fairness the image will be intermingled with that of raw sewage, drunk Shriners and a thousand unfettered live shots. Analyze that!