Friday, August 04, 2006

Hurricane Stew: YouTube

As one who makes TV by day and scribbles on the internet by night, you'd think I'd be a natural born 'vlogger'. But like the dairy farmer who's lactose intolerant, there is but so much video I can stomach. (These days, I'd much rather milk the written word than wrangle more moving images.) That's where my buddy Weaver comes in, a self-admitted footage junkie who'd gladly tattoo TV test patterns to the inside of his eyelids if he could only figure out how. To hear Weave tell it, a revolution is at hand and if we don't start posting things to youtube, we'll be about as cutting edge as that Fleetwood Mac 8-track you can't seem to let go of. So look for the occasional vlog to pop op on Viewfinder BLUES in the coming weeks, provided I can find subject matter that trips my trigger enough to aim and edit on my off time. Until then, enjoy our inaugural youtube clip - that celebrated camera-baptism I've written so much about in the past. Come on, let's get viral...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gatekeepers of the Fourth Estate

The bright lights and big egos of my first television station held me entranced for much of my twenties. Back then, the anchors were prophets, the local newspaper scripture and police scanners burped the voice of God. How incredibly important it all seemed. As I aged however, my appetite for the artifice of modern day broadcasting waned considerably. Sure, I’ll always love the visceral thrill of combining sights, sound and words to tell stories big and small. But the canned banter, the infatuation with feigned urgency, the whole crime and grime paradigm…those newscast facets I can live without. Which is why I’m so excited about what the internet. Far more than a confusing series of tubes, Al Gore’s greatest invention has the power to save TV news, by forcing its myopic practitioners to reinvent it. Hear me out...

Since the first test pattern was beamed into living rooms, viewers at home have watched the world through a rigid template. Avuncular anchors clamoring for gravitas bring us the days’ events in predictable patterns: breathless headlines, a smattering of hard news, Commercials, super-duper dorked-up weather, Commercials, big board sports!, More Commercials, then back to the studio for a wide shot of the Channel X elders chortling over something inane. Viewers knew the blueprints, but they still had to be led by hand from room to room before they found what they were looking for in a back closet. No more. Now the audience can wander around unencumbered, explore hidden crevices and cross well-traveled corridors - all while marveling at the architecture. Or better yet, deciding where to re-decorate.

My own employer is a good example. A charter member of a global communications dynasty, we have benefited from our uptown cousins with a powerful new website. Now, viewers who were once resigned to looking from the outside in can fling open the cyber-doors and poke around the property. Weather geeks can peruse radar and satellites without having to wait for a dapper meteorologist’s smarmy permission. News nerds can cue up that story they missed when the dog soiled the rug - without having to sit through endless teases rife with close-ups and clichés. Best of all, newscast consumers can file a complaint, register a request, or add to the subject matter at hand with wisdom and insight once deemed unworthy of inclusion. The end result: a deeper, more detail-oriented news product - one that boasts the immediacy of moving images, the analysis of long-form print and the interactivity found only in a hyper-linked world. And we’re just getting started.

But the metamorphosis won’t come without a few growing pains. Despite our claims of cutting edge abandon, your local broadcast newsroom is really a rather staid place, a highly segmented landscape where job descriptions form borders and individual disciplines rarely mix. Reporters write, photogs shoot, anchors gesticulate and never the twain shall meet. No more. Technology is breaking down age-old walls and forcing both scribes and technicians to learn new skills. No longer married to one particular medium, the denizens of newsrooms everywhere will soon have to learn the skills of their co-workers if they want to stay in the game. Not everyone will survive, but in order to survive the great unbundling of media, we must all abandon the priesthood of our particular tools and learn how to tell stories in a smattering of formats - before a newly empowered audience decides the self-appointed gatekeepers of the fourth estate are little more than crumbling statues of a pompous age.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Was That A Growl?

The Lion and the Lenslinger
Sure, I look a little frazzled in the above photo, but you'd be less than fresh too if you'd just finished a steamy safari into the jungles of Caswell County. For that is where we found 'Pacino' (Al to his friends), a 300 pound rescue lion badly in need of a dental visit. Whew! By the time this shot as taken, the good folks at Conservator's Center Incorporated had tranquilized the big cat, lovingly stuffed him into a minivan and with the help of many a sweaty volunteer, wrestled his lifeless form into the examining room of a most generous veterinarian - all while I fought to keep it in focus for the evening news. In other words, your typical Monday morning...

On Tour with American Idol

Shannon and BuckyEver since the confetti last fell on American Idol, I have been a man without a franchise; a squinting lenslinger chasing day-old headlines in the ungodly heat of a Carolina summer. Which is why I foolishly volunteered to cover Idol’s concert stop in Greensboro. Klieg lights, starlets, air conditioning - I’m in! Too bad it was on a Sunday, I thought as I scratched a note to my boss, requesting I work the show anyway.. A month or so later, I seethed and winced at the very thought of that errant impulse, whining that it was taking me away from the family on a ‘day of rest‘. Luckily, my girls staged a kayak intervention of sorts days before the concert - a splashy paddling on a nearby lake that was good for soul. By the time Shannon Smith and I cruised through a Greensboro Coliseum service entrance yesterday, I was emitting serendipity … and rockin’ out to Wolfmother.

But that soundtrack ended when I squeezed the live truck into our marked parking spot and killed the ignition. Two spaces over, two shiny black tour buses gleamed in the heat. Inside one of the buses, a tour manager peered at me through the one-way glass and dispensed his henchmen. But as I climbed out of the van and into the swelter I was unaware of my perceived intrusion. I was far too busy looking at the sweaty mob of die-hard Idol fans clamoring at a nearby security gate. When they saw me exit the live truck they went absolutely bat-shit, screaming wildly and waving scary homemade signs. Pausing a little, I gave them a little extra time to soak in my charisma. That’s when I looked around and saw the real reason for the crowd’s shrieks of adulation: Bucky Covington, ambling up behind me - with a big old grin and an even bigger bodyguard.

My favorite Rugrat?Clocking my every move, the pile of shoulders in the Security t-shirt flexed his pecks a few feet behind Bucky as the highly-likable hillbilly giggled and riffed on life on the road. Signed agreements prevent me from divulging the conversation’s particulars, but rest assured the former hometown nobodies turned fleeting rock stars are enjoying their victory lap. Wouldn’t you? Less than twelve months ago, Bucky, as well as Kellie Pickler, stood in long lines outside Greensboro Coliseum for a chance to sing for bored American Idol interns. Now they’re back, but this time they’re household names, riding high atop the traveling circus tent of the Idol juggernaut. Not bad work if you can get it.

After shooting the breeze with Bucky (and shooting some footage of him signing LOTS of autographs), Shannon and I made our way toward the Coliseum’s press entrance, where we ran into none other than the man of the evening himself, Chris Daughtry. The Greensboro auto service writer turned global rock star in training welcomed us warmly and made Shannon and me feel a little less maligned for giving up our Sundays off. Chris of course has had the biggest year of all the Carolina contestants, scorching the eardrums of millions of instant fans with his blowtorch voice and pensive stage presence. When not wowing the crowds with tepid Idol fare, he's rubbing leather-clad elbows with musicians he grew up...idolizing. To his credit, he still remembers my name…

Chris, Bucky, Kellie, ShannonA half hour later, Shannon and I gossiped with the local radio crowd as tour handlers scurried about and spoke with strange lacks of accent. But all ancillary conversation ceased once the half dozen Idols entered the room and the microphone jousting began in earnest. Chris, Bucky and Kellie - former strangers who not long ago harbored an impossible dream shared by millions - now trade barbs and patter like seasoned veterans of Vaudeville, which if you think about, they are. How far each of them will take this disposable fame remain unseen. Chris and Kelly have both signed lucrative record deals and are working furiously on debut albums. Bucky has no deal yet, but intends to take Nashville by storm anyway, once he finishes winning over non-believers with his loopy swagger and burgeoning, down-home verve. Yes - I’m a fan, and as one, it was great to see these three go about the business of being momentarily famous without a British guy in a muscle shirt bringing down the room.