Friday, October 20, 2006

The Loopy and the Live Truck

Wet and Stupid
I can't fully explain what my colleague Caron Myers and I are doing in the above camera phone offering, but chalk up the weirdness to deteriorating conditions. See, when you're executing a needless live shot in the driving rain, you can take two approaches: Mutter profusely at the insipidness of it all, or hover over the generator and soak up the fumes. It's a living.

Foilage at Eleven

Midday ViewI knew I was in for a trip this morning when I found The Suits hunched over a map and muttering my name. Minutes later I was headed West, flipping through my on-board CD stash and trying to remember the quickest way to the Parkway. That’s the Blue Ridge Parkway to the uninitiated - 400 some miles of twisting ridgeline that’s breathtaking any time of year, let alone October, when the autumn palette of a trillion drying leaves will suck the breath out of the average flatlander. That includes me, for back home you can see for m-i-l-e-s from the bed of a pick-up truck - if you can look past all those scraggly pines. Here in the Piedmont however, rolling foothills boast every kind of hardwood tree under the sun. Dash uphill and you’ll find even more stately columns - all individually crowned in their own rippling hue. In case you haven’t guessed yet - I dig me some trees. Had I been a sailor in the Age of Discovery, I would have surely fancied myself a naturalist - though I’d have probably earned my berth by cranking out daguerreotypes of jaunty explorers. But I’m not a turn-of-the-century deckhand, I’m a flustered purveyor of pixilated fluff who specializes in the quick-turn. Who better to send screaming uphill on a dare and a deadline? Sure, you could dispatch Chet Grey-Temples, but is he gonna bring back a few extra impressions for you folks in the cheap seats? I think not.

With more than an hour and a half to drive each way - I only had about ninety minutes on-scene. Thus I wasted no time leaf-gaping - choosing instead to drive with a purpose along the windy mountain passes. I found this makes all those grannies in passing Cadillacs v-e-r-y nervous.

Ten miles into the Parkway, I found what I was hunting for - humans! Sure, I came for the leaves, but it’s awful hard to wring good sound-bites out of molting oaks. Thus, I needed tourists - especially since my story revolved around the Parkway’s latest efforts to attract more rubber-neckers.

The first sentient beings to fall victim to my lens were four young college kids. Sitting cross-legged on the ground outside a rest stop, they barely looked up from their apples and organic peanut butter at the approaching cheese-ball with the oversized fancy cam. God bless the Granolas!

They said they were cycling to Asheville and I was instantly jealous. Then I saw their two-wheeled steeds and did a double-take. These were no designer bikes, but second-hand ten-speeds laden with camping gear. Later when I watched them hurtle past a precipice at breakneck speed, I remembered what it felt like to be immortal.

With the kids quickly shedding altitude, I was left with only the senior citizens to interview. Using my best manners, I cornered a few grandparents in windbreakers and elicited sound. All was going well until an errant grandma broke from the pack and repeatedly asked if ‘I knew Rupert Murtaugh?’ I was halfway down the mountain when I realized she meant ’Rupert Murdoch’. And no, I don’t. Yet.

With six interviews in the can, I threw my gear in the back of Unit 4 and dropped it into Drive. I was free at last from the shackles of interaction, with nothing left to do but assemble the eye-candy I’d need to dress up my facts. Sadly, this is what I live for.

A few minutes later, I perched my sticks on the edge of an overlook and pointed it wherever my fancy demanded. It may sound like random fun, but inside my skull I was assembling segues that didn’t exist yet. Wide, medium, tight…I was repeating my mantra when an old coot in a passing pick-up slowed down and bellowed, “How can I get a job like that?”

‘You might not want it old man’ I thought as I pushed my glass to its limits. Sure it looks simple, but there is a science, art and work ethic involved here, Gramps. Wrapping myself around my sticks, I went back to work - wondering why the old guy thought my gig was so damn great. It wasn’t until I viewed the meager results of all my efforts from the comfort of my laptop, did I figure out he was probably right.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chip's Trip Clip

Chip the Cat
Meet Chip, the laid-back cat who got me out of yesterday's motorcade parade. For that I owe him a kibble or two, but chances are I'll have to stand in line just to feed him. See, Chip's the animal overlord of a Lexington glass shop, a feline greeter to anyone who wanders in with a chipped windshield and a lousy day. When he first disappeared, the shop owners only shrugged; everyone knows Chip loves the lay-DEEZ. But this lothario never made his date. Instead he took a joy-ride, getting his whiskers splayed all over the evening news in the process. This only adds to his legend of course. In fact, this whimsical vignette makes me a co-conspirator of sorts. See if you can spot the cameo and the mistake...

Chances Are You're a Photog

If you keep a mental list of low overpasses, clean skylines and greasy spoons, chances are you’re a Photog.

If you feel socially awkward at cocktail parties, yet will gladly walk into a police sniper’s crosshairs with a loaded tripod slung over your shoulder, chances are you’re a Photog.

I f you can make a three-story escape ladder from your collection of press-pass lanyards, chances are you’re a Photog.

If your idea of proper funeral attire is a pair of wrinkled cargo pants, unpolished hiking boots and a station golf shirt buttoned all the way to the top, chances are you’re a Photog.

If you know just where to go should the mayor be brought up on illicit yak-smuggling charges, chances are you’re a Photog.

If you’ve grown to a despise a new co-worker just as half the state has deemed them favorite regional newcomer, chances are you’re a Photog.

If you find yourself admiring the backlight shimmering off the pizza guy’s hat as he hands you your third deep-dish of the week, chances are you’re a Photog.

If you feel any SUV with enough splashy logos should be allowed to exceed the speed limit in the breakdown lane and park in handicap spots, chances are you’re a Photog.

If you know more than one overnight dispatcher, two fast-food managers and three obese bailiffs by first name basis, chances are you’re a Photog.


If you can field-strip an expensive piece of recording equipment in two minutes, but still pretend not to understand the newsroom’s phone system, chances are you’re a Photog.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Presidential Pardon

DSCF0063With President Bush swinging through the area, I fully expected to be up to my lens in Secret Service agents by now. But a mid-morning pardon freed me from that sentence and before my bosses could change their mind, I was speeding off to the smallest of stories. Call me a creepy old loner, but there's nothing better than taking a quiet drive through the country while the rest of your co-horts clamor after the leader of the free world. I didn't always feel that way. As a younger news-dork I floored it toward headlines at brazen speeds, hellbent to be the first photog to poke around the perimeter. These days, I'll take a pass - knowing the next time a visiting dignitary whips up the local papparazzi, I won't be able to wiggle out of the camera scrum. Besides, you been hassled by one guy in a suit and sunglasses, you been hassled by 'em all.

Just ask Weaver.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Sue, with a valid point: "It's unfortunate that you are equating the conference with the RMA report dissemination. Other than the timeliness of the two events, there's no relationship. I wish you would reconsider, even at the cost of a clever headline, conflating the two."

Normally I enjoy putting local bloggers on the news. Today, not so much. Why exactly is complicated, which isn’t the least bit surprising since the story at hand is so full of twists and subterfuge. I’ll try to boil it down. When best selling author Jerry Bledsoe began serializing the city’s police department’s sordid regime change in a free weekly newspaper, eyes widened at the scurrilous behavior contained within. Cries of racism, international drug cartels, steamy stripper parties - it seems the Wray Fray had it all. Problem is, not everyone that makes up the Thin Blue Line around here liked seeing the department’s soiled undies flapping in the breeze. So someone leaked a confidential document - a public-funded investigation summary called the RMA Report that, while countering some of Bledsoe‘s claims, reveals the Greensboro Police Department to be an organization seemingly awash in skulduggery. Soon, the RMA was everywhere and though the newspaper and TV stations acknowledged they had a copy, none of the mainstream media divulged its contents. Then, along came the blogs.

Roch Under FireThere was much discussion of the leaked report at last weekend’s ConvergeSouth. Most local bloggers wanted to see the RMA report on-line but since it contains information that is part of a criminal investigation, no one wanted to risk a lawsuit by publishing it on their site. Still, few left convinced the troublesome document wouldn’t soon find a home on-line and the next day it appeared anonymously posted to Greensboro101 - the aggregator of record maintained by Roch Smith, Jr. (pictured here). Though Roch claims not to know who posted the warts-and-all report to his site, he wasn't surprised by the fact that someone did. Chances are though, he didn’t see the backlash coming.

Carmany at LargeSandy Carmany was the first to defect. The Greensboro City Council member (pictured here) has received national acclaim for serving her constituents through her simple blog. As the one local cyber-writer most familiar with the RMA’s litigious ingredients, she urged everyone to proceed with great caution - if proceed at all. When she saw the report on Greensboro101, she promptly announced she wished to be de-linked. Almost immediately, members of 101’s editorial board (of which until recently, included me) announced they were resigning their positions on the spot. This is all the more shocking considering the mutual admiration on display at A&T just this past weekend. It would seem the RMA report carried with it a curse.

When Caron Myers and I turned the camera on Carmany and Smith, each stated their cases with reason and authority. The same can be said for Ben Holder, whose rainy interview outside Stamey’s smacked of a Deep Throat rendezvous in some anonymous parking deck. Watergate comparisons aside, the Wray Fray and the RMA is a hot mess. Partnerships have been strained, litigation hinted at and hard feelings formulated overnight - all while some officers accused of scandalous acts continue to enforce laws that apparently don’t apply to them. You could say I’m disappointed, but not surprised - for the bloated ego of a dirty cop knows no bounds. Hege taught me that much. I just wish this latest debacle wouldn’t sully the local blogosphere - a teeming scene of very smart folk who’ve already broken new ground in citizen media. My guess is Roch will come out of this okay and Greensboro101 will quickly coalesce, though it’s a good deal murkier how the Gate City’s police department will ever redeem itself. One thing is certain, however. The area’s mainstream media will never ignore the local blogosphere again. Quite simply, they can’t afford to.

Up A Tree

Up a Tree
Look closely and you'll spot yours truly dodging hostile squirrel-fire, as reporter Bob Buckley daydreams about his prep school days down below. What you can't see is Jim and Jan O'Malley, a delightful retired couple from up North who hunt land mines of sorts. That's right, they're professional Pooper Scoopers. If you find it strange that I'd shimmie up a tree to capture such a thing, well then you've never shot a dog shit safari. If you had, you'd know a little foreground - and a little distance - is a good thing.

Monday, October 16, 2006

You and the Tube

Pop Culture critic David Hajdu files one of the more enlightening YouTube epistles for the New York Times, in which he traces the birth of the pre-recorded clip, courtesy of a pre-Mork Jonathan Winters...
...50 years ago this month, it was told the network would be conducting a test of a new technology. The musical interlude in that week’s show, a two-and-a-half minute song by the ever-bubbly Dorothy Collins (then beloved as one of the stars of “Your Hit Parade”), had been performed the day before the broadcast, captured through an experimental process called videotape recording, and inserted into the otherwise live telecast. The video era had begun.
But networks regarded videotape as a delivery device, not a new paradigm of performance.
Jonathan Winters saw something more in that R.C.A. tape machine the size of a Frigidaire sitting in his studio. Within weeks of that broadcast of Dorothy Collins’s recorded tune, he concocted a routine using videotape to appear as two characters, bantering back and forth, seemingly in the studio at the same time. You could say he invented the video stunt, planting the creative seed for the wild overgrowth of gag clips that last week earned YouTube a sale price of $1.65 billion.
Hajdu goes on to blame the ubiquitous video sharing site for reducing the once groundbreaking medium to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps, but the participatory aspect of web-based footage more than makes up for its often pedestrian subject matter. Just ask Steve Bryant.
It's precisely our lack of awe for video and its attendent technologies that makes social media possible, and the promise of social media is to reach beyond media's presentational value and control its power to connect. YouTube may be a displayer, but it's also a connector on an unprecedented scale. YouTube users actively subscribe to other users. They comment on videos. They post videos back. And somewhere along the way they've invented a new aesthetic. Sure, it's self-conscious playacting. But what other way, when the audience has become actor? When the very idea of suspending disbelief for thirty to sixty minutes is no longer en vogue?
Obviously, Hadju and Bryant are straining brain cells I ain’t got. But even a rumpled photog like myself can grasp the difference between passively watching what the wide-screen drags in and gathering mini-vignettes on-line and on-demand. From collating clips that catch my attention to distributing my own demented desktop masterpiece, why would I ever want to just sit and stare at someone else’s tube? I mean - have you seenDancing With the Stars?’ I haven’t. I’ve been to way too busy, squinting at a tiny box on my screechy laptop as the mammoth HD sits in the corner and quietly gathers dust. Perhaps content is king, after all.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

ConvergeSouth Link Love

When I mentioned to my TV news colleagues I’d be spending the weekend at a blogger’s conference of sorts, snickers emitted from the crowd.

“Huh! You guys wearin’ your Star Trek uniforms?”

I laughed and offered a rude hand gesture as retort before their conversation turned back to the loftier realms of Nascar and the NFL. But their petty scorn didn’t deter me from thoroughly enjoying the annual summit of thinkers, geeks and madmen known as ConvergeSouth, That the attendees all operate or enjoy local websites may be their only shared characteristic. Otherwise, they’re strikingly scattershot - from the overly earnest to the outright odd, the personalities behind the pixels proved delightfully diverse. But what unites us is the raging cyber-life we all lead, on-screen personas more important to us than we’d probably like to admit. I for one dwell deeply on the ideas, images and axioms I park on this page and I’m on the shallow end of the passion pool. But whatever the level of our obsessions, the blogging community of greater Greensboro is a potent one indeed. I am proud to be but a tangential member, as the echoes of others have kept me blogging far longer than first predicted. Thus I present you with the following link-letter, in which I give a lusty shout-out to everyone but Mr. Spock himself. And that filthy Vulcan knows where I am if he wants to apologize. Meanwhile, let’s meet the players:

One cannot begin to discuss ConvergeSouth without recognizing its architects. Acerbic oracle Ed Cone, cyber-sage Sue Polinsky and the ever-wise Ben Hwang have constructed an un-conference that reflects the teeming scene it seeks to represent. In other words, these folks know how to get their geek on.

The wife and I kicked things off with a rare date night at Hoggard’s Blog-R-Cue. There we dined on the finest swine while enjoying conversation not found in the average cul-de-sac. I especially enjoyed commiserating with the Brothers Coon, from the activist writings of Sean to the filmmaking aspirations of Andy. Damn, those fellas sure do think a lot.

When not shoveling top-shelf pork into my pie-hole, I caught up with fellow peddler of the moving image Tom Lassiter - a magnanimous cat far too generous with his praise for my scribblings. As I issued the occasional ’Aw Shucks’ my wife Shelly met the man behind Mr. Sun, a sprite like individual who just happens to be a brilliant cyber-satirist. More on him later.

Despite the pork flank fellowship available at Hogg‘s, the real fun started the following morning when the lot of us gathered at A&T University. There we filed into the main hall where headliners Elizabeth Edwards and Robert Scoble helped kick off the day’s festivities with a bracing exchange of ideas, opinions, and URL’s, not to mention those homemade blog cards Billy so favors.

Although many a stranger was in attendance, I chose to chat with the usual suspects and a smattering of newer names. Of the latter was Joel Leonard, a prophet of the maintenance industry I’ve put on TV a time or two. Then there’s Jonathan Davis, Matt Hill Comer and print reporter Joe Killian, one of the more self-assured 24 year olds I’ve ever met. Throw in the eerily composed Sam Wharton and there may very be well be hope for our future.

In the present day, a blinding orb lights the way. Jim Rosenberg, recently unmasked as Mr. Sun, eagerly presented the most substantive of sessions, a insightful plea for on-line civility. Were I a sit-com producer, I’d pair this affable chap with the ever-irascible Jeff Martin whose well-honed vitriol and wacky-neighbor warble makes for such fun at Vie De Malchance. It’d be gold, baby , gold!

On a more somber, there was serious journamalism to discuss. Thus, I joined a room of very smart newspaper people for a dissertation on ‘Building a Media Culture within the News Organization.’ N&R Editor John Robinson graciously asked me to help lead the session, but when it bogged down in print minutia, I remained mum. Only at the end did I give my analysis of that industry’s death throes, though perhaps I did employ too much hyperbole. Whadaya expect from a guy who used to make used car lot spots?

Though I never saw Chewie, I did catch up with the newly shorn Brian Clarey, whose happy hipster patter doesn’t erase the fact he needs me writing for his fine free weekly. Until then I’ll enjoy the occasional Ovittore piece and all those nubile revelers featured in the back of his rag. It’s the least I can do for not attending the event’s many musical venues.

Before I could fill my pockets with business cards and free bagels, the last session ended and ConvergeSouth was all of a sudden over. On the way out of the building, I eavesdropped on a fascinating discussion over who might dare publish the RMA report - a once confidential police department report currently available to anyone with two cans and a string. Blogsboro’s handling of said document will no doubt forge new ground in citizen media scandal-handling.

Before hitting the parking lot, I rendezvoused with professional troublemaker Ben Holder, met hulking gadfly Will R., reintroduced myself to Billy Ingram, shook Dave Beckwith’s hand, smiled at Sandy Carmany and yakked with Daniel Rubin. Last but not least I talked jazz and jumper cables with David Boyd in the parking lot until his pick-up was sufficiently charged-up.

Driving away, I was equally amped, Once again ConvergeSouth proved an intriguing way to spend a small part of my October. Maybe next year we can get some wireless microphones, so all those Donahue wannabes don’t risk strangulation. Until then, I’ll be right here, polishing my blog, pruning my prose and programming my tri-corder.

Cathedral of Decay

While I collect my thoughts on ConvergeSouth, have some eye candy. This particular vista comes to us from the Owl's Roost bike trail, where the hardwood forest rots in Technicolor. Fo more of this elegant corrosion, click HERE. otherwise surf back in a bit for everything you didn't want to know about who I huddled with yesterday.

Don't say I didn't warn ya.