Friday, June 08, 2007

Learning to Loiter

Manhunt WaitWas a time I didn't know how to wait. Maybe it was my youthful vigor or my generation's diminished attention span. Perhaps it was just my streamlined mullet. Whatever it was, this lenslinger apprentice was never very good at cooling his jets. And jet-cooling is an integral part of the newsgathering process - whether waiting on a jury's verdict, daydreaming as a County Commissioner bloviates or drawing circles in the dirt while a state trooper pimps his Smokey the Bear hat - the waiting is the hardest part. Or so it used to be. These days I welcome the chance to dally, to become suddenly recumbent by sallyport, ditch bank or stage door. Why the willingness to wait? Simple. I'm no longer terrified I'll miss my deadline. After seventeen years of gathering morsels for the machine, I've learned that the news beast will eat whatever I bring it. I'm all for over-feeding it, but I no longer put my sanity on the line each time it wants to dine...I really didn't mean that to rhyme. Doh!

Journalism at 70 MPHTake the other day, for instance. When a midday plate of 'cue was interrupted by my cursed cell phone, I washed down a few more hushpuppies before dashing out the door. Seems a fleet of Crown Vics was amassing outside Denton, their drivers stepping out and into dark green jumpsuits, some pulling longarms out of their trunks. Soon the denizens of a nearby trailer park noticed and before pouring out of their mobile homes for a better look, at least of them called El Ocho. With an overnight stabbing quite near that locale, a crafty assignment editor realized we had ourselves a manhunt. I say we. I was the only boob jostling my sweet tea over the steering wheel, suddenly late for a Dukes of Hazzard episode. Luckily, I been down this dusty two lane before...

Chopper OverheadWhich is why I didn't throw in with the bloodhounds and follow them into the woods. When I arrived, the dogs were bounding into the forest behind a dilapidated trailer, their beer-gutted handlers trailing not far behind. Setting up my camera on the tripod behind my car, I popped off a few shots of the K-9'ers before they became one with the foliage. Across the road, a clutch of plain clothes detectives gossiped and threw a few Clint Eastwood looks my way. When one made eye contact, he motioned for me not to point my lens his way, while secretly wishing I would. I did - but only when he wasn't looking. (Never tell a cameraman not to shoot you.) Most of all though, I wiped away sweat and tried to meditate. I'd just reached a decent level of Zen when a black helicopter roared overhead. Circling back, the chopper grazed over the treetops, right where the dogs had entered the woods. Through my viewfinder, I zoomed in on the chopper and followed it awhile. As I did, the Sheriff drove up, told me he'd be back in a few minutes and rumbled off...

Spot News ParkingI'd love to tell you the next few minutes strobed by in a flash, the bad guy emerged from the woods with a bloodhound hanging off him and surrendered to me center-screen. No such luck. Instead, I sat and dripped liquid for the better part of ninety minutes before the good Sheriff returned and dispensed with the soundbites. With an interview and a dozen images on tape, I packed in my gear and fled the scene, knowing my half-abandoned plate of Lexington style Bar B Cue didn't suffer in vain. It allowed me to fill thirty seconds of 6 o clock newscast, sweat off a few extra pounds and gave me time to think about how much this job has and hasn't changed me. I just wish it had made for a better blog post...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Do It For The Kids

AV Geeks Unite!
I was picking the chopper-wash out of my teeth the other day when I got the uneasy feeling I was being watched. Looking up, I spotted them. Two middle school kids, pointing their A/V club's handycam not at the the sleek helicopter that had just landed in front of their school, but at the aging lenslinger licking his wounds underneath a shade tree. For a moment I was transported back to the Summer of '78, when a visiting hippie photog held my attention throughout the better part of four termite league baseball innings. Not wanting to leave the same kind of impression on these innocent lasses that that dude did on me, I shot them a most indifferent look before languidly snapping their picture. I'd like to think I did the right thing...

The Case of the Faded Mermaid

Watery TartDon't look now, but the fish-lady is giving me bedroom eyes. In fact, this watery tart's been eyeballin' me for nearly a decade. Every time I steer my news vessel down Lee Street - there she is, all pearl necklaces and come hither stare. I'm a married man, mind you, but no ex-Sailor could shirk the allure of this Enchantress of the Sea. At least that's what I tell myself whenever the driver behind me lays on the horn and flips me off for sitting still at a green light. So you can imagine my lust when blogfather Ed Cone dropped the dime on my slippery nymph's upcoming move. A business on the precipice? A landmark in peril? A photogenic victim of urban renewal? This looks like a job for Lenslinger, otherwise known as the Grim Reaper of Retail...

Tri-City SeafoodOkay, so technically, Tri-City Seafood ain't closing. But they are vacating their home of more than forty years and they're taking their unique signage with them. That's more than enough reason to point my lenses their way, even if it did mean braving the sweltering conditions of a dripping wet Carolina summer. Swamp-ass aside, it was a wholly pleasurable day. From fending off mid-morning winos outside the store to schlepping my gear up Ed Cone's office staircase to hanging out with Tri-City's affable owner Maze Dames, it beat the heck out of chasing fender-benders, babysitting hair-do's or zooming in on golden shovels. Besides, in this heat, any inside assignment is a winning gig, let alone one that involves street-level art, imminent domain and a great deal on some good lookin' Red Snapper. Better still, the resulting piece turned out just past halfway decent - which is the very least I can do for such a fetching, two-finned vixen.

The wife would understand, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wayback Machine

While I do not endorse the modern day live truck, the early models never fail to raise my mast. Take this WXYZ news van from back in the day. Between the thoughtful umbrella and the placid Action slacks, I can't tell if they're going live or channeling Mary Poppins. But neither this bucolic scene nor the frenzied live shot I did in front of that abandoned alleyway the other day would have been possible without the genius of the late, great Edward H. "Hack" Hewson Jr. Credited with assembling the first fleet of mobile newscasting units, Hack changed TV news forever by giving field crews the technology needed to provide on-the-scene reports. A trillion pointless live shots were born...

From there, broadcasters never looked back - eventually going live from every conceivable locale: smoldering crash site, charity bake sale, roped-off TV station parking lot. No area was safe from these roving newsrooms. Just ask the legion of absentminded photogs who pioneered new ways to shear high dollar masts and dishes from these heroic truck-tops. Low bridges, parking garages, drive thru windows - no low clearance sign could obscure the brilliance of Hack's Hewson's insistent tinkering. So the next time you watch a pretty young thing stand in front of a black hole at 11 pm and refer to day-old events in the present tense, tip your glass toward Seattle, home of the Hewson global empire.

Meanwhile, head on over to Photog's Lounge for an old school collage of vintage TV vehicles and Sir Edward Hewson's own modest obituary. And remember trucks ops, Look Up and Live. It worked for Hack.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Coffee Tables from Beyond

It's not a late night movie, but rather the future of computer interface. It's called multi-touch technology - a new digital manipulation platform best illustrated in this jaw-dropping clip. Hey, who need an old fashioned plasma flattie hanging on the wall when every household surface is brimming with fingerstroke gadgetry straight out of a bootleg Jetsons episode? Right now, Microsoft is peddling the technology to corporate partners, but the possibilities for this new realm of tactile computing are truly staggering. In video circles alone, editors like myself are salivating at the prospects of abandoning the world of point and click for a chance to bend, spindle and twist our media clips into a timeline both space-age and old school. Even Microsoft acknowledges their emerging technology works best with photo sharing, maps and menus. That, my friends, is editing - a now rather sterile discipline accomplished with the help of a clunky keyboard and mouse. Soon, however, multi-touch technology could invade the edit bay, making the art and science of video assemblage feel like happy hour at the fingerpaint cafe. Sign me up...

Go Long...

Whereas I threaten to take a hostage each time the interstate slows to a crawl, NBC cameraman Jim Long hops continents with a kick-ass rig and a transcendental grin. This guy gets around. At last check, he was shaking the dust of Afghanistan from his many lenses, bound for Normandy on a round the world trip with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The schedule is tight, the accomodations spotty, but the access - that potent photog intoxicator - is unparalleled. Why else would someone as smart as Jim Long schlep heavy gear across the globe? After all, there are easier ways to see the world. But few travels itineraries offer the chance to peek over history's shoulder - even if you do have to constantly watch your back while doing so. But don't take my word for it - check out Jim's own site and see how the real pros still do it...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Cult of the Blowhard

Absolute HorseshitSince I’m responsible for copious posts ridiculing certain new media evangelists, let me now mock the findings of one old school tight-ass. His name is Andrew Keen and according to this article, he’s written a book entitled The Cult of the Amateur. In it, the lecturer/internet entrepreneur decries the demise of vetted media, laying the blame squarely on the pajama-top of the citizen communicator. Trotting out the hackneyed adage of monkeys, typewriters and masterpieces, (he must have been out of farmer’s daughter jokes), Keen concludes that a media landscape without borders will cast professional journalists to the four corners of the new age terrain, scrambling their native tongues so that they may never unite again. Think I’m kidding? Read for yourself:
In a world without newspapers, publishing houses, film studios, radio and TV stations there’ll be nobody to discover and – no less important – to nurture talent. The result could be no less catastrophic than Pol Pot’s decision to eliminate talent and expertise in Cambodia by mass execution. “Once dismantled, I fear that this professional media – with its rich ecosystem of writers, editors, agents, talent scouts, journalists, publishers, musicians, reporters and actors – can never again be put back together. We destroy it at our peril,” says Keen.
What’s at peril is the credibility of any media critic who interjects Pol Pot into a discussion about podcasts and websites - but that’s hardly the point right now. No - what’s at issue is Keen’s contention that without the loving guidance of corporate gatekeepers, all those insatiable communicators will cease to ensue the voodoo that they do. Hardly. With new distribution platforms emerging every fortnight, lensmiths, scribes and fiddlers will produce more noise that ever - some of which will actually contain a discernible signal. Will it all suck? Depends on your perspective. If you’re an esteemed member of the Fourth Estate, the rabble of the masses will no doubt fill you with dread. If you’re a twenty-something with a pierced eyelid and a laptop, you’re probably too busy surfing YouTube to care what some old fossil thinks.

As for this quickly calcifying relic, I find myself wedged between the grinding plates of the tectonic schism. With once sacred and scarce tools now down-sized and dumb-downed for the masses, any old ape can consider themselves a self-publishing primate. That evolution is already underway - as evidenced by the plummeting TV ratings scribbled on the nearest cave wall. Now we can sit by the fire all night and worry about where that leaves a camera-slinging tree-swinger like myself, but it won’t stop this survival of the fittest. That will be decided out there - where a new breed of media-maker is petrifying my kind even as we speak. Will it forever change the way we process the world? You betcha. Will it force the current species to walk the Earth - forever searching for the guidance of a benevolent master? Hell no. Content - good and bad - will flourish and they’ll be a thousand new ways to access the best and the worst of it. Podcasts will lay down with broadcasts, on-line video will couple with the Datelines of the world and a new generation of news consumers will be more, informed, overwhelmed and fractured than before. To paraphrase our new American Idol, this is our Now.

(Oh yeah, as for TV stations being ’nurturing’, come walk a mile with my tripod. We'll nurture you up a good hernia...)