Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Memory of Masha

It's not every day you get to eulogize a polar bear, but that was exactly my bosses wanted me to do when I walked in this morning. Not a problem. After a quick phone call to my pal Rod Hackney, I headed to Asheboro to pay my respects. What I found was a zoo subdued, its many keepers quiet and lost in thought. It was a far cry from the punchy atmosphere surrounding these apex predators' arrival back in late 2002. On that day, everyone held their collective breath as two polar bears rescued from a substandard traveling circus in Puerto Rico took their first tentative steps into the far swankier digs of the North Carolina Zoo. Following years of abuse by cruel circus handlers, Masha and Wilhelm got a second crack at being a bear. Overnight, they began charming visitors with their goofy expressions and playful antics, until these less than pristine animals were considered the N.C. Zoo's marquee beasts. But ten days ago, Masha fell ill - victim to the many afflictions he acquired while living in squalor. The veterinary staff did all they could, but yesterday they had no choice but to put poor Masha down. He was 24 years old, and a very good bear.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Escorting Slobot

Carolina Today Cameraman
No doubt about it, my very first fancycam was the size of a fridge - and about as mobile. One didn't operate it so much as molest it. With a rickety middle and sticky wheels, proper cameratology was damn near impossible. Today's studio cameras can be whisked across the room with the whim of a fingertip. Pushing the above puppy into place was like slow-dancing with a drunken robot. For more than a year though, ole Number Two and I waltzed five time a week, sashaying over a studio floor tattooed with a generation of skidmarks - the footprints of a hundred thousand newscasts. Still, I consider it an honor to have worked on one of the longest running morning news shows yet, Carolina Today. From 1959 to 1998, Slim Short and a host of cohorts broadcast a low budget hoke-fest that pioneered many facets of morning news infotainment. I stumbled onto the set in 1989, one more wash-out in a long line of troubled camera handlers. Before I abandoned the insides for the open road, I ate countless free biscuits, knocked back bad coffee with local legends I grew up watching and became clinically addicted to committing television. Too bad my back was never the same.

Making News: Reality Style

I can neither endorse or denounce Making News: Texas Style, but I can officially confirm its existence. Actually, I've only seen a web preview; the actual show airs on something called the TV Guide Network and try as I might, I can't work up the energy to look for the remote control. No bother. The on-line snippet neatly encapsulates the concept: A small market TV station throws open its newsroom doors to (shaky as hell) reality show cameras for an inside look at the sausage factory that is the nightly news. It may strike your fancy, but after a long day of making news myself, I'd rather have my eyeballs squeegee'd dry than sit and watch how they do it in Midland, Texas. Still, the clip's worth a peek if you've got seven minutes of your life you don't want back - or you just wanna hang out at a tiny TV station in a lone star shopping mall. Was a time that kind of thing would have really raised my mast, but that was before I endured my own backwaters crucible in the swampy studios of eastern North Carolina. But enough about me, here's the pitch:
...the series will focus on the people who put the news together including the anchors, reporters, trainees, and producers.
Apparently no photogs work at KOSA, for they've yet to be even mentioned, let alone shown. Perhaps the producers will zoom out to the great unwashed in later episodes. For its opening episode however, MN:TS wanders into dangerous Lifetime Channel territory - following a zaftig reporter as she struggles to slim down on camera while preserving her dignity. I fear it's too late for that, my dear. Do yourself a favor and milk the publicity for a gig at a bigger shop. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for any wandering photojournalists, would ya? Somebody needs to take over for the over-caffeinated chimpanzee who shot that first show. Back to you...

A Voice of Reason

DSCF0487With housewives posting home movies on YouTube, fourteen year olds mastering laptop editing and newspapers crafting on-line vignettes, the video renaissance is truly underway. It's an exciting time - even to crusty old lenslingers like myself. Never before have so many people embraced visual storytelling - with both stellar and squalid results. As one who's more interested in the written word than the flickering pixel, I'm not particularly threatened by all these newcomers. But I do blanch at the repeated chest-thumping of many of these neophytes. After all, who wants to hear a bunch of camera-handling amateurs proclaim superiority all because they've figured out how to remove the lens cap? You don't hear me screeching about the demise of print journalism all because I've blogged for a few years now. But that's just the kind of thing you'll read on-line: rampant denunciations of lenslinging fundamentals - from the earnest to the evangelist to the inane. Finally though, a voice of reason in the video wilderness, a reasoned treaty on the state of on-line visual storytelling. In The Great Video Gold Rush -- a reality check, Chuck Fadely breaks down what I've been trying to say all along and it's something every newcomer to the form should read. His thesis: Point and shoot cameras are fine for some projects, but newspapers who are serious about video should treat it as seriously as they do still photography - in equipment, training and expectations. Chuck covers lots of ground and if you're still reading this, I implore you to go read that - if for no other reason, do it for his trenchant description of the proper skills to look for:
'Who makes a good videographer? You've probably got a couple on staff. Great story-tellers with the timing of a comedian who are technically savvy, visually literate, and quick learners. Invest in them, they're worth it.'
So where do I send my reel?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

This I Know

I don’t have any grand assertions on tap tonight, but if I can get that doofus picture of me off the top of this page I’ll sleep a whole lot better. Crazy, I know - but we all have our afflictions. But enough chit-chat, let's get started:

No great fan of people, I get to meet alot of 'em anyway. From police detectives to pawn shop owners, State Attorneys to strained housewives, college freshmen to career crackheads, I learn from them all. Today's lesson was on perspective, taught by an 85 year old crossing guard with a gold tooth. Though I only spent a few minutes with him, we discussed much: his 60 year marriage, my pilgrimage to the center of our state and what time this might be on tonight. Through it all, this simple man beamed on camera and off, making me wonder what he knew that I didn't. Guess I'll have to stick around 45 more years to find out.

Just when I think I don't know my adopted home region quite as well as I should, I listen to myself supply a newcomer with running commentary on every landmark that passes by our windshield. "Yeah, that's the overpass where they found that kid ... This street's a great shortcut to the station but after midnight the neighbors may very well shoot you ... You can park the live truck right in front of the courthouse, as long as you don't mind grannies yelling at you for blocking the bus stop." Hmm. If this blogging thing never takes off, maybe I can earn a living giving Dirtbag Tours of the Piedmont...

And finally, if reality show producers are really smart, they’ll rush out to their nearest City Council or County Commissioner meeting, for nowhere else will they find more bad actors, civic-minded psychopaths and mugging blowhards than in the shallow end of the municipal leadership pool. Think Big Brother meets C-Span meets Kabuki Theater. Don’t believe me? Drop in on any City Hall sometime, wait for the gavel to drop and give a listen. You’ll think you’re being Punk’d.

There, now I can sleep...

Whitey and the Goob

Running low on trenchant commentary? Just post a goofy photo of yourself! That's been my blogging philosophy for nearly three years now. Of course it helps to have a silly mug and a sense of humor about yourself, but even the stodgiest lenslinger can become a prolific self-publisher with the help of his friends. Above, Eric White and I kill time between live shots at the recent Grahamapalooza with a little camera-phone buffoonery. And those haughty print folk say we're not serious journalists...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

We'll Always Have Paris...

Try as I might, I cannot stop thinking about Paris Hilton. Not the slutty debutante so much - but the apocalyptic camera scrum that tracked her rightful return to The Pokey last week. Not since O.J. and A.C cruised L.A in a white Bronco has the electronic media been so openly ... masturbatory. Well, come to think of it, we pretty much yanked the nation's chain over Michael Jackson's show-trial and that whole Anna Nichole deathapalooza wasn't exactly an exercise in restraint. My point? I don't know that I have one. I'm just flummoxed at how a spoiled socialite's mental descent can cause the world's most powerful country to collectively soil their pants. And this is coming from a guy who spent the better part of a year tracking every move of three American Idol contestants! Thus, there's blood on my hands as well. I'm just glad the Hilton skank pedals her lack of wares on the West Coast - far, far, far away from my electronic beat. Of course, it won't be too awful long before some similar frenzy overtakes the Eastern Seaboard and I too find myself dodging squad car tires for a shot at something insipid. Where is all this fascination with the lowest of lifeforms taking us as a people? Hard to know, but one thing's for damn sure: the end of civilization as we know it will be prominently featured on E! Can you live with that?