Saturday, July 28, 2007

Four Lost in Phoenix

A torrent of data is now flowing over the Phoenix chopper collision...

From touching tributes on KTVK's and KNXV's sites to tough questions being posed at industry watering holes, to valid yet screeching I-told-you-so's, everyone in the news community is asking how this could have happened, why it hasn't happened before now and what can be done to prevent it from ever happening again. Many issues are suddenly on the table - from the demands on pilots acting as their oen on-camera narrators to the wisdom behind pursuing meaningless police chases in the first place. For now however, let us remember the fallen...

Considered 'a master at collecting pictures', Jim Cox grew up the son of a military pilot. He apparently inherited that love of flight, for he savored the rush of shooting video from the air. A native New Yorker. the thirty seven year old was known for easygoing enthusiam. Lately, he'd been pursuing the idea of becoming a helicopter pilot himself. News Director Phil Alvidrez: "He had an eye for photography, he had a love for journalism, and he was one of the guys in the newsroom who was always up for a news story. You couldn't have enough Jim Coxes." Bio Condolences

Scott Bowerbank was a pilot's pilot. A versatile flier who's cockpit responsibilities included much more than local newsgathering, he flew corporate clientele and sightessing tours. Above all, the 42 year old was known as a safety-conscious pilot - one who knew all too well the unforgiving nature of flight. For his TV work, Bowerbank had mastered the equally unnatural act of appearing on camera. But it was his prowess in ther pilot's seat that most colleagues knew him for. "This guy could fly with his knees," said anchor Scott Pasmore. Bio Condolences

A father of three and grandfather of one, Rick Krolak was the quintessential veteran photog. Quick witted and curmudgeonly, the Phoenix native spent nineteen years covering his home region for two different stations. One cannot gather news in one place for that long without becoming a walking expert on all things local, and Rick was no exception. His reputation among his peers was sterling, known for his real-world mentoring, award winning photojournalism and endless supply of one-liners. Bio Condolences

An experienced pilot who often flew with his terrier Molly riding shotgun, Craig Smith was a seasoned aviator and a whole lot more. He started his career flying medical evacuation helicopters, but transitioned into pilot-reporting in his native Detroit befor relocating to Phoenix's ABC15 two years ago. When not earning a reputation for safety in the air, the 40-something batchelor played guitar and trumpet for his band Crosstown Traffic - often performing at gigs that benefited area hospitals and other charity groups. Bio Condolences

As different from each other as all four men were, they represent a cross-section of the hard-charging individualists that make TV news an exciting place to spend your day. Whatever findings come from the FAA's now-active investigation, nothing can sully the fact that - tragically - these seasoned professionals went out on top. That's enough to earn my respect.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fallen Friends

A pall fell over the nation's TV newsrooms this afternoon as satellite feeds began blaring deeply sobering images. Even with aerial footage and live narration, the pictures - and the feelings they brought with them - were hard to process. Two news choppers, their crews consumed with televising a low-speed chase, collided over Phoenix and plummeted downward until all that was left was smoking rubble. Lost were KNXV's pilot Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak. Not far away the remains of KTVK's chopper lay smoldering, its pilot Scott Bowerbank and photographer Jim Cox killed on impact.

I knew neither man, but I'm sure someone I've worked with before did. TV News, after all, is a small business - filled with hard-charging people who mercilessly compete with each other all day and frequently party together at night. It's this occupational camaraderie that I love - the chance to hang out with engaging people and compare war stories. Thus, my heart is heavy tonight - not just for the pain the victims' families must now endure, but for the entire Phoenix TV community. In the coming days, investigations will be launched, motivations will be second-guessed and fingers will be pointed. I hope within the din of this inevitable backlash, we will not lose sight of the simple facts: Four fellow broadcasters are no more, taken from their loved ones while shadowing a most trivial pursuit. Sadly, we cannot expect this tragedy to lessen the public's appetite or our industry's affinity for these salacious chases: we can only remember our fallen friends and hope their deaths will not be in vain. Nor can we fathom the unfairness of it all, for in reality accidents do happen and tidy epilogues go unwritten. My condolences to all who feel this loss...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

CSI: Reality

Morning RecapI must admit an expletive slipped from my lips this morning when I saw Nicole Ducouer on my living room TV. Nothing against Nicole, mind you - I hardly know her. But the sight of my crosstown competitor reporting live from the scene of an overnight shooting filled me with dread nonetheless - not because the streets of Greensboro are any less safer, but because I knew I'd soon join her out there in the sweltering muck. If that seems insensitive considering three people were shot, then you haven't spent much time babysitting crime tape. I have - and I knew I'd be doing so again even before the cell phone reached out and bit me.

Gang ShootingAs far as crime scenes go, it was pretty typical. Uniformed officers paced behind their billowing yellow streamer, curious locals stetched their necks in hopes of seeing something salacious and a small group of bored photographers pointed their lenses at both. When I arrived, those journlaists already there informed me the PIO was on the way. PIO - that's Public Information Officer, the one cop tasked with keeping the media informed. While we waited, I recorded the obligatory shots and thought about the City Council meeting I'd attended Monday - the one where city leaders begrudgingly admitted Greensboro has a gang problem. What tipped them off?

B. Hall, B. WelchStill, I'd be lying if I said I spent my time on Teague Street fretting over gangbangers and politicians. Far from it. See, one man's crime scene is another man's social circle. Take Brian Hall and Bill Welch here. I know neither very well, but every couple of weeks or so we'll all gather at some unlikely spot and gossip. The fact that someonme else's disaster is playing out nearby rarely matters, for the novelty of breaking news wore off a l-o-n-g time ago. So we chat, joke, even play grab-ass. Anything to pass the hours. Maybe that's why I can't stomach all those CSI shows. Too much overacting, too many dramatic pauses. If they want to portray real life crime scenery (they don't), they should fill the egdes of their screens with bored photogs playing rock-paper-scissors.

That, I'd watch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Where IS Jay Shurling?

Of all the sports guys I've ever worked with, there are very few I could truly call friends. It's not that they're bad people, but with their trademark bluster, affinity for pastel golf shirts and deep allegiance to meaningless statistics, we've just never had alot in common. Which is why it's unusual that I pine so for a former sports reporter, a loveable enough schmuck by the name of Jay Shurling. Unlike many, Jay never took himself too seriously, never bullied hapless interns, never belittled someone solely because they couldn't recite the roster of whatever overhyped thumb wrestling match held the region enraptured this week. Nah, Jay Bird was always too busy cutting up to ever care how I felt about 'The Big Game'.

Maybe that's why we got along so famously - in the studio, out on the shoot, back in the edit bay. Thus, I was truly bummed when Jay got smart and left the Tee-Vee business some five years ago - for he took alot of fun with him. Since then, I've only seen Jay a handful of times, most often at Furniture Market, where he could be found hawking high-end leather sofas embossed with Nascar driver logos (That's right, I said high end leather sofas embossed with Nascar driver logos). In recent years however, Jay's dropped off the planet - or at least stopped dropping by the station once every blue moon. Has he entered the former sports goob witness protection program? Did he given his life over to the continued study of Krispy Kreme donuts? Has he pursued his lifelong dream of establishing the first ever Karaoke Training Institute? Perhaps Chilton knows...Where IS Jay Shurling?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In Other News...

Coming up - attack dog advocates, Frasier on the take and a bundle of joy in the Emerald City - but first let's go LIVE(!) to the Harry Potter Midnight Book Release Party:

Okay, that wasn't live, but it was pretty self-indulgent. At least now you know what it's like to be photo-stalked by yours truly. Special thanks to Brad Ingram for uploading this piece of web flotsam. And yes, I promise to comply with the restraining order. Now this:

"Pit Bulls Kill Kids, Free Michael Vick!"

So yelled the group of hooligans wedged into what looked like a beige Vega this afternoon. Reporter Angela Rodriguez and I were mere seconds from going live outside the Greensboro Police Department when the aforementioned decree rang out. Normally I ignore drive-by hecklers, but the voice sounded so earnest I had to do a double-take. Reminds me of the time a grandmother accosted me in a bookstore for shooting footage of Madonna's just released SEX book. The old bat was so adamant I was chief purveyor of this filth, I had to flip through the album to make sure I wasn't depicted in a dog collar. Not finding me, I went home and showered in Ajax anyway. One can never be too careful when it comes to hygiene.

Hey, remember my item about Fox's new Kelsey Grammer sitcom, "Back to You"? Me neither, but a weird little bit of synergy calls for a quick re-cap. When he asked how he came up with storylines, executive producer Steven Levitan said he and his writers regularly read NewsBlues. For those who don't know, NewsBlues is a clearinghouse for industry rumours and rants. I know this because the site's surly editor regularly features excerpts from my humble blog. So, are Hollywood hacks perusing these very pages for TV insider story arcs? Probably not, but if I see a photog character with a tropical wardrobe and writing fetish, I will be demanding residuals. I'm watching you, Frasier Crane...

And finally tonight, I'd hardly be considered avuncular if I didn't extend a warm welcome to my newest nephew, Davis Caswell Pittman. Arriving ahead of schedule, young Davis checked into the world sometime around two o clock this afternoon - much to his parents' surprise. While I've yet to lay eyes on the little tyke, I have it on good authority that he has a head full of dark hair and testicles the size of walnuts. This pleases the men in my family greatly - as we tend to hatch more hens than roosters. At this posting, young Davis is reportedly sleeping, blissfully unaware he has an uncle three hours away who swears the shrink from Cheers is stealing his life. That's okay though, as I'm sure his Dad will fill him in soon enough. Congratulations, guys...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Secrets of Harvesting Sound

Profiling. Cops say they don’t do it but I damn sure do - every time I’m forced to shoot those wretched man-on-the-street interviews. And I ain’t talkin’ skin tone, either. No, only the reticent incur my slurs. I don’t care if you’re white black or plaid, as long as you speak in complete sentences I’ll be happy to put you on the tee-vee. But avert my gaze from across the way and I won’t waste my batteries asking how you feel about Roe VS Wade, that new Wal-Mart they’re building or the First Lady’s boob-job . Sound harsh? Perhaps, but when six opinions on disc are all that stand between you and a sit-down lunch, you tend to get a little punchy.

It’s different when you’re with a reporter, of course. There’s just something about a two person crew that slows foot traffic. Maybe it’s the teeth, the power-suit, or that dopey microphone flag. Whatever it is, nothing validates the whole interview process like an actual interviewer. Main anchors are great. So are weathermen (the goofy ones - not the scientists!). Drag along your station’s ‘sweetheart’ and you’ll be using those tripod legs to fight off talkers and stalkers. But it doesn’t take all that. Even a wooden Indian can illicit the proper response if he’s being trailed by a scruffy dude with Sony on his shoulder. (Trust me, I’ve worked with a few.)

Trouble is, on-air talent ain’t always available. See, the overly coiffed crowd has a habit of writing (or at least pretending to) in the afternoon. While they update their MySpace account, assignment editors like to scurry up busy work for idling lenslingers. Merge that urge with a lazy producer and you have a sudden need for a string of sound bites. Before you know it, you’re loitering outside some box store asking strangers where they think they city should build that moratorium they’re always talking about. That is a place you don’t wanna be, unless of course you dig panhandling for points of view. I don’t and neither should you. That’s why I’m revealing the following secrets of harvesting sound:

Use Your Sticks: Sure, you look cool hefting that glass at jaunty angles, but readied weaponry can really scare off customers. That’s why I recommend mounting that beast atop your tripod and planting yourselves by egress or escalator. Let ‘em come to you, role tape before they know it and engage in real conversation. Before you now it, you’ll leaving the food court a happy photog - and smelling a lot fresher than if you shouldered your piece when you should have parked it

Drop the Caveats: Extended speeches regarding the operation of said video camera are the imprints of an amateur. Throw in a few technical words no on outside of the Engineering Department understands, and you’ve really revealed yourself a rookie. Instead, ease up to your intended victim as if everyone walks around with a logo’d camera in tow. Chances are if they pause long enough to talk in the first place, they know what you and your lens are up to. Perhaps you’ve heard of YouTube.

Incite Division: This one could be considered dirty pool if it didn’t work so well. Say you’ve cornered a couple of ladies with shopping bags and designer duds. Instead of agreeing to talk on camera, they hem and haw, urging each other to go first, if at all. These, are easy marks. While dying on the inside for just a little screen-time, they seek the approval of their erstwhile partner. The smart photog will pick up on this game of back and forth and jokingly cajole each to do as he pleases. But be careful! ’Sugar Tits’ is rarely every an acceptable bromide. Ask Mel Gibson.

Dodge the Laconic: This goes back to the very essence of our post, but it’s worth repeating. Some people won’t talk to a TV camera for love nor money. This is often a wise tactic on their part, but that’s not your concern. You want them to open up, shout, cry or beat-box - whatever fit’s the question of the day. So don’t waste your time with the mousy housewife, don’t burn up batteries browbeating the timid, don’t delay your lunch by accosting a group of mimes. Some folk just ain’t got it in ’em. Which brings me to my next suggestion…

Scoff Not the Weirdo: Eccentric people have interesting opinions and they’re usually more than happy to share a half dozen or so with you. So do what I do. Look for the kind of person you’d avoid like the plague were you out on a stroll with your girlfriend. They’ll stop and chat. Look for nose rings, odd clothing, funny walks and close-talkers. These are your people. Unlike the vacationing accountant with his , that dude in the frayed Insane Clown Posse concert tee will be happy to share his views. Let’s just hope he’s been following the mayoral race.

Leave Your Comfort Zone: I’ve joked a lot about stereotypes here, but on this last point, I’m serious: Be an equal opportunity inquisitor. The people you put on camera should reflect your viewing audience. If instead everyone you talked to looks like your cousin’s kids, then you have failed yourself, your viewers and your assignment editor. That last part doesn’t bother me so much, but the good folk who tune every night at five, six and eleven deserve better than your idea of suitable humans. So mix up those skin pigments, bravely traverse all tax-brackets and chat up someone you might normally shun. You’ll come away the better journalist, and far more importantly, you might just get lunch.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lost in (Con)Fusion

Gillette FusionPardon me for wandering off topic, but something called a Gillette Fusion showed up in my mailbox yesterday and I can't stop staring at it. Can you blame me? It's gorgeous - an aerodynamic implement so overstylized you'd think the lunkheads from American Chopper dreamed it up. With its gleaming chassis and blue piping, I wasn't sure whether to stick it in my medicine cabinet or drive it around the block. And that was before I unsheathed it from it's hermetically sealed packaging. When I did, I realized why the damn thing arrived via postal carrier. The TSA won't let this much cutlery aboard any commercial aircraft. I can see why. With its 5 blade 'shaving surface technology' and extra precision trimmer blade, The Fusion boasts six - count 'em six on-board razors. Six! There are entire Eastern Bloc countries that protect their borders with less weaponry. Granted, I'm no fan of the clean-cut look, but even the freshest metrosexual would have a hard time explaining away this abomination. Personally, I blame the original iMac - the candy-colored computer that proved consumers do care about the way their technology looks - even technology that's destined for the bottom of a forgotten bathroom drawer. As for the sharpened arsenal, chalk it up to America's love of overkill for the sake of overkill. Just don't toss it in your carry-on bag and try to catch a flight. You may very well find yourself shackled off the coast of Cuba, using your new toy to peel potatoes, stir gruel and shank any over-affectionate cellmates.

That'd be too bad, as it makes for a fine shave.