Saturday, May 03, 2008

Turd, Interrupted

Portier in ReposeI’m still grappling with the fact that Rick Portier dismantled his blog. For over two years the Baton Rouge TV news photog has praised the righteous and excoriated the lame under the rank pseudonym, Turdpolisher. In that time he’s shown no quarter, skewering all that have passed through his Gulf Coast lens with equal venom - be they pimps, producers or any other form of poseur. That propensity for bluntness is common among our breed; while I tend to couch my derision in twenty dollar words, Rick will call a spade a $#&% shovel. It’s made for delightfully pungent reading and I considered myself a fan l-o-n-g before I struck up a friendship with the man. Which is why it pains me to report that Turdpolisher is on extended leave. The details why don’t matter as much; just know that it was of Rick’s own volition. That doesn't mean it was an easy decision, so while he concentrates on an off-line project and assesses his alter-ego, drop him a thought in the comments section below, would ya? Dude needs to know ALL those visitor clicks weren't just from me...

Dung Clusters on the Campaign Trail

Wookie What?The North Carolina Primary is two days away and every news crew I know is exhausted. You would be too if you spent the last few weeks chasing Presidential candidates from every corner of your homeland. For weeks Obama and Hillary have crisscrossed the state, popping up at lofty universities and small town fire departments alike as both camps laid claim to our nation’s destiny, one carefully crafted talking point at a time. Mostly, each candidate electrified their choir. I watched aides hyperventilating over Hillary’ s stance on healthcare, an agnostic woman genuflect at the sight of Obama’s motorcade and Bill Clinton himself hypnotize a mosh-pit’s worth of college freshman. I don’t know if either side won the hearts of the electorate, but together they played more North Carolina venues this year than Nantucket.

Clinton at ElonOf course that’s just my perspective, which is dead center on the camera platform if I have anything to say about it. This year that process has been testier than ever, with all sorts of new media goobs showing up to crowd the riser. Hey, I’m all for a plugged-in citizenry, but don’t be surprised when The Traveling Press swoops in just before the hair-do and blocks your shot. They do it to me and I got three different station tattoos on my arse. Maybe that’s how they’ll identify my remains when this camera-stand collapses under the weight of you ... YouTube hooligans. Back in my day you needed a press pass to stand up here, and fancy vests with lots of pockets! Hmm? Whadaya mean “What’s a Mult-Box?” MY EYES!!!

The DoorsWhew. I’m okay. Just sorta blacked out there when the skater kid didn’t know how to plug in a microphone cord. They still make cords, right? Truth is, I’ve been feeling old lately - and not just because I’ve been working longer shifts. It hit me the other day at Guilford College. Deep within the edifice, a packed house supplicated on-cue as Hillary droned on like a middle school nutritionist for the better part of an hour. I was spared that sensory assault, having stationed myself along the row of TV live trucks parked outside. Nearby, a gruby clutch of trust fund anarchists waved a gnarly looking bed sheet my camera’s way. ‘GET THE U.S. OUT OF THE AMERICAS!’ the dirty banner demanded. I’m still not sure what that means exactly, but judging from their accompanying funk, I’d guess they’re demanding an end to indoor plumbing. What’s so revolutionary ‘bout that?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Suddenly Stephanie

Stephanie Bourland and babyOne of the few highlights of last week's Bill Clinton debacle was this fugitive sighting. Stephanie Bourland, once an El Ocho anchor and reporter, left the newsroom years ago to pursue some form of normalcy. At first she did the corporate thing, but after having her first child she got really smart and now passes the time as a full time Mommy. What a far cry from our time together, when we trudged through meetings, murders and mudslides - all in the name of the daily deadline. You know, since Steph left I don't think I've eaten at a single Panera's - or any other House of Estrogen where they want to serve me half a sandwich or soup in a bowl made of soggy bread. Anyhoo, it was good to see her last week - even if she did insist on doing a leisurely victory lap around our antiquated sat truck. As for the little one, she was suitably cute and already smart enough to fear all the furry photogs vying for her attention. I'm guessing her mom clued her in...

Bruises I Accrue...

When I was but a pimply teenager, it would kill me to know I was missing out. A party, a dance, an advertised ass-whupping after Algebra class: I wanted to be there just to drink in the absurdity. So is it any wonder I grew up to do what I do? After all, a press pass is a backstage pass to other peoples' lives, from the preening politician to the badly shackled madman. What better vocation for a fairly gregarious bookworm with a strong back and an eye for irony? I can't think of one - which is why, no matter how I might belly-ache about the Fourth Estate, I go to bed every night knowing I long ago discovered my special purpose...

Trouble is, I wake up sore. An aching back, a throbbing shoulder, knuckles bloodied from scrapes I don't remember. Clearly, one of two things is happening. Either my lovely bride is bludgeoning me in my sleep or all this lenslinging is taking its toll. I'm betting on the latter - as nearly twenty years of bending, stretching, chasing and hefting has done a number on my frame. No, I'm not ready for the Old Photog's Home just yet - as I'd kinda like to shoot in High-Def before I give up the lens. I do however recognize that I'm not quite as spry as I was back when acid-washed denim was still acceptable outerwear. Sure, I been lucky. No major operations or maladies have sidelined me - though there days my knees scream to be taken out back and shot.

Still, I don't regret a single frame - even if I had to assume the shape of a squad car cockpit or hold aloft a microphone until it equaled the weight of a mid-seventies sat truck. See, within those contusions are hardened anecdotes, highly sought life experiences that last a lot longer than than that mysterious tripod hickey on my inner arm. Beats a bevy of paper cuts earned during tax return season, I'm told. But how would I know, anyway? I'm way too busy turning calamity into commodity to keep a running score on normalcy, too consumed with the daily hunt to ponder the pitfalls of a cubicle farm. Guess I'll stick to the open range - where for all the bruises I accrue - there's usually a ballbuster of a tale to act as a salve.

Now if I could do something about this hunchback...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Stand Up GuyThough I live to sling a lens alone, no one’s ever called me a ‘VJ‘. Nor have I ever been referred to as a ‘Sojo’ 'Phojo' or ‘Mojo’ - though there was a time I was a real ‘Mo-Fo‘. But that’s not important right now. What IS important is the following revelation, courtesy of Pete Liebengood, president of the VJ training company OnQCo, Liebengood, one of many new gurus working feverishly to take the ’crew’ out of ’news crew’, sees both pros and cons of working alone.
"People like the idea of ownership of the story. It’s a motivational force for them to come to work each day. The other thing is, it’s hard. Some of them don’t have time to eat during the course of a day. I’m concerned about the burnout issue. It’s physically hard, mentally hard, it’s stressful, draining."
Do…tell. Pardon my sarcasm, but it’s not every day self-evident truths are couched as revelation. Still I shouldn’t scorn, for of all the talk of blazing new paradigms and TV stations going dark, the above epiphany is about as sensible as anything I’ve read on the subject of solo-newsgathering. Just ask the new reporter-chick who schleps half a TV station in high-dollar heels, or the print reporter who finds the baby-cam his paper bought harder to operate than the narrow notebook he used to power up. They’ll both tell you producing news alone calls for enthusiasm, a multitude of skills and the occasional deep tissue massage. Don’t get me wrong. Solo newsgathering isn’t rocket science. Hell, it ain’t even pizza delivery. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something; that, or impress you with their alleged talent. Be wary of either, for engorged technology and diminished expectations have leveled the playing field for all who want to get in the game. Just know this:

Hustle is still required. Whether you’re rolling up on scene with a camcorder from the late 80’s or sportin’ every piece of gear your station will buy, doing it all is rarely pleasant and only occasionally pretty. People in power or peril couldn’t give a damn what your philosophies are; they just want you out of their grill. You can do so with the purchase of a single tripod - a device just behind the camera battery in terms of importance. Score the best microphone you can afford and invest in a light kit and you’re well on your way to producing something that won’t trigger a wave of uncontrollable bowel movements across the land. But gadgets alone won’t get the job done. No you’ll need to place those contraptions at the right place at the right time - over and over again. Couple that punctuality with a grasp of video fundamentals and you’ll soon have something less than painful to watch. But how do you know if you’re doing it right? Simple. Make sure everything hurts at the end of the day. New VJ Brian MacMillan will attest:
“I think you have to love what you do, be excited about news, and it’s tough to get in there every day and do this. If you’re not excited about it you’re going to burn out.”
Oh, you’ll burn out. Then you’ll become enflamed again, if you’re any good. I myself have seen more peaks and valleys in my humble career than most cross country skiers encounter in a dozen seasons. What keeps me coming back is the visceral thrill of doing it ALL, the satisfaction (or shame) of near total control. Whether or not your product will please the palate - well, that’s a whole ‘nother show. I’m just glad to see someone admit it ain’t as easy as the on-line brochures would have you believe. So, if you’re among the neophyte set who desperately wants to eat this cameraman’s lunch, you’d better pack your own utensils - for there are more of me than you realize and we’re not above a foot race to beat you to the buffet. So can all talk of ’burn-out‘; for six months on the streets barely gives you the right to pass gas, let alone fade-away. As for me, I’m wearing Nomex underpants and soon as I dig out this well-worn wedgie, I’m gonna do my best to drink your milkshake.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Malice in Wonderland

Waiting for Chelsea
With the suddenly relevant North Carolina Primary but a week away, my homeland is being overrun by carpetbaggers and their cranky staff. It's gotten so bad even gentler interlopers like myself are being pressed into service, made to abandon our salsa-tasting contests and old folk rodeos for the far less creative world of global politics. Yeeesh ... Tell you what, if I'm gonna be forced to shoot a dog and pony show, there'd damn well better be a living, breathing dog AND pony on-site, and it would really help if they both wore silly hats. Still, I don't call the shots (I just bag 'em) - which hopefully explains how I came to loiter in a giant red chair this morning as Chelsea Clinton proved she's worthy of her father's love by holding up the press for a good hour, hour and a half. When the former first daughter finally arrived at the Greensboro Children's Museum, she did the obligatory walk-through before commandeering a room full of jacked-up pre-schoolers for a little drowned-out storytime. All the while, I played cat and mouse with her handlers - who seemed eager to file a restraining order on any lens that actually turned out for their little photo-op. They're just lucky I'm a gentleman; otherwise I'd have put Chelsea's thong all over the tee-vee, as she flashed it to us all, each and every time she copped a squat to hug a child. Guess I'll never work for TMZ...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Surf the Earth

As a theoretical enthusiast of the sport, I've always wanted to turn the perfect piece on mountain biking. This, ain't it. But it does provide a glimpse of the tight and twisty singletrack that scars the forest floor near my home. W-e-e-k-s ago, Chad Tucker and I caught up with some taut members of the Greensboro Fat Tire Society for a down and dirty look at Owl's Roost. Trouble was it was late in the day, and while the light was luxuriant, it didn't last long. We shot the interviews, stand-up and as much trail footage as legs and illumination would allow. I'd hoped to return with a buddy's helmet-cam, but staggered showers and a relentless SHED-yule did not allow. Thus, when I sat down to edit I came up short and eventually scoured El Ocho's local sports archive for suitable saddle-cam coverage. If that's too much information, please disregard. Just know that what little effort used on this disposable vignette was for the greater good, as it's puts me one step closer to my garage, where a long neglected Trek bicycle is dyin' to go for a ride.