Friday, June 27, 2008

Gripes of a Lifer

Flames, hehehe...Limited attention span - Check. Wardrobe of a 4th grader - Check. A penchant for bitchery - Double-Check. Yes according to the latest survey, I'm still very much a photog. Of course there was a time when those six simple words would have caused my lungs to collapse, but as I settle into my forties, I've come to realize it's what I'm built to do. After all, what other job would afford me access to the mayhem and minutia that passes for news on this planet? Where else could I milk a factory fire one day and stalk a lost family of kittens the next? Insurance adjustors don't get to do that and at last check, neither do Indian Chiefs. Sure, they probably get every holiday off, but has Mr. Clipboard or old Squatting Bull ever floated over school buses, chased a cadaver dog down a root-infested riverbank or caught some righteous Z's at a City Council meeting? I think not.

But it ain't all manhunts and catnaps. There's the peril of office politics in between... Finicky equipment, predatory competitors and the soul-eroding grind of a 24/7 news cycle: just a few of the other reasons we photogs age like sitting Presidents. It's also why most news shooters would rather babysit a grave-exhumation in the pouring rain than answer a single ringing telephone on the assignment desk. See, for all our gruff facades and bulging utiliy vests, television news photographers are passionate storytellers. The good ones, anyway. Unlike producers, who get high-fived by management whenever the overnight tea-leaves claim them a winner or the reporters, who regularly star in their own slow-motion promos, there ain't alot of glory for the sore shoulder set. Instead, there's the grind; the constant feeling that the miracle you pulled off yesterday is already ancient history. Or as the Turdpolisher himself so succintly puts it:
This business with its constant deadlines, multiple stories a day, live shots, unreasonable demands from the suits, has a way of beating a man down. Completing this task invariably takes time and quality away from that task. And I'm the kind of guy that hates to let the story down. For me, it ain't about the reporter, the station, the newscast, or even the person in front of my lens. It's about the story. And when I know a story ain't gonna be all that it can because of the everyday demands to feed the beast, it eats me up inside.
Do me a favor, Rick. When it stops eating you up inside, walk away. We could both make a fine living writing greeting cards for the terminally depressed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Refraining from Chicanery

What happens when a veteran TV news shooter wanders into a newspaper newsroom? Culture Shock! Just ask Cyndy Green - who touches on the subject in a recent News Videographer post:
Every time I’ve been in there I get the feeling I’m entering a library: none of the occasional rowdiness of broadcasting. Reporters quietly talking on phones or typing. Some hushed discussions. But very open and friendly (once they got over the fact I used to be in “that other” news business…).
The lady’s right. Whenever I walk into the office space of a certain local newspaper, I’m taken aback by the eerie calm. No scanners burping cop-talk. No TV’s blaring at every corner. No cluster of photogs doing lame improv. No interns slathered in scary mascara. No disembodied voices screaming for teases. Instead, frowning faces glare at computer monitors, hunched figures mutter into telephones as the hum of overhead lights drown out anyand all semblance of hubbub. “This is a newsroom?” I think, as I pause at the entrance, waiting for someone, anyone to notice the sweaty stranger in the tropical shirt who just let himself in. No one ever does, but as I skulk off to where I'm going I still feel like a circus clown at the DMV. Maybe it’s the floppy shoes.

Or maybe I’m just a broadcaster at heart - one who’s glad he conned his way into a tiny CBS affiliate instead of bum-rushing the local paper. But I’m a lover of the written word as well and despite my propensity for 24/7 internet, I still take the daily paper. Sometimes I even read it! When I do, I’m struck by the depth of the coverage, for the stories featured within often revolve around something I shot the day before - or even more often- something I’m about to. That smacks of collusion I know, but it’s really more of an unspoken pact; one in which TV folk scour the headlines for stories each morning as print reporters monitor the evening news. You’d think that would make us conspirators of sorts, but alas, secret handshakes are rarely shared. Until now...

As the unquenchable internet swallows all other data delivery platforms, ink-stained wretches and TV sleaze are meeting in the middle. Therein lies one hell of a sitcom premise I feel, but in reality the patter isn’t so scripted, the laughter not so freshly canned. Instead, ill will abounds, with both factions accusing the other of spray painting the Fourth Estate. Occasionally the discourse is quite high-minded, but most days it plays out like those annoying Alltell spots, you know - the one where the D&D geeks curse the very existence of Chad - apparent arbiter of cell-phone bliss. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to party with those guys either. Neither would I want to set up career camp at the newspaper offices I’ve visited. Not until they install a disco ball or mechanical bull, anyway.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From Gravitas to Grace (?)

Perhaps it ain't my place, but I want to wish Warren Savage all the luck that he can muster. A talented broadcaster, former Marine and lover of Jazz, Warren was once on top of the world. But then came a spectacular fall. I knew him years ago as a dashing young news anchor in Eastern North Carolina. Back then, Savage was The Man. Handsome and gregarious, he could chat up stunning coeds with the same savoir-faire he oozed on the evening news. When he took his natural born gravitas to Atlanta for a big market morning show gig, nobody was very surprised. A decade or so later however, he would stun everyone.

In 2005, Warren abruptly left his high profile anchor gig, leaving coworkers with a cryptic note that read in part: "A rapper once said, ’before I sell out, I get the hell out’. Since I’m more a musician than a rapper, I prefer to take a cue from the late, great Miles Davis, “if you don’t feel it, don’t play it.” Friends and rivals scratched their heads as Warren disappeared. Viewers wondered what ever became of the smooth newscaster. What no one seemed to realize at the time was that Warren Savage was in the grips of addiction. Soon, though, everybody would know.

Secretly facing a misdemeanor pot charge in a neighboring county, the ex-talking head became the focus of unwanted coverage when Forsyth County Sheriff deputies arrested him on felony Cocaine charges. The news of that arrest, along with the requisite mug shot, titillated those who knew his face from the Tee-Vee and dumbstruck those of us who thought they knew the man. In late 2006, Warren threw himself on the mercy of the Georgia court. To avoid prosecution he eagerly agreed to enter and finish 18 months of rigorous drug treatment. Monday night, he graduated from that program, briefly praised his Maker and took his struggle home.

Whatever awaits him there won’t be easy. But I for one am optimistic and look forward to the day this innate communicator can tell us where he’s been and why he's never going back. Godspeed, Warren.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Scrumshots of London

Desperate StretchThere's an awful lot to look at in this anatomy of a fracas, but be warned: If pretty British women throttling each other is your idea of a good time, you could be there awhile. When you get back, check out the lenslinging Londoners on the left: necks stretched, chins up, viewfinders down. That, my friend, is the Desperate Stretch, the Unavoidable Hoist, the Painful Crane. It's also the one camera-move I can't seem to pull off without a few, er, colorful utterances. Not these blokes; they're obviously pros, with two distinctly different techniques: Popeye on top goes with the standard two-handed heft, cradling the camera in his left palm while zooming out with the right. Dude's not even using the viewfinder! Meanwhile, guy in red mixes it up with a bent elbow approach, fingers splayed wide with the weight of his rig resting on a single thumb. That's moxie! I just hope he doesn't drop the damn thing as it might take the spotlight off the scrum surrounding Naomi Campbell. You heard me; these cats are bashing lenses and earning hernias over Naomi. Freakin'. Campbell...

Isn't that a sign of the apocalypse?