Friday, October 31, 2008

Stew at the Zoo

Paper Mache PumpkinAnyone can pop off a cool photograph at the North Carolina Zoo, even me - your grandiloquent cameraman. See, even a TV news viewfinder to the face can’t eclipse the menagerie of snapshots free for the taking. It’s why - whenever the suits send me down to Asheboro - I make sure to pack a hand-Canon. Of course, video comes first. My producers didn’t dispatch me down Highway 220 just to gather fodder for the blog, ya know. They want moving pictures; heavily distilled vignettes sliced fresh for the evening news. That’s cool. But we both know my digital camera is always at hand and unless I’m hemmed-in by a fringe-eared Oryx, I’m making a grab for it. Such was the case today, when perhaps for the sixth time in eleven years, I attended Pumpkin Day at the Zoo. Hey - a fella my age can’t be afraid to tackle the tough issues. Sure, there’s a Presidential Election in the offing, but those blowhards on cable got that covered seven ways to next Tuesday. Me - I’m pursuing the important questions, like "How many pumpkins can a bull elephant eat?” The answer: “How many you got?

Cesar the ElephantI'm not sure how you feel about keeping wild animals in captivity. Truth is, I don't really care. But if ever you were concerned about the welfare of our furry, scaled or cloven-hooved guests of the Old North State, might I suggest you introduce yourself to one of those nice persons with the Z-word on their shirt? They, are the Zookeepers. I'm not saying they're all fanatical, but more than a few of them would happily run an activity bus full of third graders off a dirt road if it that's what it took to relieve that woodchuck of his constipation. Really! I once had an aviary lady yell at me because I was 'scaring the birds' -- with my mind! Okay, she was more concerned with how I was swinging my tripod around, but my point is this: The members of the animal kingdom currently lounging in their off-exhibit living quarters down in Asheboro are living better than most kids in that city's public housing projects. If you don't believe me, stroll through the 'hood sometime. You won't see educated professionals ringing their hands over the dietary habits of twelve year olds. Not with the same passion the otter-keeper uses to pick through his slippery charges' stool.

Get my good side...When I was but a boy, my Uncle Jennings took me, my brother and cousins to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. I've still got a picture from that day somewhere; a fading Polaroid of Brian, David, Richard and me, straddling giant turtles while clad in outfits straight out of the Brady Bunch. Sartorial shame aside, it is a pleasant memory. For little did that dweeb in the Coke-bottle glasses know he'd grow up to prowl the grounds of his own state's zoological wonder. That's what I've been doing off and on since 1997 - when a newsroom executive by the name of Lori Mabe decided to throw the new guy a bone - and asked me if I'd meet with Rod Hackney, of 'What's New at the Zoo?' fame. That's what a competing station once called their regular visits to Asheboro - a weekly segment produced in part by the great George Vaughn. Unbeknownst to me, that franchise had recently landed in El Ocho's lap - who thought so much of it they assigned it to their newest photog, the one who kept muttering long words under his breath...

Appropriate reactionSince that fateful day, I've schlepped gear around the Zoo's 1,448 acres more times than I really wanted to . In the freezing cold of late January, in the sweltering stew of mid-July, I've aimed a lens at Blesboks and Palm warblers, Longnose gar and Ringtail cacomistle, Greater kudu and, of course, the River cooter. For more than a year I visited the Zoo every month, shooting enough footage for four stories to air each following week. This kind of productivity would never have been possible without the sweat and ingenuity of (friend of the blog) Rod Hackney, who eventually teamed up with Terry Shiels to produce the award-winning Zoo Filez - a syndicated series that runs throughout North Carolina and beyond. I'm proud to have even a fleeting connection to the Zoo and not just because it got me out of so many drive-by shootings. No, I'm proud because of what the Zoo does to kids everyday. Check out Harry Potter here, for example. He's absolutely gobsmacked - and there ain't an iPod, laptop or X-Box in sight.

Let's just hope he doesn't grow up to be a photog. a Sorcerer's brain is a horrible thing to waste.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sore Shoulder Ahead

Here's hoping Aaron Adetuyi fares better than his fancycam. The CP24 photog was struck by a pickup truck this morning as he and traffic safety specialist Cam Woolley broadcasted live(!) near a broken watermain in Toronto. While you absorb the irony of the last half of that statement, I'll wait right here ... Finished? Good! 'Cause you should be ashamed of yourself! There's absolutely nothing tasty to savor from a situation like this! Not when a working photog is left hospitalizedwhile his lens lays crumpled in the dust. Luckily for you, Aaron's injuries were minor; he's gonna be okay. As for his camera? It may never make morning television again...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Usual Suspects

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Want to amuse your friends at this year's Christmas party? Invite a few TV news photogs over and ply them with fruity drinks. Within minutes, you'll have more grisly banter than an entire episode of CSI:Miami. It's not that we're all heathens, mind you - but when you spend your days sucking life through a tube, it's difficult to kibbitz without offending a few innocents. Hey, it's not our fault we measure time by its relation to the next newscast ("It was T minus twelve minutes before I ever got a script!"), pepper every sentence with more meaningless acronyms than the average fighter pilot (I was laying down my SOT's when the IFB died!"), or base street directions on tragedies past ("Take a left past the laundromat where that lady got shanked..."). But what we lack in refinery we more than make up for in real world knowledge.

Know where to find the more lucid homeless folk in your town? Wanna know what the Governor says when the cameras aren't rolling? Know how to make a Rent-A-Cop soil himself? Ask a photog. Even if they won't say, you'll be able to tell by the glint in the thousand yard stare you've touched on one of their many areas of expertise. But please - don't ask them if the weather bunny is nice as she seems in your living room, why tornados always sound like freight trains or how we only interview shirtless inbreds at accident scenes, 'cause you wouldn't like the answer! Just keep the finger sandwiches coming, would you?Or maybe walk Aunt Doris to the far side of the room when Hector starts talking about that ball-gag convention he covered last week. You'll be glad you did. And for the love of all that's a misdemeanor, STOP asking me about the missing silverware; I told you...

I don't know nothin' 'bout that.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Spot Weather TentWith Election Day drawing mercifully near, local TV folk everywhere are leaning into their sets, anxious to see just what will replace all those annoying political spots. God help us if it’s a station promo. Hey, I’m no corner office accountant; ask me to tally up my time-slip too quickly and I gotta use all my fingers and toes. But even a troglodyte like myself knows what happen if area businesses don’t buy advertising time: We. Cease. To. Be. Okay, so maybe it’s not as simple as all that, but tell me this,Mr. Smarty-Pants, who’s going to buy gas for the satellite truck if Crazy Ned’s Used Car Emporium doesn’t pony up for a slew of new commercials? Don’t bother answering; I’m way too busy learning new skills to listen.

For years now, we in the electronic press have pointed and snickered at the denizens of Print. ‘Them and their fancy learnin’ degrees - a lot good it’ll do them when their paper tanks.’ As predictions go, it wasn’t too far off. Esteemed newspapers large and small are slashing staffs, offering buyouts to senior employees and laundry lists of new responsibilities to junior ones. Why it’s enough to make a broadcast schlub like myself feel sorry for all those print folk, the ones juggling notepads and handy-cams down at the courthouse. If most of them weren’t so unbearably smug, I’d let ‘em know their lens cap was still on. But in End Times like these, it’s every data-gatherer for himself. Besides, I have seen the crumbling future of print journalism and it is US.

“Who’s US? ”, you didn’t ask. I’ll tell you: You, Me and everyone else with a station logo on their paycheck.

There was a time ours was a sanctuary for the single-minded. Weasel your way into a local affiliate, develop a specialty, lather, rinse and repeat. Show up on time to push that button of your choice and you may very well have what passes for a career in local television. No more. Mind-blowing new tools and a stomach churning economy are conspiring to render many of us irrelevant. Like to edit but too lazy to shoot? Buy some vitamins and shoulder a Sony if you want your job to last. Always thought producing was for the soft and weak? Stack a show or two and see how you feel. Mastered the lens so you’d never have to write? Better buy a vowel. Think your safe from all this since you’re a reporter and hot? You’d better be DAMN HOT.

I, for one, am far from hot. Still, I can shuck, jive, shoot and go LIVE(!) with little to no assistance. It’s rarely easy, hardly ever pretty and at times taken a day or two off my life. But with a mug like mine, you gotta offer something other than deep dimples and a tendency to glisten. Now however, even the beautiful people have to multi-task. Or will. Sure, they’ll always be the Katie Courics of our field, but more and more anchors will also be called on to report and a few of them will frame up their two-shots as well. It’s going to make for awfully ugly TV at first, but after the herd is greatly thinned, we’re sure to discover some auteurs among the talking head set. We’ll also find that some of those camera folk can write and produce almost as well as they shoot, edit and pick their collective seat.

Will any of it be pretty? Not likely. But in case you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. The economy’s in the pisser, new technology is devaluing inert skill-sets and someone other than George W. Bush is about to lead our still great nation. If THAT doesn’t fill you with hope, you’re just not paying attention, which is one more reason you gotta go. Don’t worry though; there’s a twenty year old Twitter freak who’s been assembling epics on his mom’s laptop since he was twelve. He’s got a YouTube reel of himself doing stand-up, writes blogs under three separate monikers and has more political opinions than you got sensible shoes. What kind of news he’ll make we’ve yet to see, but one thing’s for sure: no one’s going to look back at the early 21st century and pine for the good ole days of local television.

We’ll be lucky if they look back at all…