Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sociopath Wanted

Perhaps the most shocking thing about last month's murder of Makayla Sitton is that the man responsible remains at large. Hopefully that will change, now that none other than America's Most Wanted has joined the hunt. Paul Michael Merhige was a guest in veteran TV photojournalist Jim Sitton's home on Thanksgiving evening when family members say he inexplicably opened fire, killing three female relatives before going into six year old Makayla's bedroom and shooting her dead as she slept. The mind reels. So too, do the survivors. But through all the unspeakable loss, Jim and Muriel Sitton have remained vocal guardians of their daughter's legacy. This I hope provides some solace, but the real healing will begin with the capture, prosecution and (dare I say) execution of her killer. Maykala's dad Jim is a highly respected member of the Photog Nation. Many of his behind the scenes brethren would be especially pleased if television - in the form of America's Most Wanted - played a part in the apprehension of this animal.


(From The Keys to a Cage)

Not long after Merhige's ugly mug was splayed across the airwaves, an America's Most Wanted viewer called in with a tip, leading authorities to a small motel in the Middle Keys of Florida. A 'John Baca' had paid in cash there for a two week stay. According to reports, Paul Michael Merhige was on a computer when U.S. Marshals burst into that room. (I'd love to know what he was looking at.) Marshals apprehended him without incident and found his Toyota Camry nearby, underneath a car cover. Merhige faces four counts of first-degree murder. Hopefully, the Sittons can begin to heal. But as Jim himself says...

"This doesn't bring Makayla back. I'm not jumping for joy. Her room is still empty. But the monster is in a cage now."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009: Ten I Can Live With

FocustrationListen to your keyboard long enough and you'll recognize its rhythms. That's what I do more nights than not: sit and stare at a glaring laptop until one of us starts to talk. I know, I know: strange pastime - but hey, the hobby shop was out of model airplanes. Besides, what other unpaid endeavor allows one access to a glowing, mocking screen - one whose very cursor taunts the creative spirit with every wretched blink? Forget I mentioned it. Just know that for every fortnight of thwarted expression, an epistle slipped by that even a self-doubting lout can live with. Here's ten from within 2009, in particular order:

Life, the Universe and Everything
By years beginning, I was channeling Douglas Addams, in hopes 2009 would pack the punch of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. So far only fizz, but I still like the way this birth announcement goes down...

Dear Madam Here's a deal: You don't wet your pants whenever I point the fancycam your way and I won't be forced to vent my spleen all over the internets that very evening. Until then, clean up on Aisle 5.

Eau De Photog Speaking of messes, you oughta get a whiff of your average news day. Equal parts smoke plume and generator fume, this bouquet boasts the bottom end of a cadaver dog and the top notes of a homeless camp. And that's not counting the stench comin' off that guy behind the camera...

You There... Of all the blather I've slathered across the web this year, this entry sparked the biggest response, from coworkers who fived me in the hallway to the shapely object of my disaffection who cornered me in the edit bay that day. Can't say I regret a moment of it...

Satisfaction Doubtful As an avid student of the Exploration Age, I've been meaning to fashion a post after those great recruiting posters promising little more than pain and suffering. I just never had a suitable image to go along with it - until a frustrated Carter Francois popped up on Flickr.

Fair and White-Balanced
Far be it from me to hate on another news shooter, but this particular entry was interpreted as such. More than anything I was admiring a competitor's chutzpah - if not his idea of suitable light. Still waiting for this guy to bean me in the back of a head with a nine volt battery someday...

Pursuing Hootie
I've chased a lot of famous people, from Nikki Sixx through an underground parking garage to Paula Abdul through her latest delusion. But few have been so gracious as the artist formerly known as Hootie - who even took time to chat about The Attic.

As Seen on TV Long before Billy Mays ordered up that one last 8-ball, I tried my hand at beign a pitchman. So far no one's hired me to host their infomercials, but I feel that has more to do with my budding curmudgeon(ism) than my spray-on beard.

Breaching the Fiefdom Hey, even a jaded gargoyle like me can't help but notice the Fourth Estate is crumbling beneath my talons. Thus I filed this grim report from my not so lofty perch - despite the fact that, assignement-wise, it's been a pretty fly year!

No Rhythm Required Then again, perhaps I'm still a bit giddy from the Father-Daughter dance I attended last February. Ya know, it won't be long before I'm back in the Empire Room, threatening my teenage daughters with one photog's attempt at The Robot... I knew this blog was good for something.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Frame High

Look up and Linger

Couldn't tell you what I was looking at in this month old photo, but I'm willing to pretend to I do for the sake of an update. Chances are I had just grown bored with Congressman Brad Miller's spiel and was scanning the heavens for any falling turkeys (It was near Thanksgiving). Perhaps a massive spacecraft was about to suck the local leader into its belly and I was opening my iris before the giant shadow fell over our valley. Maybe I just threw my back out again and was pretending that passing Cumulus was of great and sudden import. No matter. When you jab glass at happenstance, you're gonna get distracted. Why, just the other day I wandered away from a heated press briefing to watch icicles bleed in the parking lot. Can you blame me? Sit through enough impasses and the mind tends to wander. Next thing you know you're missing the soundbite of the day because a puddle of light under some plate glass caught your eye...Focus, Man! Ahem. Where was I? Oh yeah, my celestial glare... Would you believe a kid in an experimental balloon? Neither would I.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dash Away All

Kid Hates SantaI called ahead. This time of year, no photog worth his white-balance would dare storm a shopping mall without permission - lest he catch a blow dart to the throat. Besides, it was my last shift before a long Christmas break and I was feeling especially benevolent. So too were The Suits. No sooner had I plopped down in the morning meeting than my holiday fate was handed down: Go see Santa'. I laughed when I heard it, in spite of myself: I've filled hours of airtime talking to that elf. If a return visit to a center court throne was all it would take to get me home, I was going to assemble a litany of little kid wishes that would choke up most of the Piedmont. After all, it's what I do. Others of my ilk may favor the ambush interview, the nine part investigation. or the troubling think piece. Me, I'm Dr. Feelgood. I'll slather the back end of newscast with unadulterated fluff and look you straight in the eye as I leave for the day before they ever get to Weather. You can have your top stories, I'll stick with my operas of the Z-Block. Which is why some fat guy in a suit and a hundred drooling rubes doesn't scare me at all. I consider it a target-rich environment. And this time I was gonna bag an easy kill and maybe do a little shopping... Or so I thought.

Me At MallI even parked like a regular person --way out on the perimeter with the housewives and the high. Together, we filled in the edges of the MegalopoMall parking lot, locked our trunks and trudged toward the doors of the indoor emporium. But I hadn't arrived empty-handed. With a fancycam strap cutting into one shoulder, a tripod under my arm and a pocket full of camera-ammo, I schlepped toward the action like the news grunt I am. But I didn't mind. For once I got within range, my Bulls-Eye couldn't hide. No, he'd be squirming in hot red velvet as a hundred crumb snatchers lined up to jump on his lap. All I had to do was set up my sticks on the rim, slap a microphone on The Fat Man's furry lapel and roll tape as the enchanting encounters ensued. It takes precious little expertise to manufacture such pablum and I'd already done it a half dozen times. And once I wove a thread through the unhinged masses, I was gonna do it again. You ever navigated a packed shopping mall with half a TV station on your back? It's carrying a couple of stepladders into a moshpit, someone's gonna get hurt.

Santa & BodyguardBut I barely drew any blood at all as I tried to locate the MegalopoMall office. The PR lady I'd telephoned earlier asked me to check in when I arrived - no doubt to make sure I wasn't a suicide bomber - or worse yet, a consumer reporter. I was neither of course and after no more than a wink and a nod, I was free to find the Claus in question. It didn't take long. There, across from the Cin-a-Bon, a bearded gent held court on an oversized throne. 'Yahtzee' I mumbled under my breath and pushed past a flock of Goth Kids to close in on my prey. That's when I met her: a small woman in a bright red apron, funny little hat and year-round scowl. "You can video Santa, but you cannot talk to him. You can talk to the kids but you cannot put a microphone anywhere near Santa. Company policy." With that the world's angriest elf spun on her green velvet heel and stomped off to rob someone else of their dream. Her tone alone told me I wasn't the first photog to try to crash her party. And though she treated me like a drifter who only wanted to piss on Father Christmas, I didn't put up one iota of a fight. Instead I turned to make a beeline for the door, kicking myself for assuming it would be so easy and ruing the day Corporate America so complicated the holidays.

As for you, dear elfin lady, I hope Rudolph takes a dump in your stocking. I would, given the chance.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We Now Take You Live...

Oversized Coat Convention a freakishly large coat collision somewhere outside Toronto! That's where you'll find young Global News photog Jeremy Cohn going live like only a cold Canadian can. Note the snazzy microphone flag, cockeyed softbox and weird pom-pom thingie that lady in the blue is holding. Whatever it is they're up to, those Canucks sure know how to coordinate some outerwear. Then again, they're probably dealing with temperatures that would make a Southerner like me curl up into a fetal position and bleed little frozen chunks of barbecue sauce. So here's to you, Mr. North of the Border News Reporter! Because of you and your outlandish outerwear, I got no right to whine the next time the mercury drops below twenty and I gotta go televise some icicle...

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Insufferable Rush

Truck Day LineThe Christmas Crush is all but upon us and for once, I won't be around to record it. After Tuesday, anyway. See, during the tumultuous time span that was 2009, I produced a ton of TV. What I didn't do is take a lot of time off. Thus, I won't be spending the dwindling days of this decade running from a giant boulder while trying to keep it all in focus. Rather, I'll be working hard to keep the three females I live with from jack-knifing a semi across the interstate just to get rid of me for a couple of hours. So, while I'm hiding in the garage pretending to sweep, know that a small part of me rides shotgun with every photog this time of year, for if I haven't shot every type of late December story there is, it ain't due to lack of effort. So pour yourself some egg nog as I run down the ten pieces of holiday flotsam I won't be dragging back to the shop this year....

1) Seasonal Structure Fire

I've giggled a time or two as firehouse buddies lit dumb blazes out back for the sake of my camera and I've chased the same brave men to unglamorous locations where Christmas week blazes cast a pallor over whole neighborhoods. I'll take the grab-ass over the tragedy any day.

2) Soup Kitchen Opera

Countless are the times I've loitered in downtrodden kitchens with camera at the ready, looking for action shots and trying not to salivate over discount turkey. It's often hard to tell who's the more annoyed: the staff, the volunteers or the poor shelter residents who only want extra cranberry sauce and a little bit of dignity.

3) Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Whether prodding grounded flyers while TSA agents rip up some old lady's sensible shoes, or sticking my lens in some poor schlub's car as a thousand of their new best friends form a two lane parking lot, I can crank out commuter kerfuffle without spilling a single drop of jet fuel.

4) Canned Food/Coat Drive

Ah, with this one I'm intimate - for El Ocho does a coat slash food slash holiday toy drive like no other station I know. Salvation Army pantries, shopping malls and charitable laundromats are constant holiday stops because of it, but the ensuing goodness almost melts even my crusty photog heart. Almost.

5) Last Minute Hoarding, er...Shopping

Not since covering a prison riot have I so risked my life in the name of news. Just the other day I watched a lady of considerable carriage go down as otherwise upstanding churchgoers plowed over her in a consumer-induced frenzy. I'd have helped her up too, but I was too busy shoving discount Wii Fits down my pants.

6) A Month of (Cyber) Sundays

Ever since the Interwebs made the Wish Book obsolete, the newsroom suits insisted we point a camera at it. Literally. Thus, It's not uncommon to see a grumbling photog fumbling over a reporter's desk this time of year, knocking over framed glamor shots as he tries in vain to get the wiggle out of the screen. Worse yet, he still has to go to the mall to get sound-bites.

7) Where Credit's Due

This one's simple. After the mall, swing by the Consumer Credit Counseling office and ask the guy in the twinkly Christmas tie if you can play with his jug of cut-up credit cards. Don't worry, he'll have one. Pour it all on his office floor, throw up a light and shoot video until you begin repeating yourself. Fire a few questions at bad tie guy and you got a holiday package that can play anywhere.

8) For Him the Bell Tolls

Arrgh, those incessant bells! Their constant jangle bore into my skull the moment I drag my partner out of the car. Otherwise, I got little against lounging by the red kettle. Outside of airports, it affords a level of people-watching not available in polite society. Fancycams sure make some people generous, while others duck and run from the lens. Both are fun to chase through parking lots.

9) Bad, Glad, Mad Santa

We photogs dig repetitive action we can leisurely exploit from every angle. With the advent of wireless microphones, we can sit back far from our subjects and eavesdrop all day long. Which makes stalking Santa' and his lap easy, rewarding work. If you can't train a camera on a jolly fat guy being nice to kids and come away with good TV, it's time to hand in your press-pass and go the hell home.

10) Lights, Camera, Reindeer...

Another stalwart pitstop on the late December news cruising circuit. Synchronized lights, goofy home-owners, dumbfounded by-passers and pissed off neighbors...all reliable characters in the neighborhood kook passion play. Throw in a letter writing campaign traffic jam or power outage and you got TV gold. Just watch out for those blow-up Santas. Their eyes move when you're not watching...

Ahem...obviously I've had fun riffing on the predictable. But the fact that I and every other news shooter on the planet can recite this heretofore unwritten list is a sad reflection on the state of TV news. All our tools and glitz have brought us s-o-o far since the idea of digesting the day through local lenses spread throughout the country. That we still wallow in the same, lame, mundane stories year in and year out is an industry-wide shame. And in the age of information renaissance, it's the road to irrelevancy. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

Some days this job feels like a raptor on your back. No, really! When you hoist glass for a daily wage, getting torn to shreds by an apex predator ain't beyond the realm of possibility. Just ask this guy. But let me know what he says, would ya? Every since this mysterious frame surfaced on-line, shooters the world over have held forth on its origin... Is it a wildlife shoot gone awry? A pointless case of PhotoShop? A publicity still for the next Stephen King movie? Did the camera capture its very own demise as the Eagle(?) swooped in and snapped its neck? Or did it only capture the sound like in Grizzly Man? And how much for the bird to rip the eyelids off that rent-a cop? Okay, forget that last one. Just know that a(ny) lenslinger getting his clock cleaned by Mother Nature greatly pains me both personally and professionally. As self-appointed guardian of the photog nation, I'm duty bound - if not deluded - to uphold, protect and whitewash any unsavory incident involving my fellow cameraman. While the particulars of the above assault remain hazy, I'm tempted to issue a stern Schmuck Alert(!) to the entire animal kingdom - had that recent subcommittee not limited my dominion over reptiles, crossing guards and birds of prey. Oh well, I'll be under my bed if you need me...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Snowpocalypse NOW!

Snowstruck FourOne Man Snowy StandupNews VanThe Final Run(?)
With the first flake yet to fall, newsrooms South of the Mason-Dixon line are already preparing to lose their shit. I know; I've been a hostile accomplice to these crimes against natures since Frosty was a frontal system. It's not our finest hour. Or is it? TV stations throw an awful lot of energy at snowstorms - even when there are blades of grass poking up through the open tundra. I myself have lit vaguely glazed parking lots like they were Rockefeller Plaza, thrust toothy coworkers on icy ledges and hitched more than one ride on the salt truck parade... It hasn't ALL been drudgery. Crystallized precipitation is a blast to shoot; so are the kind of ghetto beatdown snowball fights you can spark just by breaking the camera out in certain parts of town. I even like the way the passing cars lose traction and slide toward my live shot! But if it's okay with you and Snow Miser, I'd just as soon sit this blizzard out.

Hmm? What's that? How could I stand to miss the biggest weather story to come this way since that heatwave wilted all the dirtweed in Cannabis County? Oh, I'd find a way. I'd sit home and stir the wife's hot chocolate as the dog flipped out on his very first snowfall. I'd flip the switch the flip on the fireplace and bask in the memories of assignments past... all the riots I'm responsible for on the bread and milk aisle... the seven hours I spent on that overpass watching a junior colleague repeat herself every fifteen minutes, the time I urinated the station logo on that unfortunate snowbank... Yeah, I've gone snow-blind time and time again - without ever putting Unit 4 in the ditch. That's quite the accomplishment for a Southern-bred flatlander with a genetically bred lead foot. So I beg of you Zuess: grant me this one storm to stay at home and scrape the wife's windshield. Apollo knows I've earned it and besides, I'm officially off today! There's really only one problem... I'm ON %@&$* CALL all weekend.

See you out there...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Strange Thing to be Good At

Wookie MulletNever exactly a model student, it's no surprise I ended up slingin' lenses for a living. After all, you only need three things to be a tee-vee stevedore: a keen eye, a firm grip and a glaring lack of career options. I possessed each and every one of those traits when I staggered into WNCT-TV in the fall of '89; maybe that's why Lori Scott looked past my dearth of real world experience and signed me up for an exciting career in broadcasting. Chances are she was just looking for a warm body to show up at four in the morning and dry-hump a studio camera. Either way, I was more than happy to be that schlub. Before better judgment could take hold, I told my car selling boss where he could shove his beamer and committed myself to the study of street-level camera management. It was such a rush. The magical gadgets, the access, those plastic jackets with the logo on it...I. Was. Hooked. Never before had I found a field of interest I couldn't royally eff up and while I blaze new paths in mediocrity at first, no one ever demanded I cough up my keys to the camera closet.

Good thing. I had no place to go.

Kneecap InterviewFast forward twenty years. Still in servitude to a licensed broadcast affiliate, I fill time for a daily wage. Two minutes. That's the average chunk of newscast I'm responsible for - five days of week. If I possessed the math skills of a community college student, I'd figure out how much that's added up to over the years. Then again, if I had a better grasp of mathematics I'd have no business driving around with tools in my trunk. As it is, I'm well suited for this distillation of misery, this processing of gossip, this truncating of tripe. Sure, there's something about afflicting the comfortable in there, but mostly I skim the list of morning story ideas for something visual. Normally I find it and without so much as scintilla of an agenda, I bag it, tag it and serve it up somewhere between the furrowed brows of tonight's tragedy and the frothy anchor crosstalk. For an undereducated yet fairly erudite slacker with a lot of pent up energy and the attention span of a junkie, it's an ideal way to while away a lifetime.

But it's a young man's game.

Video HenchmenAnd while I'm not exactly a senior citizen, I'm well past the age when most photog-types seek more fulfilling employ. Yes, I've lost a ton of buddies to corporate video, fledgling freelance or pursuits more noble than news, like, say... strip club management. When each of them went, I died a little inside - not just over the loss of a friend, but because every departure reminded me of the deal I signed with the devil in the closing days of the '80's... 'Teach me how to make Tee-Vee and I'll do it 'til I'm bloated and floating down the river Styx.' I know, I know" I should have held out for some chance of advancement, but when you're rockin' an acid-washed jean jacket and a mild buzz, long range planning doesn't figure into the equation. A rush does, though. Knowing I'd have a backstage pass to life molded to my shoulder and keys to news cars of varying vintage, I plunged headfirst into a pretty shallow line of work. Do I regret it? On occasion. I have a right elbow that throbs 'round the clock and the respect of my superiors - as long I bring em something fresh every twenty four hours...

Oh - and I got stories.

I do a LOT of WaitingTons of 'em - even more than I've shared over five years of blogging. Every news shooter does. That's what keeps us coming back. It damn sure ain't the pay. No, what the hooks the average photog is unfettered access to tripe, tragedy and triumph. We're not ghouls, mind you. We just get used to being ushered in past the crowd, be they screaming teens at a boy-band concert or addled crackheads at a prostitution sting. Live that life long enough, an eternal outsider with an inside hook-up and the very idea of videotaping widgets or capturing commencements for a living turns your blood to sludge. Not that there's any shame in the private sector. No if reasonable workloads and every holiday off is your idea of a vacation, there's a rhubarb processing plant in dire need of video guru. Just don't call me. I'll be busy out in the field, chasing fresh felons, dozing off at groundbreakings, or holding court at some sat truck encampment as twenty-something news shooters roll their eyes at the ramblings of the badly aging gas-bag. I can live with that.

Can you?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yer Cheatin' Part

Cheated SlingerIt came to light the way many dalliances do these days: Facebook. Someone attached my name to a photograph, I saw it and noticed it wasn't me. Well, that's a lie. Truth is i took one look at that photo and froze - for there was my baby in the arms of another. I...I knew it was possible. After all, I've been working short weeks lately. Perhaps I've even been a little inattentive. But to see some young punk poke my honey in a homeless woman's tent; well, it's just about more than this cameraman can stand.

Understand, we've been through a lot. Hurricanes, Hollywood, homicides. I've dragged her chassis through blizzards, floodzones and a couple of Southern jungles. I've pushed per past security, into the face of felons and through a burned-out window or two. Together we've scrambled down ditchbanks, run up training tower stairwells, even loitered just beyond the body-drop. Through it all, we bonded like only a fool and his tool could. I've fondled her in cockpits, took her on a submarine once and banged her into more doorjambs than either of us care to admit. Once we were following a bunch of Boy Scouts through their campsite. I twisted my ankle on a not so steady stepping stone and sprawled ass over kettle. She slipped from my grip that day and we lay there together in the mid morning dew laughing at our misfortune... And now this.

Some would say I'm overreacting. They'd point to the many shops where gear is shared among many; like some weirdo religious sect. They'd remind me that fancycam is no -more mine than Boris Yeltsin's (which is a odd-ass reference, by the way). But no matter what exhortations they picked, for logic has no power over the broken-hearted. So put a sock in it, Dear Abbies, for the truly jilted have no time for platitudes. I just want things back the way they were, before high school football kicked me to the curb every Friday night and lesser lenslingers tickled and pawed my soulmate. Hey, I realize it's gonna happen. I can't be on call all the time; there's goona be a day when another man whisks her away on his own beefy shoulders. But we're going to have to have a frank discussion, Sony and I. Otherwise, I'll never be able to look straight and true through her lovely lens again...

Which could really make shooting news a bitch.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Morning Stretch(ed)

Of all the flotsam I've clogged up the internets with, I don't think I've ever posted a time lapse video. Sooo, tonight in lieu of anything terribly incisive I'm sharing a sped-up version of my Thursday morning, courtesy of the ever resourceful David Weatherly. But first some background: Here at El Ocho, we're serious about our holiday toy drive. We appeal to the public to drop off bicycles, toys and games at area Lowes stores and they always respond with enough brand new merchandise to choke a Costco. Anyway, when the bins fill up, the good folk at Lowes bring all that schwag to the station in a company tradition known simply as 'Truck Day'. Which is why Weatherly bent space and time in Studio B this morning. Look closely and you'll see El Ocho's finest breeze in and out of frame - including a certain wordy camera nerd who - when not shooting video or wolfing down donuts -tends to hover in the upper left part of the screen while wearing a tan jacket. Hey, every post can't be some cogent diatribe! Once in awhile, you just gotta roll that beautiful bean footage and hit the hay. Good Night...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Born to be Mild

What sort of man reads Viewfinder BLUES? An insider; a guy who parks where he damn well pleases - provided the rent-a-cops can see his door logos. He's a bold enough soul: draped in technology but unburdened by personal style. You'll find him wherever danger lurks, felons smirk and poorly paid waitresses work. But don't try to keep up. This predator hunts alone. Unless of course a reporter needs someone to shoot a stand-up. But after that, the VFB reader will always return to the open road - free to chase down the happenstance that haunts him. Meth lab takedown, kindergarten sing-along, Bass Boat Show. There's nowhere he won't go - as long as the assignment desk says it's cool. You can love him ladies, but don't ever expect this brand of cameraman to settle down. His heart throbs to a different beat, and no amount of pillow talk will cure the allure of a scratchy voice drowning in a sea of static. Yes, the Viewfinder BLUES peruser may have no fancy letters after his name, but he's got a M)asters in Murder and Meetings, a Doctorate in Duct Tape, and the kind of weary leer that you just won't find in the pages of our competitors (whoever they are). So don't bother searching for this lonesome nomad; with the glass he's packin', he'll find you first - and then WHO'LL be deciphering my tripe?

(Special Thanks to Amanda Emily)

The Perfect Swarm

DSCF0143Sometimes all you have is a title; a pleasing twist of syllables that quickly eclipses any new digits you were trying to remember. Dwell on it well in hopes that title will grow into a notion. Feather your focus, steady your perspective and iris up until the idea shines in your mind like a neon sign. Jot down a thought during red lights and you just may drive off with the jist of an epistle, a linear little ditty with a chorus you can hum ‘til you slump down in front of your keyboard that night and pound it into a post. Those are the good days. Lately, there haven’t been enough good days. But I’ve been at this writing thing long enough to know a little dry spell isn’t any real reason to fret. If I could control the clouds that hinder my vision, I wouldn’t be chauffering a camera around town. I’d be some blowhard on a podium, a pasty cat in elbow patches referring to my own turgid text as if it some kind of sacred scroll worthy of time capsule inclusion. I hate those guys! They’re why I never got serious about higher ed; that and that whole showing up to class on a predetermined schedule concept. What up with that? I’d much rather jump into a crusty news car, document trauma by day, fashion tripe by night. That’s precisely what I’ve been doing for quite some time now and while I have no immediate plans to cease or even desist, you should know I’m not exactly in control.

I love to write. I hope that it shows. But while my adoration for prose knows no bounds, I’m less than enamored with the manner in which the words come my way. Take right now for instance. I’m not really sure what the hell I’m here to talk about tonight. I kinda know my closing line and the voice in my head is famiiar enough that I can sometimes finish his sentences, but for the most part I’m dictating whatever pops in my head. That anyone reads this undiluted poop is both a travesty and a treasure for if I were more prudent about what I publish, my site reader would be quite higher and just maybe I wouldn’t cringe every time I parse my archives. As it is, even the most cursory review leaves me crestfallen, for what felt damn good upon delivery doesn’t always age so well. I suppose that’s only natural and were I more mature, I might just learn to rewrite. For now however, I can only seem to stare into the void, figure out a way to hit my imaginary deadline and keep moving before that pest on the assignment desk figures out there’s a photog lurking about with nothing much to do. All of which makes me a natural born shooter, I guess. We who must not be named on-air aren’t ones to loiter. We’re much more at home behind the wheel of some lacquered hoopty, racing from molehill to imbroglio with little more than scanner codes and a growing jones...

Speaking of the Joneses, I’m through keeping up with them. Instead I’m gonna remain at my own pace, contributing to this living compendium just as often as I can muster without letting it make me bat-shit crazy. Generous visitors of some vintage will recognize this text as my semi-regular promise to do better in the future. No doubt they’ll roll their eyes when they realize I’m writing about not writing again. That is their every right, as is forsaking this very address for time better spent perusing the hoochie parade the likes of TMZ . That’s cool. Hell, I visit every week for the sole purpose of guffawing along with their always cheeky Survivor recaps; who am I to judge? Besides, those who’ve endured my purple prose for the worse part of the past half decade know I got their back. Soon after I lift the curtain and bitch about how hard all these levers are to pull, I usually rally with a few paragraphs I’d strap to the back of a flying monkey if only it allowed me to mangle one more metaphor. So here’s to you steady web traveler. Knowing you poke your head in here once every fortnight leaves me humbled, stoked and more than a little tortured. But what does all this have to do with the marqueed melee, the acclaimed gang-bang, the number one scrum? I dunno...

Sometimes all you have is a title.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Benevolent Specter

(This post is for Satellite Dan - who berates me whenever I slack off on-line...)

Like an apparition, I materialize in an instant and hover on the edge of happenstance. Okay, so mostly I just show up and record stuff, but you'd feel like a poltergeist too if you crashed as many gatherings as I have. Family fights, picket lines conventions, cop car parties: I've rolled up on 'em all and earned my keep by acting distracted. I'm thoroughly convinced that if you feign disinterest, people won't even ask why you're pointing that camera their way. Luckily for me, I'm aloof by nature; an interloper prone to mope. But much of my thousand yard stare is a trap, for while I may appear to be fiddling with an indifferent lens, I'm actually zooming in on you ever so slowly - if not to steal your soul, at least to put you on the news. But before you summon a village elder, relax. I'm a benevolent specter.

Take the other day, when my The Suits in my life thought it would be a good idea to stalk hundreds of Surry County residents as they lined up for a government food give-away. I didn't argue - times are tight and charity in the act is almost always good Tee-Vee. Besides, I've covered the Elkin food distribution a time or two in the past - it's a veritable Lenslinger commodity! The people in charge there are always nice; there's even one lady who wears a 'Hug Collector' button and she'll pretty much break your thumbs should you try to shirk her embrace. The only problem - and it's really not a problem - are the folks who turn out for the free stuff. Don't get me wrong; they're good people. They just make me feel... like a vulture. I mean, would you want to put your pride in your pocket and line up for government cheese - only to see me and my fancycam at the head of the pack?

I wouldn't. Which is why I try to go easy on those in my crosshairs. It's not a tactic I use down at the courthouse. No, if you're sitting on the floor outside Courtroom B, attempting to bum cigarettes off non-smokers, well - you're fair game. Try to hide from my camera and I may very well chase you down a stairwell. But a charity event - where the downtrodden form a single file line and take what's being offered? Even a cold-hearted cameraman like myself feels kinda skeevy. So relax, mother of three who's scrunched down behind her steering wheel in hopes I won't see her. And you there, with the ill-fitting coat and downtrodden stare. It's all good. I'm here to televise - not victimize! If you don't want to appear in my little passion play, I'm totally cool with that. Besides, not everyone feels that way - and with a little effort they're easily spotted. THEY will be the stars of my production and perhaps we'll both sleep a little better tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a gentleman with a picket-fence grin and a new bag of free groceries who's been waving at me for the past fifteen minutes. I'm gonna go make his day.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cecil B. DeMoron

Would Be Camera Thief
Do YOU know this putz? If so, you have the unique opportunity to clean up the city of Sacramento and better the planet at large. See, the dude's a thief. At least, he wants to be. Sometime on Tuesday this criminal mastermind broke the side window of an unmarked news car parked outside of a Best Buy, leaned in and tried like hell to make off with the KCRA fancycam. He did not succeed. But he did manage to turn the camera ON in the process and, much to his chagrin, triggered the 'RECORD' button. Now, those of you playing at home can guess the rest. Einstein here struggles to release the bolted down camera, fails to free it, then grimaces into the lens before taking off (no doubt to raid the nearest Victoria's Secret store for a good set of bolt-cutters).In the end, little harm was done. The window can be prepared, photographer Brian Fong won't lose his job and we have a 19 second clip that's more fun to watch than Bigfoot's latest sex tape. The only thing better would be to catch this little worm - if only to watch him squirm a little further on the evening news. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go bolt down everything in my news unit - lest some sad-eyed loser pop up on TV rifling through my Tic-Tac collection. Hey, one man's breath mint is another man's treasure...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lenslinger's Zen

Rainy Day Stakeout 5Tom Petty was right. The waiting IS the hardest part. But like hairspray and fake sincerity, doing nothing is a time-honored tradition in TV News. Yes, for every latebreaking development there's a couple of days worth of phone calls that never get returned. For every mad dash up the courthouse steps, there's a half dozen cat naps out back by the sallyport. And for everry tautly edited ninety second epic, there's a good hour and a half of waiting around for your reporter to get off Facebook and finish his script. It's one of the many reasons I work alone. See, when every facet of the newsgathering process is up to you (from interview analysis to recorder portage to cheap lunch procurement), there's little time lift to dilly - let alone dally. Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to loiter. Like today...

Rainy Day Stakeout 2It began - as so many news stories do - with the eternal optimists in the morning editorial meeting. According to those jokers, viewers far and wide live by our every newscast and will reshape their entire day to be featured within its framework. That's usually the part where I roll my eyes and today was no exception as I crumpled the address thrust upon me and skulked off to my very own mobile news-cube. Heading West through a forest of windshield wipers ans license plates, I had to admit: the housecats were right. No, not everyone will genuflect in the direction of our lenses, but most souls will cough up a dollar IF the plate is properly passed their way. Which brings us to another inconsiderate truth... All you really gotta do is show up and act like you got some sense.

Rainy Day Stakeout 4Understand, this is not an easy admission. I'm a PHO-tog, after all. We're like, genetically predisposed to shoot DOWN story ideas - based on feasibility, restaurant proximity or how many times we've pulled it off before. But even I know miracles are best performed in the field. It's like Mel Gibson's 'boots on the ground' theory in We Were Soldiers (without all the antisemitic undertones, of course): 'Show Up and Shit Happens'. Which is a roundabout way of saying I wasn't too worried when I pulled up to a certain suburb this morning. Sure, the house fire before me was two days old, it was raining like that passage in the Bible and my stomach was already growling, but, hey - there's news to be produced! Sooooo, I got busy, dividing the descent of each individual drop by the amount of airtime I had to fill before giving up altogether and traipsing out in the rain...

Rainy Day Stakeout 1Ten minutes later I collapsed back into the driver's seat, wet, vexed and once again regretting my lackluster past in the hallowed halls of academia. 'No worries', I thought as I fished my cell phone out of its holster, 'no overpriced sheepskin can replace the Pee Ayche Dee I got in cameramanthropology. Ringing up the Red Cross, I asked the nice people there to cough up the locale of the burned out family. They wouldn't of course, so I cold-called the Fire Department and chatted uo some real American heroes. They couldn't help em though so I dropped the phone in my soggy lap, closed my eyes and appealed to the News Gods... 'Bring me a chatty family member and I'll do my best to honestly spotlight their plight.' Only the sound of raindrops on the car's roof met my requests, so I kept my eyes closed before eventually losing consciousness...

And THAT, of course, is when the homeowner showed up.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pith and Vinegar

Sepia SkyDashing about in tarted up cargo vans, staging hasty summits on random blacktops, thrusting battle-scarred microphones in strangers faces... my job would sound pretty bleak - were it not so much fun! Okay, so 'fun' isn't the right word, but the fact remains that much of news gathering is kind of a kick. Scouring cities for sources of sound, aiming a ray at far-off towers, guarding the Republic with spotlights and cheese... It's a freakin' pageant play - every day! So why is the cast and crew so morose? I dunno - it's always been that way. Certainly journalists earned a reputation for being kind of skeevy LONG before they strung antennas atop the Fourth Estate. Since then, we TV types have more than maintained that malaise - a curious brew of urgency, dread and annoyance that can be found all along our fruited plain. Just crash any sat truck gathering and you'll see what I mean: nuthin' but jittery nihilists and melancholy lot lizards...Stop by and say Hi!

Hell Mic 2Better yet, bring some cheese. It'll go well with the industrial strength whine they serve before and after live shot. Got half an afternoon to kill? Listen to a self-described 'storyteller' bitch about their job. Trust the the UnaBomber and his silly grievance list hath not diddly on a perky news reporter who feels she's been robbed of face-time. Or that field producer with his Blackberry in a death grip. Those aren't tweets he's squeezin'. They're demands - whole reams of ultimatums he'll never grow the grapes to present to his boss. But hey, he'll gladly run down a few bullet points should you be running low on bile. Or give a listen to the truck operator. He's got a long list of things he hates about his life and he's broken 'em down to CB-Codes. Just don't ask him what a 'Flaming Hairdo' is, would ya? That always starts a fight. And oh, whatever you do, steer thee clear of that photog over there who thinks he's some kind of Shakespeare. Dude curses in couplets!

Old Navy ShootingBut in the word of Nancy Kerrigan, "WWWWWHHHYYYYYYY?" Why are otherwise bright and shiny news people so proud of being grouchy? No matter what we tell our spouses, our jobs aren't that tough. Sure, we regularly smear whole regions in crime and grime, but not every assignment calls for the undertaker face. Yet we schlep through every other gig like we're pulling community service. Why just the other day a fellow photog locked eyes with yours truly and silently begged me to bash his head in with a camera battery. That or he wanted me to intubate him with his Leatherman, I couldn't really tell; his pantomime skills were lacking and those little kindergarten pilgrims were one making one hell of a racket with their pissy little song. Hmmm? Yeah, you're right: we should ALL lighten up. After all many of us are living our dreams, engaged as we are in a pursuit of truth justice and the best way to package the wrath of a half dozen pre-school Indians. Now ram this light-stand leg down this canal, at least until my mood improves...

I wanna go network someday.

Friday, November 27, 2009

In Memory of Makayla

Jim Sitton and Makayla

You can cover a thousand tragedies and never think the lens will turn on you. But life doesn't work that way. For proof, look no further than Jupiter, Florida - where veteran television photojournalist Jim Sitton finds himself on a side of the glass he never imagined. It began late last night when a troubled family member opened fire in the WPTV staffer's home. When the sound of gunshots faded, four people lay dead, including Jim and Muriel's only child, 6 year old Makayla Sitton. Reports differ on what led to the shooting, but at this point the details hardly matter. What does matter is a respected member of the photog nation is dealing with unspeakable loss. And he's showing profound composure. Early this morning, Sitton stepped before news crews he no doubt knew to address the death of his daughter.

"God has blessed us with this beautiful girl, and he just took her home a little bit earlier than we wanted," he said, struggling to hold back tears. "God packed a lot of sweetness into that little body."

I've never met Jim Sitton in person, but through on-line pleasantries, I know him to be a man of unshakable faith. That's not a trait I particularly share. Still, watching a fellow photog and Father use what he knows to be true to get through such darkness...well, it's enough to makes even a skeptic like me believe. Jim Sitton's been described as 'the heart and soul of the photography staff at WPTV'. Here's hoping his friends there will close rank around him as he and his family struggle to grasp the loss of their angel.
Federal marshals have launched a manhunt for 35-year-old Michael Merhige, the family member police say shot his twin sisters, an elderly aunt and his six year old niece Makayla. He fled in a blue 4-door Toyota Camry with Florida tag W42-7JT. Authorities consider him armed and dangerous. Hell ain't got a room hot enough.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Shoot

TurkeyI was the first to reach the summit, but nowhere near the last. Brown Summit, that is - a placid swath of Gawd's Country not known for its soaring heights. But yesterday forces collided that thrust this Guilford County town into the stratosphere; a suddenly coveted peak amid a very frantic week. Okay, it was just some nice family's backyard, but the way we media jackals acted, you'd have thought it was some sort of cameraman Shangri-La... What it was was a juicy slice of pre-Thanksgiving television, the kind of seasonal feature that newscast producers salivate over. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Turkey Shoot 2'Local Kids Give Obama Turkey'. I did a double-take when I read the story slug. Certainly the President wasn't gonna wing his way down to the Piedmont the day before Thanksgiving. Not when there's some previously ordained bird and owner waiting in a 5 star suite somewhere inside the beltline. Hey, I've done enough White House Christmas Tree stories to know that not a single warm prop makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without three weeks of bureaucracy and a big ole pile of taxpayer's money spent in the process. Reading on, I realized I was right. Barack Obama wasn't visiting the Ibrahim farm. Brad Miller was.

Miller pardons TurkeyWho dat? Congressman Brad Miller, of course, member of the United States House of Representatives from North Carolina's 13th district. Seems once the White House picks a turkey to officially pardon, a coterie of lesser politicos fans out to offer a few consolation prizes. Such was the case yesterday when the good Mr. Miller showed up to bestow a Presidential letter of thanks on two impressive kids, 10 year old
Mariama Ibrahim and her 7 year old brother Anwar. If all kids were as centered and resourceful as these two, the likes of Miley Cyrus wouldn't have such a loyal following.

Turkey WrestlingBut hey, you didn't come here for heartwarming stories of kids and livestock. You want feuding news crews, loathsome elbow blows and badly bleeding deadlines... You'd think there'd be plenty of that here. After all, no less than 5 TV lenses and 1 still camera jockeyed for a spot outside said turkey coop. But nary a harsh word was exchanged - let alone a drop-kick. Maybe that's because only the old-timers showed up; crusty gatherers schooled in The Art of the Grab. Thus, we all went about shooting our frothy little show-ender like we were the only camera for miles. Sure, it would be sexier to report a fight broke out and the prized turkey in question was ripped to pieces in front of God and everybody - but it just didn't. go down. like that...

Oh well, there's always next year... Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turd on a Wire

Turd Gets Booted

Crime scenes, shopping malls, courtrooms - as a TV news photog, I been kicked out of 'em all. But a high school football game? That's a new one on me. But as Rick Portier has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, that's exactly what happened to him. Seems the artist otherwise known as Turdpolisher was surfing the sidelines for a few Friday night highlights when, as only he can put it...

'a simple running back bounce to the outside turned into a bench-clearing slobber-knocker'.

That's Louisianan for 'a scuffle ensued'. When it did, Rick did what any self respecting news shooter would do. He hit the trigger and rolled with the punches.

'Players threw teammates. Zebras pried dueling foes apart. Coaches fought to get control, but when all was said and done, it was the men with pistols on their hips and a dips in their lips that restored order. Crisis averted.'

Or so he thought. Fisticuffs soon turned into deliberations and before the waterboys could sop up all that spilled testosterone, a sentence was handed down.

'Babycam in hand, I floated like a ghost around the sideline conferences recording it all for the sports dudes back at the station. I was three feet from the refs when they ejected one of the team's coaches.'

That humiliation in hand, he followed the refs across the field where the opposing team's coaches immediately 'went batshit'. Undeterred by the ire of a few 'out of shape gym teachers', Portier pressed on, until the local constabulary stepped in and proceeded to frog-march his ass out.

'Everything after that is kind of blurry. There was a lot of cursing and grabbing and pushing and shoving. Somehow, my babycam transferred itself from my right hand to my left before one of the men in blue caught my arm and twisted it behind my back. His buddy grabbed me by the left bicep, and they marched me toward the gates.'

From there the fracas dissipated. The officers gave Rick the option of going to jail or just going away and wisely, he chose the latter. Before he could leave though, an officer told him the referee had officially ejected him - apparently for his curious habit of filming people. It was then our friend began scanning the crowd, hoping Ashton Kutcher would soon bound from the shadows and congratulate him on being Punk'd. When neither he or Rod Serling appeared, Turd shrugged his weary shoulders and headed for the station, where news of the night's stupidity topped the broadcast. In the end, his camera lost a bracket. a Hell's Angel earned his wings and little explanation was given as to just what Rick did exactly to earn such a forced and hasty egress. Truth is, we may never know, for reality sometimes fades when grown men gather underneath the lights to run up and down the field. Giving a journalist the boot for recording the truth is like kicking the mailman's ass 'cause you got bills to pay.

And you wonder why I avoid shooting football...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Photographers Are We

From my Surly Editor® Mike James, a vintage clip I'd all but forgotten. I don't know HOW: it's brilliant, timeless and more than a little Pythonesque. You don't see many station promos this whimsical anymore, but it's really no sillier than your average spot featuring some middle-aged weatherman all puffed up and voguing atop his very own Doppler tower. Now for something completely different...

Produced in the mid-80's by WTHR-13-NBC in Indianapolis, "Photographers Are We," celebrates the hard-working camera-toters who had just helped WTHR be named "Indiana news photography 'Station of the Year,' for the fourth year in a row. Anybody know these guys?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Look Up and Live

Few sights strike fear into the heart of a TV news photographer like that of a decapitated live truck. The flattened tires, broken mast, charred doors and buckled pavement; it's not the least bit ghoulish to expect a body bag in this shot. Miraculously, none were needed in Atlanta yesterday. Longtime photog Leonard Raglin and WSB reporter Tom Jones walked away with only moderate injuries after their truck's forty foot mast struck power lines carrying 115,000 volts of electricity. So HOW did this happen? Hard. To. Say. But it's undeniable that the WSBTV crew drove away withOUT lowering the mast. It's difficult to imagine an experienced operator like Raglin doing such a thing, but then again, life in a live truck can sometimes erase the hard edges of better judgement. The mind-numbing repetition of setting up and breaking down, the constant demands to be here, there and everywhere at once, the endless rub of multi-tasking. I'm not making excuses - but neither am I launching an investigation. There will be plenty of that going on in Atlanta today. I'm just thankful no one was killed and I hope that the frightening images emanating from Georgia will remind all of us that even YEARS of experience are no substitute for a studied glance upward. Say it with me: Look Up and Live.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The Wrapping Reporter
Now, I'm not positive, but I'll bet when Shelby Baker decided to pursue the glamorous world of TV News, rolling up extension cords in the rain was probably NOT what she had in mind. But that's exactly what El Ocho's prettiest new reporter did just a few short hours ago as she and I sought shelter after the storm. It was no small gesture. See, some reporters make a big show of not helping out. It's their prerogative, I guess. Up in The Bigs, it's probably not even allowed. But here in the land of medium market television, it's generally expected that the on-air correspondent will at least kick in a little once the mast begins to drop. Most do, knowing that 9 out of 10 photogs are way too anal about their gear to let them do too much anyway. Me - I'll take it or leave it...

A Southerner by luck, I'm not one to insist an overly coiffed colleague get sloppy, should they be all dressed up with some place to go. But hey, if it's just us, a truck and thirty things to pick up, would you mind at least pretending to help? I promise I won't hand you anything too muddy. Of course if you do like a few (male) reporters from my past and apply hand lotion in the passenger seat while I gather up the gadgets that just enabled your face-time... well, that's cool too. I won't bash you on the blog, I won't even demand your man card. I will however think lesser of you - and pray for the day when some news director hands you a Sony of your very owny - along with a whole bunch of other tools you'll have to traffic in (and out) all by your lonesome.

Until then, grab that tripod, would ya? My hands are slick from the moisturizer I found in your bag.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's Not Over

Covering Daughtry Lookalike ContestEver have that dream where you're surrounded by giddy bald men all vying for your attention? Me neither, but with my job it's hardly necessary. In fact, that's the very scenario I stumbled into the other night while killing time before the Daughtry concert. Hours earlier, Shannon Smith and I huddled with The Bald One himself in the bowels of the Greensboro Coliseum as he and his band of buddies played grab-ass before the show. Last time they played the Gate City, they were opening for Bon Jovi. This time, Jovi was nowhere to be seen, but Chris Daughtry and his eponymous combo seem to have taken a few life lessons from that New Jersey juggernaut. Of course there's the music: a muscular brand of pop metal with enough soaring choruses to keep the housewives hummin'. But there's also the whole backstage vibe. You won't find any shivering junkies roaming the halls. You WILL find a handsome tribe of aloof musicians; all registered bad boys, mind you - but none too grubby to not drag back to the double-wide (should you ladies get the chance). But I digress.

Daughtry chatting before the showThe less than pivotal role I played in Chris Daughtry's ascension has been well documented here. Overly so, some would say. So, instead of rehashing a cocktail party favorite even I've grown tired of embellishing, let me direct you here - where I've fawned and pondered over this turbo-throated everyman at considerable length. Meanwhile, I'll say this: Chris remains the same quietly confident customer that he was when Shannon Smith and met him years ago, just days before he flew to Denver and changed his life by bowling over the American Idol judges. Since then he's sold Millions of copies of his music, traveled the world, hung out with his heroes and is now headlining his first ever global coliseum tour. And still, he throws the locals a bone. When a certain pesky news crew rung him up for a sit-down, Chris welcomed us with brawny, tattooed arms. He even took the time to show Shannon and my fancycam around the stage, ensuring we wouldn't have to fall back on that crusty Idol footage to flesh out our piece. Sure, The Suits were hoping he'd let Shannon play bass on the encore of Home, but ya can't have everything. All in all, Chris was a humble host - incredibly so for a guy with his surname inked across his shoulder blades.

Soooo, here's a deep dip of the lens to the Daughtry camp for giving us some of their time. The resulting piece was the most enjoyable thing I've edited since that whole sleeping bag fiasco of last week. As for all the new friends we made at the aforementioned lookalike contest, well, it's nothing a good restraining order won't fix.

A View to a Spill

Not since Bigfoot egged those PETA protesters outside the Today Show has a piece of videotape caused such rabid controversy. I'm talking about the shove(?) felt 'round the world. Well, at least in my circles. Truth is, I was all but dozing over an open manuscript last night when, deep within the Lenslinger Lair, a half empty bottle of Maker's Mark started beeping. 'Schmuck Alert?' I wondered, pushing through the fake bookcase that leads to my inner most sanctum. But before I could fully wiggle into my costume... er, uniform, an emergency tweet flashed across the surface of a nearby lava lamp:

'Ease up on the kick-ass, 'Slinger, we're talking the NFL here'.

Swallowing a curse, I stepped out of my thigh-high red plastic boots and considered the source. NFL, huh? Those cats are delusional! Sure, there's plenty of fancycam operators in play, but most everyone gathered on the gridiron is bat-shit crazy. Coaches, fans, refs and players - they no more adhere to the laws of logic than reality show judges. I mean, have you seen the way these people behave when some half-literate millionaire kicks a ball through the uprights? Have you? Expecting them to act like civilized humans is as pathetic as a suburban father of two pretending to be a superhero...

Forget I mentioned that last part, would ya? Just know that while I'm outfitting my alter ego, the photog nation is reviewing the tape and avoiding a consensus. Did Belichick's goon really pull a Gilooly on that NBC cameraman? Or did dude just reach the end of his cable and wipe out on his own? Does a football coach really need a bouncer? Do these tights make me look fat? Again, it's mostly rhetorical, so keep your fashion to yourself. However, if you have an opinion on said fracas, a conspiracy theory to share, or the number of a tailor who won't ask any questions, I'd like to hear about it. Now if you'll excuse me I have to shimmy back UP this pole...

Knew I should have ordered the jetpack.

Friday, November 13, 2009

And a Hard Rain Fell...

You there, with the wrinkly fingers and soaking wet THIS what you envisioned when you wormed your way into television? Standing watch outside some rattling live truck as a reporter sprays the interior in cliches and hairspray? I sure didn't. Then again, I was in naval boot camp a good week before it dawned on me I'd soon be living on a boat. But I didn't log in to plumb the depths of my perception. Rather, I wanna talk about the rain. You know that predictably liquidity that every so often drenches the hinterland? Seems to me mankind should be used to it by now, but when what was left of Hurricane Ida parked over the Piedmont this week, we in the media truly acted like the sky was falling. I guess it was.

According to one Axl Prescott Rose, 'Nothin' lasts forever, even cold November rain'. Codswallop! The fifty seven minutes I waited between newscasts the other night spanned several lifetimes. Then again, I was hunched over the business end of a heavy cable I'd stretched from truck to tripod, cap jammed low over my wet head as I cursed an ornery power strip and my current fate along with it. Speaking of currents, when did it become okay to thread extension cords through standing water? I've wired up live shots in hurricanes, flurries, blizzards and beach music festivals and never once fully understood how I didn't come away the brighter. Look Up and Live, I get; those power lines overhead could undo your day should you raise that the truck's mast into them. But orange drop cords and swirling blacktop? We need another slogan.

Of course erecting a set in the middle of a monsoon is only part of your continuing team smotherage. When you're the tip of the soggy spear, you gotta do it ALL: scour the lowlands for stagnant water, chase city crews as they unclog storm drains, suffer the cracks of a half dozen plumbers as they explain to a housewife why her basement playroom now has a swim-up bar, or - my personal favorite - hopscotch trouble spots for signs of flash flooding. A word on flash flooding: Nothing gets a newsroom suit more juiced than a voice on the scanner droppin' the F bombs. No sooner than that alliteration pierces the news cube than I'm back out in the elements, jonesin' for a really cool whirlpool like a junkie in need of a hit. It's time like this, when my very skivvies take on water weight, that I think of the viewer - that hapless taxpayer who - without my best efforts - might not know the sky has turned to water. It's then I ask myself...

"Don't you people have windows?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

With Apologies to Rod...

The Shadow Knows... 2Submitted for your approval: a method by which even the most myopic among us can learn to look inward by selectively staring at others. As trips go though, it is both achingly slow and forever frantic - a mind-boggling slog in which the heartiest of travelers is forced to trod the cosmos with three extra feet. You'll need them, for it's a crucible so fruitless it erodes the soul and maligns the spines of all who come before you. While those who embark on a lark are sure to falter, the inscrutable few will gain entry into a new dimension - a dimension not only of light and sound but one of flickering time-lines, dying live trucks and mindless assignments. But you won't go it alone. Golden shovels, screeching divas and a shocking lack of modulation await our wanderers, but while they'll be forever bereft of credit those who make it through will enjoy a view that eludes the enlightened but never the blighted. There's a signpost up ahead; your next stop: the Twili---

Hmmm? Yeah, seems there's a sewage spill down by Colostomy Falls and the desk wants you to 'put some eyes on it'. You can get back to your little sci-fi thingie later...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Kooky Exclusive


It's not often the News Gods do you a solid so early in the week - but on this fine Monday morning, I caught nothing short of a thunderbolt. KA-WHACKA LACK! The dust cleared and I spotted three figures: two glib hipsters and some stiff in a sleeping bag. Together they strode toward me, drawing stares and glares from the unwashed throng at Winston-Salem's crowded downtown bus depot. Okay, so two of 'em strode; the guy on the handtruck kinda floated Still, they made a damned entrancing trio and as they passed I fell in behind them, raking away singed eyebrows, shouldering my weapon and wishing for once I'd read the press release.

I hadn't. I'd driven all the way to Winston without so much as glancing at the crumpled piece of paper in the passenger seat. Instead, I'd leaned forward into the wheel, knowing only 'an artist' was gonna exhibit some kind of work. Paper Mache, Watercolor, Day-Glo Play-Doh...I knew not the medium. I just knew I was going to make ninety seconds of television from it, come hell or highlighter. So you can fathom my glee when, instead of being met my a grade school teacher with plaster of paris in her hair, I stumbled upon a couple of crazed curators back from a weekend at Bernie's. I couldn't help but grin as I moved in for the kill.

But then the men stopped short, and with the flick of a few quick-ties, adhered their less animated friend to a light pole. There he stood, all sensible shoes and and downy filled slumber sack. I glanced around and saw several faces I wanted to press under glass. So I did, so working the lens for all I could squeeze from it before turning back to the light pole for 'the big reveal'. It did not happen. Instead of hoisting the big blue sleeping bag upward to unveil whatever sacred creation lay beneath, the two museum men disoled into the sea people, never letting the cat out of the bag...

It was then, the crowd moved in...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Behind Every Great Reporter... an equally great photog. Okay, so that's not true. I know reporters who could make Sasquatch cry on cue no matter WHO'S standing behind the camera - just like I know shooters who can concoct whole operas without the aid of any on-air talent. But overall, TV News is a collaborative effort. Hell, even a needy loner like me has to employ the assistance of former reporters to voice his precious anchor-packs. Yes, the act of broadcasting can be best described as a team sport. So why do I so love to go it alone? Well, you could say I don't play well with others, or that I'm a tad anti-social, or that I have something of a chip (or 3) on my shoulder. You could say ALL that! Just don't say I don't like reporters. I LOVE 'EM!

I love reporters who bring in the Emmy they won nine years ago and plant it firmly on their desk for all to admire. Where ELSE am I gonna stick my old chewing gum?

I love reporters who can double as game show hosts. That type of personality comes in damn handy when you're trapped in a Wal-Mart parking lot interviewing random strangers about abortion, moratoriums, or The Lord.

I love reporters who take 45 minutes to tease their bangs yet can log an entire morning's worth of footage I shot in the time it takes Ellen to stop dancing. It's a favor I usually returnin the edit bay.

I love reporters who can accompany me up a widow's porch, get the pictures, soundbites and details our bosses so desire and NOT make me want to take a Lifetime Shower afterwards. They're rare, but they're out there.

I love reporters who constantly remind everyone around them of their personal tragedies, semi-famous spouses or priviliged upbringings. THEY are a satirist's dream.

I love reporters who aren't quite yet ready to admit they're gay - even though it's the ONLY thing their colleagues talk about. Coming Out can't be easy no matter where you work - but TV newsrooms are filled with angry, self-loathing reprobates who live to denigrate anyone more stylish than them.

I love reporters who think I'm some dumb-ass photog. God, how I love them!

I love reporters who used to be debutantes, 'cause they make me stonger. See, I've carried more prom queens over the finish line than most parade floats - and I got the callouses to prove it.

I love reporters who can discern innuendo, cohesion and nuance from rambling county commissioner soliloquies, l-o-o-o-n-g after my dumb-ass photog eyes have glazed over.

I love reporters who come to the morning editorial meeting with a dozen story ideas, because chances are I'LL get to turn the really visual, fluffy ones the suits don't want to burn a full crew on. (Thanks, Whitey!)

I love reporters who carry around their make-up and haircare in those six-tiered, oversized tackle boxes. I've produced weekend telethons with less gear.

And finally, I love reporters who can take vague, protracted, esoteric issues and make them electronically palatable for the masses. It's something I cannot do and it serves as a constant reminder that the broadcast world cannot live on smart-ass cameramen alone.

(Speaking of smart-ass cameramen, the one pictured above is one of my all-time favorites: Rick 'Turdpolisher' Portier. The reporter he's standing behind I don't know, but if Turd's backing him up, he's okay by me. Now go check out Rick's latest post on Truisms of Photogerry. And give him my love, would ya?)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Glassing A Massacre

November 3rd 1979November 3rd, 1979. It's a date the leaders of my adopted home city would rather you not remember. But it's a date that will be inexorably linked to Greensboro, N.C. - for that's when the Ku Klux Klan shot and killed protestors from the Communist Workers Party, all while local TV cameras rolled. When the smoke cleared, five accomplished idealists lay dying in the grass as the Klansman crawled back in their convoy of beat-up sedans and sped away. Since then, smarter minds than mine have examined every facet of the shoot-out at Morningside Homes. Books have been written, documentaries shot, hearings held. Here in the Piedmont, the end result of that murderous day - sometimes called The Greensboro Massacre - has long remained a blight on a city that likes to think of itself as progressive. If the police department's lack of action that day wasn't enough to convince some the attack was ordained, the eventual acquittal of six Klansmen by an all-white jury made many think it was, at the very least, tolerated.

But that's not what fascinates me about the unthinkable events of November 3rd, 1979. It's the fact that so much of it ended up on the evening news. Four cameras were shouldered and rolling when the KKK began scuffling with protestors. By the time the guns came out, the photogs present were no doubt operating on disbelief and adrenaline. The images they captured are still hard to watch; murder, death and anguish usually are. In a sense, that smeary footage has never stopped rolling in the collective memories of many people who still call this city home. But what of the news shooters? What about the veteran lensmen who watched a mundane assignment morph into madness through the shaky frame of their handheld cameras? What does that do to a person who has decades left of squinting through a tube? I ask because I do not know. A few of the journalists there that day have gone on the record with their impressions, but a shooter or two have remained comfortably mum. That's their every right, I guess, but I'd sure like to pick the brain of any TV photog present that day, in hopes of understanding what a day like that does to the soul.

So, there you have it, gentlemen. I've always been too polite to broach the subject in person. Consider this an open invitation, should you ever want to relive a shift you most certainly haven't forgotten...

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Rhythm Within(?)


I was on the outskirts of boredom when the drums kicked in. Until then, I'd been sleepwalking through my week: chasing invisible beaver, corralling camels in small darkened rooms, even profiling weirdos at a local costume shop. None of it thrilled me. Sure, it could all pass for party fodder - but technical snafus, well-meaning newcomers and a rash of predictability had placed me squarely in a ten day coma. I get that way sometimes; so wrapped up in my own cranium that I become impervious to verve. That's where I found myself Friday as I stumbled out of a convocation I'd crashed at Winston-Salem State University. Inside some educated folk were preening in cap and gown. Outside, a clutch of scruffy drummers were standing in a loose circle, fondling their tom-toms. No sooner had I noted their position when they noticed me and my glassy-eyed friend. With a bleary precision they began hitting their skins, and I had no choice but to fall in behind them.

From there things get a little blurry. I remember the fancycam floating free, it's heft turning buoyant as it lifted me off my feet, dragging me to the source of all that rhythm. Suddenly I was surrounded as street performer and professor alike gave into the primal vibe. Moms, Dads and brand new Grads poured from the auditorium doors and the campus of WSSU took on the atmosphere of a New Orleans garden party. With a red light glowing in the corner of my tiny screen, I forgot all about shot selection. Instead I followed my instincts around the edges of the drummer's scrum before breaking off to catch a few faces. To a person they all exuded a certain groove and even this rhythm-less Father of two eventually fell into place, as for the first time in weeks I found myself shooting free, loose and unencumbered.

I just wish I hadn't tried to do 'The Robot'. Who knew they'd walk me off campus like that?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oblivion or Bust

drive 006.1
Hey I'm no Willie the Wimp, but when I pass, you can bury me behind the wheel. Why not? I've spent most of my adult life entombed in a procession of Fords: a pre-OJ White Bronco, skeevish EconoVans, all sorts of Escorts, one two-door Explorer and the esoteric little number I drive today. Couldn't tell you every make and model; but I bet I've fled, bled, and even played dead in more near-new hoopties than a parade of repo-men. It's not how I envisioned spending my very adult weekdays, but neither did I see all that lower back pain coming. Perhaps I was distracted by all the gas I passed. Or maybe I was taken with all those logos on the doors. Empty promises and day-glo striping can hypnotize any pilot, ya know - from that fresh faced traveler with dreams of prizes on the horizon to that craggy has-been who now lives in my rear-view mirror. Was that mental breakdown closer than it appeared? Or am I just a little highway-shy after flogging oh so many miles?

Ya got me. All I know is a thirty minute commute each way and a never ending list of stilted missions have left me a lot less fond of the cockpit than back when I first stowed away in a rusting production truck. Back then I'd let the older guys strap me to the hood if they'd let me hold their fancycam. It never occurred to me I'd have that pleasure for years and years, but now that that the groove in my shoulder matches the one in Unit Four's driver's seat, I can't help but glance at the places I've been. Clogged interstates and empty back-roads. Fog-choked mountain passes and trinket shop parking lots flooded by twisters with nicknames. Ritzy neighborhoods I could never afford and squalid housing projects where all eyes were on the cracker behind the wheel. I rolled low and slow through trailer parks where I wasn't wanted and emptied whole gas stations just by pulling up to the pumps with an unleaded icon on board. Mostly though I've leaned forward as the engine roared, wondering what normal folk feel when they grip the wheel and squint into the distance.

I may never know, for proper reflection would require me to slow down a bit - and as long as there's a cell phone diggin' into my side I simply cannot afford to coast. If I did, the good citizens of central N.C. might miss out on the latest in ribbon cutting intrigue. Whole imbroglios would go unnoticed if I get stuck in traffic.Viewers may even be forced to shut off their tranquilizing tubes and look outside should they really wanna be a Weather Spotter. No, I'm not crisscrossing the same eight counties day after day for nuthin! I'm on an expedition of utmost import: a timeless journey of stale drive-thru items and fine-divining u-turns. Yes, there's no mistaking I lead a purpose-driven life; I just wish it ran through Easy Street. Still, I saddle up most every morning fresh but never rested- knowing that no matter where I may end up, I'll have forgotten how to get there the next time I try to find it in a hurry.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to ask some stuttering drifter how to get to the Pop Tart Emporium.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I, Disciple

Norman Alley BookMuch love to Amanda Emily for her donation of a hefty tome to the Lenslinger Library. Actually, I was on something of a reading sabbatical; having devoted my scant downtime to the far less enjoyable task of assembling a book proposal. Still, when the tattered but loved copy of Alley's 1941 autobiography appeared in my mailbox, I knew I could safely file this hardcover under 'Research'. After all, the man known as "Mr. Newsreel" accomplished my goal 26 years before I was even born: he turned his time under glass into a crisp narrative people clamored to acquire. Then again, Norman William Alley was no mild mannered mid market master-hack. He was THE pioneering lenslinger whose early newsreel work helped shape the very globe it covered. The man rode with Pancho Villa, shot vital footage of the U.S. gunboat Panay as it sank beneath him, recorded the German invasion of Poland and covered every earthbound skirmish from the Spanish Civil War to the protracted one in Vietnam. Not bad for a high school dropout. His mid-career memoir, I Witness, was a best seller of its day and while I'd read about it before, I never expected to be holding such a delightfully dog-eared First Edition of this sacred text. Thanks, Amanda. Know that it will soon join other seminal works on my shelf of mentors' memoirs - just as soon as I finish parsing every word...

Then, I'll post a review.