Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thoughts of a Jackal

"Dude, we got CRA-ZEE flash flooding all over. Can you check out a water rescue up your way?"

Scene of water fatalityIt was more marching orders than a request, so I didn't bother answering. Instead I repeated the address in question and folded my cell phone. Thirty seconds later I wondered where my hat was as I steered Unit Four through what felt like the Red Sea. It wasn't, but with seven inches of rain falling over my homeland over the course of a few hours, the biblical references come fast and furious. Which is precisely why I kept an eye out for animals traveling by pair as the GPS screen led me deep into Northeast Guilford County. When the voice on my dashboard told me I'd reached my destination, I didn't really believe her, but then I saw red and yellow orbs dancing in the distance.

Hatless in the ShitCloser inspection revealed men beneath that light show, so I found a soggy patch of shoulder to park on and inhaled my last few seconds of comfort for the evening. KA-WOOM! The rain came down with such force, I wondered if I owed it money. But before I could figure out who to curse for my soggy boxers, I felt the eyes of a dozen souls upon me. Firefighters, deputies, rescue swimmers - all staring at me as if I'd mailed invitations to this glistening spot in the road. But I didn't take it personal, for I know what's up when first responders idle...

floods 001 2.0I stood there for more than an hour, the rain invading my every pour as I competed with the rescue crews for who could look the most bored. None of us were bored, mind you, but it's just something grown men do when there's no one left to rescue, nothing yet to report. Later, I would find out a woman driving a moped had ignored police warning to stay off that road and she paid for it with her life. I was there when they pulled her out, but far enough away to escape the brunt of it. Folks sometimes grow angry with my ilk; they figure we're unfeeling leaches who live for the next body-bag shot. They're wrong - but I can no more change their minds than I can stop the rain. Truth is, I no longer really care. This job CAN be done with dignity, respect, feeling. Those who say it can't have never stood in my soggy shoes, have never averted their lens when the gurney rolls past, have never pretended the water rolling down their face is nothing more than rain.

Here's hoping they never have to.

Schmuck Alert: Charlotte's Finest

NOTE: Apocalyptic weather notwithstanding, Team 'Slinger remains committed to exposing gross acts of grab-ass involving TV news cameras - if for no other reason to bring shame to that overpaid choad Kenny Rogers...

Dateline: Charlotte. A couple of TV News photogs from competing stations respond to the scene of a fatal accident, eventually finding a perch on a nearby embankment. Very soon two officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department began ordering WBTV photographer Travis Washington to stop shooting. Washington, a credentialed news-gatherer on public property dared to question "WHY?" - a brazen move that brought about the full fury of one particular female officer. Demanding he stop recording, Officer Midol tried to wrestle the camera from Washington's hand, thus causing the delicate tool to drop unceremoniously to the ground. "You're not showing proper respect to people in the accident", admonished the constable before cuffing and stuffing the paid station employee in the back of her police cruiser. There Washington sat for about an hour, before being released without charges. He then sought treatment for a minor back injury related to the confrontation. The camera itself sustained about $1,000 in damage and WBTV plans to ask police to pay for those repairs.

To which we here at the Lenslinger Institute ask "WHAT THE F*DGE?" Police officers ARE in charge of emergency scenes; it's quite common (if not particularly legal) for them to corral photographers behind imaginary lines only they can see. In the Queen City however, law enforcers are also cinematographers, civil rights attorneys, judges and juries. When they attained this lofty status is still unclear, but we assume it happened to them shortly before city officials deemed them Omnipotent Overlords of the Fourth Estate. That looks damn spiffy on a business card, but it ain't worth the taxpayer provided paper it's printed on. And why did Channel 3's cameraman get manhandled while Channel 9's lenser was left alone enough to videotape the whole damn thing? And what's with this trend of shoving a pesky photog in the back of a cop car, only to release him (or her) 120 minutes later with no charges. If I pulled shit like that, I rightly be called a kidnapper, yet some Testicle with a basic law enforcement course under his (or her) gunbelt is free to rewrite the constitution on the spot. WTF?

Washington is on vacation this week. His station, Channel 3, is weighing their lack of options while the Charlotte -Mecklenburg Police Department launches an internal investigation. Channel 9 - which apparently has video of the whole enchilada - is sitting on their tape for the time being. I respect that, I guess; they could make great ratings hay of running that puppy on a loop throughout their every newscast. Still, a little sunshine's powerful disinfectant and releasing said outrage sure would make it easier on armchair pundits like the ones at Schmuck Alert Central. Speaking of which, we're surprisingly law and order around here. I know LOTS of cops and even more news photogs. With a few glaring exceptions, their all folks I'd have over for a bar-b-cue. At breaking news scenes, the attending press is about as thrilled to be there as the cops - who would no doubt prefer parking in clusters just off the interstate. That's cool - I just wish the men and women in blue would educate their junior colleagues a abit better, for far too often it's the rookie cop that loses his effin' mind when lenses gather on the edge of calamity. Seems they should cover the basic rights of the press at the Academy. Hell, I'd be willing to go hold a seminar, provided they' wouldn't go all Abu Ghraib on my tired ass.


And a Hard Rain Fell...

Scene of water fatality
It just doesn't pay (actually, it does!) to be ON CALL when 7 plus inches of angry rain turns your town into a toilet bowl. No sooner had I arrived home for the evening when my cell phone exploded into a million frantic voices. What followed was an epic slog through high water and deadlines, capped off by the requisite news-gatherer goofiness. Chances are I'll weigh in later with some analysis. For now I gotta sleepwalk through eight hours of breathless follow-up. Where's a furlough day when you need one?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Cherries on Top

"You picked a hot day to do all this," the lady at the orchard gate said.

Cherries at Levering OrchardI had to smile as I dropped Unit 4's shifter into Drive. Through the windshield, a deeply rutted road defied me to take it all the way up the mountain. Miles away, colleagues slogged through squalid animal shelters, school board hallucinations, grizzly collisions out on the interstate. I, on the other hand, was tasked with watching cherries ripen on the vine...

"It's hotter in the ghetto," I assured the gate lady, whose puzzled expression stuck with me the rest of the day. Guess I should have explained myself a little better, let her know I wasn't just some camera-toting gasbag - but an earnest journalist from Furniture City who was glad he wasn't stuck in some cumbersome scrum. Sure, there's adventure there. But so too is their the whiff of industrial strength hairspray, the death rattle of a dozen live trucks and frantic voices bleeding from deeply-seeded earpieces. Is it any wonder I pitched the kick-off of cherry season to the suits this morning?

No, but it is a bit of a shock they went for it, considering the life cycle of these beautiful drupes really isn't news at all. It's botany. But rather than argue semantics with a group who could send me on a walking tour of a manure convention, I slunk out of the room all sullen like - just so they'd think nothin' was wrong. A few minutes later I was on my way, hurtling uphill as my rather feminized Ford Freestyle would take me. By the time I arrived at the orchard gates, I'd crossed a state line, polished off some rather righteous snack crackers and nearly driven off a cliff by staring at my GPS, instead of the trusty windshield. Once inside the orchard the fun really began as I opened the sunroof, wrestled the steering wheel and stopped repeatedly just to dig on the view.

In the end, I returned with a mildy serviceable look at the cherry crop of southern Virginia. The shooting was so-so, the writing rushed, the editing a bit pedantic. But the the drive...the drive was nothing less than spectacular. Too bad that doesn't show up on screen...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Land of the Lost

Pee Dee Nat'l Forest 2Rival newsrooms vowing to collaborate, rock steady anchor teams crumbling into dust, Conan O’Brien hosting the Tonight Show! Yes, it’s a frightening time for that glowing box in your living room, let alone the journalists that live inside it. For decades, news viewers could count on their local stations to do one thing exceedingly well: imitate each other. Chrome-plated news desks and promos at the ready, updates slathered in gadgets and delivered by ‘Talent‘, breathless reports laced in mood music, swaddled in Doppler and buzzing with candy-colored choppers. Now, however, all that amalgamation is in flux as tricked-out new tools and a dearth of advertising dollars are doing what those smarmy consultants tried so very hard to avoid… They’re making TV newscasts interesting again.

Notice I said interesting, not viable. Whether or not the rumbling plates underneath the Fourth Estate will thrust the property skyward or just swallow the damn thing whole is still unknown. One thing is for sure, though: it will never be like it was. No, the economy could correct itself overnight and the broadcast landscape would still buckle under the weight of new expectations. Sure, magic laptops and boned-up telephones play a part but all the gizmos in the universe fail in the face of human nature. Take my oldest daughter (Pease - she’s FIFTEEN!). I’ve yet to buy her one of those cell phones that comes with its very own flux capacitator, but that hasn’t stopped her from consuming news the way her better-equipped peers do. Al A Freakin’ Cart.

See, she’s been on-line since around age 3. When she wants to learn about the world she knows the libraries of the globe are just a Google or two away. If a snowstorm hits and the school day is in question, she triangulates texts, Facebook updates and a myriad of Twitters before I can ever stumble out of bed and find the remote control. Not once does she think to simply sit down and wait, to stare at a haughty rectangle in the corner of the room until someone handsome appears and speaks in glib riddles. Why would she - when with the twitch of two freakishly strong thumbs, she can truly spin the globe - without the assistance of any thumping news themes, spasmodic graphics or disembodied pitchmen. To do so would not just be old-school, it would reek of the antique.

So do the tectonic changes my chosen field are experiencing fill me with dread. Naaaah, not really. Not half as much as if we were still just aping our neighbor down the dial. THAT, is the road to extinction.

UPDATE: Friend of the blog and N&R Editor John Robinson weighs in with his own thoughts on the matter as does NewsLab Czar Deborah Potter.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Life of Slice

Hopefully those blokes at the Beeb won't mind if I share their fare, for this dissertation is simply too good not to showcase. In it, White House News Photographers Association's Editor of the Year Bill McKenna riffs on the mental calisthenics that go into your above-average edit sesh. McKenna captures it all: the dimly-lit booth, the frantic search for the next transition, the clockwork interruption by coworkers with juicy gossip or Ju-Ju-Bees. It's a tribute to anyone who spends their afternoons slumped over a candy-colored keyboard and an eloquent exposé of the invisible ordeal that is slicing under deadline. Not only that, it's really well edited...

Guess I should have seen that coming.

Expedition: Wednesday

Swamp DustSure, you can watch four strangers hack through the wilds of Africa all summer, but when you travel around with a tripod in your trunk, every DAY is an adventure. (Yes, even those endless shifts spent clinging to life at the edge of some City Council meeting.) Blame it on the glass, not the press pass - for the only thing that will get you into more controlled scenarios than a laminated badge around your neck is a pockmarked Sony on your shoulder. Backstage at the Tractor Pull, front row at the Flu Clinic, ringside at the Crown Vic convention: there's damn few places you're not ushered into. Only problem is, you gotta watch it with one eye. For example, have you ever witnessed an implosion? I've been to several, but only seen one - for most often I' m zoomed in on some looky-loo's mug when the building falls down and goes boom.

Still, it beats the view I put on the news, no matter how well I think I may have shot it. So enjoy your couch cushions this summer as pseudo-explorers retrace the path drawn in this intriguing tome. I'll be picking bugs out of my teeth closer to home - as will the rest of the photog nation. That's okay: most of us get antsy after thirty minutes in a newsroom cubicle, yet we'd traipse through a half mile of bayou if that's where the biggest chunks of airplane landed. As for those City Council meetings, not with out a little combat pay. I mean, have you seen the way those crazy bastards treat other? A few more barbs slung at that civics geek and she's gonna go all Lord of the Flies on her crosstown rival over there. Then where will we be? There's only ONE cyanide pill in my light kit...

Get your own.