Thursday, September 03, 2009

"All the Best"

All the Best According to a strict set of bylaws I just made up, I'm unable to classify this on-camera confrontation as a Schmuck Alert - since no cameras were accosted. But one gets the feeling New Zealand reporter Matt Chisholm would have preferred a Kiwi beatdown over the reaction he got from a strangely - ahem - affection meat-cutter. But I'm getting ahead of myself. It all started when TVNZ's Close Up began investigating claims of horse meat being sold for human consumption. EWWWWW!

Anyway, Chisholm and his lenser do their due diligence - collecting evidence and recording incriminating video before they corner the beefiest of butchers. The ensuing encounter begins typically enough, with Slaughterhouse Clive denying any knowledge of said horseplay. But then, just before the two minute mark, things. get. weird. I'll let your imagination do the rest, but just know Sam the Butcher's urge to cuddle wasn't just unexpected, it was positively genius - as it nearly unraveled our inquisitve friend (who was doing so well until then!). Will this kind of press reception catch on? Hard to tell, but a nation of news crews are already testing that theory by trying to catch rising ingenue Megan Fox in anything unlawful - in hopes her response will be equally amorous. Good luck with that fellas...

(Much love to Stephen CameraGod Press for the heads-up...)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Station to Station

If unpacking gadgets in the shadow of catastrophe is your idea of a fun afternoon, have I got a gig for you. So too does Sean Browning - one of man L.A. based lenslingers caught stalking the plume of the Station Fire. Now I've never covered an inferno of those dimensions, but I have made plenty of Tee-Vee on the side of the road and I can tell you it's not without its potholes. Knuckle-scraping cable spools, passing traffic, a Greek chorus of wisecracking firefighters ... throw in a couple of troublesome Double-AA's and you understand why I've been spotted spinning like the Tasmanian Devil around any number of these modern day chuckwagons. But enough about me - check out the gear! I've staged whole telethons with less equipment! Ya know, it's enough to make this East Coast schlub wanna wing it to Hollywood and get my very own logo'd stagecoach. Hell, I could stand chasing wildfires and mudslides, freeway chases and dead celeb--

On second thought, I'll stick with Hurricanes and Swine Flu...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Unnecesarry Bluffness

No rock 004See, here's the thing: YOU KNOW Chris Rock ain't in town just as well as I KNOW Chris Rock ain't in town. But when your company issues a 'Press Release' stating (and I quote) "Chris Rock will be in High Point previewing his new movie..." well, you set more than a few news wheels in motion. It starts in the newsroom, where someone whose job it is to decipher incoming faxes suddenly begins speaking in tongues known only to Pentecostal grifters. Now, before I can even duck under my desk, said sinner locks eyes on me and the loopy arm movements and broken syllables increase tenfold. At this point, all logic is suspended - for while everyone in the newsroom realizes the chances of Rock being on this side of the state line are damn near nil, we're obligated to assume it's true, lest we blow it off only to see the popular comedian yukking it up at six on another station.

From here on out, the adventure's mine. Sure, someone from the Art department begins scouring celebrity websites for a suitable image and a few producers debate what movies they should include in the filmography that will follow our sure-to-be exclusive interview - but I'M THE GUY hurtling down the interstate, triangulating surface street stoplights while digging fresh batteries out of the glove box for my digital camera. By the way, you ever run a Cadillac full of elderly furniture shoppers off the road 'cause you were dickering with a memory card when you should have had your mind on the merge? It's a lousy feeling - especially when you finally arrive at prescribed destination only to find the only Chris Rock on the premises is the cardboard cut-out you're not allowed to shoot.

Now don't get me wrong: I like you guys! Your company makes an interesting product and we've done good work together in the past. I'm equally stoked that a big name like Chris Rock made note of your firm in his new film. In fact, I'm happy to do a story on it, but this kind of subterfuge wastes my time and makes us both look silly. It's akin to me calling you up and saying, "Hey, Katie Couric is in town and she wants to tour your plant! Quick, clean up - she's on her way over RIGHT NOW!". Now, I would never do that - and not just because I have absolutely no affiliation with the leggy CBS anchor. Speaking of leggy, that PR lady you sent to intercept me at the movie theater was gorgeous! She could have been a toothpaste model, which would be damn handy since it kinda feels like you guys took a dump in my mouth. Un-Cool. You know, were I a more industrious sort (and not some TV news geek with questionable driving habits), I'd take your little press release around the country as a sterling example of how companies can screw themselves out a well-deserved press opportunity. You know for that kind of presentation, I'd need someone to front it, someone funny, famous and full of street cred...

Someone like, Chris Rock... I hear he's in town.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Nuggets from Doug

And to think I was worried Doug Richard's blog would suffer when we he went back to work. Hardly! Ever since the mind behind Live Apartment Fire signed up with Atlanta's WXIA, he's spoken truth to power with a flurry of posts that would be preposterous were they not so spot-on. This guy's on fire! And I'm not just saying that because he's heaped undue praise on me in the past. No, I click on LAF 'cause it's written by a real person - not some overblown, chiseled phony you see sleepwalking from Sports to Weather, but an honest to God reporter who knows how to play dead in a live truck, where to grub in the inner city and how to act when the shit goes down. If that weren't enough, Doug's doing it all under his real name, thus incurring the slings and arrows of every nutbag with a Blackberry in the greater Atlanta Metroplex. That takes grapes, not to mention a conscious effort never to take one's self too seriously. Trust me: it's harder than you think. In my nearly five years of constant blogging , I've more than earned the wrath of certain competitors and colleagues - simply by pixelating one lenser's opinion. But enough about my busy dance card, this post is for Brother Doug, who's found a paying gig without giving up his voice. Still not convinced? Consider his recent list of newsgathering truisms - which includes a tip so tried, so true, so trenchant - every new reporter should commit it to memory.
8.) If the phone rings at five minutes after noon, beware. It means that the newsroom managers have seen something on a competing TV station’s noon news that your station has overlooked. The phone call means you’re being asked to recoup on a story with a rapidly fading pulse. Consider waiting five minutes, then return the call. The problem may solve itself.
Quick, somebody etch that in stone before I'm forced to write it in lipstick on the ladies room mirror. Then who will be lookin' for work?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inaction Jackson

With the Tenth Anniversary of Hurricane Floyd drawing nigh, I can't help but think of all that has (and hasn't) happened in the decade since...

Jesse Jackson CrushWhen Jesse Jackson entered the Tarboro High School gym, chaos came with him. Until then the place had been relatively quiet; a half dozen news crews muttering shop amid a sea of displaced people. Even the Red Cross volunteers seemed to be moving a little slower, their heroic efforts finally ebbing after days of caring for this sad, soggy lump of humanity. I myself was on visit number three to this gymnasium turned shelter and had long since grown tired of wringing sound from the newly downtrodden. The people of Princeville didn't need another camera in their face. A few miles away their modest homes sat marinating in toxic sludge and not one more local profile was going to dry out all that debris. They needed cash, clothes, groceries and a miracle or two. What they got was Jesse Jackson on auto-pilot.

No sooner had the famed civil rights activist entered the cavernous space, the new denizens of the gym rose to receive him. In return, Jackson radiated warmth - encouraging the crowd in his singsong cadence while shaking just some of the hands thrust before him. A young mother who'd been picking clothes out of a soggy pile dropped them at her feet and raised her upturned palms to the rafters. A leathery old man I'd just watch brush his teeth with a dirty rag now swung the half-bitten remnant above his head like a victory flag. A pregnant teenager, who could do little more than weep, pushed her way into Jesse’s arms. Through it all, he cooed reassurances, offering them everything and nothing at once. I only wish I could remember all he said, but I was too busy fending off lenses to listen very carefully.

“If the media could just step back a little” Jackson said, turning the young woman in his arms a little to the right, to better catch the flank of blinding camera flashes.

The needy would have kept coming all day, but Jesse was not there to assuage them. He was there to get on television and with the scrum of cameras growing all around him, this master of disaster worked the poor folks of Princeville like a studio full of warm props. I shot as much of it as I could stand. When another TV photographer tried to leap over a cot and almost flipped an old lady out of it, I hung my head and headed for the door. Not because I was especially pious, but because the buses were lining up out front and I was afraid they'd somehow leave without me. When the small convoy did pull out, each bus lumbered past capacity with photographers, reporters, technicians and writers, all clamoring for an unfettered shot of Jesse in the flood zone. Not everyone would get their wish.

Jesse Jackson Crush 2.5Located across the swollen banks of the Tar River, Princeville is widely known as a town founded by freed slaves. But in the hours and days following the flood, this village of nineteen hundred gained turn of the century fame as the place where Hurricane Floyd left its ugliest bruise. As the line of buses followed the lead Suburban past the barricade, it was easy to see why. The roofs of cars inched above the slowly receding water, hand-scrawled X’s condemned two out of three homes and lawn furniture lounged in the tree-tops. A hush fell over our bus as the driver negotiated a network of new ruts. I braced my camera against the bouncing window frame as Neill McNeill scribbled notes in a skinny notepad. Then the Suburban ahead of us pulled over and I lunged for the door before the bus driver could warn me otherwise.

Outside, Jesse and his bodyguards emerged from the Suburban and walked toward Princeville's waterlogged Town Hall. With the other buses still parking, the photogs in my group moved in for the kill, trailing after Jackson and his handlers as they marched up the hundred year old steps. Inside, I managed to squeeze past the other crews, stomping around the condemned space before my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. With my vision clearing, I sidled up next to the guest if honor and took in the room through my viewfinder. Almost on cue, Jackson bent down to pick something up. I followed his hand and was surprised when he peeled an American flag from the muck underneath. Twisting the focal ring into submission, I feathered it into sharper view as Jackson chirped a homily about perseverance. I was seconds from volleying a question at him when other voices drowned us both out.

“Out, out - Everybody out!”

Uniformed deputies piled through the door, hitching thumbs and eye-gouging the crowd. Seems the Town Hall was condemned for a reason, and even carpetbaggers and their lapdogs were not permitted inside. But the underwater pony show wasn't over. As Jackson and company made for the door, I stuck with him, unwilling to give up my vantage point as he paused onto the Town Hall's front steps. It made for a powerful backdrop and Jesse must have sensed it too, for he decided to give the media a little Q and A. Still clutching the dirty flag, Jackson took questions from the reporters he pretended not to need. As the microphones and lenses hung on his every word, he spoke of hardship, race and renewal.

Jesse Jackson Crush 3Which is about the time Neill snapped the photo. It’s become a treasured souvenir. Not because it’s terribly significant, but because the single frame tells so much about that humid afternoon. Look closely. There I am, just to the left of Jackson - back bent, arms hurting, sweat pouring down one squinted eye. Over to the right, a large orange X stretches four planks wide, telling all those who need to know the building is finished. And hanging from Jackson’s grip, the American flag that seemed to be waiting for him and his rhyming bromides. Looking back now, ten long years later, it’s tempting to reconsider the center of all that attention. Though he left the flood-ravaged families not one red cent richer than before he came, it’s a safe bet they all slept better that night, knowing none other than Jesse Jackson was on the case. Maybe that alone was worth something, maybe there’s more to helping people than cutting a check, maybe there’s something positive to be said about the way Jackson swoops in on tragedy and leaves vague warm feelings for victims to embrace. Maybe, just maybe, Jesse Jackson ISN’T the divisive charlatan so many pundits claim him to be...

Naaaah, dude's a user.