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...