Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Help The Newtons!

Josh Newton, photogLosing his house and everything in it wasn't on Josh Newton's bucket list, but it happened anyway. The former El Ocho photog and his family fled to their storm shelter Wednesday night, shortly before a tornado erased every vestige of possession from their Alabama address. Now they're among the reeling and the displaced, another Southern family suddenly without a home. It's been several years since I've spoken to Josh. During his tenure at my station we became fast friends. A thinker and a tinkerer, Josh is a relentless reader and wry observer of life. His early encouragement convinced me to keep trying to write and it's my hope that I can return the favor. Right now, he needs it.

As with much spot news these days, it broke over Facebook. A mysterious message, posted by Josh in the middle of the night:
"My family and I are safe with each other and nothing else. Please keep us in your prayers."
Eighteen short words that left a wide swath of speculation among the Newton's many friends. With fresh footage of spinning twisters on every TV set, it didn't take an investigative reporter to figure out what robbed the Newtons of their home. Still, it was hard for many of us at the station to believe our old coworker was among the stunning numbers of victim currently digging out of the Deep South. Then, a picture of Josh's property surfaced on-line, followed by a message from the man himself.

Newton's Neighborhood

"Right now i don't know where we will sleep night tonight. I own a car and a backpack full of "stuff" and that is all now. My address is a storm shelter and a concrete slab. We thank everyone for the prayers. when we know where we will stay, I will send out more info. Our community has taken is in and is helping in sooo many ways. Red cross has set up a shelter and aid station in another town, and have not seen them... The locals are mot prepared for the devastation. If you want to use this in your blog or anywhere else, please do, but be sure and mention our town of Ohatchee, Alabama. it seems that they have forgotten about us."
Knowing Newton's penchant for self-sufficiency made his words all the harder to read. Though he no longer chases news for a living, Josh is practiced in the art of the grab. He's covered many a debris field before, with compassion and flair. How it must now feel to be on the other side of the glass is a revelation I can live without. But I look forward to the day when Josh can tell me all, preferably over a shot I've bought him. Not that he needs my permission to persevere..
"Life moves on. It is a day of rest, canceling checks, credit cards, paying what bills need to be paid. We took Maggie out to the site, and she handled it like a champ! We joked and laughed. It helped us all move a little closer to center. We have the best friends and family that anyone can ask for. There are businesses that have gone above and beyond for us. They have my lifelong business...and they understand it's not about business, it's about community, and family."
The NewtonsJosh, Brandy and Maggie are going to see better days. But they can't do it alone. If you're in a position to help, won't you join me in lending assistance to this undefeated family? A letter, a check, a gift card ... e-mail me and and I'll forward you the mailing address. If you're at all fond of the stories I tell here, know that Josh has long helped inspire them. Or, if like me, you just feel a little uneasy sitting there in your den as others clutch at rubble on the evening news, well, here's your chance to do something about it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Left Behind

FetusCamIf you’ve never pulled away from the shoulder of the road only to notice your tripod diminishing in the rearview mirror, you ain’t chased news long enough. If you had, you’d know that for every tool, there is a hiding spot. Me, I’ve lost, forgotten and misplaced more gizmos than that shaky clerk at Radio Shack. What do you expect to happen when you put a flighty writer type in charge of actual recording equipment? Don’t get me wrong: I’m buttoned up. But the act of inventory goes against my wayward nature, so I have to constantly remind myself not to leave a trail of television across the Greater Piedmont Googolplex. Most times I manage fine, but interrupt my rhythm and I’ll quickly turn my powers of attention elsewhere. SQUIRREL! Hmm? What was I talking about? Oh, right: creative gear dispersal. It doesn’t happen much, but when it does, it leaves a mark. Take Monday, when I raised the act of unpreparedness to the level of performance art.

It started early (as these things will), when my partner of the day Charles Ewing sidled up to me in the newsroom and said we were late for an unimportant meeting. Couldn’t he see I was regaling my fellow photogs with tales of my four days off? Apparently not, which is why I broke off mid-syllable and went to my gather my gear. Inside my camera locker, I found a familiar rig. I grabbed the fancycam and didn’t think to look around. It was a move I’d come to regret all day. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s get to this meeting. It was an unremarkable summit on Fourth Street in Greensboro. I shrugged off Charles’ offer of directions as we headed downtown. Once we got there, I realized my adopted hometown numbered their streets in sporadic fashion and I was forced to reach all the way to the windshield-mounted GPS. Charles only chuckled, as this was not his maiden voyage on the Good Ship Lenslinger.

A few minutes later, we pulled into port. Actually, it was a county-owned parking lot, an apron of asphalt with marked parking and threatening signs. Picking out the prettiest one, I threw my unmarked car into Park and tossed a logo in the windshield. We got out and I gathered my gear, all while telling Charles how the day before, I’d sucked forest floor for a good ten minutes after half a hamburger failed to fuel me through nine miles of mountain bike trail. I was just getting to the part where I left my body when we turned toward the building in question, two video hit men schlepping toward their mark while engaged in the most of trivial chit-chats. Kinda like those guys in Pulp Fiction - but with A LOT less killing. Though to be fair, Charles probably wanted to throttle me - or at least he soon would. First though, we had to get inside, no easy feat considering the first four doors we tried were locked.

Eventually, we found a door equipped with a candy like button and once Charles pushed it, a female voice told us to wait. We did, until the door before us clicked open and we let ourselves inside. That’s where we found the owner of the voice, a portly receptionist with all the charm of a two truck driver. Hefting a thumb toward a staircase, she directed us to the basement, where our quarry waited unaware. That changed a moment later, when a PR lady looked up from her mind-crushing boredom and noticed a news crew about to enter the room. Apparently, this would not do, as she jumped up like her seat was on fire and ushered us back in the hall. She and Charles spoke as I raised my tripod to scarecrow level and sized up the light seeping from under the door. You ever drag half a TV station into a heated meeting already in progress? If you like dirty looks, I’d highly recommend it. Otherwise...

Hold your breath. Maybe then, you won’t choke on the disdain aimed your way by those charming policy wonks who wish not to be featured on the evening news. Me, I held my head high as I slunk to the rear of the room. As for Charles, he found a seat quickly, all the better to direct the panel’s attention to the furry photog making a racket in the back. But the pop and click of my tripod plate was nothing compared to the cuss I uttered when I turned the camera on and tried to hit RECORD. Nothing happened and for the first time in four days, I looked at the side of my camera. There, where two SD cards normally nestled, sat two empty slots. Suddenly, I remembered being told they were gonna use my gear while I was away. Apparently, they had and as a result I was now trapped in a kind of subterranean hell with absolutely no way to record all that fire and brimstone. That’s when I shot Charles a look, pantomimed my predicament and started the long walk back to the car, where I hoped I’d find an extra card or two.

Eventually, I did and made it back downstairs in time to document the closing seconds of the meeting we had to wrap a minute and a half of TV around. Charles gave me a funny look when I walked back in. He told me later he didn’t think I’d return. Truth is, I didn’t really want to, but knowing I had to salvage something from our morning, I trudged onward until the meeting ended and we cornered our prey of the day for an one-on-one interview. As Charles began coaxing soundbites from our nervous guest, I silently congratulated myself for saving the day. Sure, I pulled a few rookie moves before noon this day, but it would take more than mere neglect to unhinge a lenslinger of my vintage...

That’s about the time my only charged camera battery died.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gazers to Stun

Flash in the ATL

Like the red-shirted members of a Star Trek landing party, TV News photogs can be considered pretty expendable. But take on an alien landscape without us and you'll wish we were there to beam you up. Long before Kirk banged his first purple chick, rugged individual types were capturing what passes for life on this planet. It ain't always pretty, but neither is the atmosphere within range of Uranus. As for the view, it's the kind of horizon that blinds you to the absurdity of it all, until you find yourself processing atrocity with tact, alacrity and no small amount of smack-talk.

But don't take my word for it. Ask Joey Flash. That's him fronting in the photo above, a fine action shot taken by WSB reporter George Howell. It wasn't so long ago that Joey Avary was an El Ocho neophyte, a giddy hipster familiar with lenses but not yet fluent in news. That changed quickly. After a crash course in the art of the grab from the Lenslinger Institute, Joey left us for the funkier climes of Asheville. I, for one, thought the rarefied air there would suit this goober to a wrinkled T, but not long after scouring Western Carolina, dude ran like hell to the ATL. Now he races up and down the parking lot known as Atlanta traffic, reliving the grind in glorious sixteen by nine.

You could say I'm proud of him, but that would denote responsibility for his success. Not so. My tutelage consisted of little more than a few tall tales and a prime directive or two. Hey, here's one now: "Don't take yourself too seriously." That's something Avary's got in spades and it's a quality sorely lacking in certain camera circles. So while I change batteries in my tri-corder, take a moment to salute this early graduate of the cameraman academy. Just don't get between him and an assignment, or he'll threaten you with one mother of a mind-meld.

And judging from the way this guy's brain works, that'd be worth a dozen trips to the holo-deck....