Friday, May 27, 2011

End of the Innocence

Alfonzo and Scotty
Next Stop: Rehab... Alfonzo and Scotty
One's a fresh faced country crooner, the other's a mustachioed videotape. Together they're gonna take on the mob, raise an adorable orphan and crash every wedding from here to Gardenia! Okay, so I don't know the exact pitch, but I guaran-damn-tee you Alfonzo Beta suggested some kind of buddy pic project to our newly ordained American Idol. Ya know, Scotty McCreery seemed like a nice kid when we cornered him in Garner last week. It's a shame to see him hanging with skeevy show-biz types so soon after his coronation. Then again, it's impossible to dodge this bright yellow gadfly. For years now, he's skirted the edges of Hollywood, never letting the fact that he's an old Sony SX tape with a scribbled-on face stop him from hoping on private jets, cadging free drinks and bedding the occasional starlet. Now, he's gotten to Scottie. I just hope our teenage phenom was able to shake him. See, Alfonzo left a wife and a couple of Mini-DV's back in Sacramento and he's known to stay out all night clubbing with little regard to his state of rewind. That may be fine for an industry standard, but young Mr. McCreery needs a healthier influence if he's gonna survive the pitfalls of sudden stardom... I wonder if Charlie Sheen is available?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paging Ned Beatty...

Yadkin River GoPro Shot
Modified technology ROCKS(!), but occasionally those radical new gadgets spawn strange and ugly phenomena. Such is the case with the latest lens to take TV crews by storm. I'm talking about GoPro Face. You know, the first frames of video retrieved from those fantastic new POV cameras. Invariably, the first thing you see upon upload is a quizzical, squinting grimace; a pained expression on a photog's face that screams "IS THIS THING ON? Lately, it's even been capturing talent. How else to explain the look of constipation on Chad Tucker's face as I attached a station-owned GoPro to a free-range kayak the other day. If my good man appears distressed, it's only because he's got a camera between his legs. Me, I look worried because I am. All I could envision as I blessed the camera's suction cup was Chad thwacking it into the drink with his mad oar-fu skills. Fortunately, all went swimmingly. Chad paddled, I perched high above on a shaky bridge and everyone's favorite dashboard cam stayed mercifully above the waterline. WHEW! Now, if we could just attach one of those puppies to a toy helicopter, I might not be needed at all! On second thought, scratch that. I live with teenage daughters, which means I need each and every paid safari I can swing. Besides, no troubled shoot, twisted gizmo or horny mutant redneck packs half the peril of a walk-in closet stocked by a Justin Beiber fan.  Now hand me that banjo, wouldya? The locals are getting restless.

Kevin Johnson: Towering Still

NAB 08 Kev Johnson NEW
I look UP to Kevin Johnson - and not just because he's six and a half feet tall. No, the local news photog who launched a globally known website has impressed me simply by the way he handles his business, from providing an on-line watering hole for TV photogs to backing that concept up with free beer and fellowship at his annual b-roll bash. Thrice now I've attended that event and I always come away nursing a righteous hangover and a great deal of respect for the towering figure with the unending grin and suitcase full of free t-shirts. But Kevin's influence on news-makers goes well beyond the logowear he foists on tipsy photogs every year. His core creation,, has provided an invaluable source of information and empathy for a group of people unaccustomed to feelings of community. And he's down it all without ever beating his chest about it. No heroic portraits, glowing profiles or extended self-exams litter his site. Instead you'll only find a vibrant community of seasoned pros and neophytes, riffing on the biz from every angle while taking shelter in the house that Kev built. You'd think a guy like that might lord his influence over his minions...

But you'd be wrong.

Back when the web was stilled called things like 'the information superhighway', a vital pit-stop popped up on the horizon., a website named for an old film term, offered TV insider tips and tricks as well as a fledgling message board. That 'board' provided a forum like no other, a cyber-spot where veteran staffers, freelancers and an endless parade of wide-eyed rookies could swap war stories and stroke their egos. Perhaps that last part spoke to me, for soon I was contributing grist and calling myself 'Lenslinger'.  Kevin liked my stories and he told me so. That early encouragement led me to believe  there might be something there and I found myself writing more and more. Long before the word 'blog' ever crossed my mind, Lenslinger sprung to life on an industry message board that suddenly everyone was reading. Quite simply, changed my life for the better. When I met Kevin a couple of years later in D.C., my goal was to thank him. But a few minutes in his company left me less focused on the website and more impressed with the man. Like I said, Kevin's impossibly tall with a rich baritone and unassuming manner. The way he dodged praise and deflected credit told me a lot about the guy and over the next few years we both enjoyed knocking back a cocktail or two in the name of news. Across the country and beyond our shores, other photogs benefited from his energy as well - even those who've never come close to meeting him.

Which is why Monday's news of Kevin's heart attack was so hard to process.

When word broke that the patron saint of photogs everywhere was in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital, a nation full of crusty bastards reeled in disbelief. Kev's a young guy, seemingly fit and bereft of the bad habits that plague so many camera junkies. While that's not enough to guarantee good health, it seemed impossible that our towering benefactor is in any way down. But he is. Which is why I'm asking you to summon up any prayers, good vibrations and positive energy you have in you and direct it to our nation's capital, where a lanky leader of a thousand crusty souls could really use the help. Kevin Johnson has elevated our profession in a most unassuming way. He's provided a gathering spot, allowed others to shine and made our fractious world of newsrooms, live trucks and crime scenes a good deal more bearable. Right now his lovely wife Clare is holding up strong and I hope she knows a nation of news shooters has her back. As for Kevin, here's hoping all that good karma he's created will visit him tenfold. Get better, Kevin. We ain't done yet. 

UPDATE! Kevin's wife Clare just reported that Kevin is awake! Kevin experienced a dramatic and wonderful period of responsiveness this evening. The medical staff temporarily reduced the level of paralytics and Kevin began to move, opened his eyes and was clearly aware. It is too early to say what this means for Kevin's recovery, but it is safe to say there was loud and tearful rejoicing on the fourth floor ICU at GW.

UPDATE!! After 48 hours of somber visits with doctors and far more questions than answers, the doctors have told Kevin's wife Clare that they are, "preparing for the best possible outcome." The medical team is being very cautious and there is a lot they still don't know about Kevin's condition, the damage done by the cardiac arrest, and how his recovery will progress from here, but they said, "It's a really good starting point." The neurological team will begin to assess Kevin as early as today and doctors have mentioned the possibility of removing Kevin's breathing tube.

UPDATE!!! The family got their first glimpse of the old Kevin on Sunday. Kevin is having CONVERSATIONS with everyone, seems to recognize them, and has…A SENSE OF HUMOR! Now that’s signature Kevin! Less than a week after doubtful doctors were trying to prepare the family for the worst, Kevin is proving them wrong with the best progress anyone could have imagined at this point.

UPDATE!!!! One week after he was first rushed to George Washington University Hospital, Kevin was able to sit in a chair! He has a lovely view from the 4th floor of the ICU and has spent much of the day near the window looking out at the courtyard and trees. Kevin recognizes his visitors, engages them in conversation, and is cracking jokes. He remains weak and sleepy, but is a sight for sore eyes to Clare, their family, and the friends that surround him. Kevin is getting his first nourishment courtesy of a feeding tube and relished his first ice chips today! Doctors want to make sure he can safely swallow before we start bringing him chicken nuggets - one of his faves! Tomorrow Kevin will have an exploratory procedure to assess the condition of his heart and surgeons may implant a portable defibrillator in Kevin's chest. Weeks of recovery and rehab lie ahead, but the incredible and consistent strides Kevin is making every day continue to astound us all.

UPDATE!!!!! Clare reports both the heart catheter to look for blockages or problems in Kevin's heart (none found!) and the placing of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or ICD in Kevin's chest went well today. Neurological testing continues and, while hearing Kevin talk and joke is comforting and a cause for celebration, it could be some time before the extent of the damage and the potential for a full recovery will be known. There is still a long road ahead and the family appreciates your support and well wishes as Kevin continues to recover.

UPDATE!!!!!! Kevin truly is an overnight sensation! *Clare reports a lot of progress since yesterday: Kevin has been moved from the ICU to the cardiac unit, one floor down. He is eating solid food - and what a feast it was: apple sauce, mac and cheese and a turkey sandwich! And he's been sitting in the chair again. And...drumroll, please...Kevin isn't connected to any machines! Kevin will try walking for the first time tomorrow and doctors say he could be heading home by next week. Another great day at GW for Kevin and Clare - who deserves special mention here: With the exception of going home for a few hours of restless sleep each night, Clare has been by Kevin's side since the moment he collapsed. From holding his hand those first awful days, to comforting him as he regained consciousness, to greeting and consoling his visitors and answering countless emails and phone calls - she has been there. From calling 911 and performing CPR to planning for his rehab, Clare, too, has been through an incredible ordeal and will also need time to heal, recover, and readjust. She is included in our prayers and well wishes, as are Kevin's mother and father, his brother and sister-in-law, and his mother-in-law and father-in-law.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Fast and The Furious

NewsBlues Mobile 2Ever meet someone for the first time only to soon wonder if they’re about to kill you? The thought crossed my mind Saturday as Mike James plunged his Porsche Carrera into a hairpin turn at what felt like three hundred miles per hour. I’m told it was barely a third of that, but when you’re not entirely sure of your driver’s state of mind, it feels A LOT faster. As it turned out, I had no need to worry, for like Dustin Hoffman in that most overrated movie, the man behind News Blues is an excellent driver. Of course that didn’t stop me from making little girl noises each time Mike waited until the last possible second to tap the brake. When he did, the car’s momentum invariably shifted and we’d make it through another curve that had seconds ago seemed destined to be my final resting place. I’d been inside the Virginia International Raceway for less than thirty minutes, and as my host tried to press the accelerator through the floorboard of his souped-up import, I found myself wondering just what was in that waiver they made me sign at the front gate. Sensing my unease, the dude known as Your Surly Editor threw his head back and laughed. Good to see one of us was enjoying this.

Mike James, Your Surly EditorI’d been wanting to meet Mike James for years, ever since he began featuring my work on his popular, the website of record for anyone willing to cough up some coin for the latest in TV industry dirt. Each and every link spiked my own traffic and a whole new class of broadcaster came to know the blogging blowhard known as Lenslinger. For that, I’m grateful. The e-mail alone from News Blues readers has enriched my life, though so far no one’s stepped forward to line my many photog pockets with silver. Whether that will ever happen remains to be seen, but its safe to say that The Irascible One has done more for the Lenslinger Institute than anyone (outside of Chris Weaver, that is). Sooo, when I heard one Mr. Mike James was spending the weekend driving in circles an hour from my house, it didn’t take much convincing for me to climb in my pick-up and head his way. Twenty four hours and a fresh set of skivvies later, I’m still glad I did.

IMG_0687But as I snaked my way through the bowels of Southern Virginia, I had to wonder: Who would be there to meet me? The snarling arbiter of industry drivel? A grizzled distiller of vinegar and piss? A snarkier-than-thou outsider unafraid to excoriate strangers and fans alike? Not so much. The Mike James I met was welcoming, warm, affable even! In fact, this cuddliest of curmudgeons and I got along famously, finishing each other sentences, lamenting the bent of modern day broadcasting and sharing the kind of sordid war stories I don’t dare include in these (somewhat) publicized pixels. Yes, if I were to ever dig deep and write a book, Mike James would be the kind of guy I’d like to see edit it. But who reads books theses days? Everyone’s far too busy poking at social media with self-aggrandized sticks to crack open a tome from a cameraman they’ve never heard of. Maybe a blog is all Viewfinder BLUES will be. That is, until I twist it into a seminar of sorts and launch a cross country tour of affiliates under fire. I’d even meet up with MY Surly Editor somewhere along the way and wage a campaign of unvarnished truth across the goofy, fruited plain.

I just wouldn't let him drive. Dude’s a menace.