Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rock the Sure Shot

What's with all these protestors blocking photographers' shots lately? That's like sticking up 'Garage Sale' signs all over your neighborhood, then getting pissed when folks show up in your driveway wanting to buy your old toaster.

I don't get it. I've been covering protests of varying degrees since the first Bush administration and I've seen a lot of goofy things in the name of dissent. But a pack of hacks raising a ruckus on public property and demanding the media look away? That's a new one.

Or is it?

In the fall of 2016, angry mobs flooded the streets of uptown Charlotte to protest the police shooting of Keith Scott. I was there among the crush of cops, clergy and anarchists one night when one protestor in particular produced of all things, a bathroom mirror. "The media needs to look at itself!", he screamed as he jammed the mirror into my lens. 'Clever', I thought, as I twisted my torso to turn away from him. But the pack of jackals around me was so tight I couldn't escape the reflective heckler and he succeeded in blocking my shot for several minutes. Luckily, I had a 'security detail' with me that night, which simply meant that a few paces behind me was an underemployed bar bouncer being paid to make sure I made my deadline unmolested. After a few inelegant gestures on my part, I got his attention and he quickly shoo'd Mr. Mirror away.

What's my point? Don't know that I have one, other than to suggest that people who protest in public should fully expect, perhaps even want, to make a headline. Otherwise, might I suggest your organization launch a letter writing campaign, or perhaps a bake sale... just don't be surprised when camera crews show up. See, this sidewalk happens to be our office and we're all under heavy deadline. We may not give one thin shit about your issue, but we care deeply about documenting whatever is about to go down. So, to quote the Beastie Boys, don't come with the rhymes that you just half-baked. And whatever you do, don't try to hide from us.

You won't like how it looks on the evening news.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Lenslinger Interview: Charlotte Media Podcast

CHARLOTTE MEDIA PODCAST: Episode 2: Stewart Pittman on life under glass

When Adam Butler asked me to be on his Charlotte Media Podcast, I thought we were gonna talk TV News. And boy, did we. But that rascally Adam slipped in some discourse and before you know it, I'd exposed myself. Man, that sounds creepy AF! Anyhoo, consider the next forty-eight minutes of your life non-returnable. It's a pretty manic ramble on my part, Southern accent and all. One past reporter pal said this particular podcast reminds her of being stuck in a news car with me on some deadline-driven dog-day afternoon. ATTICA!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mission Improbable

It’s a brutal pursuit, this gathering of facts - a headlong dash into danger and indifference, a race around the region as if the very future of the republic hinged on a thirty second clip of an upended dump-truck. For nearly thirty years I’ve wedged my way into unwise positions, spotlighted the plight of the victors and the vanquished as desk-bound overlords critiqued my technique in real-time. There’s a million ways to make a much better living, but none that held my attention like the flickering blue screen inside my viewfinder.

I’ve learned a lot along the way: don’t trust politicians of any party, keep your head on a swivel no matter the backdrop, clean your plate before heading into dirty weather. Three decades of daily deadlines haven’t bought me a beach house, but it’s made me wealthy beyond measure in other ways. I’ve quizzed future presidents, hung out of helicopters and carried more beauty queens than most parade floats. Sure, I’ve cursed it all a time or ten, but never once seriously considered doing anything else with my working life.

I know lots of people with the same affliction. I can’t say I like them all. But drop in on any breaking news scene and you’ll find a puddling scrum of gadflies, philosophers and misfits. But for all their differences, they share one unifying trait: they are insatiable communicators, be it with a camera, a microphone or keyboard. Block their shot and they’ll rip your lips off. Obfuscate and you’ll make a mortal enemy. Utter the phrase ‘no comment’ and we’ll camp out in your yard and tell everyone you wouldn’t talk.

Such habits have never made journalists very popular and we’re totally cool with that. If everyone loves us, we’re not doing our jobs correctly. Lately though, it’s gotten out of hand. Elected leaders blame us for not adopting their spin, toothless rubes scream obscenities from passing pick-up trucks and people we once considered friends spread lies and distortions they heard in their own personal echo chambers.

Just this afternoon, some nut-bag with a grudge gunned down five newspaper employees, all for reasons no one’s ever gonna understand. But even a tragedy as unspeakable as this won’t stop us. It only strengthens our resolve and recommits us to our mission. So yell ‘Fake News’ all you want. It only emboldens us. I’m proud to be a part of the fourth estate, as imperfect as it is. Try to squelch us and our numbers will only multiply.

After all, a free press is a very large part of what makes this country great. Look it up in that history book you don't own. I'll wait...

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Terms and Conditions

If you've ever followed another station's live truck to a breaking news scene you just insisted didn't exist, you might be my kind of photog.

If you've ever waltzed into a press conference that was well underway, set up your sticks in a clattering fashion and still bagged the bite every outlet uses that night, you might be my kind of photog.

If you've ever grown bored watching cops drag a river, cursed the day you picked up a lens, then displayed nothing but grace when the body popped up, you might be my kind of photog.

If you keep a mental inventory of every public bathroom, all night diner and sweeping skyline view within the mid-city metroplex, you might be my kind of photog.
If you've ever scanned a jam packed ballroom and found the one politician in the room who didn't want to be on TV that day, you might be my kind of photog.

If you know the glow of a gas station stabbing, have taken a selfie with a cadaver dog and know the best places to eat in the worst parts of town, you might be my kind of photog.

If you can make a grieving mother feel good about sharing her story and live with yourself afterwards, you might be my kind of photog.

If you know how to act when the President comes to town, when the school bus tips over, when the widow reaches for her next clump of Kleenex, you might be my kind of photog.

If you're up to being thrust into danger and doldrums at a moment's notice without letting it turn you into an absolute scab, you might be my kind of photog.

As for the rest of you, there's always the Postal Service.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Common Atrocity

When the teenage demons killed so many of their classmates at Columbine, the very planet quivered. Network news crews invaded the small Colorado town, draped the unthinkable in exquisite lighting and cued up their theme music’s most plaintive cut. Images of kids running from their classrooms with hands raised overhead burned their way into the collective consciousness as the universe grieved in glimmering hi-def.

Less than twenty years later, such an unthinkable act has become commonplace. The fleeing students, panicking parents and crouched cops are all part of a new palette, just another template for broadcasters to tweak. These days, when news of a classroom mass-killing breaks, the globe shrugs. Numbed citizens reach for their phones to offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ while politicians run for cover. Gun-control advocates and their well-armed foes tussle over who’s to blame and TV preachers crawl out from under their rocks to pass the plate. Back at home, most of us wish it would all just go away so we could get back to bingeing our favorite guilty pleasure.

You probably have strong opinions as to why these kind of mass shootings keep happening. I certainly have mine. But it’s not access to pistols or prayers that I’m focused on tonight. It’s passport to tragedy. I was at Virginia Tech in the hours and days that followed that senseless killing and the hollowed expressions worn by the folks I found there will never leave me. Losing a loved one in such a way is punishment enough. Being goaded by a hungry press for a bite-sized reaction is, sadly, something I’ve learned to stomach. Of course, in 2018, you don’t need a news crew to gorge on calamity. Smart phones are everywhere (and everything) these days. Before the madman’s muzzle even stopped recoiling, the sights and sounds of his evil acts are already streaming for the world to see.

I don’t pretend to have any answers. You should be wary of those who do. I just know that I never want to rush to the scene of a massacre again. I don’t want to stick my lens into any more shell-shocked faces, don’t want to pry details from people who’ve yet to process abomination, don’t want to profile grieving parents or question breathless bystanders ever again. Chances are, though, I’ll have to, and without a doubt, you’ll watch. In fact, you’ll lean into your screen and witness more than you really want to. It’s human nature, after all. But at what point do we put aside our voyeuristic vices and start asking the hard questions that may one day quell this uniquely American monstrosity?

I guess now is still not the time…

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

News Crew Winter Olympics

Like you, I’ve been cracking out on the Winter Olympics and while I’ve thrilled at the sight of young athletes pushing themselves to the extreme, I can’t help but wonder what the games would look like if they let MY PEOPLE compete…

Laptop Luge - Photog straps self onto a rickety contraption made of old TV antennas, clenches wi-fi hotspot thingie between teeth and slides down an icy embankment while editing a minute-fifteen news story on an outdated laptop. Points scored only if news story successfully uploaded by time of inevitable crash. Story coherence of no concern. Extra points awarded if antenna-sled deemed reusable.

Cross-Country Schlep - Endurance event in which a young MMJ physically carries the entire contents of a chief photog's news unit across a frozen wasteland pockmarked with old fast food bags and broken glass. Extra points awarded if MMJ manages to live tweet entire journey. Dropped gear and/or any uploaded horizontal selfies equal automatic disqualification.

Squirreling - Doubles event in which two TV News photographers scramble across semi-frozen pond while sliding 70's era camera batteries back and forth to each other. Photogs must do so while cradling cell phone between ear and shoulder as disembodied voice quizzes them on their progress. Points deducted for overt swearing. First photog to reach shore with most batteries wins. Any medals earned will be presented to anchors back at the station.

Freestyle Skating - 'Seniors' event in which aging noon anchors navigate an indoor course consisting of rotting office cubicles, bored co-workers and broken Keurig machines. Points scored by number of self-serving anecdotes shared with co-workers. Judges can reward extra points if said competitor distracts deskies long enough to miss structure fire scanner traffic.  Infighting encouraged.

News Crew Quadrathlon - Team event in which reporter and photographer are dispatched to four separate counties in a badly-neglected live truck. News Crew must produce two separate stories on two separate subjects and go live(!) a minimum of four times. Crew not allowed to consume heated food during entirety of event and must complete the course at least an hour and a half from starting point... Wait, that's no Olympic Event… that was Tuesday!  

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Snooze at Eleven

I've been working the early morning shift lately and there's a certain proclivity I noticed among all my colleagues...

Morning show people talk about their afternoon naps the way fitness buffs brag about going to the gym:

"I tripped over an ottoman during Judge Judy and laid there for three hours. Totally crushed it!"

"Not me, I plan my naps with military precision. Twelve thirty to four is MY time. The wife gets mad when I take the batteries out of the smoke detectors. She just doesn't understand me..."

"Yeah, well after lunch I was scraping bird crap off my driveway and just lost consciousness. Woke up in the upside down with the kids from Stranger Things circling me on bicycles. At least I think that's what happened..."

Truth is, it takes years of training and sacrifice to master the Midday Face Mash.  Whether you're changing light bulbs, lying face down in the bathtub or on the Skype machine with Aunt Hilda, when the point of collapse approaches, you HAVE to stick the landing. Of course, perfect execution of this age old feat requires silence between the synapses, a looping stupor that other folks have to linger on sketchy street corners to score.  Do it right and you can damn near time travel. Or at least feel like it when you come to hours later with two dimes and a Cheeto stuck to your face.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to wrap myself in blackout curtains and crawl into the attic.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Born to Blurt

A deep dip of the lens to UK cameraman Christian Parkinson for having me on his Image Junkies Podcast. Christian's a tour de force on his own side of the pond and no stranger to life behind the lens. As for our chat, I was sleep-deprived at the time yet happy to be asked to blather. Recent events have left me with that burning urge to write again and I'll take this interview as the kick in the ass I need to get started. Give it a listen if you will, and know that I don't sound quite as Southern inside my own head. Thanks again, Christian. Next time, I promise to know exactly what kind of camera I use. What do you expect from an absent-minded word nerd?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Tiny Giant

Garlon Pittman was well into his thirties when he met the love of his life. The confirmed bachelor soon married Brenda and, without hesitation, gave her two young sons his last name. How his life must have changed. Richard and I were budding hellions and by the time a third son, Joseph, came along, Garlon's days were no longer his own. 

He never seemed to mind though, guiding his noisy new brood with a firm hand and a wisdom beyond his words. Way back in the 70's, when he knew Richard and I were saving money to buy sleeping bags, he told us to look in his car for a couple of bucks we could have. What we found there were two brand new sleeping bags. It sounds trivial, but to my brother and me, those sleeping bags were launching pads for our imagination, portals to adventure. Garlon understood this, and it remained unclear who took more pleasure from the purchase: us or him. 

For more than 35 years Garlon worked for Sears Roebuck as an appliance repairman. Dishwashers, refrigerators, washers and dryers - he could fix em all. I know this because people from all over Saulston would call him asking fo help on their homemade repairs. I have many memories of him cradling the phone while we ate dinner. You see that white wire, he would say, clip it and attach it to slot B... no not the red wire, the white one. Trouble was, he knew his appliances too well. He’d have that thing fixed and be off the phone before I could finish raking my butter beans into a napkin. 

Garlon believed in the value of hard work and he taught his boys to appreciate it too. We shucked corn, dug potatoes and raked acres of pine straw. I used to swear we had the cleanest ditches in town, because he was always handing me a garden hoe and telling me to go clean out that back ditch. He instilled in his sons a work ethic that benefits us to this very day. 

In the army, Garlon was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis. It would plague him the rest of life, making it painful to move and sometimes impossible to sleep. He suffered mostly in silence. In the early 80’s, alcohol nearly got the best of him. So he went to rehab - long before it was fashionable  - and beat that demon. He came home thicker, quicker and more involved in our lives than ever before.

He and my mother remained married for nearly fifty years. In that time, he herded three unruly punks through adolescence and into full adulthood. Eventually, each son repaid the favor with a gaggle of grandchildren who adored him. I can’t tell you how much fun it was watching the man who once towered over me with a garden hoe sit somewhere low and play with his grand-kids. As the number of grandkids grew, Garlon Pittman grew ever more benevolent, delighting in the family around him and treating Brenda like the blessing she is.

When Garlon passed away Monday, it brought to an end seven years of living with Alzheimer's. It was tough watching him go through that. Our only solace was knowing that Garlon, or as we knew him, Dad, understood just how much he meant to us. He knew because we told him. What went unexpressed was the way in which he somehow made three very different boys grow up to be better men. 

Just like him.