I Don’t Know How

The rain pounded on the roof of my live truck. It was the first time in 12 days that I had time to think — to process what has happened in my city.

A man was killed by police.

I stood in the midst of protests, the likes of which I never thought I would see in my town. I watched angry citizens taunt and curse police in full riot gear. I watched police force people off the streets.

I stood between police and protesters, my camera in hand and live unit on my back, broadcasting images of police snatching people who would not comply off the streets, while others pleaded for calm and peace.

I watched peaceful protests devolve into brick-throwing right outside my television station.

I saw my community mourn and bury a man who did not have to die.

And today, I was shaken from my bed by a phone call. Officers shot.

I watched police officers swallow their pain, their anger, their fear, and go to work protecting the public.

I watched children deliver flowers, parents bring food and drinks in gratitude and support.

And as I sat inside my live truck, watching the rain blur the scenes playing out in front of me, I tried to pray.

I couldn’t.

I wanted to pray for the officers, their families, all of our police, deputies, and troopers, my community, my state, my family, my news colleagues. For peace, for safety, for healing.

I didn’t know how.

If you can spare one, Baton Rouge could use a prayer.

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Hobo Video

Where did you edit your story yesterday?

13256392_10154234491049602_3477757544464348415_nI won’t bore you with the details of how I came to be squatting under a bridge with my best Troll impersonation. (Dead bodies in the median of a heavily-travelled interstate will to that to a photog.) What I will tell you is that you have not lived until you try to edit under a an overpass, in rush hour traffic, in the rain.

I can think of more exotic places to work. Like the time I had a reporter track his audio between two dumpsters stuffed to the gills with rotting fish. (I told him it was to keep the wind off the mic. I actually just wanted to see if he’d do it.) Or the time I edited nearly naked in a bucking satellite truck in the eyewall of a hurricane. (You really don’t want to know.) Or there was that time I spread out on the hood of the car in sub-freezing temps to send high school football highlights to the sports goob.

So, yeah, under a bridge in the cool breeze and exhaust fumes might not be such a bad place to spend an afternoon slicing and dicing crime tape. Sure, I could have hopped into my news steed. Trouble is, I hit the median so early, it got roped inside the yellow ribbon. Good thing I grabbed my laptop before I jumped out. (The web guys are finicky about getting video first on breaking news.

13254446_10208074233026493_2472294517692796504_nSo, when the producer dialed me up for 90 seconds of video for the early show, I did what any overworked photog might. I dropped everything and went to work. Okay, I bitched first, then I went to work.

With a pile of dirt under one corner, and a wifi hotspot under the other, to level the laptop, I pecked and prodded my antique computer until it spit out something that resembled moving pictures of a crime scene. Then did it all over again for the evening news.

13092133_1178118268879352_3372140686567692594_nThat’s when my buddy from the competition, who had been complaining about the smell for more than an hour, chimed in. I told him he just needed a bath.

He pointed overhead.

Who knew bats lived under interstate bridges? Overhead, peeps and bleats rang out as the night flyers began to rouse for their evening’s work. Also overhead, spread far and wide across each bridge support, was a thick, viscous, brown-green trail of guano.

I had been editing in dried batshit!

13239007_10208074144104270_8791861400785268803_n-2Turdpolishing in a pile of turds, if you will.

With another newscast to feed, there’s nothing for an overworked photog to do, but improvise.  Hope the hobo who squatted here last night doesn’t mind me stealing his mattress.

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Oh, The Places You Will Go (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

DSC_0032See the world, they said,
Far-off lands from books you’ve read.
Beautiful sights, and strange food to be fed.
See the country, blue, white, and the red.
But this is what they should have said.

Oh, the places you will go! There’s news to be made!
There’s a beast to be fed! There’s a soul left to jade!
And the magical things you can do with your lens
will make you the envy of all of your friends.
Fame! You’ll be as infamous as infamy can be
in the scum-sucking, boot-licking world of TV.

062/365 Subterranean Photog

Squeeze yourself under an abandoned house
Just don’t disturb the slumbering lout.
That homeless man collects garbage and cans.
But dresses better than that photog man.

Oh, the places you will go! Just to fill the stacker’s show.
High and low, and to and fro.
Across the sands and thru the snow,
oh the places you will go.

floating turds

Dive head-first in a pool of cess
You’ll come out a terrible mess.
But it’s the price of free access,
so jump again and do your best.

garbage truck

Or try your luck on a garbage truck.
Slop through marsh and mire and muck.
All to make your lousy buck.
Reporter’s help? Yeah, good luck.

anchorman smackdown

Too the crime-scene you will shuffle.
Be sure to catch the anchorman kerfuffle.
Pack a bag, a cooler, a duffle.
A storm’s a brewin’ and off you’ll shuffle.

You’ll be live. Miss lunch and dinner.
But your waistline won’t get thinner.
A Snickers bar is what’s for dinner.
And Mountain Dew, it’s a winner.

3/365 don't even ask

Oh, the places you will go, just to fill the stacker’s show.
Warm or cool or cold or hot.
Just don’t ever miss your slot.
A babe’s been hit, a homie shot
Pan it smooth, your camera’s hot.

It’s 1 A.M. You’re in dreamland.
Someone robbed the donut man.
So out the door, camera in hand.
No reporter. You’re a one-man-band.

moon over parkinglot

Oh, the hours you will keep. Oh the hours you won’t sleep.
Oh the tears you wife will weep.
and your kids that you won’t see.
You’ll lose your friends. They don’t understand
the rules that apply to TV land.

See the world? Yes you will.
but not the places that feed a thrill.
The dirty, the nasty, the bad, the ill.
And still not pay your monthly bills.

005/365 Office View

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Heroes are Human

How do you cover a story that hits too close to home?

578427_10152686500310192_801740525_nPaul Gates was a journalistic giant. For more than thirty years, his investigations shined a light on the dark side of politics, business, and law enforcement, and sent state officials, and con-men to jail.

He was a master of the ambush interview. He knew where the powerful and shady liked to hide, and he would show up, camera in tow, to demand answers. Paul was passionate about finding the truth and speaking it to the powerful. He was the only journalist I ever worked with who could badger a bully caught with his hand in the cookie jar and never once forget the manners him momma taught him.

He was a reporter’s reporter. Tireless on the hunt for justice for the little guy. And photogs knew if they worked with Paul they would have a story to tell at the end of the day.

But as serious as he took his job as a reporter and anchor, he could still play the befuddled sidekick to the world-famous chef who joined him to cook on the set twice a week.

That is what endeared him to so many in the Capitol Region.

Around the newsroom, we were just as likely to see Paul wrapped in a feather boa talking to his many pet rocks as poring over a three-inch stack of documents from the Used Car Commission. And the one-liners he slipped into his scripts just for the editors are the stuff of legend.

Paul was a one-man blooper reel and one hell of a serious journalist. That’s what endeared him to everyone in the station.

That’s why it was such a shock when he announced his retirement four years ago. Doctors had diagnosed Paul with Alzheimer’s. He left us to be with his family and fight this insidious disease.

I was with Paul on his last investigative interview. It was clear to me something was not right. He had trouble keeping some of the facts straight and staying on subject. It was hard to watch a champion go out that way.

11110401_10152921590753823_5884324282693316050_nHardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask, “How’s Paul?”

This week, we got to visit with Paul and his family. The news is not good. Alzheimer’s has ravaged the giant we all knew. He didn’t remember any of the crew. He had to ask what the camera were, and after a few minutes, it was clear he did not know what he was saying while he was saying it.

But every once in a while, just for a second, the haze would clear, and a flash of the old Paul would shine through. We could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. It gave us hope, and crushed our spirits.

It’s hard to realize your heroes are human. They bleed. They cry. They grow old. And they forget their glory. How’s Paul is one of the hardest stories I’ve ever had to tell.

Paul and his family sure could use you good thoughts and your prayers. As well as anyone else fighting his same fight.

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I’m Too Old For This Shit

murtaughYeah, it’s a cheesy cliche, but Roger Murtaugh knew what he was talking about.

I turned 50 this week, and while, with the help of modern medicine, that may be no great accomplishment, it did cause me to stop and think. I doubt I’ll live to be 100, so that means I’m already half dead.

At 50, I’ve already spent more than half my life under the heavy glass. My fancycam has been my ticket to the front row of history in-the-making. It’s given me unfettered access to the good, the bad, and plenty of ugly. I’ve watched the inept rise and move on, and the truly talented stifled at nearly every turn.

I’ve seen grunts burn out and stars fade away, and I’ve seen some of the most passionate people I know knocked down, chewed up, and spit out at noon only to pick themselves up and do it all again at 5, 6, and 10.

spit-seq-4I’m not a bright man, but I’ve learned a few things in this business we call news.

Llamas aren’t the only animals that spit. Phlegm may not be your first choice of ammo for a pre-emptory strike, then again, you’ve probably never been handcuffed and paraded before the local paparazzi. If you had, you would know not even the free donuts at the mayor’s monthly debrief can inspire photogs move like a flying gob of lung butter. 

MTE5NTU2MzE2MzA4MTQ1Njc1Murderers are people too. I don’t care how many people he’s accused of killing, that mugshot of Charles Manson-Bundy the cops just sent over aint gonna be enough for your boss. He wants to know who this guy is, and he’s sending you to talk to the one who knows him best, Momma Manson-Bundy. She’s only too happy to tell you through her tears that the PO-lice have it all wrong. Chuckie is a good boy. Why just last week, he stopped selling crack to first graders, went back to church, and vowed to begin taking care of his seven babies. Your boss will salivate over this news and present this version of little Chuckie to the masses.

20090928_EBraeden_contract_400x300Nothing is more important than Victor Newman. Don’t believe me? Interrupt Young and the Restless for 15 seconds and see what happens. I don’t care if Airforce One flew into the papal jet and the whole mess crashed into the local shopping mall on Black Friday. That shit can wait! Victor is about to tell us if he and Nikki are getting back together . . . or divorcing. I can’t remember which it is this week.

tumblr_m7lm8hvsTh1rbk41wo1_400Hair gel may come and go, but Aqua Net is forever. I don’t care what product your lensmeat chooses, moose, gel, or even Daper Dan, when Sally Goodhair needs her hair to look good in gale-force winds, I tell her “Go old school.” That shit produces a hair helmet that rivals the Israeli Iron Dome. And if it was good enough for all those hair bands, It’s good enough for you.

Nobody wants this job. Interns want to be associate producers. Associate producers want to be producers. Producers want to be reporters. Reporters want to be anchors. Anchors don’t want to work. Nobody wants to be a photog. Next to Assignment Editor, Photog is probably the most thankless job in the newsroom. But you didn’t get into this business for thanks. You did it for excitement and adventure. You did it to expose corruption and hold the powerful accountable; to get back stage at the best concerts and glad-hand the glitterati.

DCIM101GOPROYou got into this business to watch history as it’s made, to see things that other people dream of seeing. So what if that means peering one-eyed at bent sheet metal or an over-inflated ego most days. It is those two or three stories a year where everything comes together that stoke your fires and fuel your passion. It’s that really cool sequence that makes you forget about your rickety knees; that one soundbite that soothes your sore shoulder; that perfect closing shot that turns you giddy as your first day with your TK-76 and makes you want to go to work tomorrow.

That, and a hefty supply of bourbon.

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The Price of Fame

As a journalist, it’s good to be approachable. After all, we talk to people for a living, and all that face-to-face time creates for us a modicum of pesudo-celebrity that we learn to live with. Folks feel obliged to introduce themselves to their favorite news cutie, no matter where they find them.

As a photog, I only have to deal with it when I’m out in public with a hunk of lensmeat on my arm. Everyone has a story to tell, and we are the people they’re gonna tell it to — RIGHT NOW. Whether we like it or not. I suppose it’s one of those hazards of working in television.

IMG_0843Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met many fantastic people by simply being in proximity to a bubble-headed bleach blonde. But sometimes, I could do without the story of your great uncle’s last colonoscopy.

This week’s chance encounter over an Arby’s roast beef sandwich stands head and shoulders above the rest in the “Did He Really Just Tell Us That” category.

My reporter and I had paused from a hectic day chasing the Denham Springs glitterati. Someone had done something that somebody found offensive (or at the least in poor taste) and of course it was our job to expose it to the greater capitol region.

The exercise in inanity included tracking down people who either knew nothing of the events, or knew everything, but had no desire to air their soiled delicates for the world to see.

It was well past 2pm when our stomachs could take no more, and we made great haste to the nearest fast food that wouldn’t turn our arteries to concrete. The idea was to cram some roast beef down our necks and hit the streets for another dose of rejection.

I was ear-deep in my large Arby’s #1 when he approached. Bib overalls, dingy t-shirt, and a Git-R-Done ball cap with sprigs of gray peeking out around the edges. No doubt, the good ole boy wanted an autograph from my dinner date. It happens. You get used to it.

This living Jeff Foxworthy punchline walked straight up and stared me down like I had stolen his woman. Then he extended a hand and waited for me to drop my lunch and shake it.

He wanted to talk the ugly side of the camera?

My reporter was as surprised as I was, but I offered him my hand and introduced myself. He cut right to the chase. “Men’s Room is out of paper towels.”

That’s all he said. Then he and his wife left the restaurant. I went back to my meal, and my reporter tried to stifle a meat-and-cheese guffaw. Did he expect us to report on this? Or did I look like the custodian?

IMG_0844Either way, I couldn’t call myself a journalist and defender of freedom if I didn’t check it out. After swallowing my last bite, I headed toward the head. There, I found the paper towel dispenser sufficiently supplied. You don’t think he meant . . . And wait . . . I shook his hand?!?!?! I wonder how . . . It’s probably best I don’t over think this one.

I guess that’s the price of fame when you have a name like Turd.

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A Man of Men

The more I’m around people, the more I’m convinced that (besides politicians) news is the problem with the world.

It’s a lesson a shabby wanderer tried to teach me back in 1991. I was a cocky young lenslinger in search of bent sheetmetal and calamity. He, contrary to his appearance, was a man of some wealth who had set out to walk the perimeter of the United States with only a backpack, a walking stick, and a worn pair of Nikes.

It was for no purpose more nobel than meeting people.

As I backpedaled and tried to keep him in frame, he schooled me on what had learned less than four months into his journey. “People are fundamentally good. It’s you guys who are the problem.” News, he said, with it’s focus on crime, tragedy, and misery, paints a distorted picture of the world.

He had been traveling almost four months with very little cash, the clothes on his back, and a tent. He had relied on the kindness of strangers. And in almost every town, he found people (without asking) who offered him a meal, a bath, and a place to sleep.

I didn’t try to explain to him that a plane that lands safely or a bank that does not get robbed isn’t news, but I thought it. Still, his words stuck with me.

Last night, I got to atone for some of the misery and fear we spread nightly. It was a privilege and an honor.

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