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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Stretching — It’s Not Just Your Workout

Stretching is good for you. We stretch when we wake up in the morning. It helps shake loose the cobwebs. We stretch before we exercise; it’s supposed to enhance our performance. When we were teenagers, we faked a stretch to get our arm around the cheerleader we took to the movies because it disguised our true intentions. Hell, these days, I stretch before a perp walk. Pookie can duck and cover pretty fast when four lenses are aimed at him.

Stretching in our daily work is different. Who really wants to think hard enough tell that City Council story differently? We’ve told that crime story so many times, we could shoot it in our sleep and still have time for a full hour lunch. And what does it really matter?

About a month ago, reporter Elizabeth Vowell presented me with a story that would have me stretching every creative fiber in my body tighter than the waistband of Chris Christie’s boxers. Liz is a rare and emerging breed in the newsroom: reporter who can write her ass off and knows her way around a baby cam and a laptop editor. If she was asking for help, I knew she was on to something good.

Her pitch was simple enough. She had been talking with a mother who, 30 years ago, had been a heroin addict. She kicked the drug without an organized rehab program. Now, her 25-year-old daughter was walking in those same footsteps. They had agreed to open their home, their lives, and their hearts. It was a story I knew Liz could handle on her own, but she had me salivating to tell it. Then she hit me with the one caveat. They wished to remain anonymous.

That first day, Liz and I must have talked for close to a half hour about the importance of viewers being able to identify with “Donna” and “Anna” from the first few seconds of the story. That meant making them normal people living everyday lives just like the rest of us. They had to be real. That meant no fuzzy digital effects. Shooting the interviews in silhouette would be the easy part. The stretching would come in when we had to cover what we thought would be a 3-4 minute story (It came in just short of 6:30.) with no faces.

The bigger problem, if we wanted this to be real, would be video to talk about the drug, addiction, and counseling — none of which we would have ready access to.

Again, trying to keep it real for people in Baton Rouge, we decided cheesy network video of seedy flop houses somewhere in the Northeast was not for us. We would have to get creative. Taking Anna through her old haunts was out because those places would likely trigger her need for the drug.

What we came up with was a subtle symbolism. We would use dead trees, barren branches, and the general decay of area of town where Anna bought her drugs to help us through some of the rough patches in the story.

I came up with a few tricks to get us around the addiction and recovery talk, but it wasn’t without a lot of trail and error. It all sounds simple when it’s laid out like this, but there were many false starts and failed attempts along the way. (Like the day I drowned a GoPro LSU Lake without it’s waterproof housing.)

When the edit was done, my brain was fried, and my creative muscles ached. They don’t get a workout like that every day. But it was good to stretch them. And the end result was something Donna and Anna deserved.

But the best thing about all this stretching is that it started to rub off on the daily stories I shot while we were working on Donna and Anna’s story. Once you train your mind to stretch, it tends to want more of it. So maybe stretching does improve performance after all.

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Philosophy 101

IMG_0581I was sitting there. Waiting on a perp. . . . Okay, I was standing. . . . Alone. No intern to chat up. No misanthrope from the competition to kvetch with. Not even a Public Information Officer to eyeball at me through mirrored shades.

With too many layers of clothes to comfortably gaze into my navel, and too much time to kill, what’s a photog to do but wax philosophical?

Barton, Anderson, Wertheimer, Gross, Jones, Rose; I’ve studied at the feet of the masters for literally half my life.  In one blog post, I will try to answer the questions that have plagued the photog nation since the the very first shooter SOTcrotes philosophized “No photog uses tripod willingly.” (What can I say; it was a long wait.)

If a perp walks to a police car, and there are no cameras there for him to spit at, does he make a sound? This is actually a thought experiment that challenges a photog’s powers of observation and his knowledge of reality. A houseboy may think that since there is no photog to document the lobbed lung butter that sound would be impossible. But the astute vidiot not only knows that a freshly cuffed criminal always flaps his gums, but that said shooter had better catch it in Digital Dolby Surround Sound for his reporter shall surely not write to it.

Why? The longest running of all philosophical questions has perplexed more learned minds than mine. But any photog worth his 2x extender knows the answer: Because a consultant told a producer to. Thus, even a thinking man’s shooter, finds himself standing in gale-force winds, hurtling down snow-covered interstates, hanging on the corner with Pookie and Ray-Ray, and live from dark closet.

What is the nature of photog? Plato, Socrates, Augustine, they all dealt with good and evil. As a street philosopher, I call bullshit. Photogs don’t deal in such esoteric debates. The nature of photog is reality. Producers can drone on about how great a live Christmas tree lighting or fireworks extravaganza would look at the top of their show, and send some poor schlub out to make it happen for them. A photog knows it will never happen. He also knows that if he raises the possibility of things in real life not timing out to a stacker’s carefully planned idea of how he would like reality to conform, said shooter will be tagged as an antagonist and earn more useless live shots in the future as punishment. So the photog keeps his mouth shut and quietly watches as things unravel one minute before the show.

When’s lunch? It’s truly as philosophical as a shooter gets. As a realist, he knows that philosophy is as useless on the streets as that Ken Dimplecheek’s can of hairspray is during hurricane coverage. And the answer to this question is: It aint lunch till the desk says it’s lunch.

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Snow Day!

Christmas ElfFar be it for me to complain about the news business — that social institution that brings such merriment and goodwill into homes each evening. If you think the steady dose of blood, guts, crime, corruption, lies, and smut (and that’s just on the capitol beat) disgusts you, imagine what it does to the hardworking mules and hairdos that wallow in that crap to earn their daily bread. It’s enough to turn even the cheeriest intern into a grumbling cynic in one semester.

Add to that the fact that television stations, like hospitals, never close, and it’s workers have to slave through the holiday season and miss the family’s roast beast. Instead of boozing it up with the rest of civilization on New Year’s Eve, TV folk must remain sober so their cameras can be in focus when you plow through the city’s nativity scene.

Needless to say, holidays in the news media aint that joyous. Oh, I try to do my part. Every year I write a Christmas carol for all the folks in the newsroom to try to force people into a jolly damned mood.

1978-Blizzard-Makes-a-Comeback-This-Time-It-s-Called-NemoLet it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Oh the weather outside is frightful
My producer is so insightful
And she’s got no other news for her show
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

No time for Christmas shopping
‘Cuz the storms they keep a popping
I got a live shot at the top of the show
Fuck the Snow! Fuck the snow! Fuck the snow!

When the anchorman says good-night
I’ll still be standing out in the storm!
Cuz a photog’s got no life
And no one to keep him warm.

His soul is slowly dying
And the stacker soon starts her crying
I need another shot for my show
Fuck the Snow! Fuck the snow! Fuck the snow!

Here’s wishing all you newsies a snow-free, wreck-less, fire retardant, controversy proof, yule tide.


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Wing Girl

Never realized I liked chick-lit. But it’s sarcastic as hell, so I get a pass.

Rick Is Not Writing . . . again

I knew Nic Tatano before he was Nic Tatano.

He and I were colleagues during my formative years as a television storyteller. The dude’s got a dry wit and a sarcastic tongue sharp enough to shave with. (Now there’s an image you want while eating your bagel.) It helped that we were both trapped in television news hell. We both knew he wasn’t long for local news.

Now the dude I used to snicker at has the whole world laughing at him . . . or at least he hopes to. See, NIc has taken all that stuff he knew about the whack-jobs inside the newsroom and the New York bar scene and turned it into a romantic comedy . . . with a twist, of course.

9780007548583Wing Girl turns the dating world on it’s head. Belinda Carson is a hard-nosed investigative reporter by day and an attention magnet…

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Positively Neutral

1235486_10201351624165473_1061309330_nIt started as an experiment. A dare of sorts. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you know what I mean. Since January 1, I’ve been Mister Positive, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark universe. Alas, the boss has informed me that my incessant uplifting messages are ethically questionable.

It seems that in my fervor to find the brighter side of life’s little disappointments, I have failed to be fair to all other sides of the situation.

Looking back over 9 months of positivity, it is clear I’ve been a bad journalist. As early as January 9 when I posted. Positive update #33: Backed up toilet story! MY LUCKY DAY!!!! 

I thought I was simply psyching myself up to tackle a nasty project. I was forgetting the first rule of journalism, objectivity. What about all the toilets that were not backed up? What about all the other stories that I would not tell that day? Should I really be excited over a turd in someone’s living room? What about all the toilets that flushed properly on that rainy day. Sadly, I took a side, and I apologize to the newsgods.

And again on January 12, I posted: Positive Update #45: Breaking News. STAY INSIDE!!! Bright heavenly orb warms skin and makes eyes water! If you must exit your home, Use Caution! I thought sunshine after 17 days of rain was something positive. I failed to consider all the work boatbuilders and animal wranglers were doing in preparation for the global flood, and gave them short-shrift. It was nearsighted of me, and I apologize.

On February 15, I thought the end of racial acrimony in our city was a thing to celebrate and posted this: PositiveUpdate#225: News irony! Black community rallies against black mayor for firing white police chief . . . named White! I forgot about all the white supremacists that watch the news and ask that they forgive my lack of balance in that post.

325I also apologize for all those happy posts from the capitol during the latest legislative session: PositiveUpdate#507: I get to go back to the capitol again today! So if you see me wearing a goofy smirk, just shoot me. It was careless of me to add to the partisan attitude in the state house by only shedding light on the positive. I hope my negative brothers from the other side of the aisle will accept my sincerest apology and that we can go forward together in complete neutrality.

The summer was no different. On August 14, I posted: PositiveUpdate#952: I’M GOING TO THE CIRCUS!!!! Well, Port Allen City Council, same thing. It was shallow of me to take joy in my good fortune to take in the spectacle of the Port Allen City Council with such frenzy. I rubbed salt in the wound of all those who could not be there for the “witch hunt” and “acquisitions.”

1005338_10201351623685461_152351036_nAnd as recent as September 11, I ran afoul of journalistic objectivity. PositiveUpdate#1057: Record-setting pace by the EBR Metro council! 3 committees appointed in 1 meeting!  It was wrong of me to slight all the bad legislation the council actually passed that evening by only highlighting the good things the council failed to pass.

I know that a single blog post can never atone for the damage I have done to my professional reputation over the past 8+ months. I ask for your indulgence, and the indulgences of the news gods while I begin making amends.

Never again will I post anything positive, or negative for that matter. From now on call me Mr. Neutral.

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