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Orange is the New Choice

I'm sitting at a crossroads again. I say, again, because before I became most of what I am now (a news photographer), I dabbled and showed some promise at being a writer and/or a still photographer.

Still photography will always be a hobby (wait, what?) and I have no regrets there, but writing, now that would have made for an interesting alternative.

This past weekend, my lovely wife and I visited the Robert Berman Gallery for a reception and showing of a man who actually is a still photographer.

Sorry for the blurry shot (Ha-ha, not really, I like blurry shots), but that older guy in the middle of the frame is a photographer. That's Murray Garrett.

Murray Garrett made a career out of being a celebrity photographer. I don't think you'd call him a papparrazzi. My understanding is that he was mostly invited into the lives of stars in order to take pictures.

Invited because he was a classy guy who wasn't out to make anyone look bad. He had integrity and I assume discretion about his subject matter.

Well, seeing the work of Murray Garrett reminded me how much I missed my own modest artistic endeavors.

Work days have been filled with less opportunities to shoot. I still love my news job and being assigned to the political beat, I'm even happier than I was when every assignment was a new adventure. I find the work is more of a challenge and my focus is actually required.

In the course of my day, I have little time to point and click and even less time to string together a sentence or more.

But there's hope.

Tthere is potential in my life to carve out more of an opportunity to do those things which I had put aside.

Having squandered decades of time on trivial matters (raising a family and earning a living), I find myself in the very cool position of having enough (for now) of most of what I need.

My bills are paid and I seem to even have a small, but glorious amount of time. So, the questions regarding who I want to be, could possibly finally diffinitively maybe be answered.

That's what I'm thinking about this morning.

Every time I've found myself at this particular crossroads, I made the decision to follow the route that was lined with steady pay, good benefits and surprisingly few holidays off.

In my opinion, my choices have been pretty spectacularly awesome and have worked out mostly in my favor.

(Say what you want about my orange tie, I chose it because I knew it would make my wife happy.)

Well, that's enough rambling for one morning. In my melodramatic way, I was just trying to get the idea across that I'm feeling the urge to do more writing. Not just blogging, not just dabbling at screenplays, but honest to goodness dedicating my life to being a writer (slash) news photographer instead of a news photographer (slash) writer (slash) everything else that I do that makes it more difficult for me to be a writer.

I described my life as being at a crossroads.  A precipice metaphor might be the better image.

The seventeenth of October is not just a date on the calendar.

Getting on-air when you’re hired behind the scenes

It’s a dilemma faced by many on the hunt for a reporting or anchoring job.  Do you take an off-air position as a producer or work on the website to get your foot in the door?  Or do you reject any opportunity that doesn’t involve doing your dream job?

Talent coach Nick Dalley says there are variables to consider.

“Does the ND see such a transition in the cards at all? Does he/she have something personal against non on-air people becoming on-air  — that is, has it been tried before with unsuccessful consequences?” asks Dalley.

WTVA news director Dave Beech says producers can become excellent reporters.  Photo by Christina Jones.

WTVA news director Dave Beech says producers can become excellent reporters. Photo by Christina Jones.

Dave Beech is news director at WTVA in Tupelo, Mississippi.  He says working an off-air job first can be a bonus.

“I have always found in my career that reporters who start off as producers, for two or three years, make the best reporters and the best producers start off as reporters ,” said Beech, “A really good producer has that reporting background and the really good reporters have that producing background. “

Another variable is the candidate’s approach to the job, according to Dalley.  Are you the type of person who is willing to go over and above consistently so as to make yourself attractive?  That may mean coming in early, staying late and illustrating qualities that will make you seem seem indispensable.

That’s what Christina Garcia did when she was hired as a Web producer at WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Her background was in print journalism at the University of South Alabama, but she had interned at WKRG in Mobile and got the job at WLOX in 2011.  From that moment on, she tried to learn every job in the newsroom to make herself a more valuable employee.

“While I was working as a Web producer, I would put in extra time on my weekends, I would go out with the reporters, I would sit and watch the anchors and I would sit and learn everything I possibly could,’ said Garcia.

Garcia is now anchoring the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts, and Dalley says her path is one other job candidates can walk.

“Keep your axe sharp. Meet the talent coach. As a talent coach, it’s always impressive to me to have someone come up and ask for five minutes of feedback. I rarely refuse if it’s at all possible,” said Dalley.  “Short of this, ask people who did get coaching what the coach went over in the session. Ask for coaching from the ND or the EP.  Sometimes five minutes can be very effective.”

Dalley says it’s also important to keep lines of communication open with the news director — make sure he or she knows of your aspirations.

“Overall, I think it’s a good idea to have a strategy,” Dalley said.  “… give oneself a time-limit to achieve benchmarks. If the goal isn’t being reached, it may have nothing to do with the newcomer, it may have to do with things that are completely out of his/her control.  At the point it’s apparent that the goal just can’t be reached at this particular station no matter what, it’s time to move on.”

Garcia was so busy that Dr. Nancy Dupont, who contributed to this post, had to talk to her while she was putting on makeup for the 6′clock show with meteorologist Mike Reader.  WTVA producer intern Christina Sallis also contributed to this post.


Clique to Enlarge

Witness for once the scrum undone. A wretched stretch of loiterers, sporting recordists and slot-makers, all poised to pounce should an overpaid athlete drop from the ceiling, or a free buffet open down the hall. Mostly though, they just sit there, trading batteries, alibis and fart jokes. A love of lanyards is their dominant trait, sarcasm their native tongue. They travel alone or in pairs, dragging their contraptions from sidelines to half-court to the locker room. After the hunt, they gather in noisy hordes, the clatter of their prattle giving every rent-a-cop within two square blocks a sudden and insistent case of the runs.

They are ... The Ploparazzi.

That's right: I just made up a word. But what else do you call this gallery of rogues? Lens Grifters? Paid Knockabouts? Licensed Wisenheimers? They all fit, but don't judge these jokers by the cop of their squat, for the scabs on their elbows have better war stories than you. After all, these jaded souls have witnessed the joy of victory and the agony of defeat - often while nursing their own saddle sores. (Hey, YOU sit cross-legged under a basketball hoop for two hours with a boat anchor on your shoulder, or dodge a cross-eyed running back as they tries his bet to spread your skeleton across the end zone.) Better yet, plant your keister on the couch and watch the world through the snipers' eyes, for not only have they provided fodder for countless newspapers, magazines and SportsCenter, they've vexed Presidents, humbled heads of state and slathered indelible images across the human consciousness.

Not bad for a bunch of guys (and gals) in cargo shorts.

(Thanks to AP photog extraordinaire Chuck Burton for this way cool panoramic of news crews waiting to interview the coaches of the ACC. Click and enlarge to see who YOU recognize. Look, there's Jelly in the middle!)

The importance of follow-up questions

News conferences are part of every journalist’s work life. Some reporters can’t go a week without covering several–largely because the newsmakers on their beat hold group sessions regularly but rarely schedule one-on-ones.

It’s not easy to get good material from a news conference, but some journalists are skilled at it. What’s their secret? Good follow-ups.

Bob Holt (above right, in blue shirt) covers sports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is known as the king of the follow-up. If he doesn’t get a good answer to a question, “he’ll ask it three or four different ways,” Ron Higgins of the New Orleans Times-Picayune told  

There’s a fine line between pressing for an answer and just hogging time, but Holt appears to have avoided alienating his colleagues by combining a “folksy Midwest charm and aggressive interviewing methods.”

People kind of make fun of me for, I don’t know, wearing people down. I’m not comparing myself to [late CBS newsman] Mike Wallace at all, but if you ask someone enough questions … I just have a natural curiosity that I think every reporter should have. I just like to ask questions.

Those questions are carefully researched and planned, and that’s the real key to Holt’s success. He also packs a lot of confidence and doesn’t take it personally when a coach takes offense at a question.

My thing is if a coach will give me access, then I don’t mean he can kick me in the face or anything, but if I have access, I don’t mind a coach unloading on me. As long as there’s a give and take to it. As a matter of fact, a lot of times it can be pretty healthy.

After more than 30 years on the sports beat, Holt has earned the right to ask more than one follow-up. The next time you cover a news conference, take note of the best answers and then look at the question that led to the answer. There’s an art to asking productive questions, and it can be learned.


They See Me Rollin…

How NOT to get ahead in broadcasting: be seen yukking it up in a station vehicle. Just ask the putz driving the news cruiser recently seen losing a race at the Albuquerque Dragway (a slash of asphalt presumably reachable only after one left turn).

UPDATE! Web sources reveal the news crew was actually shooting a feature story on drag racing and, ahem, needed point of view footage! That changes EVERYTHING! Still, do as I do and keep it chill behind the wheel. That way you'll be around to drop knowledge on a generation of news nerds, instead of rushing headlong into such a brazen career move. Remember...

Seven Good Reasons NOT to Drag Race That News Car. 

7.) Two Words: Condiment dislodgement. Even if you do make it to Victory Lane, you'll surely be slathered in petrified ketchup, Starbucks stir sticks and dozens of unread press releases.

6.) Those door stickers are only rated for 70 MPH. Lose 'em and you'll have to explain to your News Director why the custom wrap job he had to pay for out of his budget is now draped across a scarecrow outside Meth Valley Mobile Home Park.

5.) Top out in fourth gear and that dealer recall your station didn't tell you about is gonna cause the windshield to implode.  You'll know when it happens...

4.) Take home whatever women is impressed with THAT performance and that video below won't be the only thing only going viral.

3.) No one ever made anchor after getting caught racing news units. Well, there was that one dude.

 2.) Eighteen seconds of dragway adulation isn't worth losing the chance to work every single holiday for the rest of your life. Or is it?

And finally, the Number One Reason NOT to Drag Race That News Car...

1.)  It ain't yours.

Hell to Quell

And so begins a NEW chapter in The Book of Lenslinger, in which our elusive news shooter sheds his street cred for a peek at the bigger picture...


Weathered SlingerWhen last I left you, my head was in a fog. Some days, it still is. But if eighteen months of lurching uncertainty have taught me anything, it's that 'Living in the Past' is a better Jethro Tull album than recipe for glee. Ya feel me? Probably not. Doesn't matter. I'm writing for myself these days. When I'm writing at all. Once upon a time, frothy blather dripped from my every pore and formed unsettled puddles of snark.

No more. Now, I struggle with where to begin and how to end. What gives? I use to dry-fart shiny passages while waiting for stoplights to change. Hell, I once sneezed an entire thesis while ordering take-out! These days, I can't so much as scribble a grocery list without struggling over tone. What gives? Why can a guy who used to churn out words at a dizzying clip find himself unable to jot down a web address without hours of soul-searching? It's simple, really....


If you can't understand how such a thing can affect one's literary output, you've obviously never had your soul stepped on.  I have - the day my beautiful wife announced she didn't want to be my beautiful wife anymore. To say it shook me to the core is underselling it. I curled up into a fetal ball and wept for the better part of a year. After a great deal of wallowing, I got up off that floor and followed some of the smartest people I knew straight down the interstate. That's right, if the collapse of a twenty-three year marriage wasn't enough personal upheaval, I decided to leave a job I truly loved. Which is why you'll find me ninety minutes south of the Piedmont, thrusting lenses into the hands of Millennials and pleading for a little sequencing. You guessed it...

I turned house-cat.

Officially, my title is 'News Operations Manager'. It's a lofty appellation, alright, but after seven months of equipping young journalists with all the tools of television, it's one I'm comfortable with. And now that I'm seemingly secure in my new surroundings, I'd like to get back to writing again. 'About what?' you ask. TV News, of course. It's what I've always written about and for the past half  year I've been preaching my prose to a collection of twenty-somethings - most of whom have never even heard of 'Lenslinger'. I'd like to change that and this long-delayed blog post is the first wobbly step in that direction...

So join me, won't you, in my renewed efforts to get my mojo back. I greatly appreciate all the reader e-mail I've received - even the ones calling me a coward for staying quiet so long. I have no idea where this blog will go next, but I can assure you, it's going somewhere. The tone may change, the bitterness will surely fade - but I promise you I'll call it like I see it (at least as much as I can I can while staying employed). Whether or not you'll join me remains to be seen, but in the end it doesn't matter. A writer's gotta write, a bird's gotta sing and this bruised news shooter simply has to run his mouth on-line.

Stay tuned...