Dinosaurs fighting for survival…

I slid into broadcast news in the summer of 1974 as part of a joint government/private enterprise program which allowed businesses to hire folks as interns, with half of the money coming from the government and half from the industry. Got paid the grand total of a buck fifty an hour to follow crazed people in small Toyotas with big hunky film cameras around in the summer heat…and it was an incredibly hot summer. The little Toyota station wagons that the KFSN (Fresno, CA) news crews used were ovens and often the air conditioners stuggled just to pass in warm air.

My first gig as an employee was at KXTV in Sacramento. Continued to learn the craft of shooting, processing, and editing 16mm single system film on older Auricons and Generals and (when I was good) the new CP16s. Just about the time I got comfortable…about a year and a half after getting on board – I walked into work and found myself in a mini-class, learning how to operate a “video camera.” It was a strange beast. There was the flakey little camera – couldn’t have weighed more than seven or eight pounds. Had a PLASTIC lens. It looked kinda like a radar gun. But that wasn’t even the half of it. It came with another sixty pounds of plastic and metal – the CCU (camera control unit) and the record deck. All of this so cumbersome and heavy that we needed a little golf cart to wheel it around. And we had no choice – we were thrust into the new technology literally overnight. Asides from the weight issues, I was okay – a new kid and I wasn’t embedded in the old technology, so I took to it pretty quickly. Although I did have issues – night shooting (my shift) was a bear. The cameras needed a ton of light just to show an image. I should have carried an arsenal of lights, but only had a battery belt with 30w Colortran head and one stand light. The ten foot umbilical cable helped a bit when covering forest fires – but I was tethered to my news van. But while shooting was frustrating, editing became a snap. We could actually use shots over again and again….if we made a mistake, we could just redo it (something that was very tricky with film). I even learned how to pull the audio cables in the rear of the decks and trade them out to put natsound behind my interviews…but at a very low level cause the channel I used to dump backup sound on was actually the channel engineering used to put cue tones on to start and stop the playback machines (accidentally edited audio on that channel with a very crucial interview with then Lt. Governor Dymally – and the voice on the wrong channel kept starting and stopping the playback machine).

Without going into too much detail, over the next twenty-five plus years I continued to work with U-matics (3/4 inch tape) with better and better cameras. Then they were phased out and Beta became the mainstay of broadcasting…a technology so good it continues today in some areas. In the 90’s DVC Pro came on the scene. Now these were all easy transitions…it was just linear tape. We had to learn new gizmos and methods. But the ugly monster, technology, wasn’t done with us yet. I began mentoring high school kids in video production and the principal insisted I teach them some new-fangled thing called digital nonlinear editing. Learning this nearly killed me emotionally. I just didn’t get it – felt like a dinosaur – one of the old geeks who couldn’t make the film to tape transition. Had nightly headaches…I could shoot, but the damn program (Final Cut Pro 1.0) lurked in the school computer, doing whatever it could to mess with my tiny brain. The terminology….the computer keyboard…the files within files within files…the icons…and the lack of something material I could put in a machine and rewind or fast forward got to me. Finally got so mad I made arrangements with a friend of a friend for a tutoring session…there were four others, some of us dinosaurs and a few new kids who seemed to aborb everything in a wink. In one marathon eight hour session I grasped enough to understand and defeat the evil computer and its demonic software.

Where is all this leading (she must have some kind of point to make here, you’re thinking)? There’s a whole group of photographers who have to choose survival or join the dinosaurs. It’s not gonna happen overnight, but changes in the audience mandate that most print photogs learn at least some video and nonlinear editing. What I’ve seen at the workshops I’ve been to in California are the enthusiasts – the leaders – photographers who are excited about the change and embrace it. What filters in from other areas is a fear of change. I know this fear – it is a gut feeling that, “Dammit I know I’m good. The audience sees my stuff and loves it. Why do I have to change – why me? What does this new stuff do that I can’t already do?” And frankly, I didn’t have to learn it – my old station hasn’t gone nonlinear yet. I probably would have made it to retirement as a happy hadrosaurus. The message of this post is: when you stop learning, you start dying. Can I make it any clearer? Now you can die happy and creatively, doing what you’ve always done – and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have choices. One of those choices may be looking at a different career. But if you truely love your craft; not just the visual part, but the news part – change is inevitable. It hurts – you face the prospect of being not so good at first. You make mistakes. Your whole self-image changes and you have to reinvent yourself. Take it from a dinosaur who has made the transition…it can be done. That half-way feeling of, “what do I do” is part of the uncertainty of change. You ask, “Do I dare risk shooting video at a cruicial moment when I know stills and know I can get the shot with my still camera – but I’m risking it all if I use a video camera.” The broadcast equivalent is, “I’m stuck with the (censored) live shot and the blasted story is happening NOW!. I should be covering the news, not just putting a reporter up to talk.” As much as I’d like to pretend we have a lot of freedom, the reality is the bosses and audience tend to make the decisions.

So while you may not like change and I may not like it, there are a lot of hungry little mammals out there (college students) ready to take us down. I made my choice. I wish you luck with yours.

Final note: this is a discussion that needs to be in the open. I know a lot of folks fear for their jobs and their futures and have a real love of their craft as it is now. Meranda Writes has some good discussions going on this issue on her blog. Get out there and join the conversation – but don’t put up a wall and refuse to consider change. Pick up a video camera and try it out (at home if you have to). It ain’t hard and it won’t kill ya.

15 thoughts on “Dinosaurs fighting for survival…

  1. Pingback: Dave Lee / jBlog » Blog Archive » Survival tactics for dinosaurs

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  3. Great post, Cyndy.

    As one who started out on the 3/4″ video gear you so aptly describe, I now find myself shooting Sony XD and editing non-linear. Don’t get me wrong I love it – but I sometimes miss the comfort zone of my beta SP and old match-frame suite. Oh well. Here’s hoping the mid-career tech upheaval that many veteran folk are faced with (in both video and print) will be worth it in the end. Who wanted to skate for twenty years anyway?

  4. The nice thing about getting old is that very little scares you anymore. See enough life…enough death…enough of anything and you learn that survival is not that difficult in these United States. Of course, I’d hate to try to survive in any country that puts real meaning to the word.
    What do I miss? A camera with enough heft and manual controls to make me feel like a pro again. Will I get one? Probably not at this stage of my life. I’ll settle for a snazzy high def digital number that won’t strain my back or my pocketbook.
    The other thing I want hasn’t happened yet. Bob Frisk and I used to sit around and daydream at KQED about real nonlinear – being able to shoot and then have instant access to any scene w/o the worry of scrolling or rolling. Maybe that will happen in the next generation.

  5. Great post! When I first started working towards my degree in photojournalism, the whole “new media” thing was in it’s infancy. Now as I get ready to graduate, it’s pretty common and is making a great deal of impact on online journalism. As new students come into our program, you hear constant protests that boil down to “I will never shoot video and if they ask me too, I’ll look for another job.” I still don’t understand this mentality. Everybody from print journalists to video broadcast journalists are all feeling the heat of the move towards more integrated and versatile journalism. I think acting like you will never be expected to make the transition, most importantly as you go out looking for your first job, is rather limiting and dangerous. The other point is that we are storytellers first. Although I love still photography, I still have to look at all my options for creating stories, whether that means adding audio that I was required to capture and edit or shooting some video to add that final element. It’s interesting to see so many younger people (I’m a non-traditional student, about 10 years older than most incoming freshman) willing to allow themselves to become “dinosaurs” before they even leave academia.

  6. Hope on over to Howard Owen’s blog – he makes the same point. Meranda Writes blog too. The problem is too many high schools are still teaching ten years behind the times. They need to catch up and catch up damn quick. The jobs they are training for right now will not exist by the time their students enter the workforce.

  7. The print guys should take a look at Turdpolisher’s blog. (www.turpolisher.blogspot.com) Most of the pics he posts are from the video he shoots. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with P2, but we’re about to transition to that, and nonlinear editing, at my station, and it’s pretty close to what you were describing above, “being able to shoot and then have instant access to any scene w/o the worry of scrolling or rolling.” Punching the record button just creates a clip on the card, which is then transferred to the computer through firewire from the camera, a cardreader, or editing from the card itself. We’ll be using Edius for our software.

  8. I’ve been to TP…and he is great. Today I’m moderating a couple of panels at the SFBAPPA annual digital workshop…and the theme (unfortunately) seems to be “we’re not tv.” They seem to think they invented video…and I do give the still folks a lot of credit. They are seeing video in a whole new light. Part of their bravado is that they came up with the concept of one person shooting, writing, editing, producing a story without oversight. Wow. I guess my memory is totally wrong because I remember doing the same ten or fifteen years ago. I guess memory can’t be trusted anymore.

  9. I found your site googling “dinosaurs mammals survival.” (Excuse my unwanted pedantry; I am not a pedant. I am French.)
    Overhearing a program about dinosaurs on Discovery Chanel (Prehistoric Park), while writing about the “dialectical evolution of complexity” and the need we have, if we want to survive as a species, to “consciously” evolve a “collective consciousness,” —of which the Internet is the “synthetic” precursor of our evolving “Collective Technocortex, “— I had the following Hegelian idea:
    1. Or suffer the dire consequence of extinction, thus eventually allowing some species of insects to develop, by chance and with collective brainless-bodies (evolutionary synthesis), this needed “collective consciousness,” instead of us, thus, supplanting us as dominant species, as we did with our small bodies and relative big brains (evolutionary “antithesis”), for the large-body and small-brain dinosaurs (evolutionary “thesis”).
    2. This dialectical understanding of evolution is an adaptation of Hegel’s dialectical development of “absolute consciousness,” which goes from absolute consciousness to animal consciousness, and to human self-consciousness . . . , and, eventually, collective consciousness, my contention.
    3. Collective consciousness, which will become, by necessity, our evolutionary success or, eventually, by chance, the evolutionary adaptation of some other species of insects (e.g., ants), them being comparatively as small compare to us, as mammals were, relative to sauropods,
    4. AG
    5. PS I just wanted to share this idea with somebody with whom it would be meaningful.

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