The lies you tell yourself…they lies they tell themselves…

As House infamously says, “Everybody lies.”

One of the “lies” of journalism is that journos are neutral – they don’t take sides.  They are objective.

Realistically objectivity is bullshit.

The difference between a professional journalist and a crazed blogger on a rant is a sense of their own weaknesses and an attempt to be fair.  

Think about it – when you tell a story.  When you delve deep into an interview to discover your character’s thoughts…you are doing it from the template of your own experiences and life.  So your questions are pre-formulated, based on your life experience and what you think your audience wants to or needs to hear.

And from the other side – if you let THEM control the story, you will get their personal take on who they are and what they do – and all the lies they tell themselves.

So a person you see as quiet and mature, may think that they are timid and inept.  Or someone you look up to as forceful and decisive may be brutally sadistic, but hide it. And others may see you as what you know you are not…it swings both ways.

Something to mull over as you head out on that next political story or while you’re shooting a rally. How much do you impose your will on reality…

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Game changer…

Every now and then something comes along and the reaction is, “COOL!  Why didn’t I think of that?”  (or…”I thought of that years ago and it’s FINALLY come out.)

Back in the early 2000s JVC had something called the GY-DV300u aka the Streamcorder. That little gem was way ahead of its time. I grabbed one because after some pretty heavy duty research I found it had all the gizmos I wanted and needed to have a life after a multi-decade career as a broadcast news cameraman. But it had that little extra “umph” in the background that intrigued me – the ability to stream live to the web. And for some reason it never really took off. And the camera and it’s revolutionary potential kind of faded away…

Until NAB this year when the 300u’s great granddaughter returned. And with a vengeance.

Meet the JVC ProHD Mobile News Camera! To me it’s an old friend gussied up and modernized. But it is a game changer and this time the time is ripe for it to reach the heights it missed last time around.

What’s new? Okay, so I admit I’m addicted to glass. A 23x zoom. Something that can reach out and pull you (and your audience) in close to situations you don’t even WANT to get close to. Most prosumer cameras in this price range only have a 10x or 14x zoom, leaving you miles short of the shot you really want.

Dual slot recording…the less expensive version of this camera, the JVC GY-HM600 ProHD Camera has two slots for continuous recording too, but lacks the ability to record in HD in one slot and SD in the other. That ability allows you to shoot HD for the main event but SD to stream back quickly to the station for on-air. Wow.

I don’t even need to get into real manual controls, XLR inputs, three chips (1/3 CMOS)…the usual suspects in a pro’s array of necessary tools.

What happened in the past ten years that makes this new again?

Well, this time news is READY for a camera like this. In 2002 (when I got my JVC 300u) going live on the web was something entertaining…fun. But nobody in real news considered it seriously. After all, it wasn’t really professional – was it? Tiny little camera, poor quality…and there were live trucks and microwave trucks to handle important stories.

Times change…and now cell phones and Skype can put out decent enough (okay, so even I debate that one) images for news. Plus, reality has set in – financial reality. With the competition out there, lean and fast may make the difference between survival and death to cost conscious news organizations.

And while I absolutely love those good ole days, I’m a realist. What I see is a camera that may mean survival.

Storytelling and storytellers…

Although there are many resources on the web to watch great videos, there’s one outstanding one if you are primarily interested in visual storytelling news style.

TV News Storytellers on facebook has daily posts from cameramen all around the country soliciting input on how to become better or posts from experts in the field demonstrating best practices.

So hop on over and take a look…and enjoy.

Long, long time ago…

…in a backwater little valley town called Sacra-tomato, change was afoot.

Broadcast news…long the bastion of white males wearing cameras and suits…opened up to minorities and women. (Thank you FCC.)

Enter into this a tough talking chick from New Yawk and a kinda shy kid from further south in the valley. They met, they meshed and for one year they were a team.

As we age, those golden days of our youth resurface in memories that are probably pretty accurate. Oh, we may be better looking and smarter in our recollections than in reality…but I can live with that.

Me…I was the shy valley girl. Picked up a still camera at age 12 and never let go. My goal was to become a newspaper photographer, but even with a college degree, getting an internship was tough. So I took whatever job I could after marrying the love of my life and moved on. Sigh.

The roller coaster ride was about to begin.

After a year or so Ron and I moved from said Sacra-tomato to the raisin capitol of the world, Fresno, to continue with our higher education at my ala mater – CSU Fresno. Where I was called Cyndy Mog and he was called Mr. Mog. (Took a while to get those surnames corrected.)

Somehow in this move I hooked up with the college community affairs department, writing press releases and shooting publicity photos.
My goal: somehow become a news photographer.

In the meantime, diminutive Joann Lee was laboring in one of the largest markets in the broadcast kingdom – Los Angeles – as a production assistant.
Her goal: somehow become a TV news reporter.

After researching and writing a nifty little story on a new intern program that combined federal, state, and local monies to get college students into low-paying jobs, I applied for and was accepted as the first fem-photog intern at KFSN, Channel 30. Fresno’s CBS affiliate.

Joann, meantime, had talked her way into the field and was following cameramen around on stories. And one day she talked one of them into letter her stand in front of the camera.

“Ginsing – an oriental herb.”

On the strength of that story, she landed at job at KXTV in Sacramento. (Tomato capitol of the state – or so they liked to think.)

Meanwhile I was finishing up my internship at KFSN…rolling with the cameramen, learning the craft of shutter speed, f-stop all over again with sound and motion added. How to wear forty pounds of camera, camera brace, audio mixer. Use of a light meter when there was time and how to make quick guesses when there wasn’t. How to load film and how to process said film. My specialities: mixing the chemicals and filing the film at the end of the day. (The new kid got the work no one else wanted.)

Magical times. Met my first dead body rolling out with Chuck “Boom Boom” Hoover, the station’s scanner freak, to a drowning in a canal. He also showed me how to artistically backlight broken windshields at accidents and once even beat the fire department to a fire (something I did twice more in my own career).

Time for convergence.

Some months after Joann got established at KXTV, I got my first ever interview with chief photographer Bob Helmes. He seemed to like what he saw and heard, and only had these words before putting me on staff: “If you don’t work out, we’ll never hire another female again.”

Gee. Thanks.

Of course, those being the times, I didn’t think twice about it. Just did my best to work up to and beyond expectations.

And totally screwed up on day two. Shooting some little nothing story at the local college, I forgot some shots, crossed my axis…horrible stuff.

And Bob – who was taking a quick nap in the newscar – commented: “Yesterday I was glad I hired you. Today, I’m not too sure.”

That rammed me straight back into the ground. Put me in my place and made me even more aware that I had only this one chance.

Fast forward six months or more on the weekend shift…got moved to nights and introduced to this tiny little thing with a big, opinionated mouth. My new partner.

How DO you DO?

I’m Cyndy. With two “y”s.

I’m Joann Lee.

We initially worked together warily…and I’m sure she was more nervous than me. No reporter likes working with a newbie cameraman. They don’t always know what they’re doing and they make you look bad.

Somehow we became a team…and I am sure the shortest (most petite) broadcast news team on the continent. I was five feet two…she was five one. I was afraid people would look at me and she could drill a subject with her voice and glare from one hundred feet. (Privately I called her the “Dragon Lady”.)

What brought us firmly together was our newness to the profession and our passion. It was us against the world some days…like the day when we got sent out to interview the family of the last man executed in the state. The angry family members’ response when we knocked at the door: “If you had been a male crew we would have beaten the crap out of you.”

The day we got sent to do a story on the local rice cooperative: “Why didn’t they send a real news crew? Why didn’t they send MEN?”

And talk about the times – often Joann was mistaken for Connie Chung – the “other” Asian reporter. Me, I never got mistaken for anyone. There was only me.

And the good times. Covering state politics in the days of Governor “Moonbeam” himself – Jerry Brown. Cruising the highways with scanner on high on summer nights. Pushing deadlines…telling stories of joy and tragedy; making chaos into something understandable. Partying together on weekends.

Eventually we both moved on…me to Washington, D.C. and then to the SF Bay area. Her to Chicago, then CNN in New York.

Somehow we both ended up in education. Professor Joann Lee (Chow) set up shop as head of the journalism department at University of Nevada, Reno at the same time I was starting my first program at Middle College High School in Stockton, California. She had more than half a million to spend…me, I had five thousand.

So we get together…less and less frequently it seems. Miles and lives lived apart have built walls that hinder meetings.

But those memories still surface. Those days when we were young, brash, invincible.

What is a “Controlled Shoot”…

You’re never too old to learn…and I picked up a new term this week, thanks to a request for a critique on b-roll. I’m not gonna post the comments made – you can look them up yourself.

Courtesy Okinawa Soba through Creative Commons

But the new term is “controlled shoot.” Or as the cameraman says, aka “staging.”

Wow.

And as if that weren’t bad enough…it was followed a few days later by a posting titled “Fun staging.”

The CS/controlled shoot video was something I would imagine a lot of camerafolk get trapped into in some way or another. Short on time…there is NOTHING happening visual, and somehow a visual story has to be turned.

So in this case, the photog asked the subject (a marathon runner) to take a run around for the camera. I’m not sure how much CS “controlled” that shoot – if he just shot the guy running or directed each shot. But – as CS admits – it is staging. Which is frowned upon in news because it is not what is actually happening. It is redone/rehashed/done only for the camera.

Now in the case of “Fun staging” the entire video was staged. And I don’t mean asking for something to be repeated for the camera. This was staged as in have people acting out an entire scenario for the camera…shot by shot. As if it were a movie. Not just a step beyond a controlled shoot – but an entire leap into a fantasy world that was created JUST FOR THIS STORY.

Ummmm….can I have a platter of the “good ole days” please?

Addendum: For you students out there – staging is considered unethical because it does not show what really occurred. Every news photog’s dream is to shoot actualities. What really is happening. Here are some examples of staging that are oh so wrong.
Case #1 (this happened way back in the early 70’s) Photog misses an immigration event where a man is arrested by INS. He asks for it to be repeated. So the man is released by INS…runs back to his family, who cries in joy at what they see as his permanent release. INS walks over (camera IS rolling), grabs and handcuffs him and takes him away, to the unhappy cries of the confused family. Great video. A total lie due to staging.
Case #2 (hmmm…think this one is late 70’s) Reporter does controversial interview. Later – AFTER the subject is gone, he tells the cameraman he wants to reshoot a few questions. Loaded questions which were not quite what he asked the subject. In this case the cameraman told the news director and the reporter was fired. Good call by both the photog and ND.
Case #3 Reporter wants to insert a track/question into a story. The question is NOT what he asked the subject. Photog refuses. Reporter argues that subject would agree to this change and calls her. She agrees it is okay, but photog still refuses to do the edit. News director is called in, gets story and SUPPORTS the reporter. Photog offers to quit. Bad call by ND.

The unfortunate truth is that there is a certain amount of staging tolerated in news. Every time you sit someone down, set up lights, hang a mike on them – you are staging. The lights and mike and camera are NOT part of the everyday life of most folks. When a still photog wants to get in super-close to a subject, they tell them to ignore the camera. Guess what? Staging. (Could YOU ignore a camera just inches from YOUR face?) And so it goes. The aim is to avoid obvious staging. This includes everything from the subtle requests to “to it again for the camera” or “wait while I move the camera” to the over the edge completely fabricated and exclusively for our news only shots.

Ethics are not laws written in stone. They are (hopefully) morals seared into the heart of every newsperson, guiding them through a treacherous world of daily deadlines and pressures. And on the days you lose a little, you try to make up by straightening your backbone a bit more for the next day.

I should know. Been there/done that.

Oooo! Oooo! The big “P” word!

I don’t know what YOU’RE thinking – I was referring to prostitution. As in when news forgets who it is and decides to strut in full frontal costume through the promotions or marketing department. Uh…they tried that back in the day too, but then the news directors didn’t bite – they bit back and refused to take part.

Great little slant on how CBS stations are “prostituting” their news to promote the new series Hawaii Five-0. Check it out here. It’s a hoot(er???).

BTW the “Five-0” refers to Hawaii’s status as the 50th state admitted to the union.

Video viewing habits…

Thanks to tvspy for the link to this study about video viewing habits.

Check out full details by reading the full article, but summarized in their headline:

Live TV Is For Old People: Time Shifting And Online Make Up Nearly Half Of All Viewing

Dammit I just can’t wait for the video…

Just got the perfect interview for the book!!!

Fred Pardini, former chief photog for KGO in San Francisco, is retired now and nearing 80. Words out of the past best describe him: dapper, genteel.

I spent two hours picking his brain on camera and have a wealth of information on his career and move from still photographer to TV news. Wow. He’s shot more presidents that I (we think nine or ten) and his career spanned everything from Speed Graflexes to 35mm to B/W single system sound cameras to Betacam. I used to watch him in awe when I was a newbie. Where I schlepped and sweated, he was cool and calm. The weight of the gear never seem to bother him. He was “The Man with The Cam.”

Had to let you know he is on tape and I will begin working on uploading/editing and perhaps posting a snippet or two.

His only request was a copy of the tape – which I hope to have to him in DVD format by the weekend.

As they used to say – stay tuned.
(Yeah, I’m feeling giddy…and I may be able to get Les Thomsen too/former newsreel cameraman who is amazingly still alive and willing to talk. All we need to do is agree on a date and time.)

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