Daily Archives: September 25, 2008

Lenslinger

Call me "Lenslinger."  Stewart Pittman, WGHP

Call me "Lenslinger." Stewart Pittman, WGHP

TV news photographers don’t get enough credit.    At some stations, they’re absurdly underpaid.  At other stations, they’re being phased out.  Yet they are the essence of TV newsgathering.  “Without us, you’d be watching radio.”  They like to say stuff like that.   They are often multi-talented.  Many are voracious readers.  Some are gifted painters and folk artists.  Some can write a script better than the TV reporter sitting next to them.

Clearly, one such photog is a guy named Stewart Pittman of WGHP in High Point NC.  Since 2004, Pittman has written a blog called Viewfinder Blues.  His posts are frequently day-of diaries of his life as a TV news guy.  He recently posted this video, which shows him and his camera getting dunked by a hurricane in 1994 (which he contrasts with Geraldo Rivera’s now-somewhat-famous dunk during Ike.  Of Rivera, Pittman writes:  “Hell, I’ve used drive-thru wet-naps with more accumulated moisture!”)

Unlike the reporter blogs you find on local TV station web sites, Pittman mostly doesn’t sugarcoat his view of the inside.  He’s found the fine line between job security and drop-dead honesty, and walks it skillfully.  Here’s his take on the morning editorial meeting:

(It’s) my least favorite part of the day. Why? Oh, I dunno – that feeling of utter helplessness as some former intern pitches his opinion of how I should spend my day…that trapped-gas sensation in my lower abdomen as some producer eyeballs me while recounting the wino revival she passed on the way to work …the rising bile in the back of my throat as an indifferent manager banishes me to twelve hours in a far flung live truck with the flick of his well-oiled Sharpie. Yeah, most days I’d rather take a two-by-four to the face than watch my immediate fate ricochet around a small conference room.

There are plenty of newsrooms whose bossfolk wouldn’t allow such subversion.  But it just happens that Pittman works in a newsroom headed by Karen Koutsky.  When she worked at WAGA more than a decade ago, Koutsky was well respected and destined for (what passes for) greatness in the world of TV news.  The fact that she doesn’t suppress Pittman’s mojo indicates that, even though she’s the VP of a medium-market newsroom, she hasn’t completely developed a taste for the Kool-Aid®.  Good for her.

It’s actually quite remarkable, the compulsion to suppress.  It’s as if the higher-ups in certain TV newsrooms know that their foolishness doesn’t withstand analysis.  Therefore, they suppress it.  The fact that Race Bannon won’t write under his/her real name says it all.  This, in an industry that likes to posture about freedom of expression — when it’s convenient for the production of the commercial product only.

We rant.  There’s a link to Viewfinder Blues to the right.  You are urged to click it often.

Gassy McGee

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Pushing the story: Ross Cavitt, WSB

Gasoline shortage / price stories often have a tediously one-note quality to them.   Over and over, the video and storylines repeat.  And it’s somewhat unavoidable.

So give Ross Cavitt credit for pumping some life into his story on WSB at 6 Wednesday.  Cavitt’s coverage from a Cobb Co. gas station had some surprising elements.

  • An actual on-camera shouting match between a customer and a station manager.  The customer accused the manager of hoarding gas for his friends.
  • A motorist who admitted he’d stalked a tanker truck to see which gas station was getting a fresh supply.
  • A picture of Cavitt and two other men pushing an out-of-gas car.  Cavitt didn’t call attention to it, to his credit.  But it was unmistakably him– his stick mic was clipped to his belt as he pushed.  It was a nice bit of hands-on “reporter involvement.”  It also helped him show the desperate straits of some of the motorists he encountered.
  • An interesting closing anecdote about a tanker truck driver.  Cavitt told viewers he asked the tanker truck driver if motorists “flash you the thumbs up or do they give you another digit…?”  Cavitt said the driver responded that it was “about fifty fifty.”

Atlanta’s TV stations seem to want desperately to engage viewers over gasoline shortages.  The problem is that the situation changes rapidly from gas station to gas station.  They all tout their web sites as sources of up to date information.  But good luck trying to actually use the sites, as the writer at Mostly Media did.  Here’s part of what she writes about WXIA’s site:

Besides, when you do click on a green arrow for a particular station, you see that it/the info was, in some cases, last updated 20 hours ago! Or was presented/updated to show NO gas about 2-hours ago, yet the arrow remains green in color. (For “Go” presumably.) But hey, bad information is better than NO information? In this particular case, I think not.

We suspect that it’s simply impossible to maintain comprehensive, updated, accurate information on a gazillion metro Atlanta gas stations.  She asks the right question.  But the answer appears to be “take our information with a grain of salt.  And don’t burn all your gas driving to that station with the green arrow.”