Most professions have a gauge of success, something your industry uses to determine just exactly how good you are at what you do. In the warped world of tv news photographers, we have a simple saying: "You are only as good as your last story."
As I'm sure you know by now, last weekend I interviewed one of the men who died as a result of the C-130 crash in South Dakota.
Today was my first day back behind the viewfinder since then, and as I was having my morning cup of coffee before heading into work, my phone chimed with the it's signature "email tone" at about 8:30. It was from my champion assignment editor Ashley Talley.
The subject line simply read: "Feel good story for you to shoot as an anchor pkg today!". I opened it and immediately, equal feelings of relief & panic came over me. I was scheduled to interview a retired US Army Captain who had overcome drug addiction with the aid of a local non-profit organization, and had put his life back together.
Instantly the gears in my head began to turn. "How am I going to light this?" "How much can I ask this guy without digging too deep?" "What's our angle?" "Will he be receptive of me putting my fancy cam right in face and asking him to relive some of the darkest moments of his life?"
What I came away with was a minute and thirty five seconds of television I will never forget.
I initially offered to write this story, but found the anchor I would be collaborating with, Natalie Pasquarella, had a mutual interest in this story because she volunteers with the organization that helped this man get back on his feet.
My good friend Leighton Grant has asked me on multiple occasions, "When's the last time you cried in your viewfinder?" Well, today it happened.
It was almost as if the news gods had shined upon me, and this story was given favor over anything else I would be doing today. The man was receptive, well spoken, eloquent, generous, and above all... humble. He told me of his self described "fall from grace", and how he had initially set out to get clean for his family. The motivation quickly turned to rebuilding his life and reinventing himself as a man with purpose.
I hope you give this a watch, because it isn't your traditional Independence Day story. It's a journey of hope and one man's desire to rise about his circumstance, his past transgressions, and his overall need to survive. The photography isn't anything extraordinary, but the story telling is pretty strong, and the emotion is real. And that has become my ultimate goal in this job, to consistently make the viewer feel something.
Usually my favorite part of any story is the editing. I close the door to the edit bay and turn into a machine, searching for the perfect nat pop or three step sequence, and weave my video into a menagerie of pictures and sound.
For this story, my favorite part was a chance run in with this man around 9 o'clock in uptown. My wife and I had walked to the EpiCentre for some frozen yogurt before taking in the holiday fire works, and as we descended the stairs to Trade Street... There he was walking up towards us. I shouted his name and he immediately bolted in my direction with his friend.
"Did you see it? What did you think?!" I blurted out. "My phone hasn't stopped ringing from friends and family who saw it..." he replied. And then he told me something I will never forget, "Thank you for letting me tell my story."
The truth is that I'm more thankful to him for letting me telling it, and if I'm really honest... I needed this story today. We don't always get to tell good news, but today was one of those days. It served as a reminder that what I do has purpose, and it affects people.
This one won't likely win me any kind of award, and I'm perfectly ok with that. Because today I got to tell a good story. And as long as that is my measuring stick, then I can rest tonight knowing I did my job well.