Sunday, March 10, 2013

Peer Accountability...

At the risk of sounding smug, contrite, or any other myriad of adjectives that could be construed to make me sound like I'm tooting my own horn, I'm going to just put it out there: I challenge you to find any other profession more fraternal than that of a television news photographer.

For better or for worse, it is a family, and it has all of the characters:  the whiner, the complainer, the over zealous, the humble genius, the not so humble genius, the snitch, the rookie, the veteran, the young, the old, those waiting to be lead out to the pasture, the brothers and the sisters, in between them all... you have the simple, understood camaraderie that exists between any person charged with making television news for a living.

It can be seen in the candid pictures that news photographers often take with one another.

Like when your fellow glass pusher was nearly mowed down on live tv by a speeding vehicle that was more interested in the RF being transmitted on the side of the road, than with keeping within the boundries of the passenger lane on South Blvd.

Rest assured, your fellow lenslinger will be there to remind you to wear your safety vest the next time you're live near a busy intersection... And he just might make an awkward face in the background of the aforementioned picture.

The subtext all the while, being something like this: "Hey man, I saw your live shot last night. Close call.  Glad you're ok! Remember, if something in fact does happen to you, your wife will collect no life insurance if you aren't wearing this..."

And even that sentiment has further subtext... It's our passive way of acknowledging that one of our own almost became part of the general claptrap we cover.  It's a slightly sarcastic, passive and poignant way of acknowledging your brethren news maker encountered a real pill of circumstances while working.

It's quietly saying "I hope you're alright..." in the middle of the ready room, without actually muttering the words.

 For those slightly older members of my occupational breed, this type of interaction might take place as you quietly recall the glory days of tape to tape editing while you paddle down a central North Carolina rural river.

Either way, it doesn't matter as long as one thing is happening: you're having a conversation. 

Hazards of the TV news job aren't always limited to a run away sedan whose driver is attempting to text their ETA to the bar while driving...

What the general public probably doesn't realize is this: this job can take it's toll on a human being and their lives just like any other.  It isn't all glitz and glamor and shiny lights and fancy cams and "OH MY GOD! YOU'RE THAT MAN/WOMAN ON TV!!!"

Now, again... Not to equate my chosen profession to those that serve the public and save lives, but merely to serve as an example... When police officers and fire men encounter traumatic events at work, there is typically a network of counselors and advocates in place to discuss what they've seen and how it's affected them.  When EMTs have someone flat line on them before they can reach the hospital, an on sight counselor is typically at arms length to discuss the repercussions this might have on their work performance.  Call all of these networks "internal affairs", "trauma advocates", or what you will, they're there.

TV news crews don't have this.  We have our peers, our wives and husbands, and looming quietly over our heads... our next deadline.

What has infamously become known in our business as the "dead baby knock" is an act in which a news crew is expected to visit the home of someone you've never met, knock on their door, and in 3 minutes or less, convince them to go on camera and gush about the most recent tragedy they've experienced.  We've typically lifted their name and address from a police or incident report, and often show up unannounced.

Ever pressed a camera into the face of a fresh widow?  Ever back lit a mother whose estranged husband is accused of ramming her daughter's head into a 2 inch sheet of dry wall?  Ever had a homicide detective tell you "it's ok to get your shots here, just don't step on the evidence or the body."

Ever bent down to tie your shoe and notice a fresh, bullet ridden corpse just 6 feet from where you're kneeling?

News photographers don't have support groups.  They don't have on sight counselors to discuss with them how the events of the story they covered the night before might have kept them up for hours once they got home.  They don't have someone official around to ask, "Are you ok?".

We have our families, whom we generally try to spare from the sorted details of our latest encounter with doom and gloom, and we have each other.  We have those quiet two or three minutes while we're loading a light kit or a tripod into a live truck.  We have a quick exchange while we're moving our camera from an SUV to the cargo area of a satellite vehicle. 

We have those little sarcastic quips that no one else would understand, and if they over heard, would probably consider us to be callous, cold, and unfeeling.  And that just isn't true.

Ask any news photographer you know... The majority of us go home every night and hug our loved ones a little tighter, reflect quietly on the strangers who became familiar during the day, and prepare to do it all over again the next day.

And we do it all knowing that it's a thankless, often unrewarding duty.  And we look out for our own.  And many of us couldn't imagine ourselves doing anything different.

We create emotional moments, 90 seconds at a time.  Hours of work, for 90 seconds, and then it's forgotten. 

What could you do in 90 seconds?