Amy Bowers TV Talk

What is a Newspuke?

Once a puke, always a puke. Whether you stay in the business or not, the business stays, to a certain extent, in you. You listen compulsively to the hourly radio report for breaking stories, only to learn that the dead from yesterday's headlines are still dead. You keep a full tank of gas in your car and park facing out.

Your house is presentable and your paperwork's done. If you die on assignment, you don't want to leave a stack of dirty dishes or unwritten invoices.

You don't leave home without pager and cell phone. If you appear on camera, you pack your powder, for shine, your styling spray (this is known as a hair-helmet) for breeze, and your molded earpiece so someone can yell at you while you're live on TV.

You're a newspuke. You're as tough and aggressive as you need to be.

You keep your laptop, digital camera, PDA, GPS, binoculars, satellite phone, extra panties, the map called "Indian Country," a bottle of spring water, an unloaded credit card and some breath mints in your pocket.

In 1979 I worked with KNBC cameraman Dick Smith and producer Peggy Holter on a report about emergency medical technicians in the Los Angeles Fire Department. The paramedics were maligned as "rescue pukes" by some of their peers, because the victims they resuscitated often returned to life with a heave.

Shortly after, Dick decided if they were rescue pukes, we were newspukes, and made up greenish T-Shirts for our unit at Channel Four that said, NEWSPUKE 4.

What is a newpuke? Someone thick-skinned enough to get the job done.

A puke parks on sidewalks (this is known as "puke parking") and stands on rooftops, enduring heat and cold.

A puke hauls gear in cases and backpacks (this is known as "lumping the equipment") up mountains and through ghettos. A puke points the camera at victims, perps, and pols and holds a shot of a newborn panda or a charging rhinoceros (this is known as glory, if you survive).

The puke who works solo shoots, interviews, edits, and feeds, and then drives home.

It's hard to shoot sorrow and grief. It's tough to look someone in the eye and ask difficult questions. You're a puke. You know how to ask. Cry later.

When I had morning sickness, I literally puked on the street, pretending it was a touch of flu, while my pregnancy was still undeclared.

I was afraid of heights, but I stood on a ledge of the Grand Canyon, flew with my feet on the helicopter skids, and climbed above my comfort zone for another shot. "Be a puke," my partner reminded me, and we pushed on.

I phoned my former partner Hal Bowers today, to refresh my memory. "What were we doing when you told me to be a puke?" I asked. "You always told me to be a puke," is how he remembered it.

"Newspuke" should not mean "bullet bait." If you go scary places and see terrible things, please weigh your life against your work. Decide each time, because your employers, your viewers, and your readers are not your family.

A newspuke is neither the First Amendment nor the Fourth Estate. It's not theory and it ain't brain surgery. It's not a news executive. It's a truth-teller, standing in the cold.

Amy Bowers
Contributing Writer

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