What is a Newspuke?
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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.