R. Murrow is Dead
By Mark Neuling
Videographer for TechTV
It was a day or two
before Thanksgiving, 2001. I got into the office a few minutes early
and like always,
one of the first things I did was to check my voicemail. What
I heard was to have
a great impact upon my career and upon my family.
“Hello Mr. Neuling,” it was a voice I hadn’t heard for some
time except on the network news, “This is Jim Goldman.”
Jim had been our business and high- tech reporter in San Jose. He had left
the station 6 or 7 years earlier for a job with one of the network affiliates
in San Francisco. We would occasionally encounter him in the field covering
a story, but we hadn’t kept in touch. After a 5-year contract and a
change in ownership at the affiliate, Jim hit the big-time with ABC News
in New York.
But commuting across the continent to work on the east coast while trying
to maintain a home in California began to take it’s toll. Besides, Jim’s
wife was five months pregnant with their first child. He decided to make
“How have you been Mark?” I heard Jim ask. We’d heard the rumors
that he’d landed at TechTV. He went to on to explain that there were
openings for four photographers and three of the positions would be in San
Would I be interested?
He went on to describe the salary range and a little of the style they were
“ This isn’t going to be ‘Fill your slot and
cover the black.’ Closer to a magazine look than local news,” he
explained. Jim’s wife had worked with us in San Jose before they were
married. She had suggested that he call me. It’s a small world.
Let’s see: Better money a shorter commute, network exposure, new challenges.
What was there to think about? Of course there were one or two little problems.
The network was new and growing but still had yet to be profitable. Plus, word
was they expected to “downsize” soon.
Nevertheless, sometimes you’ve just got to change.
Fast-forward 18 months. We’ve done a lot to identify our audience and
to spruce up the newscast. The stories are shorter, edgier and have more
of a personal element to them; real people telling their own stories about
in their lives.
We cover a lot of biotech stories. Mapping the human genome, clones, Parkinson’s
Disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer -- serious topics. We’ll do a story
and then a week or two later I’ll read about it in Time Magazine.
Our correspondent who covers this beat is highly qualified. Twenty-five years
in the business, he’s worked in radio, for PBS, CNN and CBS. I think
he has an Emmy or two at home propping up a corner of his coffee table. At
51, he’s also one of the oldest members of our staff in San Francisco.
Normally he would come to work in a suit and tie. Very professional. It could
be 103 degrees outside and the coat would stay on. He’d crank the AC
in the car so high that Frosty the Snowman could ride shotgun. One day the
tie was gone and a leather jacket had replaced the coat. It must have been
a casual Friday, but the suit and tie were seen less and less.
In our travels together, the “real” story began to emerge. A short
while back, most likely tongue in cheek, one of the senior producers had made
a comment to this reporter that Edward R. Murrow was dead. This was a rather
indirect suggestion that his style had to change. His stand-ups needed to have
some humor in them; the packages needed to have a style that would appeal more
to our demographic. We had long conversations about the seriousness of his
reports and about what this change in style might mean to his credibility as
a journalist. To his credit our correspondent didn’t moan and groan about
his situation. He wanted to be a team player, he welcomed the change, and he
didn’t want to return to local news.
So what does all this have to do with shooting you ask?
I have had to examine my own style of shooting news. For many years in my
career I shot commercials. Our mantra was “P and Z and shoot the sign.” In
other words, shoot lots of pans and zooms and get the signage. If Henry Ford
wanted to see every car he had for sale on the car lot, we’d climb
to the roof of the dealership and pan the lot. Often the producers on commercial
shoots would beg for our creative input because they had none of their own.
We had license to experiment. But my approach to shooting news was something
Maybe I’m a still shooter at heart. I always felt that a static shot
that had motion within the frame and clean sound was the way to go. Use a tripod,
sequence shots, motivated moves. This is known in the industry as “network
style.” I felt comfortable in that genre. Consistency was something I
aimed for on a daily basis. Being known just as a “solid shooter” shouldn’t
be considered a negative label. An MTV shooter I will never be. I never want
technique to overwhelm content.
But things change. I put some of the techniques we used to shoot commercials
with into news packages: A little more camera movement, canted angels, riskier
lighting, snap zooms, swish pans. It’s OK to break the rules now; the
trick to change though is knowing when to break the rules.
Our world is transforming faster than we can comprehend, and it’s frightening.
I wonder what kind of a world Jim’s son and my daughter will inherit?
I still owe Jim’s wife a dozen roses. Rest in peace Edward R. Murrow.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
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