Second Class Citizen

By Mark Neuling – Videographer
CNBC – Palo Alto

Five or six years have passed by now.  It was one of those crisp October mornings that we are privileged with here in the Bay Area.  I was attending one of the National Press Photographer Association’s flying short courses.  The list of speakers that day was impressive.  The first to speak that morning was a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer from the old San Francisco Examiner.  The director of photography from National Geographic and several other world renowned photographers were slated to speak throughout the day.  Also giving presentations that day were the television editor and photographer of the year.  It was a stellar line up.
I found my way to a seat towards the middle of the room; as usual I was ten minutes early.  I juggled the free coffee and Danish on my knees as I scanned around the room.  Behind me sat a couple.  There are certain people who gravitate to these professional events who sometimes seem a bit out of place.  I can’t remember what the woman looked like; maybe it was because the gentleman was dressed up like he was headed out on safari.  He had on a photo-vest, the type lined with deep pockets and a mesh back; draped around his neck were two of the latest automatic all-everything cameras.  I’ve never understood the need to bring along a camera to these seminars, much less two.  Was he expecting to cover a breaking news story?  Well there they sat; sipping their own coffee looking over the order of speakers when the fellow said something that nearly caused me to choke.  “When the first speaker from the newspaper is done we’ll see if the TV guy has anything good to say and then we can check out the exhibits.”
I wanted to turn around and smack the arrogant miscreant.  Why the prejudice against television and specifically TV photographers?

Just a fraction of the media following California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as he signs a bill at the University of California, Davis. April 2004.
© Mark Neuling 2005
That day was interesting.  The still photographers gave wonderful lectures, they were funny, insightful and articulate.  But there was a certain déjà vu about them.  It was like watching my Uncle Francis show slides about his last trip to Yosemite.  I at least didn’t feel very engaged; quit honestly these slideshows were a little boring.  But the television clips were a whole other animal.  Wow!  They were great. 
The television editor of the year shared a compelling piece he’d edited on the Columbine shootings.  The photographer of the year played a story he’d done on a helicopter ambulance service and one of their patients.  When that story ended it was as if all the air in the room had been sucked out.  People took a collective gasp.  I think there were even sobs as the story unfolded.  This was television at its best.  Television that meant something.  Television that was great story telling, the way television could be, with all it’s potential realized.  Television that is rarely seen these days even at the network level.

Cameraman Dave Koehn sets up a live shot for CNBC outside Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. August 2004.
© Mark Neuling 2005

I left that afternoon being very proud to be a television photographer, even though I could only match a fraction of the talent that was present that day.

One of the few camerawomen in the business, the talented Amy Ocheltree of TechTV shoots an interview at the premiere of Star Wars Episode II, San Francisco, California.
© Mark Neuling 2005

San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young is interviewed by producer Mike Delfino of KICU television. June 4, 1998. The big guy with the camera is the author.
© Mark Neuling 2005
There is a website that I like to visit from time to time.  It’s devoted to sports photography.  A great site by the way.  But on this website television shooters are the enemy.  We’re referred to as “camera pointers.”  Not videographers, not cameramen, not shooters, certainly not journalists.  I understand the frustration still photographers have with television.  Access is sometimes restricted because of television’s “rights” to a sporting event.  There are the television cables and paraphernalia strung along the sidelines to contend with.  Sound people tethered to cameras, cable pullers, reporters and local news cameramen/women surround the sidelines.  There is a lot of competition for minimal space from which to shoot.
Yes television gets in the way, especially at the end of games.  The still photographers can never understand, why we with our long lenses, have to rush on to the field after a game ends to get our jubilation shots.  Well we do it for the same reasons that still photographers do; up close and personal makes for great television just like it does for newspapers and magazines.  Plus everyone tends to overlook the fact that television is dependent on sound.  The best way to get good sound is to be close to the source, and that means being on the field.

A cluster of television cameramen are shown here attempting to get some sound bites after a football game at San Jose State University, San Jose California. September 2003.
© Mark Neuling 2005

Consider for a moment what the people who shoot sports on television have to contend with.  Imagine trying to maintain the concentration needed to work on something like a college basketball game.  That’s two straight hours of almost total concentration; even during the commercial breaks there isn’t much time to relax.  Add to that a director yelling in one ear while at the same time trying to listen to the play by play in the other ear, mix in the added distraction of comments from the crew on the “party line” and it’s no wonder that our loved ones think we’re a little crazy.  Once I even had to remove my head set during a game to answer a question from someone asking what time the game (it was live of course) was going to be shown on television?  Long hours are also put in setting up and striking cameras, microphones, cables and monitors.  No not as glamorous as shooting for Sports Illustrated, but still, there is a lot more involved than just “pointing a camera.”

Cameraman Paul Felt of KICU television shooting footage for a special on unlocking the DNA code. December 2 1999.
© Mark Neuling 2005

Even in our own industry shooters are sometimes considered as nothing more than technicians.  Yes we haul the equipment, light the interviews, run sound, battle antiquated equipment, shoot uninspired stories, put up with pointless live shots and accept jobs in some markets that barely clear the minimum wage hurdle.   To top it off some reporters and producers would no more consider us journalists as they would the college intern.  But we can do so much more than simply push the record button on our cameras.
Television photographers are the front line troops in the trench warfare that is the television news process.  We are more than just technicians.  Include us in the story telling process.  The best reporters I’ve worked with always discussed their story ideas with me.  They allowed me to be part-owner in the story.  Television works best when good people team up to work together.  That’s when great television is made.

Producer Brian Adams interviews actor Earnest Borgnine at his Beverly Hills home. Cameraman Ric Shiraki films the scene from the shadows. July 3 1997.
© Mark Neuling 2005

Look at most of the iconic moments that were photographed during the second half of the twentieth century.  The vast majority of those events were also filmed or recorded on tape.  Most students of photojournalism can tell you that Joe Rosenthal of the AP photographed the flag raising on Iwo Jima.   But do they know the name of Marine Sergeant Bill Genaust?  He stood next to Rosenthal and shot color movie film of the famous moment.  Genaust lost his life several days later in combat and is still listed as Missing in Action; yet little credit is ever given to him for the astonishing segment of history that he filmed.
As photographers and journalists why don’t we let our New Year’s Resolution be that a truce is declared between stills and television?  This job isn’t getting any easier.  The competition is no longer just the other newspaper in town or the local affiliate; it’s now cable and the internet.  We need to get along, compromise and respect our differences.  Wouldn’t it be nice if rest of the world took our lead?
Mark Neuling ©2005
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

© Mark Neuling 2005
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