By Mark Neuling
Staff News Photographer CNBC

There was something ironic at work here. The pretty reporter slumped into the seat next to mine and seemingly to no one stated, “ A broadcast journalist without a camera, only a cell phone.” The she held up the little camera phone and muttered, “Not even a zoom.” All the while I continued to stare at the bag of lenses at my feet that I had raced home to get a few hours before. Lenses whose lineage I could trace back to well into the past century, a couple of which I had owned for longer than I’ve known my wife.

It had been another start before dawn. It was surprising how few trucks were going live what with all the build up this story was getting. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard was in world of trouble. In an effort to find out who was leaking information from their boardroom they had hired some outside investigators who in turn may have illegally obtained phone records of board members, HP employees and heaven forbid, spied on journalists. Around Silicon Valley it’s being called a scandal, a breech of ethics for the company that set the ethical bar in the valley; and of course the media has tagged it as HP-Gate. And as many of you may have seen, the story has moved into the halls of Congress.

Our first live shot was postponed an hour. The plan was for me to cover the early live shots and then cover the 1:05 p.m. “press conference.” A press conference that was conveniently scheduled to start 5 minutes after the markets closed for the weekend back east and just so happened to coincide with Rosh Hashanah.

As the late summer sun crept across the horizon I set up a silk and adjusted the lights I had set up in the darkness hours before. About then things really began to heat up. Word was the HP was not going to allow television cameras in. Still cameras would be allowed, albeit without flash and there would be no questions allowed from the press. Maybe Dick Nixon was alive and well in the darkened alcoves of HP orchestrating this public relations mess.
And about then someone on the television side of the fence got the bright idea that maybe we could shoot stills of this presser, and guess who got the call?

Well I do quite often carry a small point and shoot camera, which I use to take pictures of our crews out on the various locales that we go live from. But a point and shoot wouldn’t cut it for this kind of work so back home I went to fetch the SLR’s. Consumer grade digitals, good for vacations and to record my daughter growing up, but not the high speed, RAW, meat eating Canons and Nikons that the professionals use. Remember my tool of trade shoots 30 frames a second, sits upon a big black tripod and records on to DVC-Pro videotape. Once we’re set up television has an almost languid, sleepy pace compared to stills.

But there I sat, in the second row, staring at the well manicured toenails of one of local televisions finest, checking and double checking the ASA and white balance settings of my two little cameras.

© Mark Neuling
Network satellite trucks and local microwave vans wait outside of Hewlett-Packard's headquarters on Friday morning Sept. 22, 2006.
HP was really being very accommodating to the media considering the gravity of the day. They had allowed the sat-trucks of the networks and microwave vans of the locals to set up shop in their parking lot. While the assembled journalists waited in the lobby, there were cookies, fruit and water eagerly consumed by the assembled media representatives. When it comes to free food, ethics be damned, the media will devour anything in sight like locusts from a Biblical plague. But I digress and the press conference by HP’s CEO Mark Hurd was about to begin.

A spokesman came out first and made some opening statements. A few of us tested our cameras and checked our settings. I’d been told that the lights were going to be brought up, but only at one point during the event did they rise only quickly to be faded down. It was pretty dark; thank goodness I’d invested in those good lenses years earlier, before marriage, a kid and home ownership.

©2006 Mark Neuling for CNBC
HP's CEO Mark Hurd, at the podium, is introduced by a spokesman.

Mr. Hurd took the stage. We raised our cameras to eye level and fired away. Every time he looked up from his statement or gestured there was the rapid fire staccato of camera shutters clicking away. I seemed to be a fraction of a second behind the other, more experienced photographers; in fact I was taking my cue of when to shoot from the sound of their shutters. After one burst from my main camera it froze, ERR flashed across the screen and nothing I tried would revive it. I scrambled back to my seat and grabbed my second camera and continued on. As soon as the beleaguered Mr. Hurd finished I left and headed back up the hill to our bureau, just a few short blocks from the HP campus.

Earlier that morning I had stopped by the office to see if I could in fact even download images from a card reader into my computer, not a procedure that is a normal part of my work flow. If I couldn’t do it this whole experiment would go up in smoke. Up until about three months ago the computers we had at work were pretty antiquated, the operating systems that were so old and so slow I wouldn’t have even attempted to download and edit pictures. Fortunately our IT department, in all their wisdom, had shipped out new computers with relatively up-to-date software and email accounts. When I plugged the card reader into the USB slot, lo and behold there were the test photos I’d taken at office. From there I could send them out in an email.

©2006 Mark Neuling for CNBC
HP's CEO Mark Hurd begins his press conference.

©2006 Mark Neuling for CNBC
HP's CEO Mark Hurd
makes a point.

What can I say? Everything worked the way we’d hoped it would. I got back to the office. downloaded my cards and started sending out emails. Because of the size of the files I’d only send 4 or 5 jpegs out with each one. There wasn’t enough time to crop, tone or resize anything – just send them out so that they’d get on air as fast as possible. Our news associate began to get phone calls; at least they left me alone, had I sent anything out yet to CNBC’s headquarters in New Jersey? Then the call came that NBC Nightly News also wanted some shots, more emails to send, which my computer laboriously crunched. I began to organize the best shots into a file. At least now I wasn’t sending things out blindly. We weren’t concerned with quality, just speed.

Some time passed, I just happened to glance up at one of the dozen or so monitors we have around the studio. A familiar shot flashed by, followed by several more. Someone in New Jersey had done a pretty good edit from the limited shots I’d so hurriedly fed back east less than an hour before. The network news also used some photos that night on their coverage of the HP story.

So what’s the lesson in all this for both television and still photographers? I guess it’s just to be prepared, you just never know when the platypus may be called upon to be a Trojan horse.

© 2006 Mark Neuling
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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