The Digital Journalist
Reel Love
September 2007

by Francene Cucinello

"I have trouble – of the worst kind." I was standing in a restaurant bathroom whispering into my cell phone.

My friend sighed, "Oh my God, you met another photographer."

© David Lutman

He wasn't just "another photographer." He was a POY, an NPPA Photographer of the Year. And it only took me watching three of his stories during a two-hour seminar to launch one of the most wonderful and heartbreaking relationships of my life. There was a lasting upside though. I learned everything there is to know about using nat sound.

Some women swoon over a man in a uniform. Others are turned on by money and power. My weakness has always been men with talent, particularly the ability to take compelling pictures, pair them with sound and edit them together so they sing. My weakness: photojournalists.

Except for one extraordinarily gifted female videographer I had the privilege of working with, all of my photographic partners have been men.

I broke into television news in Charlotte. My reporting was rough but I had potential and desire. And I learned – from my photographers. They were generous, hardworking pros who saved my butt. They taught me that if you let them, pictures and sound tell the best stories.

What rookie reporter isn't going to be smitten by the cute shooter who holds the keys to her lead story and the satellite truck? Besides, a lot of photogs are some degree of gorgeous. Don't even get me started on "cameraman arms." Television photographers spend their days lugging around 35 pounds of camera. They develop the kind of shoulders and biceps women love to run their hands over. A few, like K. from Cleveland, also have sinewy forearms where you can see veins. Ooo baby!

Okay, all news photographers aren't demi-Gods. But they are our partners. Often they are also our friends. We try and avoid getting paired with some; we lobby to get teamed with others.

Reporters and photographers work together all day. We eat together. We goof off together (I worked with several photographers who liked to go shopping. Two would even get manicures with me). We commiserate, celebrate, share slow news days and irritation with the assignment desk. You get close. Sometimes you get intimate. And while that kind of intimacy doesn't always involve sex – sometimes it does.

There was a knee-weakening kiss in a live truck with S.; relentless flirtation which ended in just a so-so encounter with a vacation relief guy in Baltimore; highly inappropriate exchanges with a Houston hottie while we were in Europe – and the potentially lethal combination of talent and charm – in the White House Press Corps.

Network photographers stay on the road for long stretches. It's possible they invented the phrase "What happens in… ." Luckily, I had some willpower. When a crew from CNN figured out they weren't going to be able to bed me, they made me their pet. They told me to change my hair and wear certain colors and they even reset my lighting when my bureau's photographer took a smoke break. To this day I think of them whenever I put on sapphire blue.

But while some news photographers are bad boys, others are darlings. When I left Nashville, H. gave me a card that joked, "With you gone who will tell me what to shoot and how to edit?" M. brought me flowers, sweetly placed in a plastic cup from the gas station where we always stopped for snacks.

Just when I thought I had given up the men of TV news, a former boss invited me to a statewide news photographer's seminar. About a half-hour into package presentations the critiquing panel discussed a story that had such incredible beauty shots and tender edits – well, you can guess. S. was slouched in a chair in the back of the hotel ballroom. He was wearing a cream-colored sweater that made his steel blue eyes look like a wolf's. He was friendly. He had 12 Emmys. On our first date he staged the ultimate seduction. He brought a Beta deck to my house and we showed each other favorite stories. It totally worked.

Not that just any guy with a tripod will do. Friends still tease that prospective dates should send me their demo tapes. Pathetic but true; I won't go out with a photographer if I haven't seen his work. The one time I did I learned. His kissing was like his editing – jump cut choppy and without sequence.

The POY? What got me was his story about a house being moved over a frozen lake. He crawled under the moving house to get nat sound of the ice cracking. He also once ran backwards, jumping fire hose lines while shooting a blazing Baltimore building. He was brave, artistic, smart, funny, handsome – and he shot amazing video. Can you blame me?

Meals. Manicures. Friends. Lovers. Really good photographers go beyond doing what they do best. They pay attention to important little things. They light you pretty. On a live shot they tell you when the wind makes your hair stick up. They also calm you down and cheer you up and make you laugh.

Really great photographers go even further. They provide some of the very best memories of a television news career. They did with mine.

*[NOTE: Names have been abbreviated to protect the guilty.]

© 2007 News Photographer magazine

Francene Cucinello hosts a talk-radio show on 84WHAS in Louisville, Ky., and still reports the news part-time for WXIX-TV in Cincinnati, Ohio.