Sunday, March 30, 2008

Need Practice

John McQuiston Photograph
This gecko was kind enough to pose for me, which gave me numerous attempts to get the framing right, or at least the way I wanted it, which may be different than getting it right. Otherwise recent photo shoots have not yielded many results worth public display. Like anything else, photography skill takes practice to develop and I'm not putting enough time and effort into it to see the improvement that I want.

I didn't forget the copyright notice; I didn't think any of these were worth stealing. In my defense, I shot these -- except the red rose -- in a quick lap around the USF Botanical Gardens in Tampa Saturday before a worker shooed me out at closing time. The rose I shot at my parents' house. It came from a bouquet my mother had.

I'm not as obsessed with flowers as it might appear looking through the pictures I post here. I'm not even trying to impress a girl! I do like how colorful flowers are but I shoot a lot of plants mainly because they sit still for me. Except when there's a breeze, which seems to be every time I shoot. Of course.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Being Edited

My second story for WEDU's program A Gulf Coast Journal aired tonight. Because my full-time job (for now) means I can't be there when stories are edited, what shows up on TV comes nearly as much of a surprise to me as it does to anyone else watching.

This is new to me. When I reported news, once the producer approved the script, I had a good idea what the story would sound like, at least, because the editor rarely deviated from the script. When I do sports stores for The Dodge Sports Report, a high school show that airs on a statewide cable network here in Florida, I have complete control because I do everything on them myself: I shoot them; I write them; I narrate them and I edit them. There are no surprises.

Here, even after going back and forth through several drafts with the show's senior producer, the script serves only as a rough outline for the editor. The narrative that I painstakingly put together gets taken apart and reassembled after some of the pieces have fallen to the floor.

I'm not complaining. These aren't my stories. I do the legwork and I write what turns into the basic structure for them but I'm just one of the many hands involved in their creation. Someone else shoots them, the senior producer makes changes (euphemistically called "suggestions"), the show's host Jack Perkins narrates them and a different person edits them. If having a more distant influence over stories than I'm accustomed, I try to remember whose stories these are. As I told the senior producer, "the station is paying me. When I pay the station, I can tell it what the stories will look like."

I added that I own a video camera and that if it's that important that I dictate how stories look, I can shoot them myself for my own amusement. Which I have. They served another purpose when I needed material to demonstrate my skills to WEDU.

If not thrilled with how the pieces turn out, I am mollified by the turnaround time for payment once I submit my invoice, which is lightning fast. If the station is happy with the results, so am I. We've shot two more stories and two more are in the planning stages.

When the station posts the current episode online, I'll put it up here. Meantime, here is the episode from last September that includes the first story I produced for the show. It's the one about the radio controlled car racers and it comes about 17:45 into the show. To skip forward to there, press the play button. The running time will display. Then you can move the slider up to any spot in the show and play it from that point.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nighttime Tampa

After dinner and a satisfactory time at my parents' house watching my (and my father's and my brother Jim's) alma mater win an NCAA tournament game by 31 points, I took a detour on the way home and drove around downtown Tampa looking for photography subjects.

Other than my rained out attempt to shoot a lunar eclipse (a few posts below), I had not shot at night before. I knew enough to know that I'd need a tripod because the shutter would stay open a long time and any hand-held attempts would look surreal at best and garden variety blurry at worst.

John McQuiston Photograph
This shot is from a small marina on Davis Islands, a ritzy part of South Tampa, looking toward downtown. You wouldn't know looking at the picture that this scene was almost totally dark as I looked with my naked eye. The boats were mere shadows lit not even enough to form real silhouettes. I didn't know what effect the overcast sky would have. When the sky showed up that bright in my LCD screen, I thought I had taken the coolest photograph ever. I got over myself a few minutes later.

And again when I got home and looked at the night's efforts. I never did find the spot from which all the shots of Tampa's nighttime skyline I've seen in brochures were taken. I sure tried, though. I drove and walked around Tampa for more than three hours, snapping off shots at points along the way. Most of them stunk. That's why you're not getting a slide show.

I finally quit when my battery died around 12:30 a.m. at the University of Tampa. But not before I stumbled across a vantage point I won't wait so late to shoot next time.

John McQuiston Photograph
The challenge for the vertical shots is that only the bottom of the camera attaches to the tripod head. The only way to turn the camera vertically and take a shot was to let it sit on the tripod on its side and hope it keeps its balance. I couldn't hold the camera because that would shake it while the shutter was open. I kept the camera strap around my neck in case the camera fell off. I'm happy to report that it didn't, though the technique would not have worked on even a moderately breezy night.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


It's a good thing I'm in good hands with Allstate because they have reached deep into my pants to keep a firm grip on my wallet.

My latest insurance bill included a $4.72 charge for the "01/07 Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund Emergency Assessment," whatever that is. So I pay almost $5 extra bucks to subsidize Allstate when it no longer writes homeowners policies in the state.

Oh, I forgot to mention: This bill was for my car insurance.

Thanks Allstate!

More financial fun came when I examined my paycheck today. I had noticed earlier that my pay had increased since the start of the year even though I have to pay more for my health insurance. I haven't been scheduled for a raise, either, so the apparent increase baffled me but who am I to look a gift check in the mouth?

Today I finally did and discovered that the extra money should be going to the IRS instead. In late December I filled out a new W-4 intending to get more money withheld from my check. People for whom I freelance don't deduct taxes so I end up vastly underpaying during the year and owing a lot at tax time. That would be OK if it weren't for the penalty Uncle Sam tacks on. Never mind that I'm ready and able to render unto Caesar and all that; it appears that the emporer wants to collect interest during the year, too.

I solved this by declaring zero allowances on my W-4 and asking that $10 more be withheld from each paycheck at my regular job. That's still not enough to keep me from owing taxes next April but I hoped it would be enough to avoid a penalty for underpayment.

Did I say I solved the problem? Silly me. What I meant to say was that someone in my company's payroll department botched the paperwork so that instead of zero exemptions plus $10 extra, my pay stub shows that I have declared 10 exemptions!

Through the first two-and-a-half months of this year, my company has withheld exactly $3.63 in federal taxes from my paycheck. I am so hosed.

Thanks Payroll!

Friday, March 07, 2008


I don't work regularly in TV news any more. I work very occasionally -- emphasis on very, less than ten days last year -- filling in for the morning traffic reporter on WTSP. My primary ties to television are field producing stories for a show that airs on Tampa's PBS affiliate WEDU and contributing stories that I shoot, report and edit myself to a high school sports show that airs on Sun Sports, a statewide cable sports network here in Florida.

Oh, and whatever video exploits to which I subject blog visitors.*

I also visit a couple of message boards related to the business at and

I peek at blogs, few as they are by working TV newsies. Most stations frown on the idea. It's OK to tell the truth on the job; talking honestly about your job is quite another matter! Most TV-related blogs I have seen have had little to say worth reading.

This one is an exception. Its author is a sometimes grammatically challenged news photographer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, named Rick Portier. I promise you will forgive the occasional misplaced apostrophe if you read it. It is, by turns, witty, profound and profane. (The masthead of his blog reads, "Turdpolisher ...shining sh*t all over the Gulf Coast since 1990.")

Much of it is aimed at TV insiders but we're talking TV not astrophysics here so it's not too tough to follow even for people whose closest contact with a TV newsroom was seeing the promo for the 11 p.m. news (How your favorite food can kill you! Tonight at 11!) that interrupted Grey's Anatomy.

In a recent entry Rick laments the increasing tabloidization of TV news, pointing to a story about desperate treatments of a dying dog overshadowing what should be the more pertinent issues of the day, including the death of a one-time political kingpin whose influence touched every corner of Louisiana.

He politely suggested that when a dog reaches a point at which it needs $5,000 of medical treatment that it's time to kill the dog and get a new one. OK, so it wasn't suggested so politely.

Comments being open, I chipped in my opinion:

Well, that's one way to get off PETA's mailing list.

When I was a newsroom rookie, the joke was that the three Ts of television stood for Tits, Tots and Terriers. Work one of those into a story and you had a winner. Now it's not a joke; it's a news philosophy.

TV news long ago chased away all the viewers who tuned in looking for actual news. Managers liked to say that viewers didn't have the attention span or the interest or, frankly, the intelligence to watch stories about the issues that genuinely affect them.

That's part of it but truer is the sad fact that too few of the 20-somethings that they're paying 20-something have the attention span or the interest or, frankly, the intelligence to tell meaningful stories about the issues that genuinely affect their viewers.

Either way, dumb down the news long enough and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And a vicious cycle too as the people who aspire to be tomorrow's broadcast journalists grow up watching today's broadcast journalism.

Think about that for a moment. And realize that wherever teevee news is headed, it's not taking a U-turn any time soon. It's never going to be what it used to be.

Besides, dogs are much cuter, more interesting and more useful than all but the rarest of politicians. And I don't even particularly like dogs.

*Apparently all at the same time, if you click the link to a list of all the entries tagged "video". I have the auto start function turned off yet they still play unprompted, at least in Firefox.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

March 4, 1961

Forty-seven years ago today, my mother announced to her parents that she was getting married. She was a high school senior a month past her eighteenth birthday in Danville, Virginia. She had been dating a college boy from the University of North Carolina, 55 miles away in Chapel Hill, for the previous year-and-a-half. She had even set a date, she informed her parents.

The wedding would happen later that day.

"The relationship had grown quite intense," she remembered in late 2004 when I interviewed her for a family documentary, but "there was no shacking up in those days." Sex before marriage simply was not an option.

So they got married. They had made arrangements for a ceremony at the Presbyterian church in Yanceyville, about 14 miles south of Danville on Route 86, the winding country between Danville and Chapel Hill road the college boy drove to visit her.

My mother photographed the church on a visit back to the area a few years ago, which no one thought to do on the occasion of her marriage there in 1961. My maternal grandfather, who owned a color movie camera as early as the 1940s, must not have thought enough of the union's prospects to snap even a Polaroid. There are no photographs from the event.

Forgive my mother's parents for their lack of enthusiasm. St. Clair Frederick and Greenhow Winiker liked to think of themselves as high society people. They had a maid when money permitted and S.F., known familiarly as "Bud," bought a new car every two years whether money permitted or not. Their only daughter was supposed to marry, of course, but only after they had properly debuted her to society.

And now she had ruined all those plans. On top of that, the inconsiderate girl had to run off and marry a Yankee from Pennsylvania!

It was not a perfect match. It rarely is when people 21 and 18 years old marry. The would-have-been-debutant probably wondered at times why she ever did such a foolish thing as marry so young.* And that college boy, who admitted later that his plans for married life the day he married my mother didn't go any farther than their wedding night, how long did he stick around?

We're still not sure yet. But so far it's up to 47 years.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

*Truth told, so did he. They probably still do sometimes.