Avoiding Photog Burnout.
This Article First appeared in Photog's Lounge 12-26-97




You stroll into the newsroom about 1:30pm and you quietly round up your gear while all the producers and everyone are conducting their afternoon meeting. Quietly except for the fact that you must now conduct a shakedown that would put the local police department to shame just to find out who's taken your cell phone.
Moments later the scanners erupt. A tornado has touched down just north of town and there are massive reports of damage. GO GO GO!!!!! Everyone is screaming and nobody really knows what is going on. Just head North they say. "We'll call you." As you head up the highway a motorcyclist is down in front of you with no one really trying to help. By this time the storm has come through pouring horizontal rain and dropping fist sized hail adding a few neat cracks to the window of the live truck which actually really sounds like a whole playgound full of angry kids throwing rocks at you. Stopping in the road with your flashers on to prevent anybody else from running over the poor guy, you shout to the reporter to dial 911 "Now!" A few others have stopped to offer assistance by this time and all you can see is him laying there shaking in the road, cold and wet . You feel helpless. After receiving the assurance of the others on the scene that they will stay with the victim until help has arrived you remember your job and shoot about eight seconds of video which ends up looking like it was shot by a chimpanzee. Luckily, a minute later an EMS unit pulls onto the scene and you get on your way because there is a tornado up there.
As you pull up on the scene and do that live shot which practically takes place before the mast is even up, many of the residents are starting to return to the area which will later become known as "Ground Zero". At first sight damage looks minimal, a few buildings blown apart, a few overturned cars and trucks here and there and some uprooted trees. And a large empty field. Shortly thereafter you will discover there had been a neighborhood there. How do you tell someone that their home and loved ones are just "gone with the wind"? I just showed them the videotape and said nothing.
News is full of horrific scenes and traumatic events, as well as many happy and mundane ones too mind you, many of which we often tend to trivialize in order to maintain our professionalism or our sanity, but lest we all not forget we are also human as well and that many times an overload of events in a short period of time combined with the normal stresses of deadlines and personal problems can often lead to serious consequences. The most serious of which can manifest itself in self destructive behavior such as alcohol or drugs, derreliction of duty, anxiety and carelessness all of which can be fatal to a photographer not on top of his game. Just about all of us has shot that fatality accident on the highway with the vehicles torn into pieces and later prayed to God that we don't go out that way. A lot of new guys are always speeding around on the highway haphazardly racing to get there in a hurry, doing things in the news unit that they would never do in their own car. I once had one one of our veteran photogs tell me "I ain't getting a ticket for this story, because I'm gonna have to pay for it,
much less an accident." 'Nuff said, I thought. How is the desk going to know if you are taking your time in order to get there safely. That's what they really want anyway. The director of AP Broadcast in Washington once told me "Hey, It's just television." I don't really know what he meant by that when he said it but if we apply it in context to what we are talking about here it strikes me as a fairly good rule of thumb I'd say.
The news photog is a totally different breed and very proud. We do things and go places others can only envy or abhor, then we forget about it and go on to the next one. The job of the photog remains the same, only the scenery changes. Many times it is difficult to explain what you did at work that day because when you start to talk about a story you worked people just get mortified and don't want to hear about all the gory details and sometimes even the mood of the room will change. Find a producer or someone at the desk and lay it all on them. The're the ones who sent you out there in the first place, and the best ones who can make use of the information anyway. Work to find new story ideas, something that YOU are interested in, find out what is going on in town and make an effort to make the contacts and set it up. Reporters love that. That way they don't have to do any of the legwork, they just voice the silly thing and you get to shoot a story you want to do, and even better yet, ask for a Nat Sound piece on something YOU want to shoot. Take a more active role in the newsroom, otherwise you'll get stuck with those same lame old dog and cat stories the producers come up with all the time. What do they know? All they do is read press releases and look at wire copy. You're the one who's out on the town all day long. Rotate your duties if possible, edit a few anchor packs a couple of days, shoot sports if you can or take a live shot. Usually others like a change from the grind too, if they can get it.Utilize your vacation time and all that worthless comp time to your advantage, doing something that you enjoy where you can relax, especially a hobby like computers, sports, music or whatever, just don't end up watching everybody else's newscast with a pizza. (Watching everyone elses or your own newscast might not be so bad, you can laugh at them and chuckle because you are loungin' on the couch like a bum, but don't say I didn't warn you about the pizza.) If none of this works for stress relief, at parties make fun of that troll or demon in the newsroom who belongs on the back of that Ozzy record. If everyone laughs continue, if not change the subject immediately and go get another drink because retribution will be swift and painful.
Looking back now, later that night after reality had set in I turned to one of our reporters the lovely Ms. Kris Davis-Jones who had had an equally if not more strenuous day than myself, considering she had been face to face with that beast of a tornado at less than 300 yards, she turned to me and said, "You know, I'm seriously thinking of retiring and becoming a slacker." to which I replied, "No doubt. Me too. Give me a shack on Bondi Beach in Sydney and I'm just gonna go surfin'!" One day Kris, one day.
Update: On January 30, 1998. KDJ worked her last day as a reporter so that she can now attend Baylor Law School. Congratulations Kris, I'm still waiting for the surf to come in.
Update #2: On July 5, 1998, The Crawdaddy set foot on Huntington Beach for the first time ........but still has not yet made it to Bondi.
  click on any presscard.com logo to return to the home page.