No, not the Sidney Bechet “Sheik of Araby” kind of one man band, but the television news kind. Today, Howard Kurtz devotes his column in The Washington Post to a phenomenon brought about in broadcast news by the convergence of technology and economic hard times.
Scott Broom turns his tripod toward the wall of gray mailboxes, adjusts the camera, walks into the shot and delivers his spiel.
“Here’s how bad it is for the U.S. Postal Service,” the WUSA reporter says as a handful of customers at the Garrett Park post office look on. Invoking the organization’s growing deficit, which he just looked up on a laptop in his car, he puts a stamp on an envelope and declares: “At 44 cents a shot, that is a lot of peeling and sticking.”
Broom then thrusts the envelope toward the lens — and blows out the iris, which has to be reset so he can try the stand-up again. It’s one of the occupational hazards of being a journalistic jack of all trades — the equivalent of singing while playing the keyboard, guitar and drums.
To read all of Kurtz’s column, go here. It made me think about about standard practice in many television markets during my early years in broadcast journalism, before the digital revolution produced tiny cameras.
In 1963, I went to the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, to interview Senator Karl Mundt of South Dakota. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. American troop levels in the Viet Nam war had tripled and tripled again and I had lots of questions for him. I drove the KOIN-TV van to the hotel and schlepped the gear into the lobby only to learn that a power disturbance had fried the system that controlled the elevators. They were all out of commission. I hauled the big Pro 600 Auricon conversion 16-millimeter film camera (pictured) up six flights of stairs, knocked on the door of Mundt’s suite, said I was from Channel 6 News and explained that I had to go back down for the rest of the equipment.
In three subsequent trips, I wrangled the enormous wooden tripod, the lights and their stands, amplifier, cables and sound apparatus up six stories. As I brought each new batch of paraphernalia into their room, Senator and Mrs. Mundt sat on the sofa sipping coffee. Small, round people with kind faces, they watched my exertions with interest and patience. I forget what Senate business took Mundt to Portland, but he did not have the entourage of staff people today’s ranking politicians seem unable to do without. If he had, I would have recruited them to help carry the gear.
As I positioned the lights, set the zoom lens for a two-shot, focused and prepared to displace Mrs. Mundt on the sofa for the interview, the senator said, “Will the reporter be here soon?”
I told him that I was the reporter and crew.
“Oh,” he said. “That isn’t how they do it in Washington.”
It is now.