REAL REPORTERS: BEHIND THE CAMERA JOURNALISTS – Garry Armstrong

It’s never been a one-man show.

I’ve logged over 40-years in TV and radio news,  including 31 years at one Boston TV Station.  I’m always flattered when people say they remember me and my work. The body of work is considerable. Usually 3 or 4 daily newscasts, 5 to 6 days a week,  48 or so weeks a year times 40.  That’s a lot of news, good, bad and ugly.

A reporter,  the face in front of the camera,  gets the credit for everything. The images of life, death and the furies of Mother Nature.  Wars and Peace. Happiness and sorrow. You see the reporter, center screen with a name graphic, proof that he or she saw everything in the visuals that tell the story.

It’s a false premise.  It’s impractical. The reporter couldn’t possibly be in all the places seen in the story that has you riveted to the screen.

We’re called “talent” in business lexicon.  That should be a dead giveaway. We’re the human, face connection, to all those images on your screen.

The real reporters are the people behind the cameras.  The men and women who frequently put their lives on the line to bring you the pictures, the video seared into your sense memory.

I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received over the years. I’d be a liar if I said the hardware didn’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the stories covered across four decades – on the local, state, national and international stages.  The awards have my name clearly etched, front and center. But I can see all the faces of those responsible for bringing the stories to life.

In the 60’s,  I was a green rookie, assigned to the national and international news,  landscapes that ranged from Vietnam, civilian dissent against the war, Civil Rights marches and violent opposition,  assassinations of national leaders,  a historic walk on the moon and a music-culture changer called Woodstock. I was a 20-something, agape at all these events I was covering for Network News.  It truly was baptism under fire.  I survived because of veterans whose careers began with the birth of radio and television news,  The great depression and World War Two.

The 20 something was handed the keys to the news kingdom.  Right place, right time. I may have often been driving the big car but those veterans always rode shotgun,  guiding me through some very difficult mazes of network news closed-door battles with the Pentagon,  the DOD and the White House.  I had a grizzled news manager who always counseled me, “Just tell the truth…make sure you’ve corroborated 2 or 3 times at least.

Don’t let the Pols or Generals faze you…make sure the stories are short, punchy…dump the adjectives”.

All that was behind me when I landed in Boston in 1970. If I thought I knew it all, I was dead wrong.  Boston was just edging its way into a golden era of TV Journalism.  The technology was rapidly changing and changing the way things were done.  TV news was still viewed with skepticism and contempt by many old-school journalists who believed the word was stronger than the picture.

Boston is a highly regarded news market. It can be tricky for a newcomer not versed in the proper pronunciation of towns and cities or the political landmines in seemingly benevolent Norman Rockwell like settings.

I was thrust into local celebrity by being a general assignment reporter covering blue-plate special stories of murders, fires, prison riots,  sexual predators, bad weather, and quirky politics.

I quickly learned to lean on the experience of the people shooting the stories.  They knew the players, the back stories,  the dos and the don’ts.

A news director (one of nearly 3 dozen I survived) told me to keep the camera crews under my thumb.  He said they were just ‘picture takers’, ‘lumpers’ and ‘complainers’.  That news director was history before I figured out how wrong he was.

Those picture takers really were reporters who saw everything around them. They knew when someone was just using his “face time” to dance around the truth and delay legal consequences. They warned me about the “frauds” and “fakers,” political and community leaders who could clean your pockets while shaking your hand.

I am especially thankful for the photojournalists who covered “the mean streets.”   They’re the ones I always saw at 3 o’clock in the morning at a devastating fire,  a triple homicide or drive-by shooting.  They always knew more than the eye-witnesses or law enforcement people just catching the case. I apologize to those whose names are omitted.  It’s impossible to do justice to all of you who were there for me and other reporters over all those years.

Boston is a unique TV news market because the competition is benevolent.  Everyone wants to be FIRST with the story, especially with the advent of electronic newsgathering.  Everything is “Now”.  It happens and,  in a few minutes,  you’re expected to be “live with breaking news”.  Truth and facts often become victims in the quest to be fast and first.

Reporters feel the pressure.  They often feel their jobs are on the line if they are not first.  The folks behind the cameras become a calming force.  They’ve observed the scene, the people, possible evidence.  Often, cameramen and women can figure out the story while fielding frantic and demanding calls from newsrooms.  Over the years,  I’ve leaned on camera and tech crews, not only from my station but also competitors.

I’ve been slipped pieces of paper with key information during live shots and looked like the best damn reporter in town.  In truth,  I was saved by a competing cameraman who saw me struggling and threw the lifeline.

I’ve been praised for memorable “standups” — those on-camera appearances where we look you in the eye and deliver riveting reports. The truth is those words often came from the people behind the camera.  Their words, repeated with sincere conviction by me.

The camera folks also correct information that we, seasoned reporters,  are sure is true.  I was often interrupted with,  “Garry, I don’t want to tell you what to say.  You always know what you’re doing…”   The bulb in my brain flashes — “Listen, know-it-all breath”.

So,  this is a thank you to Richie, Andy, Nat, Jack, Premack, Warren, Eddie,  Susan, Leslie, Noot,  Messrs. Richard Chase, “Fast Al”,  Stan The Man and all the other REAL — behind the camera reporters.

These were the journalists who enabled me to have such a long and satisfying career. Thank you!



Categories: Cameras, Garry Armstrong, Media, News, performance, Photography, Television, Work

Tags: , , , , ,

39 replies

  1. great post, Garry. I think you covered it beautifully, and generously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Judy. Just sharing the rightly deserved credit. Some of my colleagues would have you believe they did it all by themselves. Not so.

      Like

  2. That’s a lovely tribute to your fellow workers Garry.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As I’ve said on many occasions, you are an honourable man, Garry. I’ve seen some of the coverage you were responsible for and it was such a breath of fresh air. A man I could trust. That’s how I felt. I still do. It’s indeed touching and moving to read this article. Giving credit to the others involved. I’ve often thought, wow that camera man is weathering that storm the same as the reporter out front, or something similar. Too often I’ve witnessed the reporter take credit. Few were the times they made mention of the others around them, a cast of people, presenting the news. You do yourself and other reporters credit. You were exceptional and your crew was too. Brava, Garry! Loved this. Respect you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed this behind the scenes view of the news.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oops.. keep thinking of more. Did you watch Broadcast News? I loved it. (The TV Show) and Sports Night.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Do you have any broadcast video of yourself? I’d love to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Is that you with a part in your hair, Garry? Enjoyed this story a lot and appreciate your sharing the glory. Who is the lady showing all the leg next to you and are you all receiving awards??? (Seated photo.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep. That’s me. The Young Garry. I had my hair parted til I was in my late 30’s. One of those unsung heroes firmly suggested I try a different look. I did.

      That’s Susan Wornick sitting to my left. Susan is a long time, Emmy Award winning Anchor-Reporter. She recently retired from WCVB-Ch 5 in Boston. Susan co-anchored the popular midday news on Ch-5 for many years. I have a nice, personal memory of Susan in a bikini at the Martha’s Vineyard Summer House we shared with media friends for almost 25 years.

      That group picture is from the Massachusetts Hall of Fame News Media awards several years ago. Susan Wornick and I were among those inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was a big honor for all us. My “Baby” Brother, ANTON was a surprise guest. He flew in, arm in a sling., to be there for me. WOW!

      Liked by 1 person

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