Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My black-and-white childhood was loaded with color

The other day we ran out of milk and I couldn't help but think about the days when that never, ever happened.

Because Eddie the Milkman always kept our Philco fridge stocked with moo juice.

Images from that era are seen these days via grainy black-and-white film, making it seem as if we lived the dark ages before the world embraced color.

In reality, those days of Eddie giving a cheerful "Good Morning!" through the kitchen screen door as he walked in, opened the fridge, and filled it with milk, eggs and other dairy products, are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. If he had time, he'd sit down for coffee and ask me how I was doing in school.

Imagine a world in which you never ran out of dairy products, in which your fridge was magically filled with fresh stuff. Nope, not sci-fi, just the way things were fifty years ago. So much for progress.

If Eddie happened to come by before we were up, he'd leave the milk on the porch. During cold weather it would freeze and expand, creating a vivid image that's impossible to create today: a brown bottle featuring the face of Elsie the Cow, two inches of frozen milk sticking out the top, with a wax cap perched on top like a hat.

Sadly, today, life is as homogenized as milk.

Back then the colorful characters made up our neighborhood and shaped our lives. Mike the Bus Driver was a protector, and made it safe for eight-year-olds to ride mass transit alone. (Imagine today's helicopter parents allowing that.) Bobby the Cop kept an eye out for us, and let parents know if we were headed down the wrong path. Lou the Bookie would give me flash paper so I could impress my friends, and taught me the meaning of vig. (Life skill for all New York area kids.) Father Donnelly doled out guilt during old fashioned one-on-one confession.

Flash forward to my trip to Walgreens for milk. A very nice store, which looks the same as just about any other in the chain. Just as every Outback Steakhouse, Target, and Home Depot are built from a template.

And just like almost every newscast and news story. (Thank you, consultants.)

Despite the fact that we live in a high-def 3-D world, the color has gone out of our lives. Yes, it's nice that I can watch every New York Giants game on my satellite dish, but there are no rich characters anymore. Those wonderful Norman Rockwell people whose last names were simply their professions are gone. I couldn't tell you what Eddie the Milkman's surname was, but he got a bottle of liquor from us every Christmas, as he was part of the family.

The challenge for you as news people is to seek out these people for your stories, fill your stories with color, and make your stories different. We're so stuck in the mode of voice track/sound bite/standup/voice track/sigout that packages all start to look the same. Imagine being a News Director watching 200 tapes... after a while it all runs together and becomes video wallpaper.

If you want to truly stick out and make a name and career for yourself, dare to be different. Try new things. Look for the point of view that isn't obvious. Do two standups. Knock out a package with so much great nat sound you don't need a sound bite. Do a story for once without talking to an official.

It's your chance to be colorful in what has truly become a black-and-white world.

1 comment:

Forward said...

In honor of Forrest, the Postman who brought that humanity into my home everyday he delivered the mail to our home in LA. He stopped to play our piano once on a very hot day succumbing to my offer of some fresh lemonade. My two year old daughter delighted in his arrival to the point where I set up a table by the porch window where we had a snack or meal and waited for Forrest, the Milkman to poke his head in the window in his best "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" way. He was the best Postman, I've ever had. This was back in 198... - Thank you for a brilliant post today. I've been enjoying your blog for about a month now, tvnewsgrapevine, the Blogger.