Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Slow Death at 600 South Tryon

Recently the Observer pinked a number of good journalists including; Chris Kirkpatrick and Stan Olson.

I often wonder how it feels to be employed by The Charlotte Observer, an Eight Track Business in the age of iPods, and I imagine its much like living in a retirement home. Sometimes friends don't show up for breakfast, you don't ask questions or even wonder why and you just accept these things doing the best you can, knowing your probably next.

The first time I walked into the Charlotte News and Observer newsroom at 600 South Tryon I was in awe, the level of activity was stunning. As far as the eye could see people were moving, on the phone, talking, typing, and from time to time yelling. The sound now so many years later is still fresh and so I can tell you it was an amazing sight. The only place I’ve ever been more chaotic is the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

I can’t even begin to describe the feeling being the newbie in the newsroom. Out of a side door an editor emerged, he introduced himself and whisked me off to a small conference room. He closed the door, but the activity continued in plain view on the other side of a glass wall. The sound however, the most noticeable feature of the newsroom subsided to a dull intermingled mix of telephone conversations and typewriters.

The moment was my William Miller meets Lester Bangs in Almost Famous.

The editor shook my hand politely introduced himself and said: “I’ve looked at your work, all good but kid you need more speed, so take these”. And with those words he handed me a dozen rolls of professional Tri-X, and I was given my first assignment.

I really enjoyed the life of a photo stringer, paid by the published photo often I earned nothing for my trouble. Fires, accidents and even a few high school sports assignments, were my job. I worked as much for the photo credit as I did the cash.

Five weeks into my part time job my big break came.

I had just dropped a handful of 35mm film in little cans, showcasing a Myers Park High School JV basketball game.

Turning up Third Street and then waiting at the light at Third and Tryon, gun fire broke out, shots echoed down Tryon Street and in my mindlessness of the moment I grabbed my Nikon and jumped out of my car. Like the then famous photographer David Hume Kennerly, I ran towards the gunfire rather than away from it. I was focusing and pressing the shutter button on the run.

It was over in less than a minute but I had my photos on two rolls of Tri-X.

I made it back to the newsroom largely short of breath, just as one of the full time photographers was hustling out the door. “First Union Shooting” I yelled walking through the door and holding up my camera. The photographer shrugged and turned around. The senior photo editor was up from his desk and had my camera in his hands before I could protest. I later learned that it wasn’t unheard of for rookie photographers to accidentally open their cameras ruining the film in all the excitement of catching some great shots.

I followed him into the darkroom. “Let’s see what you got”. As the images developed he smiled and picked up the phone. "Hold It" is all he said.

In one of the photos a gunman is looking right at me and he's raising his weapon. I was maybe twenty feet away.

And for the brief moment in time I was the story, I was interviewed and my reward was the front and back pages of the Charlotte News “A” section, complete with a by line of the photos and the story plus a check for five hundred bucks.

The front page hangs in my office, a reminder that at one point in my life I was crazy, stupid, and could have been shot and killed on South Tryon Street.

In all ten shots fired, four guns seized, three people arrested and one victim taken to Carolinas Medical Center and later released.

A month later I was hired by John Kilgo at the Weekly Newspapers ending my short career at the Charlotte News and Observer.

The Charlotte News stop publishing in 1985 but it was more of a merger, as few if any lost their jobs.

I understand the once jammed newsroom at 600 South Tryon is now a ghost town. But like a favorite great aunt I haven’t seen in years I’d rather remember her as busy beyond comprehension and the first to print great photos that tell the whole story in black and white.

More about the Observer at Meckburbia


Ben said...

I too love the written word. Sitting with a cup of coffee on a cool morning with nothing to do but read the paper cover to cover. Unfortunately for the observer, they lost me last year. Nothing in particular, just a complete lack of in-depth local reporting. I know several of the reporters there, and they are very good at their jobs. Senior management keeps them busy with fluff. If they are to survive, they need to get edgy and loose the PC. I would love to see some true reporting on our local government and hold them accountable. But I am afraid that is a pipedream. Good blog…Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

My first thought is this for real? But I guess so. So why didn't you stick with the paper, this had to be back in the 80's?

Didn't the weekly burn down or something?

ThaQueenCity said...

We grew up in Huntersville, when it was all farm land NOT the burbs it is today! My Grandfather delivered the Charlotte News for 36years! I used to love riding with him to deliver them to all the outlying & surrounding counties! As kids we got to meet/know everyone! THOSE were greatest of times :-)

Anonymous said...

Awesome Cedar!

ThaQueenCity said...

Cedar, I can only imagine how you felt when you realized the "shot" you took plus the chance you took to get that shot! Adrenaline rush for sure!

I am grateful for all the reporting you presntly do for us in Meck County and online! You do a fantastic job and I know many folks who appreciate your honesty in reporting!

The General said...

All these years we have been friends going places, spending weeks together, working hard on those yachts and i never heard this story. I cant beleive you never told me this one. Now i see where the good guy in you comes from.