Teamwork, compassion, trust underpin Tom Gardiner’s TV news work

Does your morning routine include turning on the TV to catch a few minutes of Philly news for the day? If you’re like me, you get to know the faces on the screen — but what about those who are behind the camera, filming neighborhoods, police, and fires? I asked CBS3 News photojournalist Tom Gardiner — one of the people behind the scenes — what it’s like to put together what we see while sipping coffee.

Gardiner is one of the people who collect the raw material for a broadcast.

“It’s the first level of creating what will be the televised experience,” he says. “You have a blank slate and you have to paint the picture.”

Teamwork

It’s not always obvious how to proceed. When he arrives at a scene, he has to do some quick thinking and sort out what’s got to be filmed first.

“First you have to find the subject and try to get the things that won’t be there for long — for example, the flames of a fire,” Gardiner says. “Then you get the things that are more readily available after that, like sound bites. You’ve got to shoot what won’t be there later. A fire’s a perfect example, and Lord knows we do enough of those.”

While Gardiner and colleagues are filming the most pressing images, other team members seek out the other pieces of the story. “A reporter can go get info from police while I’m in my spot trying to get the flames. It’s absolutely a team thing. The better the team, the better the stories are going to come out.”

As he talks, I imagine a fast-paced situation that can quickly give rise to the unexpected, but that’s what Gardiner likes: “Often you don’t know what it will be like when you’re on the way there. I didn’t get into this business to stand on the sidelines and watch. It’s adrenaline, but with compassion, because on the other end, you know people are hurt.”

Like what I’ve heard from professional photographers, Gardiner has to both assess and act simultaneously, balancing the tech logistics with what’s needed to make an effective broadcast.

“You have to be able to see the things that are happening that others may not see,” he says. “It’s sort of like keeping my head on a swivel when I’m working. I have to create what they need to work with at the station. There are all the technical hurdles that come between the on-the-ground work and the station. But the tech things become secondary — like second nature.”

Trust

It’s that second nature that helps Gardiner win people’s trust — including that of Philly sports teams. I was chatting with him as he’d just finished up shooting footage of an Eagles practice.

“The practice was fun,” he says, “being in the middle of the guys and Chip Kelly. They run a tight ship. You have to turn your phone off, only shoot a certain amount of minutes for video that can air. You have to get along with the other camera people and reporters.”

Sports events involve catching opposing sides and opinions. But at a recent event, most everyone seemed to be on one side: the pope’s visit.

“In my shoes, when you first talk about one man visiting Philadelphia, you’re like: Big deal. But that day [of the pope’s arrival], while I was watching one of our reporters, suddenly the pope’s plane landed, and it was like a switch flipped,” Gardiner remembers. “There was excitement. I saw the Independence Mall area fill up. I’m so used to sporting events with two teams and opinions, but with the pope, everyone was there for the same reason. The nicest crowd I’ve ever been involved in.

“I was going to leave [the mall area] and go back to my hotel to take a break, but the excitement got me. I stayed. I got pictures and video with my own camera and stayed at the mall when I didn’t have to. When the pope showed up, I was actually touched. I can’t really explain why.”

The prep for that logistically complicated event must have been daunting. “I ran 1,300 feet of fiber-optic cable that took me a full day to do — in a subway, flying it on flagpoles, taping it to stuff,” he says. “Then Monday I had to unwrap it all again, climbing on scaffolding across Market Street. There was no glamour in winding up 1,300 feet of cable and making sure your gear came back in one piece. And now it’s gone. It was a relief — but also kind of sad.”

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