The cheap suit

My favorite suit right now is one I purchased for $150 on eBay.  Its label says “Kenneth Cole / Reaction.”  It was listed as $300 retail.  It’s the proverbial cheap suit.

El cheapo

El cheapo

Yet the wife actually went “ooh!” last time I put it on, and without irony.  The label says it’s composed of 85 percent polyester and 15 percent rayon.  It has proven water resistant qualities.  Presumably, it’s durable and fireproof. And it looks OK on my lumpy frame.

I know many adult male professionals who never wear suits.  But lawyers, politicians and TV reporters are saddled with the burden of purchasing and wearing suits.  Lawyers and TV anchors can be frequently seen in thousand dollar-plus tailored suits.

The rest of us with more modest paychecks have to dress accordingly.  I know plenty of TV reporters who sing the praises of their cheap suits.  Their go-to typically is K&G Men’s Warehouse.  It’s also the go-to for police detectives, a profession whose couture and salaries are more mismatched than most.

Less cheap

Less cheap

My go-to is eBay, first suggested by my sister who is a public defender.  I’ve bought at least five suits off eBay.  All of them were new (verified by the fact that the pants were unhemmed).  Three of them were Hickey-Freeman brand, and had tags sewn in that indicated retail prices that were substantially higher than the two to three hundred dollars I paid for them.  They are my “expensive” suits.

Portia Bruner: Clearance rack dress, thrift store belt.

Portia Bruner: Clearance rack dress, thrift store belt.

But lately I’m more sold on the cheap suits, and I’m not alone.

My friend Portia Bruner has created a thread on Facebook that shows her (looking great) in garments she has purchased at thrift stores.  Portia is a reporter and substitute anchor at WAGA, and a mom with two adorable boys in private school.  In other words, she is understandably budget-minded.

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

My coworker Valerie Hoff is a walking bargain-bin promotion, as detailed on her Ways to Save site and in random anecdotes I frequently overhear from her desk.  The WXIA anchor/reporter views bargain hunting as a sport.  Like Portia, she wears the cheap stuff with style.

I purchased the “Kenneth Cole / Reaction” suit by accident.  I needed a suit for a costume.  The suit that arrived in the mail had a subtle color that surprised me.  When I put it on, I was horrified that it not only lacked the costumey quality I’d expected, but also looked better than some of my pricier suits.

This points to one of the pitfalls of ordering a suit from eBay:  You may get surprised.  But it may be a pleasant surprise.

Last word:  Cheap neckties.

 

Death star 2

I’m overdue to write something nice about WSB.

Jeff Dore's workplace ID badge

Jeff Dore’s workplace ID badge

This occurred to me as I was attending the sendoff the station threw for Jeff Dore, purportedly the first-ever WSB general assignment reporter to retire from the station. If that raises an eyebrow, that’s on you.  I’m being nice.

Here’s the biggest compliment I can give to the station against whom I’ve competed for the last 28 years:  I almost never hear its employees gripe about their workplace.  (There’s one notable exception, but it dates to 2006.)

And they could.  WSB’s dayside reporters have to run a gauntlet of hour-long newscasts at noon, 4, 5 and 6pm.  Except for the folks enterprising investigative stuff, reporters typically have to deliver material for at least two of those newscasts each day.  It has the schedule of a sweat shop.

(My favorite thing to see is when John Bachman covers a story during the day, then anchors their 4pm newscast, then gets shoved out the door in rush hour traffic to do a live shot at 6 on the story he’d covered previously.  4pm co-anchor Erin Coleman gets the same inglorious treatment.  You kids in college want to be news anchors?  Talk to those two first.)

Bachman and I cover some dreary meeting related to the new Falcons stadium, Nov. 2012

Bachman and I cover some dreary meeting related to the new Falcons stadium, Nov. 2012

Yet the affable Bachman, whose daddy is a recently-retired longtime anchor at WHO-TV in Des Moines Iowa, is the embodiment of a WSB employee who has no gripes.

The station’s esprit de corps was evident at Dore’s function.  The event’s energy emanated from the troops, not the station’s management (which had sprung for the tab and food at Uncle Julio’s on Peachtree Rd.)

From my view across the proverbial street (a viewpoint from which I am committed to the righteous cause of strengthening WXIA and crushing WSB), here are some notes on my grudging admiration for my doomed competitor.

Although they work their field hands pretty hard, there’s no ambivalence about their expectations.  You’ll produce pieces for two or more newscasts each day. You will be in a live truck.  And you won’t let one of those other Atlanta TV stations yapping at your heels beat you on a story.

Even if you’re sent on some meaningless “breaking news,” you’ll sell it as such because it is happening now.  You’d best get those flashing lights and / or crime scene tape behind you in your live shot.

Your photogs will take their cameras off their tripods during live shots, and you will gesture emphatically toward whatever building or other mise en scene is behind you.  Or you’ll display a piece of paper held in your hand or some other prop.

In return, you’ll be the best-compensated local news crews in town.  You’ll have ample benefits and vacation time.

You’ll have an abundance of competent backup in a newsroom that has mostly retained the type of employees downsized from other newsrooms.

You’ll use gear that is well-maintained and will never fail you due to neglect or budgetary issues.  As a result, you will rarely waste time wrestling with issues that aren’t related to covering news.

You’ll not be saddled with gimmickry or efforts to re-invent your craft.  You’ll use video, words, audio and graphics to efficiently and clearly tell your stories, same as you always have.

If there are updates in technology, you’ll have them before anybody else. (Except for HD video in the field.  But while HD looks better on TV, the standard def video you’ve been using is easier to work with, uses less hard drive space and is faster to process.  So your delay was worker-friendly.  And your vast audience never really noticed nor cared that the other stations used HD first.)

Mike Dreadan

Mike Dreadan

You’ll work for managers you respect.  Your news director, Mike Dreaden, is a guy who came up through the ranks.  When I’ve heard WSB personnel utter his name in the field, it has always been in respectful tones.  The evidence indicates he possesses a functioning human heart.

And you’ll do all this for an audience that seemingly can’t get enough of your product.

I’ve written a thing or two that have challenged my friends at WSB, mostly about their attitude and their priorities.  I stand by it.  But their work is solid.  And as local TV stations go, it appears to be a quality place of employment.

They’ll miss Dore.  He was unfailingly great to be around in the field.  He was a graceful and humorous storyteller in a shop that tends to be very nuts-and-bolts.  But they’ve managed to succeed in Monica’s absence.  Dore would be the first to tell you that they’ll do OK without him.

So here’s my slow hand-clap for WSB.  You guys aren’t half bad.

And we will bury you.

Our fan base

His eyes were lidded.  His speech was slurred.  He identified me as “Drag Ringus.”  I had told him my real name, but that was how it came out of his mouth.

Reilly uses his Ninja powers to control a spectator

Reilly uses his Ninja powers to control a spectator

Although he hung around our live truck for a solid 90 minutes Friday, I didn’t catch his name.  There’s a line one walks when encountering persistent lingerers out in the field.  Your instinct is to discourage them.  But you don’t want to make them hostile, either.

Plus, we were more-or-less stuck in our location.  Dan Reilly and I were in a live truck.  Our microwave shot had been set.  We were producing a piece for the 6.

Our encounters with people out in the world — the expected and the unexpected — are part of what make the job interesting.  But sometimes they corner you when you’re trying to make a deadline.  Friday, my new friend had nothing better to do for 90 minutes but hang around our live truck.

He wasn’t an unpleasant man.  He was well groomed.  There was, as cops say, an “odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath.”  But it wasn’t overpowering.

Sometimes, he would make conversation that was more-or-less coherent.  He brought up the missing airliner.  He mentioned the Falcons.  My responses were brief but respectful.

He surprised me when he asked me if WXIA anchor Karyn Greer would “cheat on her husband.”  You mean, with you?  I asked.  “Well, yeah!”

I told him there was no chance whatsoever.

Yet he still hung around.  We were busy, and I tried to look it.

Sometimes, writing for the web is an afterthought.  On this day, I did it with great urgency.  As he persisted in engaging me, I pointed out that I was trying to make a deadline.  He backed off for a few minutes.  A woman walked past our truck and he hoofed after her.  She outpaced him and lost him.  He returned to our truck within minutes.

When air time came, Dan and I went to the sidewalk and our friend got kind of excited.  I told him I needed his help:  I need for you to help with crowd control.  Keep the crazy people away.    There was no crowd — he was it.  But he nodded his head agreeably.  At one point, he fumbled around in his pants pocket.  A small baggie appeared.  “What’s in the baggie?” I asked him.  I got no answer.

I was actually secretly rooting for him to disrupt my live shot.  It was Friday and my story was kind of dull.  Although he was a bit of a pest, he seemed to be a gentle soul.  I figured he would quietly photobomb me.

But whenever he moved toward camera range, Reilly would give him the stink eye and point to a spot behind him.  The man obediently stayed put.

As we concluded, we parted agreeably.  He never panhandled us, typically a pro forma part of our encounters with our lingering fans.  I choose to believe he was so dazzled by his encounter with a Real TV News Crew, he may have forgotten to do that.

Trust me, I’m a reporter

The good news: My family owns a 2004 Scion Xb, one of those ridiculous cube-shaped cars.  It has abundant passenger space.

The bad news: While parked at a grocery store, somebody slammed it and tore up the right front bumper, then drove off.2004 Scion xB

The good news:  Somebody saw it, got the license number and left a note with the description of the errant car.

The bad news:  The person who left the note did not identify him/herself.

The good news:  In its police report, DeKalb PD apparently ran the tag and verified the make / model of the vehicle, which matched the description of the note.

The bad news:  Nothing else happened.  PD didn’t visit the culprit, nor did they ID the vehicle owner in the police report.

The good news:  I have auto insurance.  They sent me to Gerber Collision, a well-known auto body shop with numerous facilities in metro Atlanta.  Gerber gave me an estimate of the damage.  My insurance company sent me a check.

The bad news:  My insurance company apparently didn’t investigate it either, leaving me to pay the $500 deductible on the repair.

The good news:  I knew a place, American Auto Body, 4095 Lawrenceville Hwy in Tucker, that does good auto body work pretty inexpensively.  They gave me an estimate $230 lower than Gerber, cutting my out-of-pocket payment almost in half.  They did the repair.

The bad news:  When I went to pick up my vehicle, I was reminded that my friends at American Auto Body don’t routinely take debit or credit cards for payment.  And I hadn’t brought my checkbook, because who takes the checkbook anywhere anymore?

The good news:  When I suggested that I take the car and subsequently mail the proprietor a check, he didn’t completely laugh in my face.

The bad news:  He was disinclined to allow me to take the car without paying for it on the spot.

The good news:  I was dressed in a suit.  I actually had some 11Alive business cards in my pocket.  I pulled a business card and dropped it on his desk.  “You’ll get your check.  I’m easy to find.”IMG_3387[1]

The bad news:  I was playing the “trust me, I’m a reporter” card.  Over the years, I’ve heard too many stories about TV reporters who had scammed trusting businesses under similar  circumstances.  I did not make that disclosure to him.

The good news:  He hadn’t heard those stories.  Instead, his eyes kinda lit up.  “I didn’t know you were on the news!” he answered.  Of course I’ll let you drive your vehicle off my lot with the promise of a check.  “I’ll put it in the mail tonight,” I assured him.

And of course, I did.

Hecklers

Last week, a crowd heckled me at a press event.  It was a crowd of 40-50 people, in tow with Michelle Nunn.  The Democrat was at the state Capitol, filing to make her run for US Senate official.

Michelle Nunn

Michelle Nunn

Nunn is a political newcomer who has rarely appeared at press events around Atlanta.  She also appears to be very disciplined with her rhetoric, sticking to the talking points that drive her message.

I approached the story about her appearance at the Capitol last week with a series of questions that I thought anybody might want asked of a candidate who presumes to step from relative obscurity to one of America’s most prestigious political offices.  The questions were mostly about her experience.  They were challenging.  They were also quite predictable.  (I asked many of the same questions of Jason Carter during his first sit-down with us after announcing his run for Governor.)

But the wild card was the crowd.  They were there to cheer their candidate, not hear some blow-dried dimwit with a microphone.

When I prefaced a question with the supposition that she hadn’t “paid (her) dues” as a politician, some voices piped up in the background challenging the question.  It was an uncomfortable moment.  It was also, in many ways, a fabulous free-speech moment.  Just as I was free to raise questions in public setting, they were just as free to weigh in.

But the crowd had no idea how close they were to breaking me.  A look at the video reveals an unmistakable moment (at about 1:14) where my poker face kind of unravels in light of the heckling.  I nearly didn’t get the question out.

Sen. Jason Carter

Sen. Jason Carter

To her credit, Nunn (like Carter) handled my predictable yet not-necessarily “friendly” questions with skill and mostly without evasion.

On this site, Steve Schwaid once observed that the Atlanta press corps is sometimes too “laid back” and “reserved.”  Schwaid, the former News Director at WGCL, is accustomed to the press in Philadelphia.  Like him, I’m kind of amazed at how deferential the press frequently is around Atlanta.  One notable exception was during some recent snow “events,” when the press asked pointed questions of Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed.

After some of those pressers — which the TV stations typically carried live — I got a lot of positive feedback from viewers, expressing thanks for making them answer questions that the audience wanted answered.  One stranger notably stopped his car in the middle of a street in Grant Park, jumped out and made me shake his hand.

Meantime, last week one of the my coworkers greeted me with a you were mean to Michelle Nunn.

“Did you think the questions were unfair?”  I asked her.

Not at all, she answered.  She just cheerfully admitted that asking those questions, in that setting, would have scared her shitless.

And she said her husband, who watched the piece on TV with her, was cheering me on from the safety of their living room.

Thumbs up

You still want a live shot on a “missing” woman who actually had left home for a day-long joyride and was found safe hours ago?  You got it!

That could have been my contribution last week to “The Thumbs Up Photog,” a new and probably short-lived blog (so many of the good ones are) that captures some of the essential absurdity of local TV news.

tumblr_n1nm2ppOft1tuvcvzo1_500

It does so with a collection of memes featuring a guy on a phone wearing an Auburn skully.  I don’t know who he is, but I like his style.  Update: Damon Young outs himself in the LAF comments.  He lives in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  He’s a monster on Twitter, with more than 13,000 tweets.  And he’s wearing an Alabama hat, not an Auburn hat. My bad.

His site is pretty new.  If you haven’t already done so, give it a look-see.  I’ll deign to explain a few of the more obscure references.

What’s that? What little info we have on this BS shooting, you put in the anchor intro?  Sounds great!

You’ve seen this live shot.  The producer packs all the available info (which is next to none) into the anchor’s remarks.  The anchor tosses to the reporter live at the shooting.  The reporter repeats what the anchor said, possibly adding “it’s a fluid situation here” or “we have more questions that answers” for some stale flavor in lieu of solid information.

Is that your fifth plate of free newsroom pizza? Sounds great!  This refers to the widespread practice of purchasing meals for in-house staff during extended shifts, while those in the field have to fend for themselves or skip meals.  Frankly, I got tired of hearing this gripe a long time ago.  I’d still rather be in the field fending for myself.

I I think think I I dialed dialed into into the the wrong wrong IFB IFB line line is what’s going one when you watch a live shot, and the reporter immediately yanks the earpiece from his / her ear.  It means the IFB (“interruptable feed back”) line in the earpiece is feeding back the reporter’s own voice on a delay.  It can can completely completely kill kill your concentration when delivering your live remarks.  The “right” IFB line will only feed back studio audio and the soothing voice of a producer in the control room.

Meaningless

mean·ing·less

[mee-ning-lis] adjective

1. without meaning, significance, purpose, or value; purposeless; insignificant: a meaningless reply; a meaningless existence.

2. some other definition because of rampant misuse.

I heard this come out of a TV during local coverage of this month’s Georgia ice storm:  The crews were literally a Godsend for those who’ve been without power.

Which meant one of two things:  Either this reporter buried the lead, and had literally found proof of the existence of God (and perhaps overlooked an opportunity for a rare, on-the-record interview with the Big Guy); or he had misused the word “literally.”head-explode

Pondering both possibilities, my head literally exploded.

Except — it hadn’t.  Because it turns out that according to Google, Merriam-Webster and Macmillian dictionaries, “literally” no longer literally means “actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy”  The word now includes the “informal” definition so often misused by TV reporters and anchors and children of all ages.

Dictionary.com  includes a “usage note” in its definition, explaining how the word is “widely used as an intensifier” that “contradicts the earlier meaning.”  In that spirit, it adds the crowd-pleasing “informal” definition: “in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.”

Which means that there is no longer a word in English that literally means “literally.”  Except for the word that has a definition that literally contradicts itself.

Certainly, English has its quirks.  Why does the word “invaluable” exist, with the same meaning as its linguistic sibling “valuable”?

But “literally” isn’t a quirk, it’s a cause.  Its misuse / overuse has been the subject of parodies and overbearing, opinionated Bud Veazey usage memos.  It new definition is linguistic capitulation, a Chamberlainesque concession to the higher power of the babble and hyperbole of the masses to which we now bow down and call “trending.”

I want to continue to insist on the correct usage of a word for which there is literally no synonym.  The fact that there are now four or more references to which the misuser can point — and correctly tell me that I’m the one who’s wrong — is upsetting from my perch, literally atop a very high horse.

I want to be able to snicker when I hear, as I did during the anointment of Pope Francis, that “Catholics were literally glued to their TVs.”  I did more than snicker when I heard that from an Atlanta TV reporter.  My head literally exploded.

But then, I literally reassembled it.  Turns out that an exploding head isn’t literally the end of the world.