Targets

Alison Parker w/ Adam Ward - WDBJ7 r

Alison Parker w/ Adam Ward – WDBJ7 Roanoke VA

I didn’t want to know the details of the shooting deaths of the two TV news folk in Roanoke.  I didn’t want to let it unduly upset me.  I had to work hard to make that happen Wednesday.

Though stories kept popping up on my desktop Wednesday, I declined to read them. In recent years, I have tried not to dwell on the details of all the repeated incidents of gun violence in America.  I don’t dwell on the details because I am numbed by the frequency and scope of the carnage.

When some guy entered an elementary school and killed 20 tiny children and six adults in Connecticut, I read every detail.  I got upset.  When Congress declined to act on gun violence following that massacre, I decided I needed to stop letting mass killings upset me.

(And what might Congress have done?  Ban sales of assault rifles?  It may seem like a sensible baby step, because assault rifles are ergonomically designed to rapidly take out multiple human targets.  But any action short of weapon confiscation would have little impact on the casual firepower now available to Americans, and the jackboot solution would only pit gun owners against government workers and beget more carnage.  So “gun control” isn’t really an option anymore, if it ever was.)

The Washington Post calculates that there has been, on average, more than one mass shooting in America every single day in 2015.

I care that the young lives of Alison Parker and Adam Ward of WDBJ-TV were snuffed by a handgun-toting fool in Roanoke.  I do care.  When I allow myself a few sideways glances of their images on the internet — seeing but not studying their smiling young faces, committing acts of television the same way I’ve done for a gazillion years — I do see a reflection. I lament their loss and the grief of their friends and family.

Alison-Parker-24-and-Adam-Ward-500x312It is about the senseless violence that befell them.  It is not, emphatically, about me and the other folks who toil in my business who are, perhaps, allowing themselves to wonder if they might be next.  Because the answer is yes, they might be.  I might be.

But so might you.  So might all of our families and friends and other strangers whose acquaintances we make only after we read about something horrible befalling them.

The TV news business has its dangers, and they are acknowledged only infrequently.  A few weeks back, in the northwest Atlanta neighborhood known as The Bluff, I heard gunfire too-close to where I was doing a 5pm live shot.  We calmly packed our gear and did our 6pm live shot elsewhere.

In late spring, a mob assaulted a WAGA photographer who was covering a story late at night in a rough part of town.

But Parker and Ward were covering a feature story at the crack of dawn at a location where one could not reasonably predict danger.  They were targeted by a madman.  Just like the kids in Sandy Hook.  Just like all the innocent adults killed in workplace violence.

So what befell them wasn’t their occupation.  It was a madman.

And yes, madmen with a sense of planning and a flair for publicity could target other TV folk doing live shots in a fixed, public location with only their live trucks to shield them. Maybe they’ll bear a grudge against members of a mostly unpopular profession.

But I’m not going to worry about it.

Our industry does have its vulnerabilities.  The trend toward using one-man-bands in major markets remains troubling.  In addition to doing the work of two people, they lack the extra set of eyes which could potentially warn against somebody aiming to do harm.

Yet the folks who died in Roanoke were working as a two-person team, not solo.

Out in the world — where TV news folk are frequently welcomed but often scorned — we are merely human beings asking uncomfortable questions and bearing the logos of news operations.  Madmen lusting for blood have target-rich environments wherever they go.  We are merely one of them. My situational awareness is my shield.  In a parallel way, so is my numbness.

I am, darkly, an optimist.  My odds of surviving a workday are quite good.

So I care about my safety, and that of my colleagues.  But I’m not going to let the Roanoke killings unduly upset me.  I’m not going to let that horrific violence prevent me from standing in a public place tethered to a TV camera.  Maybe I’ll be a target.

But sadly, none of us is safe– regardless of what we do for a living.

Since writing this post, I’ve scoured the internet for images of Parker and Ward, and begun to read their stories.  Ward was “vivacious and funny.”  Parker is described a genuinely shining light at WDBJ whose likability is evident in a video the station made touting “7 fun facts about Alison Parker.” Watching that video — and finally reading about her and Ward — have shaken my resolve to avoid getting upset.

I would like to extend my sympathies to their families, friends and coworkers.

 

Nine holes

I learned something about Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in June:  He’s a very gracious golfer.  He also has a keen sense of his opponents’ weaknesses, and isn’t shy about attacking them.

Last month I played golf with  Reed.  I produced a story about the game, intended as a snapshot character study of a guy we rarely see in a relaxed setting.

Mayor Kasim Reed with a lousy golfer and a terrible person

Mayor Kasim Reed with a lousy golfer and a terrible person

In the spring of 2014.  I’d heard about Reed’s annual golf tournament.  I asked his then-spokesman, Carlos Campos, if Reed would consider doing nine holes with yours truly for a story.  Campos was wary.

Campos had seen Reed explode at me a time or three on various occasions.  (Reed’s explosions are very measured, not incendiary in the classic sense.  But they are unmistakable and the stuff of legend among Atlanta news folk.)  “I’m not gonna pitch that to him.  You have to do it yourself next time you see him,” Campos said.

I saw Reed in an agreeable setting a few weeks later.  He was dedicating a rec center, surrounded by adoring constituents.  I approached him with a photog about an unrelated issue and he handled the questions cleanly.  Afterward, I pitched the golf shoot, and he immediately said yes.  “We’ll do it before the end of summer,” I recall him saying.  I was surprised and pumped.

Four days before our scheduled match in September, I broke my wrist and had to cancel. Earlier this year, I pitched the story again.  He agreed again.

My secret desire was to see the mayor overcoming adversity.  Like myself, I’d heard Reed was not a particularly good golfer.  I figured he’d spend lots of time in the weeds, the rough, the sand, the trees.  That’s how I roll, golf-wise.  I was pumped to watch him handle that stuff and to potentially heckle, and be heckled by him.  I’m a fan of quality heckling.

Reed wanted to play at Brown’s Bridge, a course off Cleveland Ave. SE.  I brought a ringer, Ayanna Habeel, a fifteen year old girl whose golf stroke had drawn the attention of the course manager, who recommended her when I asked for a young participant.

Reed unexpectedly brought two guys.  He also showed up some 40 minutes late, and of course had a midday appointment he needed to keep.

I went over ground rules.  Mulligans?  Yeah, we each get two.  Strict scoring?  Check.  I pitched a mercy rule:  After nine strokes on one hole, we bail.  He suggested eight.

We teed off.  Reed’s first tee shot was great.  Mine was decent.  The other players hit nice shots too.  We boarded golf carts, then Reed announced:  We’re playing best ball, the same rule used in his tournament.

Best ball means each golfer shoots from the position of the ball that lands closest to the tee by whichever player.  It means that one good golfer can keep guys like Reed and me out of the weeds, the sand, the trees and the rough.  It means that if I hit a shot into an adjacent fairway, it magically disappears and I play a ball that somebody else skillfully hit on target.

It wrung all the adversity out of the match.  Reed and I probably hit equal numbers of crappy shots, but we never had to dig them out of pine straw, briar patches, woodpiles and / or creek beds for subsequent shots.  I have much experience in such stuff, golfwise.  The practice hasn’t helped.

At one point, after I hit a lousy shot, I invited Reed to heckle me.  He declined.  Our tough-guy mayor is a real gent on the golf course when playing a best-ball match in front of TV cameras.  My own semi-rehearsed heckles (“wow, you hooked that shot like a fire chief with an anti-gay book”) never left my mouth.

He did heckle me, but it had nothing to do with golf.  I was chatting with Anne Torres, Reed’s communications director.  In a moment of weakness, I guessed her age and botched it.  Anne is a lovely young woman who brushed off my gaffe.  Reed, on the other hand, spent the better part of two holes cackling about my absence of tact as a reporter and human being.

It was quality abuse, and I deserved every word of it.  I was embarrassed and a bit unnerved.

I would have used the material in the piece, but it would have required too much setup.  Because the piece ran at 6pm, a half-hour newscast, I had 1:45 to distill nearly two hours of material shot by two talented WXIA photographers, Stephen Boissy and Luke Carter.

So it turned out the character study was less about Reed than it was about me.  Conclusion:  I’m a terrible person, not to mention, a shitty golfer.

But I already knew that.

The general’s kid

Update:  Last month, this woman donated a kidney to a stranger.

My brother in law spotted Beth Galvin in a Decatur pub and got all giddy. Who could blame him? Galvin is an talented, humble, good-humored and lovely WAGA reporter who has owned that station’s medical beat for the last fifteen years.

Beth Galvin, WAGA

Beth Galvin, WAGA

“What should I say to her?” he texted me, looking for some inside-ball conversation-starter. In this case, I actually had an answer.

“Tell her you’re a Cold War buff.  Ask her if she’s Gen. John Galvin’s daughter. ”

Who? asked the BIL, a man who is many things– but not a Cold War buff.

Gen. Galvin, I explained via text, was a four-star Army general who became the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, among other resume highlights.  When he retired in 1992, the Washington Post described him as “without peer among living generals.”

Beth has her own claims to local-news fame. But I’m pretty sure she would say that none exceeds that of being daddy’s little girl.

Gen. Galvin (left) from Life Magazine

Gen. Galvin (left) from Life Magazine

She grew up an Army brat in far-flung posts across the globe, ranging from Belgium and Germany to Panama and Hinesville GA, where she graduated from high school. And wherever she went, she was the bossman’s kid. Her Army brat life was a lot different than most. She was the red carpet brat.

“Talk about opening doors,” says Mike Zakel, the WXIA photog who worked with Galvin for a bunch of years before she jumped ship from WXIA to WAGA in 1997 or so. Zakel and Galvin covered stories together at Ft. Stewart. Guess which general commanded the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) from 1981 to ’83 at Fort Stewart?

Gen. Galvin’s daughter is no ordinary local TV news chica whenever she darkens the gates at Ft. Stewart.

“I never minded the ribbing about being the General’s daughter because I knew I’d hit the Dad Lottery.  He is a great, funny, loving father,” Beth writes.  “In the military, he was respected, but he was also loved.  Which is rare in a world in which a lot of people lead by fear – or bravado.  He spoke quietly.”  Somewhere in Massachusetts, there’s a school named after Beth’s dad.

Beth describes her dad as her career’s biggest cheerleader.

Retired Gen. John Galvin

Retired Gen. John Galvin

Today, Gen. Galvin is retired. He has written a book about his life as a Cold Warrior. Posting the info on social media, Gen. Galvin’s kid couldn’t be prouder.

Following our texts, my brother in law stalked Beth Galvin’s table, introduced himself and deadpanned the Cold War inquiry about the General. He says Beth’s face brightened, surprised by the recognition, in a civilian setting, of her pre-TV claim to fame.

Beth writes: “He totally HAD me.  100% played.  I bow to him,”

“Filming”

Rest in peace, Dan Keever.  You were a smart, gentle soul– and a great, steadying presence in a rough business.  You’re gone too soon.

Is this where y’all film the news?

When I worked, as a poodle-headed youth, at my first TV news job in Mississippi, I’d hear that question.  It would come from folks touring WTVA-TV.  They would ask it upon entering the station’s airy studio, a familiar sight for viewers of Tupelo’s only TV station.

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Why, of course we don’t “film” the news here, I would nonverbally retort while verbally saying “yes, ma’am, and thank you for watching.”  By 1980, TV news technology had mostly discarded film as a newsgathering medium, replacing it with reusable videotape.  Tape was cheaper, lasted longer, required less guesswork / science and could be “turned” instantly — bypassing the soupy processing film required to get the nitrate images onto the film emulsion that gave us motion pictures.

Film was a terrific newsgathering medium for those skilled in its use.  Dan Keever, pictured left,  was.  I was not.

I used film while at KOMU-TV Columbia MO in 1979.  My fellow University of Missouri students and I shot my final pre-graduation project on film.  I did such a poor job of hot-splice editing it that Mackie Morris authorized me to transfer the raw material over to videotape.  That project taught me how to edit tape-to-tape.  I never attempted to edit film again.

Despite the shift in technology, “film” never went away, at least as a verb to describe what one does with a mobile TV camera.   People would see us reloading videotape into our “minicams” (or, back in the early 80s, the clunky tape decks that attached by cable to minicams), and still talk about us filming the news.

Even today, I talk to young adults who grew up shooting video on Iphones — and they still use the word “film” to describe what they’re doing.

I think they may be onto something.

For most of my adult life, I would painstakingly make the distinction:  No, we are not “filming.”  But we are “videotaping,” which is the same thing minus the film canisters, the film processing and the quaint hot-splice editing.

But we no longer use videotape.  We use chips, or “cards,” which encode video into what is essentially a portable hard drive.  What’s the right verb / gerund for that?

“Shooting” is accurate, but it has other meanings and fails to convey that there’s a recording process underway.

“Videoing” is a gnarly word I can’t bring myself to use.  “Encoding” is a word that would require an explanation.

“Documenting” is cute, but has other meanings and sounds a bit pretentious, especially for a guy or gal standing at a string of crime scene tape.  You might-could use that word if you do it with an ironic smirk.

I could continue to say “videotaping,” but that would make us sound anachronistic.  That’s not a good thing at a time when local TV news is struggling to stay relevant to young people.

So aside from the absence of film, “filming” works.  It doesn’t require an explanation.  It’s universally understood and, despite the disappearance of film, remains widely used.  Plus, it’s part of the kids’ jargon.  So it’s a thing.

So yeah.  I’m now part of a film crew.

Y’all filming the news?  Why, yes ma’am.  And we’re damn glad you still know what “the news” is.

 

News cycle, recycled

The Cronut

The Cronut

We think we’re so smart.  Here we are, finger-poppin,’ pixel-packin’ 21st century multiplatform news media delivery entities, all fresh and hot like a doughnut-shaped croissant.

And yet — try as we might to innovate, to update our technology and our storytelling conventions, one truth emerges:  TV news is wedded to images, interviews, sound and narration.

Lonnie Holley 2014

Lonnie Holley 2014

Last year, WXIA’s Jaye Watson produced a story about Lonnie Holley, an eccentric folk artist who has an eye-catching art habitat southwest of Turner Field.  Watson’s story told Holley’s story, showed his turf and did so with a dazzling array of sound and video that brought life to the art and the befuddling artist.  The piece won photog / editor Nick Moròn a first-place NPPA mention in its third quarter clip contest.

Lonnie Holley 1998-ish

Lonnie Holley 1998-ish

Now rewind 15 years, or so.  Yours truly visited the same artist at his previous habitat in Birmingham, AL.  The stories are remarkably similar, except Moròn and Watson used shorter and more frequent nat sound pops.  Watson’s writing is a bit crisper and cleverer. Mine had the editorial benefit of a conflict between Holley and the neighboring airport.  Mine was ably shot by Rodney Hall and edited by Andi Larner.  We let Holley’s rambling descriptions of his art play out in slightly longer bursts. We didn’t win diddly squat.  I don’t remember entering it in any contests.

How much of a difference does 17 years make?  Not much, it turns out.  In 1998, Hall and Larner and I produced a piece looking at the 50th anniversary of a killing in Coweta County that became the subject of a book and movie.

I wrote a kind-of throwaway line at the end of the piece, speculating about whether the road named after the killer was “the only road in America named for a man executed for murder.”  That line became the premise of a story Steve Flood and I produced this month, which also looked back at the killing and the why folks on John Wallace’s home turf still cling to the legend of the executed killer.

I hadn’t re-watched the 1998 piece prior to shooting the 2015 piece with Flood.  Instead, we independently had the stroke of genius to shoot a jittery / grainy re-enactment sequence of the 1948 highway chase that led to the killing.

Exactly like the 1998 piece, it turned out.  Innovative?  OK, not really.  But watchable?  Arguably, yes.  It used sound and pictures and interviews and narration, our familiar tools.

The biggest difference:  The reporter’s mom jeans, conspicuous in the late 90s Holley piece, had thankfully disappeared by 2015.

The awkward chase

Believe it or not, I actually like some Georgia politicians.  My favorites, of course, are the ones who return my calls / texts and readily agree to interviews on short notice.  Atlanta city councilman Michael Julian Bond is one of them.

Michael Julian Bond dodges Catie Beck

Michael Julian Bond dodges Catie Beck

So yeah, I cringed a bit when I found out that my new-ish coworker, WXIA investigative reporter Catie Beck, was producing a story about Bond’s use of his city council expense account to pay for personal stuff.  The evidence was convincing.  Catie had the story cold.

Then came the follow up — after the original story — when Bond took a plane trip to Boston and Catie and photog Shawn Hoder followed him there.  He’d gotten the city to pay for his travel to a conference that he never attended.  Catie not only had the story cold, but Bond had been nailed a second time for the same offense.

It was not an attractive moment for a guy I liked and respected.

Catie Beck, WXIA

Catie Beck, WXIA

(By the way, Catie and Shawn and another new-to-Atlanta investigative reporter, Brendan Keefe, are three excellent reasons why you people — and I’m pointing and wagging my finger here — ought to be glued to the news programming of WXIA-TV!)

Councilman Bond had many fans at WXIA.  We could call him day, night or weekends and if he could help us do our jobs, he would.

Tuesday, Common Cause Georgia planned to appear at the Atlanta city council meeting to call for Bond’s resignation.  Catie and Shawn had a double-secret investigative shoot planned for that day, so I got to cover it.

I called Bond.  He answered the phone.  “It’s Doug from your favorite TV station…” I started, a weak effort to lighten the overture.  I heard silence.  I stammered on, requesting an interview.

Not gonna do it, Bond answered.  He said he felt like he hadn’t gotten a fair shake from my TV station.  In particular, he didn’t like the station ballyhooing the investigative story in promotional spots.

The complaints sounded nitpicky, but perhaps understandable coming from a proud guy who, a few days earlier, had essentially admitted to the central facts of Catie’s story to the city ethics agency.

“Your organization has treated me shabbily,” he concluded.  The phone conversation ended cordially.  Bond wasn’t blaming me personally, but was disinclined to play ball with the news organization that had exposed his behavior.

At the city council meeting, I saw Bond exit his seat and head toward the door to the foyer.  Mike Zakel and I bolted from the press room and spotted him in a public hallway.  I stood there with a mic.  Yes, Bond had already told me “no” to an interview.  I had to ask him again with Zakel’s camera recording it.

Councilman Bond declines to chat

Councilman Bond declines to chat

It was an awkward moment.  “I know you’re recording me,” he said.  “Yes sir, we are,” I answered.  I asked a question.  He stopped and calmly reminded me that he had declined my earlier request for an interview.  “I wanted to give you another chance,” I said.  Bond demurred again.

At that point, I might have started firing specific questions at him, knowing he wouldn’t answer and knowing he would probably walk away.  Instead, I backed off and let him return to the council chamber.  I had what I needed.

“Good to see you, Doug,” Bond said as we parted company, a moment of civility that Bond could have easily skipped.

Elaine Boyer. AJC photo

Elaine Boyer. AJC photo

When DeKalb County commissioner Elaine Boyer appeared in federal court last year following a guilty plea, it set up another awkward moment.  Boyer was another politician I liked.  She was especially helpful providing interviews about the misbehavior of other politicians.

Boyer was about to enter a guilty plea to a charge of misusing county funds, an allegation first exposed by the AJC.

When I entered the courtroom, I walked up to the defense table and said hi.  Boyer smiled and greeted me, as she always had.  And then she looked at me and said: “I’m sorry.”

I was too.

 

Punchline

Two years ago, the Little Five Points Halloween parade included a very amusing “Murder Kroger” float.  Staffed by people carrying toy weapons and dressed as bloody murder victims, the float paid comic homage to a grocery store on Ponce de Leon Ave. whose nickname has been, for years, a dark civic punchline.BnyxKqL

That punchline drove a story I produced on a slow Friday in November. I’d spotted a blog that said that the renovated “Murder Kroger” was scheduling a grand re-opening under a new name, the “Beltline Kroger.”

My story started with one line acknowledging a 1991 killing that begat the nickname.  It used a music video by a local band that had done a song called “Murder Kroger,” adding evidence to the name’s presence in the culture.  It was capped with an amusing moment while interviewing a longtime shopper, who both acknowledged the enduring nickname, while touting the store’s low prices and manager’s specials.

“Bargains to die for” I rejoined, and he chuckled in agreement.

Ha ha.

A few days later, a woman contacted DeMarco Morgan, one of 11Alive’s news anchors.  Without rancor, she quietly identified herself as the sister of the victim in the 1991 murder case.  DeMarco passed the info to reporter Jeremy Campbell.  Jeremy had actually produced a “Murder Kroger” story nearly a year earlier, which noted that the store had begun a renovation with an eye on upgrading its reputation.

Jeremy talked to the woman by phone.  She sent him her sister’s funeral brochure.  She also sent him a VHS cassette with TV coverage of the original case.

Jeremy hunted down a VHS machine and popped in the tape.  He saw a fuzzy-headed youngster named Doug Richards doing a live shot outside the Kroger store one evening, tossing to a piece that showed police at the crime scene.  It also had some sound with Danny Agan, the homicide detective who often spoke to news folk outside the old “homicide task force” building on Somerset Dr., just a couple blocks east of the Masquerade off North Ave.

Cynthia Prioleau

Cynthia Prioleau

25 year old Cynthia Prioleau was attacked as she tried to walk into the Kroger store to buy some groceries on April 1, 1991.  Jeremy  reported that the murder is still unsolved.

In the 1991 live shot, that youthful TV news goon had memorized a detailed narrative of the confrontation leading to Prioleau’s death.  There was a lateral 90 degree walk that more-or-less showed the dark parking lot, revealing the lighted facade of the grocery store.  There was an abundance of gestures, occasionally revealing a handful of cables that attached the reporter’s earpiece to the phone line delivering the broadcast audio and control room cues.  There was ample sincerity and dark curly hair.

The story, in hindsight, was clearly told — conveying the horror of the crime without stepping into sensationalistic turf.  Yet there was also a bit of mangled syntax, some misplaced words that mistakenly told the audience that the confrontation happened “as she was walking through the grocery store” after I’d already established that the crime took place in the parking lot.  My train of thought has always been an unsteady, derailment-prone vehicle.

Needless to say, latter-day Doug had completely forgotten that he had covered this particular bit of violence 23 years earlier.

The VHS tape also had coverage from WSB and WXIA, their anchors narrating similar video.  WAGA’s coverage, however, including two more packages — one dayside followup by Morse Diggs, and another nightside folo by yours truly.  My second story included a silhouette interview with the victim’s grieving sister– the same woman who contacted DeMarco Morgan more than two decades later–  and a parking lot standup where I’m holding a canister of pepper spray.  So the evidence shows I covered the “murder Kroger” story on two consecutive days.

How could I forget?

Richard Hyde - Fulton Daily Report photo

Richard Hyde – Fulton Daily Report photo

In 1991, working nightside, crime was a staple of my work at WAGA.  It seemed to be what the viewers wanted.  My bossfolk wanted it.  Our nightside assignment editor, Richard Hyde, was an ex-cop who reveled in catching police scanner tidbits and gleefully sending me out into the fray.  Because he was good at it, it made me look good as a breaking news guy.  I was a big fan of Hyde and embraced the role we played together.  (Hyde was also an outstanding contact for disgruntled cops who wanted to sic the news media on APD’s management, run at that time by the colorful Chief Eldrin Bell.)

Hyde is still stirring the pot, getting judges fired for misconduct in his role with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.  He also lent the investigative chops to the crew appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to investigate the APS cheating scandal.  I’m still his biggest fan.

Point being:  I covered a lot of crime.  Lots of yellow tape.  Lots of morgue hearses.  Lots of soundbites with Sgt / Lt. Agan on Somerset Dr.

So that horrifying moment in the grocery store parking lot became part of the blur of random violence delivered to an audience both enthralled and numbed by the nightly parade of yellow tape, produced by a kid who believed he was giving the people what they wanted.  And then forgot about it as quickly as possible.

My bud Jeremy Campbell has a TV news blog too!  Start your 2015 by giving it a click here!