Would somebody please explain the appeal of Monica Pearson? For years, WSB-TV rode the Monica horse to ratings superiority. This gave her the kind of clout that landed TV’s only interview with Rep. John Lewis about his switch of support to Obama. But why her? She’s a competent journalist, when she tries. I’ll give her that. (she’s also always got plenty of producer backup to make sure she succeeds). So what then? The hair? It’s actually kinda cool since she cut it a few years back. But her performance as an anchor– every night– is an overwrought exercise in the most thinly-veiled faux sincerity. It should be triggering the gag reflexes of the masses; instead, it keeps her employed and making more dough than anybody else on Atlanta TV. Ugh. Gimme Karyn Greer, Brenda Wood, Lisa Rayam. Gimme the weekend anchor on 46 who didn’t drop the f-bomb but was nearly fired for it anyway. Monica’s, sadly, a perfect tv news metaphor: the audience gets what it wants, even when it’s silly and overwrought. And don’t get me started on their weatherman Burns.
- When the wife woke me at the end of the Oscars broadcast, we got a taste of WSB’s weekend news, airing at 12:30 or so. This resulted in a lead story by an attractive rookie reporter about a family in Gwinnett which is losing its goat herd to repeated dog attacks. The report was done well enough (except for an ignorant slap at the Gwinnett Sheriff, whose office has no jurisdiction over animal attacks– a rookie mistake). But the report highlights the brutality of the news biz, particularly at WSB.
- Doubtless, this young reporter (whose name escapes me — Ashley Hayes, maybe?– and whose report doesn’t appear on WSB’s web site for some reason) got into the news business for all the right reasons. Doubtless she figured she’d hit the big time when she’d gotten hired in a top-ten market. And sure, part of the deal is: you pay your dues by covering animal attacks on Sunday nights. But this woman delivered her report live in front of the Gwinnett Police Dept. Headquarters in Lawrenceville–some 25 miles from the station– at 12:30 am. She hadn’t even interviewed anybody at Gwinnett PD. She was there because a news manager, looking over his shoulder at the February book and a squirrelly VP in charge of news, didn’t have the guts to do the humane thing and tell her to “bring it back” to the station, produce the piece, then chill out at home with the cell phone in the event of breaking news.
- Channels two and eleven are rife with this sort of behavior. View their newscasts at 6:30 (WSB) or 7pm (WXIA). Watch their reporters delivering legit stories in front of stale scenes or buildings ten or eleven hours after their workdays begin. And see how the glory of the TV news biz, and the prestige of a top ten market, drain away every so slowly from their souls. So many good young reporters have fled the business because of this kind of foolishness. The youngster at WSB will get a bellyful before long, if she hasn’t already.
There’s rarely a more pleasing spectacle than a major TV station appointing itself as a community’s arbiter of morality. The ironies are abundant– not just when viewed through the prism of network programming, but also through the judgments made daily about which news stories get the greatest exposure. Is there an element of sex? A hot victim? A barbie bandit? Ratch it up, boys. Comes now WSB-TV, with an installment exposing the presence of sex toys at Spencer Gifts, a mall store known mostly for silly novelties. Tom Regan, a fine reporter, redeemed his expose from the previous evening by doing a hidden-camera piece at Spencer. It was too easy: Wait for a child to enter, and watch them grab bits of plastic shaped like genitalia “while the store employees paid little attention.” Interview outraged moms in the parking lot. Read a statement from Spencer promising to do better. Smarmy, yes. But it was a clean hit, in a medium where what’s “clean” is elusively defined.
Readers of this space– too many to count– already know that February is a big ol ratings book month. The most audience-friendly “investigative” efforts of TV stations are always on display. Two examples popped up this week– both kinda silly, but to varying degrees. First, a fine reporter at WSB-TV named Tom Regan phoned in a report purportedly exposing a waste of tax dollars. Done in the anti-science tradition of former Sen. William Proxmire (R-WI) and legions of evolutionists, Regan displays a prospectus for which “metro Atlanta taxpayers” spent nearly $200,000 for a study on walking. Listening between the lines, one senses a serious health effort behind the study. But Regan’s report focused somewhat snickeringly on the price tag and the absurdity of a study on the obvious. To his credit, Tom lent some evenhandedness to it. But conveniently, he never mentioned America’s obesity epidemic. And it was never clear whether “metro Atlanta taxpayers” were footing the bill, though a graphic so indicated. Flip over to WAGA, where Dana Fowle, another fine reporter, has been milking an investigation– apparently for months– over the shockingly unsanitary practices of hotel maids. Unlike the Regan report, Dana’s report appeared to be a clean hit. It was entertaining. It was a nice “gotcha,” apparently shamelessly copied by TV stations around America. But the bottom line is: Dana’s exposing dirty dishes. Not even dirty dishes– but dishes not properly cleaned. Call me a news snob, but I’d prefer to see the resources of Atlanta’s finest investigative unit pursuing official corruption and valid abuses of taxpayer funds–and please, something a little more convincing than WSB’s cheap shot on the study of walking practices.
Word is that Ch2 sent their white-haired attack dog, the famously mild-mannered Jeff Dore after the Speaker Richardson divorce story on thursday’s 5pm news. When the two encountered each other in the hallway of the LOB– a brief physical confrontation ensued. Among whom, and to what degree, depends on who you ask. Another blog, the right-leaning Peach Pundit, has numerous Richardson apologists insisting that the WSB photog was the aggressor. And apparently the video evidence ain’t good enough to paint Richardson a villain. Which is unfortunate. The last thing needed here is an unwitting media dust-up that gives Richardson sympathy points. With his top-secret divorce, his heavy-handed handling of his leadership post and his plain silly not-so-GREAT tax plan, Richardson is becoming the Republicans version of Cynthia McKinney— looney and embarrassing. At least Cynthia left town. Until House members revolt next year– as they surely will do– we’re stuck with this guy at the podium.If I had any readership, I’d actually call Jeff and ask him what happened. Perhaps I will anyway.
Sharon Beasley Teague, a state lawmaker, is in trouble for ethics violations. WAGA’s story is hilarious for all the right reasons: Note the hat worn by the lawmaker. It looks like a furry doughnut, wrapped crown-like around her scalp. Note the graphic, outlining her contention that she drove from Atlanta to Albany to Savannah to Dillard (Rabun Co.) and back to Atlanta all in one day. Note the standup by Paul Yates. No doubt, his managers at WAGA– geeked up for the February sweeps– had admonished Yates to “be creative” in his standup and “get the story out of the Capitol.” Yates’s on camera response is a deftly-raised middle finger to those admonitions.
- Piling onto the AJC has been a too-easy sport for many years. Yet the depth to which it has sunk since last year’s famed “re-org” has never been more evident than in recent weeks.
- - The AJC couldn’t be bothered to send its own reporter to the Savannah sugar plant fire. Not so long ago, they had a reporter full-time on the coast.
- - Its dispatches from big primary / caucus states were mostly wire service offerings.
- - Likewise, the Super Bowl, World Series and baseball playoffs (except for columnists).
Its best reporter, Jane Hansen, was among the many who took the buyout. Sports, once a saving grace, is rapidly thinning. This leads to the question: Why subscribe? It’s available online. And the national stories are much better covered by the NY Times, also available by subscription. I’ve subscribed to the AJC for 21 years. Now it’s mostly out of habit. I can finish its salient contents during the course of a morning sit-down. At least they still have Luckovich.
Quote of the day from WAGA’s Mark Hyman on GDA, reporting on the Big Apple Circus: ”I’m afraid we’ve lost the clown so early in the morning.”
As a recently reformed TV news guy in Atlanta, one of the many blessings of my current life is my utter indifference to local TV news. True, there are some worthwhile gems in that industry in this market. But one must wade through hours of crapulence to find it. Fortunately, one can now cheat by surfing the websites of the TV stations and cherry-pick the ripest of the fruit. Depending on my tolerance and my level of interest, readership and other intangibles, this blog may become a catalogue of some of the true horrors– and perhaps, some of the cool stuff, if there is any– to be found while watching the news / reading the paper. Plain and simple yo. As a side note, this may also contain the musings of a certain partner in a certain start-up business who, regrettably, has had to abandon his business ambitions temporarily so that he can Serve his Country in Iraq. He doesn’t know it yet, though.