Monthly Archives: April 2008

Tube job

It would be awfully easy to write something snarky about WSB’s special report Tuesday about a web site that offers free breast implants to women. One could certainly chide WSB for promoting the piece throughout its 5pm news, then airing it 45 minutes into the broadcast. One could use the word “exploitative” to describe WSB’s treatment of the story, just as anchor Jovita Moore used the same word to describe the site.

But the content of the story was interesting and troubling and newsworthy enough. Amanda Rosseter’s story outlined the simple premise of the site: Ladies, send us photos of yourselves– in whatever state of undress that makes you comfortable– and gross dudes can click on your profile and make donations for breast augmentation surgery. The owners of the site are in California. The on-camera interview with one of them appeared to be the work of another TV station (showing how great minds think alike for the May sweeps). Rosseter told the stories of two local women who signed up. There was the whiff of outrage in her coverage, but it was adequately balanced. This story won’t go on Rosseter’s “career highlights” reel. But she did well with a subject that could have been easily mishandled.

The site is grudgingly an American free-enterprise success story. The women using it are adults, near as we can tell. One could argue that this is about somewhat-normal women turning the tables on web-surfing pervs. Our only criticism of Rosseter’s story: Couldn’t she find somebody other than the predictable and polarizing Sadie Fields, ex-leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, to be the main critic?  Guess not.

You only tease, tease, tease

During its 5pm news Monday, WAGA ran no fewer than four teases showing the “controversial” bare-backed photo of 15-year old Miley Cyrus. The kid pop star herself had denounced the photo, shot in a session with Annie Liebowitz. Each time WAGA teased its coverage, it showed the photo. The story itself ran fifty minutes into its newscast.

The teases felt icky to watch. Surely it felt just as icky to write and produce them. Surely.

Special… how?

Back in the day, legendary Georgia defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook used to cross examine GBI special agents by asking them about their title: What’s the difference between an agent and a “special” agent? The dumbfounded witnesses would typically answer: None. Cook would conclude by saying: So, there’s really nothing “special” about you, is there?

Cook might ask the same question about some of the “special” reports that air on local TV during the May sweeps. Today we’ll pick on WGCL.

Monday, Wendy Salzman delivered a story called “Who’s googling you?” Salzman’s story is well produced and interesting enough. And it’s nicely shot and edited. This is important, given that the subject matter is computers and the internet– not exactly killer visual material. But the story isn’t particularly in-depth. And it’s deceptively introduced by anchor Bill Gaines, who tells the audience Salzman will reveal “how to track who’s searching for you.”

Salzman reports that there are a couple of sites in cyberspace (a painfully overused word with too few synonyms, unfortunately) that will tell you how often certain phrases are googled. The sites will even e-mail you immediately, revealing the geographic location and search engine used. But then, Salzman delivers a key fact: The sites won’t tell you “who’s googling you,” leaving the central question in the story unanswered. The fact that the story runs only 1:37 is further evidence of its lack of “special” heft.

Nothing wrong with Salzman’s reporting. But WGCL couldn’t manage to honestly promote and introduce it. Typically, TV stations that value honesty will promote such stuff as an open-ended question eg. “Can you tell who’s googling you?” But WGCL’s undelivered promise misled the audience. Maybe that’s what makes this report “special.”

With “special” thanks to Paul Crawley, who told that story about Bobby Lee Cook in the media room every time a GBI agent testified at a trial.

Cliche Watch

Three of ‘em turned up in Monday’s 6pm piece produced by WSB’s Tom Jones. Jones reported that Clayton Co. “corrective superintendent” John Thompson is

  • “fired up” about his new job;
  • that Thompson “hit the ground running”;
  • and proclaimed that it’s time for the community to “stop pointing the finger.”

For good measure, WAGA’s Chris Shaw threw in one during his coverage of the same story at 5pm, saying Thompson

  • “knows he has a long road ahead of him.”

“I wish I were smarter.”

Each Atlanta TV station posts short biographies of its news personnel on their web sites. The bios are usually filled with data about awards and college degrees. Some offer the occasionally-surprising nugget. We learn that WGCL’s Rebekkah Schramm has been a broadcaster since age 15. We learn that WSB’s Anissa Centers was a bone marrow donor. We learn that WSB’s Jeff Dore took out the trash at his first TV station and is the author of an unpublished novel.

Most bios are mind-numbingly similar. They tout the humble beginnings and family values of their subjects. They list resume highlights, awards and volunteer work. There are 42 of them on WSB’s site alone. We’ve perused a fraction of them.

Without question, the best bio we’ve seen is on Dana Fowle’s WAGA blog. Fowle writes “I’m generally disheveled and have a messy car… I also love red wine, rare steak, dark chocolate and strong coffee. I’m Type A, so of course, I wish I were smarter.” This is especially funny, given that Fowle is one of those scary-smart people.

The bio is the best part of Fowle’s blog. She hasn’t updated it in more than a month.

Dale Russell’s blog bio is a close second to that of Fowle, his I-team colleague: “My desk is a mess. I don’t smoke. I do drink. I have a politically incorrect sense of humor and a little problem with authority. (I’m working on that) And, I never get my expense reports in on time.”

Our least favorite bio belongs to WAGA’s Tom Haynes, which starts thusly: “Credibility, experience and a bit of an edge; that pretty much sums up Tom Haynes…” This is especially icky because it’s obvious Haynes wrote it himself. He goes on to tout his “journalistic expertise” and his position “front and center in FOX 5’s new, innovative and interactive newscast.” His bombast is almost Burgundyesque.

The journalistically-expert Haynes could learn a thing or two about humility from some of his colleagues.

Tenacious T

Those who find nothing but foolishness and despair in local TV news may find a bit of redemption now. When Randy Travis of WAGA’s I-Team is on his game, there’s nothing better. He’s at his best now. Travis is doing a two-night investigation of Atlanta sushi restaurants. While the topic may seem dangerously close to WGCL’s silly restaurant ratings franchise, Travis executes solidly. He’s not claiming that the restaurants are dangerous or dirty– but convincingly makes a case that five out of seven tested are just plain dishonest.

In his buildup, Travis hints that this is not an original idea– but rather, one lifted from another investigative unit elsewhere in the country. This is pretty common. TV stations trade / steal ideas all the time. Whatever the origin, it led Travis to send pieces of Red Snapper sushi to a lab for DNA testing. The results showed that reputable sushi restaurants were serving much-cheaper Talapia for menu items listed as Red Snapper.

Travis shows up at these restaurants with a camera afterward. In one case, he gets the classic hand-over-the-lens treatment from a caught-in-the-act restauranteur. But two others are much more fun to watch. In one instance, Travis asks the restaurant manager to show him the original box in which the “red snapper” was shipped. The apparently English-challenged manager produces a box with the word “talapia” on it. This results in a hilarious exchange:

Travis: See, this word here is “talapia.” (He carefully enunciates each syllable.)

Restauranteur: Talapia?

T: Talapia. You see?

R: Uh huh.

T: This is not snapper.

R: Not snapper?

T: No.

In the second instance, the deer-in-the-headlights look on the face of the confronted restaurant manager at Ru San’s is priceless.

Travis’s demeanor is that of a tenacious college professor rather than an attack-dog journalist. It gives this investigative piece an appropriate tone. Travis leaves open the possibility that some of these restaurants “overlooked” the truth about their sushi, while firmly making the case that this is highly unlikely.

And it doesn’t hurt that Travis is one of the best writers and storytellers in town. This is worthwhile viewing, produced by one of local TV’s best.

Cold Fire

Two fire-related stories yielded two fire-related live shots on WGCL Tuesday night. On paper, it all kinda makes sense.  On TV, it didn’t in the least. Tony McNary did a story about city of Atlanta budget cuts, and the loss of 88 firefighting jobs. McNary’s punishment: Drive to NW Atlanta, and stand in front of a fire scene that had taken place four days earlier, delivering a live tag to a package shot in its entirety downtown.

But it gets better. Joanna Massee’s fire story was about a family holding vigil at Grady for a badly-burned toddler. Massee interviewed three women outside Grady’s emergency room. Assuming this bit of enterprise reporting wasn’t copied from another station, it was a decent lick for Massee. Her punishment: Go to Lithonia, and deliver a live tag in front of the long-cold fire scene.

Live shots are supposed to lend immediacy to TV reporting. Sometimes the immediacy is genuine. In these cases, these scenes of cold fire lent an almost laughable lack of immediacy to otherwise worthy pieces of reporting.  Would live shots at City Hall and Grady have been more compelling?  Probably not.  But at least they would have made sense.

“And, he was naked.”

So, what’s the lead story on the late news Tuesday? Could it be the Pennsylvania primary? Not on WGCL. Thankfully, for those of us who revel in the clownish tendencies of local TV news, WGCL had a much more creative lead: An “exclusive” story about a scion of a prominent Atlanta business family who barricaded himself in a Waffle House bathroom, and had to be pepper-sprayed and extricated by Atlanta police.

The young man’s situation was vividly reported by Harry Samler, a day after-the-fact. Samler’s photog trained his camera on the door of the women’s room as Samler emerged from the john on-camera, intoning that the young man was found “holding one of those metal toilet paper dispensers. And, he was naked.” The public restroom standup always adds a touch of class to any TV story.

Samler’s piece contained a revealing line, saying the family “is dealing with a personal crisis.” The family released a statement (which WGCL failed to convey in a graphic) saying the young man’s erratic behavior was not due to drugs or alcohol, indicating a deeper medical issue. Yes, it was all in the public record. But was it more newsworthy than the Pennsylvania primary– if it was news at all?

Eleven Lifeless

Every time we set out to write a post about WXIA’s news, we always seem to find something more interesting on another station. The other stations certainly offer more comic fodder. The other stations more readily travel down the familiar roads that make local TV news so targetable. But the other stations (even WGCL) are more interesting too. WXIA a/k/a 11 Alive is dull, night in and night out.

WXIA breaks few stories and has few worthwhile exclusives. WXIA has virtually no investigative presence. Instead, WXIA covers meetings, news conferences, crime scenes and court trials quite well. Its enterprise stories are often poignant and worthwhile, but rarely groundbreaking. The other TV stations don’t chase WXIA’s stories. The other stations probably barely watch WXIA’s news.

The A-block of WXIA’s 7pm news Monday went like this:

  • Denis O’Hayer, covering the DOT board meeting and Gena Abraham news conference
  • Jon Shirek, covering a Shirley Franklin newser on Atlanta’s fiscal woes
  • Jennifer Leslie, previewing Lithonia’s city council meeting
  • Jaye Watson, interviewing Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory about the Pope.

Later in the broadcast, Jerry Carnes produced a one-man-band piece on how gas prices are hurting charities. Earthwatch reporter Marc Pickard had a nice-looking piece on a guy who rides his bike to work.

WXIA’s reporters are smart. Some are very gifted storytellers. WXIA’s photography is probably the best in town. Brenda Wood is Atlanta’s most appealing news anchor. WXIA does the back of the book quite well. Its backpack journalists, like Carnes, are often allowed to stretch out and explore the human condition. Pickard has a whimsical style and a worthwhile but too-easy niche.

“Too easy” also describes WXIA’s problem. The station doesn’t devote resources to breaking exclusive stories, or producing investigative pieces. Its newscasts look great. But every night, its competitors are doing something more interesting.

Only time will tell

Our slog through some recent WXIA newscasts yielded one remarkable piece by Valerie Hoff, who produced a story Friday about revenue shortfalls in local governments. The piece stood out for its head-spinning use of cliches. In a standup, Hoff managed to utter three of them in just two sentences: “Woodstock is far from the only city feeling the pinch. Cities across metro Atlanta are crunching the numbers and tightening the belt.”  Wow.

For good measure, she added two more as the story concluded: “The solutions (are) hard to swallow,” spectacularly capped with “from some points of view, the glass is still half-full.”