Monthly Archives: January 2009

Insomnia

Should she have kept driving?

Should she have kept driving?

Home Depot lays off 500 people at its Atlanta HQ.  It’s a big story.  The best way to chase the story is to talk with beleaguered just-fired employees.  To find them, the TV reporter beelines to the HQ parking lot.  He camps out at the exit.  He tries to chat with those who’ve just lost their jobs and are leaving the premises, possibly  forever.

It’s an ugly assignment, no question.  To produce a story, you only need a couple of the just-fired to talk  predictably on camera.

“My gosh, I had no idea!”

“Not sure what I’ll do next!”

And if you get lucky, you’ll get somebody to emote:  “How will I feed my family without a job?”  Yeah, a soudbite like that would be considered a stroke of good luck if you’re a TV reporter.

It’s one of those how-do-you-sleep stories.  Deep down, the reporter knows this:  Home Depot probably doesn’t want those ex-employees talking to the news media.  In fact, some of the employees hurrying out have probably said exactly that to the mic-holding reporter.  And Home Depot has a carrot:  It has offered to help those laid-off folks relocate elsewhere within the company.  The employee has good reason to drive past those reporters camped at the top of the HQ parking lot exit.

But the reporter has no options.  His boss won’t let him off the hook.  The boss knows that the story won’t be worth a damn without a laid-off employee or two talking on camera.  And your TV competitors are camped out at the same exit, staking out the same folks.

A few — it only takes a couple — employees stop anyway.  Their minds are already reeling.  They haven’t stopped to consider the ramifications of talking to the smiling, friendly reporters beckoning them at the exit.  They stop.  They chat.  They speak from the heart, then drive off.

Maybe after they appear on TV,  they get a phone call from an ex-coworker:  Did I just see you on the news?  Do you really think Home Depot is going to bust its hump to re-hire you after you’ve spouted off to the media?  D’oh!

To the TV reporter, it’s a soundbite in a 70 second package. The TV reporter rationalizes:  Surely, an upstanding company like Home Depot wouldn’t punish a laid-off employee for talking to the media.  If it does, by gosh — we’ll do an exposé on it!

To the ex-employee, it may be a catastrophic  and irretrievable mistake.  And another solid citizen learns to distrust the news media.  Which, incidentally, was just doing its job.

Top 10 assumptions about TV reporters

kent_brockman210.  They can tell you what’s really going on. Well, yes.  But chances are they’ve put almost everything they know into a story already.

9.  They have writers who tell them what to say. No.  They write it, which explains why some of it is so poorly written.

8.  Reporters love dirt. Absolutely true.

7.  Reporters love stories about crime. A few do, but most don’t.  A few reporters thrive on the act of knocking on the door of a bereaved family and requesting an interview.  Most would rather pull their eyebrows out.

6.  Reporters consider it demeaning to do a feature story on, say, a cat show. Some reporters crave the lead story.  Many don’t.  Cat show stories can be low impact, fun to tell and lack the gut-wrenching drama of hard news.  They may also be the most memorable stories in the newscast.  It’s news directors who despise sending their own staff to the cat show stories.

5.  TV reporters are unscrupulous. Mostly no.  They have ethical standards and can get fired if they don’t adhere to them.  However, some are pretty cutthroat when it comes to beating their competitors.

4.  TV reporters despise other TV reporters. Mostly untrue.  Competing reporters eat lunch and drink beer together after work all the time.  But a small handful will shake their fists and curse the presence of their competition.  TV photographers, on the other hand, are an almost universally collegial bunch.

3. TV reporters don’t work as hard as newspaper reporters do. Until recently, newspaper reporters could often go for days without actually producing a story.  That gave them time to develop stories and work beats.  Cutbacks in newspapers have changed that.  Meantime, TV reporters have to work constantly to service round-the-clock newscasts. from 5am to noon to 6pm to 11pm.  They all work equally hard.

2.  All TV reporters are anchor wannabes. Few TV reporters would turn down an anchor slot.  And the reason is simple:   Anchors make better money and don’t have the grinding workload reporters have.

1.  TV reporters are rolling in dough. No.  Starting reporters in markets like Savannah often have to take second jobs to make ends meet.  Atlanta TV reporters can make six-figure salaries after a few contract cycles.  But only the highest-profile reporters make the “big” money.  Most of ‘em have credit card debt just like you do.

Flunking history

WXIA, 1.19.09

Man interviews mic flag: WXIA, 1.19.09

The occasion was important enough to send two of its well-paid anchorpersons to Washington DC for a couple of nights to cover it.  So when WXIA previewed last week’s inauguration Monday night, what could possibly explain the shoddiness of its coverage?  The picture on the left tells much of the story and illustrates how WXIA, once Atlanta’s best video shop, has tumbled to sometimes embarrassing depths.

Brenda Wood and Karyn Greer spent much of Monday’s 7pm newscast on camera, live from Washington.  Wood managed to produce a rather predictable taped interview with Martin King III.  Wood also produced a serviceable feature on a Georgia horsewoman riding in the inaugural parade, a piece shot prior to Wood’s departure for DC.

But when it came time to interview plain folks who may or may not have come to DC from Georgia — and there were thousands of visitors to choose from Monday — WXIA / Gannett pooled resources and came up with nothing short of crap:  Three horribly shot soundbites, apparently delivered by a Washington-based one-man-band, armed with a WXIA / Gannett mic flag.  The material appeared to have been produced by a high school student.

Adding to the foolishness, WXIA’s coverage began with a series of still photos taken by a WXIA producer.  The photos showed crowds of people.  Nothing wrong with the photos.  But since television has the capability of broadcasting motion pictures, it seems reasonable that one might have expected an actual TV story about the crowds of people arriving for the inaugural.

Based on this newscast it appeared the conversation with Wood and Greer went like this:  Ladies, good news:  We’re sending you to cover the inaugural.  Send back some cell phone photos.  Use whatever photographer they can spare at our sister station, WUSA.  Or just hand a mic flag and a camcorder to a passing high school student.  If they produce crap, don’t worry.  We’ll air it anyway.  And hey — have fun.  It’s a huge story!

The above material doesn’t appear on the inauguration page of WXIA’s web site.  There are other stories on the site, but they don’t doesn’t redeem it much.  Thank goodness they sent Jon Shirek, who produced the least predictable pieces.  Unfortunately, his most interesting story — about the choking lines that ultimately denied entry to thousands of people — appears on the site only as a vo/sot.  We say it again:  If you’ve got a guy with Shirek’s storytelling skills, let him really tell the story.

Background noise

images1Lord help anybody watching WGCL’s news in the last two weeks.  Nothing wrong with the content, as local TV news products go.  You see decent stories.  You see some enterprising reporting and some pretty solid investigations.  You endure the Restaurant Report Card only once a week, thankfully.  You’ve accepted Dagmar as a pleasant part of the landscape, and learned to tolerate her occasional winks and her kindergarten-teacher voice (a characterization first astutely made by an LAF commenter).  You’ve also learned that, like Kanye, Dagmar no longer needs a last name.

But the perennial also-ran has morphed again.  It’s producing HD video.  It’s changed its handle to “CBS Atlanta,” partly a result, we suspect, of audience research that gave low points to the “46″ part of its previous brand.  And it has ramped up its newscast stylistically.  This bothers us, but much about local TV news bothers us.

Leapfrogging the Fox 5 News Edge formula, a CBS Atlanta newscast on WGCL is an audio tech’s nightmare.  Every video transition requires a low “kwommm” sound effect.  Every super requires a “swoosssh.”  We suspect even the untrained masses have noticed.  We suspect they find it jarring, especially when the anchors are reading a succession of quick v/o’s.  And there are no exceptions, apparently, except during weather.  Don’t want to drown out the whispery voice of Dagmar, one reckons.

Fox Sports broke the mold when it introduced gratuitous sound effects into its baseball broadcasts. Skip Caray made fun of it.  But after a few years, the sound effects became part of the background.  It’s no longer a big deal.  Perhaps one day, we’ll grow accustomed to all the noise in local newscasts.  But right now, it’s an unwelcome cacaphony.

Meantime, WGCL had a viewer contest to name its helicopter.  The name, one presumes, should be consistent with its new brand.  The winner:  CBS Atlanta Sky Eye.  Too bad.  Here’s our suggestion:  SkyThumper.  That name would salute the racket helicopters create while their news crews on the ground are trying to record audio.  And it’s consistent with CBS Atlanta’s new brand, which is all about the background noise.

Conservative wanted

The AJC is holding a contest to find a conservative columnist.  It’s an odd way to hire a staffer.  But maybe this makes sense.

- Once Jim Wooten starts to fade away, there will be no more skilled conservative writers left on the staff of the AJC.  The purges of the last few years have eliminated any likely candidates.  Not a single qualified conservative writer left?  Yow.

- The new columnist will actually be on the staff of the AJC, according to its online criteria form.  One often saw Jim Wooten and Jay Bookman stalking the legislature for material.  The new guy / gal will do the same thing, and will have a seat on the AJC editorial board.

- Desperate for a hint of excitement surrounding a newspaper that has largely become a day-late reprint of the New York Times, the AJC sees its contest as a way to engage its increasingly skeptical readership.  Can an American Idol -style contest produce the next George F. Will?  Why not, right?

It’s worth noting that the online criteria form says that it’s “preferred” that the winning candidate have a bachelor degree eg. a college education.  Perhaps this is the wave of the future, and a nod to the past:  Walter Cronkite never graduated from college.  Neither did Ralph McGill.  The online criteria also says nothing about having a background in journalism.  Opinionmongers like Limbaugh and Boortz, we’re sure, would say:  Who needs that?

No action

wsb_news_logo240x104First, a pet peeve:  “Action News” is almost the stupidest handle ever applied to a local TV news brand.  It dates back to (probably) before your birthday, when TV stations quaintly told their stories by way of 100-foot spools of mag-stripe news film.  As Electronic News Gathering busted through the technological gate, some genius in Philadelphia birthed the moniker.  “Action News” was deemed to have an actual meaning:  Shorter stories, a higher story count, younger anchors and livelier content.  Hey — look it up in Wikipedia!  There’s an entry under “Action News.”

This 1970s-era relic is still used by a certain TV station in Atlanta, along with the same gold-and-blue color scheme, fronted by the oldest most veteran anchor team in town.  In the early 90s, WSB anchors still occasionally tossed to “this channel two action-cam report.”  One expected to see Jessica Savitch‘s image materialize into the chromakey.

This backs us into the point of this post:  WGCL has changed handles.  Again.  Our cranial capacity is too limited to remember them all:  News at 10, Clear News, CBS-46 news.  Now it’s CBS Atlanta News.

(We were among the only folks on the planet who thought “Clear News” was kinda cool, a forward thinking and somewhat descriptive brand for what the station strove to deliver.  But in most quarters, it became a local punchline, and helped keep viewers away from the station’s newscasts in droves.  Shows what we know.)

Anyway.  We know that WAGA’s “Fox 5 News” and “CBS 46 News” were so named for the cold purpose of delivering ratings.  When Nielsen had diarists who manually recorded their viewing habits, they had to write down either the network or the channel in order for the show to get a Nielsen credit.  “Fox 5″ and “CBS 46″ gave them two chances to get it right.

Now, it’s done electronically.  WGCL is acknowledging this by pulling back its alpha-numeric brand, and giving Atlanta its only TV news station with “Atlanta” as part of its name.  Isn’t CBS “America’s most watched network” or something like that?  Could be genius.  But what do we know, right?

By the way, ever notice how WAGA won’t completely dislodge “Eyewitness News,” its pre-Fox outcue, from its promotion?  “If you see news, call Eyewitness News,” they say in newscasts.  It’s because WAGA doesn’t want another station to grab it.  As if “Eyewitness News” was a hot property worth protecting.

Oh yeah — “11 Alive”?   The alliteration is cool up to a point.  But it’s even stupider than “Action News.”

Rock star

stomp-stammerIf you read this blog — oh wait, you do read this blog! — chances are, you’ve never heard of Gringo Star.  If you have, likely it’s only because you’ve seen their name painted on pallets, which are infrequently set up around town to promote their rock shows.  It’s interesting guerrilla marketing.  They’re a persistent Atlanta rock  band.

And they obviously take themselves seriously.  In fact, it’s plausible to assume that Gringo Star’s sense of self-importance may outshine its brainpower.  We know this because last month, members of Gringo Star reportedly took it upon themselves to systematically swipe stacks of a local magazine called Stomp and Stammer and throw them into dumpsters.  Why?  They’d gotten a bad review.

Odds are that you, a reader of this blog, have seen Stomp and Stammer but never read it.  Our advice:  Pick up a free copy next time you grab a copy of Creative Loafing.  (The two magazines often appear in stacks alongside each other in coffee houses, bars, independent record stores and lunch joints like Eats.)  Of the two, Stomp and Stammer is leaner and much more fun.

Jeff Clark is the editor / publisher / lead writer / ad sales guy / nearly one-man-band behind the monthly rag.  Briefly a 99X DJ, Clark founded his little magazine a decade or so ago, and managed to make it thrive– in spite of the antics of bands he’s pissed off.

Think it’s rough walking into a nest of freshly-bereaved, angry rednecks and asking for an interview about their recently-murdered kinfolk?  Ask Clark how many times he’s been threatened or sucker-punched in music clubs by drunk hipsters whose rock ‘n’ roll careers have been unhelpfully trashed in the pages of Stomp and Stammer.  Clark is an honest and merciless reviewer, with an emphasis on local music.  From the January issue:

“A soggy turd of spazzy tempos, shrill instrumentation, painful singing and zero imagination, the Drownouts’ five-song EP Paper Trails is an example of the depths some guys will dive to these days just to try and score a little pussy.  At least, I hope that’s their excuse.”

We don’t recall what he wrote about Gringo Star.  We suspect members of the Drownouts have Mr. Clark on their radar.

"We're number one!"  -Jeff Clark

"Hey- your record is number one!" -Jeff Clark, S&S

Hopefully, they’ll react with measured maturity and respect for a free press.  Or, in the manner of another Atlanta band called Attractive Eighties Women, also trashed in the pages of Stomp and Stammer.  Rather than assault him or steal his magazines, they wrote a song about Clark.  The refrain:  “Jeff Clark is a shithead.  He’s a goddamned son of a bitch…”  We watched them perform it at the Star Bar this month.  It was catchy.

Yet Clark’s magazine is unquestionably Georgia’s single-biggest institutional booster of current local music.  It’s almost always well-written.  Its articles are objective yet mostly upbeat, lavishing praise on music, bars, movies and other stuff he and his contributors like.  And it may be the only rock magazine in the world with a weird albeit lightly-applied right-wing political bent.  Don’t hold it against them.

How many local TV reporters can say they’ve had a song written about them?  (OK, we know of one, but it’s way obscure…)  Stomp and Stammer is a cool, local, underground jewel.  Among Atlanta reporters, the real rock star is a print guy they’ll never see at a police news conference or a city council meeting.  And he’s his own boss.