Monthly Archives: August 2009

The ten rules of newsgathering

b_lion3The ten rules of newsgathering are primarily for the benefit of TV reporters.  However, you are encouraged to apply them to your everyday life as well.

No-parking-sign-(resized-250)1.  If something happens “all the time,” it’s unlikely to happen when you deploy a camera to shoot it.

2.  When shooting “man on the street” interviews, always ask individuals.  Groups of people delight in telling goons with microphones to f#ck off.   Separate the individuals from the herd, as would the lion stalking a meal on the Serengeti.

3.  When searching for parking, and presented with a space specified as “NO PARKING,” park in that space.  “NO” stands for “news organization.”  (h/t HPY.)

4.  It’s the reporter’s responsibility to ensure that the photographer gets a meal during your shift.  Take that responsibility seriously.  You don’t have to buy the meal.  Just make sure there’s time allotted.

5.  Always offer to help the photographer carry gear.

6.  Don’t wander into your competitor’s shot.  Don’t absentmindedly (or deliberately) drive your shiny happy “NewsCenter 3!” live truck behind a competing reporter while that reporter is doing a live shot.  “What goes around, comes around.”  Speaking of…

7.  If you aren’t sure whether you’re writing a cliché, you probably are.  Write something else instead.

Quality currency:  Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

Quality currency: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

8.  If the phone rings at five minutes after noon, beware.  It means that the newsroom managers have seen something on a competing TV station’s noon news that your station has overlooked.  The phone call means you’re being asked to recoup on a story with a rapidly fading pulse.  Consider waiting five minutes, then return the call.  The problem may solve itself.

9.  When covering hurricanes, always pack a cooler of beer.  Beer is not only a refreshing must-have for those 18 hour workdays, but it is also useful currency with disaster crews, displaced residents and other media.  Those folks can make or break your coverage and your well-being.  Make sure the beer goes on the expense report.  If questioned by a bean counter, refer the questioner to these rules.

10.  Never run, except for exercise or if somebody’s life is in jeopardy.  Running diminishes dignity.   Dignity is valuable and frequently in short supply in your industry.   Never, ever break into a trot within the boundaries of a newsroom.  Unless you’re running from an axe murderer or the like.  Which isn’t completely out of the question.

Say something nice…

10946

“We’d like to have somebody on the story who was actually alive for much of his career.”  This was the line I heard from a manager Wednesday morning.  It was intended as flattery for an old guy who’d already had children by the time the Cold War ended.

The story was about Teddy Kennedy, and WXIA’s local coverage of his death.  During the morning editorial meeting, the obvious names came up:  Lowery, Lewis, Young, Carter, King.  A few not-so-obvious ones also emerged.  I would assemble a reaction package with remarks from civil rights icons.

As an afterthought, I said:  Yeah, I talked to Kennedy a few times.

This was met with greater wide-eyed wonder than I’d expected.  You interviewed him?  Well, of course.  You should do the story.  And afterward, you can do a brief on-camera talkback about your experiences with Kennedy.

Right.  Ted Kennedy didn’t know me from Adam.  But as a reporter in Washington in 1985, I covered news for local TV in Boston (among other cities).  So my bureau paid attention to Kennedy.

Once, I’d intercepted him with a camera outside the Senate chamber and provoked an utterance on something-or-other.  I had, perhaps, one follow-up question.  He kept walking.

The second time was more interesting.  We’d made an appointment to talk to him in “the swamp,” a grassy area outside the Capitol.

Kennedy emerged.  He walked rapidly to our position.  Still in my 20s, I was a bit awestruck and struggled to hide it.  He began chattering about the legislation at hand, with detail that was well beyond my knowledge.  We mic’d him.  He kept chattering.  In his hand was a half-smoked cigar.  Around his mouth, one could see dried brown remnants of the cigar he’d so obviously enjoyed.  The Senator’s hair was disheveled.  There were white flecks on the shoulders of his dark suit.

In other words, he was — shall we say — untidy.

This was my snapshot of a legend:  Tobacco stained and dandruff flecked.

It was a searing image, and likely a wholly unfair one. It was late afternoon.  The guy had spent the day in the cloakrooms of the Senate, twisting arms and working legislative magic.  This was just another workday for a guy who, by all accounts, worked harder than most.

Lord knows how often I’ve appeared in public, the on-scene face of a TV station, drenched to the knot of my tie in flopsweat.  In public places, my wife delights in wiping stuff, real and imagined, from my face.   I have no room to talk.  I consider myself a fairly well-groomed man.  I’m sure Kennedy did too.

(I also encountered Kennedy a third time in Hancock County, Georgia in the late eighties, when he was on a tour exploring health care in rural areas.  He seemed perfectly groomed on that occasion.  Believe me, I noticed.)

Fast forward to August 26, 2009.  I had to come up with something to say about my personal encounters with Ted Kennedy.  I had very little material that was appropriate for the occasion.  Thankfully, I only had thirty seconds.

more about “untitled“, posted with vodpod

Decorum

Deep reflection:  The blogger with WXIA photog Richard Crabbe

Deep reflection: The blogger with WXIA photog Richard Crabbe

The story was odd and therefore appealing.  Faculty at the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism were “feuding” with UGA’s public affairs department, according to a headline Tuesday in the Red and Black.  At issue:  Camera access to the Miller Student Learning Center, a busy building with a popular coffee shop.  J-school students liked to use the coffee shop for video projects.  The PR department was now insisting that students request permission before shooting video and still photos there.

At its core, the issue was pretty minor.  Numerous public buildings — county and federal courthouses come to mind — require advance permission before shooting.  Federal courthouses take the extra step of confiscating camera phones from every soul who traverses their metal detectors.  US Marshalls like to arbitrarily and unreasonably shoosh camera crews away from public sidewalks surrounding the Richard B. Russell and Sam Nunn federal buildings in downtown Atlanta.

The news media mostly rolls over and plays dead in the face of such restrictions.  The fact that the Grady School faculty were willing to ask the Attorney General to issue an opinion over camera access to the Miller center was refreshing.

When I pitched the story Tuesday, the newsroom brass at WXIA bought it.  This provided an opportunity to provide on-air the kind of ponderous media analysis with which readers of this site have become familiar.

So much for opportunity.

more about “11Alive.com | Atlanta, GA | Video“, posted with vodpod

The problem is this:  The public supports the first amendment in the abstract.  But they think the news media are obnoxious and self-serving.  This story could have been a thoughtful look at ever-increasing media restrictions.  It could have looked at the fact that almost every student in the MLC possesses a camera phone (the use of which technically requires advance permission, a laughable notion).

It could have also looked at a low-key effort to preserve the reasonable expectation of privacy that students (and workers at a coffee shop) might hope to have in a media-saturated world.

As UGA spokesman Pete Konenkamp said:  Everybody who has requested permission to shoot video in the MLC has received permission.

So why make student journalists (and the rest of us) jump through that hoop?

Contrarily, what’s wrong with insisting on the courtesy of a heads-up?

That story would have taken four or five minutes to tell.  When finished, it probably would have merely reinforced the audience’s notion that the news media is pushy and obnoxious.

So we took the shortcut.

Priorities

By Mike Daly

On Tuesday, August 18th, I was the videographer for a crew shooting a story near Blairsville, GA. I was contracting for a national television show. I drove a car which had no logo on it.

The story follows the search for Kristi Cornwell, who disappeared one week earlier. She went for an evening walk along a road and was on the cell phone with her boyfriend when she was apparently abducted.

On the 18th, there was still plenty of media coverage. Several law enforcement agencies were helping with the search and manpower hadn’t scaled down yet.  They established roadblocks to ask motorists if they saw anything suspicious in the area a week earlier.  The FBI also offered resources that day.

Charles Brackett

Charles Brackett

We interviewed Charles Brackett, the grandfather of Cornwell’s only son. He owns a local convenience store.  His son had been married to Cornwell but they divorced 13 years ago. Brackett and his wife are still involved in their grandson’s life and say they love Kristi Cornwell dearly. The grandfather said he would do anything he could to help bring her back.

Our interview took place after a local Atlanta TV news crew had interviewed him. I know the local reporter and she did her usual excellent job. But there was a producer nearby, hired by one of the networks. After the local interview with the grandfather, this producer asked the grandfather not to do interviews with other Atlanta television media outlets. She said they were the competition.

News folks are competitive. I understand that.  But, from time to time we make ourselves look bad. In this case, the family members, who are becoming fairly media savvy, are looking for as much exposure as they can get. Media involvement in this case will begin to subside very soon. Law enforcement won’t stop working the case, but they’re scaling back their search efforts.

The family wants to talk to as many media outlets as possible.  To ask them to limit who they talk to is, to me, pretty darn selfish. Maximum exposure will help the family more.

Fortunately, the grandfather knows his right to freedom of speech and will decide to whom he talks and when. He will not let this producer, whom I believe was from out of town, limit his desire to give the story exposure.  Granted, it’s her right to ask, which is what she did. She was even polite about it. But, what’s more important here folks? Getting an exclusive interview with granddad or finding Kristi Cornwell? My conscience tells me it’s finding Ms. Cornwell. Maybe that’s why I’m not such a good news guy.

Missing in Blairsville:  Kristi Cornwell

Missing in Blairsville: Kristi Cornwell

Earlier that afternoon, I was attempting to shoot video of one of the roadblocks. GBI reps told us where one was located. On the way to it, I saw the roadblock from across a large field. I was in a right-turn lane and came to a stop. I then backed up a ways to get a clear shot. It was a pretty shot with the large green field in the foreground and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the back and the roadblock off in the distance.

Shortly after I began shooting, a black SUV pulled up behind me with blue lights flashing. Two men approached me. Their vests said they were with “Corrections.”

They asked who I was, what I was doing and which outlet I was shooting for.

I answered their questions. They asked for ID to show that I was working for the TV show that I said I was. I had no credentials from the TV show, but they accepted my business card. One of them told me they were looking out for people who were “shooting video to sell to the media.”

I realized I wasn’t credentialed. I was driving an unmarked car. But, I didn’t know it was illegal to sell video to the media. In a sense, that was what I was doing anyway. I was contracted for a program and they would pay me to come up with their product. Part of me wanted to grill this guy about whether he really gets to decide who can and cannot shoot video at a search.  I kept my mouth shut.

I eventually reached the roadblock, but had to go through it before I could shoot. Since I wasn’t from the area, they took my name, license plate number and telephone number. The officer even asked me what color my eyes were.

I just hope that they find Ms. Cornwell healthy and safe. She has a kind family and after all these years of shooting crime and destruction, it’s still really tough to watch a family go through this.

Mike Daly is a DP / producer / maestro at the Southeast’s finest boutique video production company, TomorrowVision Media.

Trouble in paradise

wgcl

Update: See video below.

It’s been a rough week at WGCL, where General Manager Andy Alford abruptly resigned.  It’s worth noting that his replacement will be multi-tasking, just like many of his minions in his news department.

According to the WGCL memo announcing the switcheroo, new GM Kirk Black “will oversee our eastern hub in Atlanta, consisting of master control, traffic and business office functions for our Atlanta, Hartford, Kansas City, Nashville, Saginaw and Springfield stations. Also, he will continue his oversight of National Sales in Chicago and Los Angeles.”

As CB Hackworth writes in Certain Speculation:

“Wouldn’t it have been poetic if Alford was followed out of the building all the way to his car by photographer Jeff Thorne while Tony McNary yelled tough questions at him?

To see the entire memo, go to Hackworth’s blog.   To view a curiously odd video somebody put together about the WGCL to-do, click below.  H/T Brett Martin.

Program note: Hackworth has decided he will no longer directly post on LAF.  But we’ll be delighted to link to / steal stuff from his blog when he’s got material like this.

Live twist

Live shot reacharound:  One last volume adjustment.

Live reacharound: A late volume adjustment.

“It’ll work,” said Bill.  Bill is a satellite truck operator at WXIA.  He was handing me the box into which I would plug my earpiece for an upcoming live shot in Talbot County, Georgia.

My earpiece was probably ten years old, a vestige from another workplace.   The earpiece is one of those morning departure accessories that’s required with wallet, keys, pen, phone and key card.  If you’re en route to a TV newsroom for a day’s work, you carry the earpiece.

WXIA had given me a new earpiece.  It came in a box.  Assembly was required.  It also had a large plug, which raised a red flag in my mind.  My earpieces always had teeny-tiny plugs.  The new earpiece was in my briefcase, unassembled.  The ten-year-old mainstay was in my pocket.  It’s the piece Bill assured me would work on WXIA’s equipment.

The earpiece is essential.  If I’m standing in Talbot County, I have to be able to hear the audio from the newscast — especially the “toss,” which lets me know when to start talking.  Producers in the control room can also talk to me through the earpiece, giving cues and last-minute info.  The earpiece plugs into a box that’s dialed into a phone line which transmits the program audio.  The box is typically worn on the back of the belt during the live shot.

“There’s audio in the box.  Try it,”  Bill said.  I grabbed the box.  I put the earpiece into my left ear.   Instinctively, I turned the volume knob all the way to the left, then inserted the plug-end of the earpiece into the smaller of the two holes on the box.

Instantly, loud and distorted ear-splitting audio bombarded my brainpan.  I grabbed the volume knob again, and twisted it to the right.  The decibel level reduced.  I could hear legible program audio.

The earpiece worked.  But at WXIA, it seems that the volume knob is what tech geeks might call “counterintuitive.”  Twist it to the right, and the volume goes down.   Now I know.unchain my heart

So began my first TV live shot since June 28, 2007.  There are additional highlights:

  • Talbot County, Georgia is so small that its county jail has only four cells.  Walk into the lobby, and you can see the cells from the front door.  The high sheriff himself was sitting behind the lobby desk — straight outta Mayberry.  We did the live shot in front of the jail.  It’s the white building over my right shoulder.  The courthouse is on the other side.
  • We wanted to do the live shot in front of the rural home where the dogfighting raid took place.   Investigators urged us not to do so.  Turns out there are friends and relatives in the area who strongly sympathize with the alleged dogfighter.  We met one at midafternoon.  He was scary, probably drunk, and acted like he was packing.
  • The chain was gross.  But it was a cool, clanky, Dickenesque prop.
  • Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous at all, despite the fact that live shots aren’t my forté and two years had passed since my last one.

The hardest part of the live shot:  Remembering the correct outcue.  I had to rehearse it, out loud, several times.  Our web guy says there has been some chatter on the WXIA message board, speculating on how long it would take for me to absentmindedly lapse into a “fox five news” outcue.

One more note:  Upon reviewing this piece, I now realize I dopily used the word “treatment” twice in the first sentence. Grade:  C.

The new workplace

One of my first acts during my first day at work was to ask the location of the supply closet.  Turns out WXIA has no supply closet.

However, there is a supply drawer.  Looking for a stash of pens, I instead saw a claw hammer and a box of disposable dust masks.  There were also some reporter notebooks.  I grabbed a notebook.

News flash:  WXIA has no newsroom.  However, it does have an “information center,” a six-syllable synonym for the word one might have once used for that two-syllable locale.  During my first week at WXIA, I overheard a reporter quickly correct herself when she lapsed into the old language.

WXIA also has no high cubicles.  The newsroom information center, for all its 21st century nomenclature, has the old-school feel of a newsroom wherein colleagues can actually make eye-contact with each other without having to jump up from their seats.

"Hey- I work hard.  Why not my printer?"  Bill Liss, WXIA

"Hey- I work hard. Why not my printer?" Bill Liss, WXIA (the printer is over his right shoulder, I think)

My WXIA colleagues made clear that my new desk is in an area that utterly lacks prestige.  It’s next to a large garbage can.  It’s also adjacent to what is known as “the Liss Printer.”  I’ve tried to print scripts on the Liss Printer.  I’ve failed.  Moreover, I haven’t seen anybody actually pull any printed paper from the Liss Printer.

(Near as I can tell, reporter Bill Liss bears no blame or responsibility for the Liss Printer.  The printer is apparently so named because it’s near the Liss desk.)

Perhaps the Liss printer works fine, but my computer skills are inadequate.  That’s entirely possible.

WXIA has quaint old computers whose speed and utility seem comparable to those in my old workplace.  After using nothing but a Mac for the last two years, I’m re-learning Windows.

Last week, I accidentally “disappeared” three stories I had written moments earlier.  A couple of hours after the first story vanished, a producer politely asked me if she could delete some gibberish I’d obviously written or saved into the wrong page of the 7pm show rundown.  This was one of the missing stories.  I told her to flush the copy, which I’d long since re-written.

In another instance, I deleted what I thought was a duplicate copy of story I’d written.  Turned out it wasn’t a duplicate.  Joke’s on me.

All of this reflects the natural awkwardness that any new employee might find in a new workplace.  There’s a learning curve in a new job.  Thing is, I haven’t had a new employer since I was a man in my 20s.  So all this requires some re-orientation.  Which I’m delighted to get through; the new job has gone quite nicely thus far.  The people who staff the newsroom information center are very generous and helpful, as are the folks in the rest of the building.  The Bosslady seems to be an unfailingly positive presence, even when handling difficult stuff.

News flash:  WXIA has no chyron operator for newscasts.  If a reporter or producer has a chyron, you click on a program which has templates for the newscast.  You enter the super in the correct template.  You drag the completed super into the script.  The director (who is also the technical director) enters the super during the newscast, based on the time given on the rundown or tear sheet (which another station in a former life called a “tech sheet”).

WXIA has standard ID supers for its reporting staff, but hadn’t created one for me.  I was told the supers included a name and an e-mail address.  So I improvised “doug richards / apartment fire (at) gmail (dot) com.”

Then I heard Bud Veazey’s voice, for some reason.   I changed the second line to simply read: “11 Alive News.”

Update / Correction: That’s not the Liss Printer over Bill’s shoulder.