Monthly Archives: September 2009

No diving

“Be creative.  We don’t want you to just stand there during your live shot.  Do something.  Get involved in the story.” If you earn a wage as a field hand in the local TV news, you’ve heard it.  You’ve probably heard it uttered by somebody who covers news by staying indoors all day in a building surrounded by satellite dishes.  You’ve probably rolled your eyes after hearing it.  And you’ve done it anyway.

You’ve walked.  You’ve squatted.  You’ve demonstrated.  You’ve pirouetted.

After you’ve done it, you may have even high-fived your photog.  Because a creative live shot always beats a live shot standing stock-still in front of a dark building.   You might even grudgingly acknowledge that the desk-bound producer was right in demanding it.

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Ross Cavitt probably didn’t high five his photog after his 6pm live shot Tuesday in Cobb County, where residents are recovering from last week’s flooding.  Cavitt is the kind of guy who doesn’t need to be cajoled into doing something creative on-camera.  He does it because it helps tell the story.

Cavitt produced a story on WSB about the crushing effects of the flood and the debris it left behind.

And Cavitt did his live shot seated on the edge of a dumpster.

Dumpsters and TV reporters have had a historically troubled relationship.  When they get together, rarely does anything good come of it.  Occasionally, you’ll see a TV reporter trying to parlay a story out of the contents of a dumpster — typically, something toxic or sensitive.  In so doing, the viewer waits breathlessly for the reporter to enter the dumpster, the reporter’s dignity instantly running for the exit.

But Cavitt’s too cool for such stuff.  Cavitt doesn’t mind getting dirty, but you’ll never find him inside a dumpster.  Likewise, Cavitt would never sit on the edge of a dumpster filled with the skanky detritus of a restaurant or a garden-variety apartment complex.

Cavitt’s dumpster was filled with the torn-up remains of the homes of flood victims.  This was clean, beloved material until the water rose and soaked it.  By the simple act of sitting on the edge of the dumpster, Cavitt symbolically embraced its contents, and the story.

This was no easy feat.  Cavitt kept his dignity intact during a dumpster live shot.  He gave the producers something creative.   He didn’t pirouette.  He didn’t even move, really.  Yet he did something I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before on TV.      Grade:  A

Class action

Adam Murphy probably has many loyal friends.  No doubt, they love his Restaurant Report Card stories on WGCL.  They follow his regular appearances on the pop radio station known as Q100, wherein Murphy talks (we presume) about the failings of restaurants, as well as other exposés in the “Action Adam” portfolio.

They probably love his hometown credibility; the fact that he grew up in the Atlanta suburbs and metriculated at the University of Georgia.

But of unquestionably greater importance, they undoubtedly love the fact that he’s in the running for the title of Nicest Man on Earth.

I have no idea what that would be like.  But I’m learning what it’s like to be killed with kindness.  If you learn that I’ve died unexpectedly hyperglycemic, my corpse wearing a silly embarrassed half-smile on its slightly reddened face, I would suggest a tough question or two for Mr.  Murphy.

Who's tormenting whom?  The blogger with Adam Murphy, WGCL

Who's tormenting whom? The blogger with Adam Murphy, WGCL (photo by Jonathan Goss, WGCL)

Murphy would have every reason to be unkind to me.  Close followers of this blog would know the reason.  During the time when I produced critiques of Atlanta TV stories, Murphy provided an abundance of material.   I’m not gonna say the critiques were harsh.  I will say that some of them lacked a certain amount of sugarcoating.

So, of course:  Upon my return to the news biz, it turns out Murphy was the first competitor I ran into while encircling a newsmaker with microphones during a breaking story.

Murphy was – so – damned – nice.

I also encountered Murphy at a meeting of bloggers at WGCL last spring.  Murphy stayed ’til the end.  We spoke afterward.  He was – so – damned – nice.

He was gracious.  He was generous.  He said he was familiar with the LAF critiques, yet praised the blog and the spirit behind it.  He was also familiar with some of the specifics of my work in TV news.  Murphy is one of those young adults who “grew up watching” yours truly on the TV, always a mixed blessing.  He was very flattering.

Adam Murphy’s parents raised him right, their devotion to local TV news notwithstanding.

So I come now not to bury Adam Murphy, but to praise him.  You’re a class act, kid.  I’m proud to know you.

Maybe I can learn something from you.  Like, how to properly pose for a photo.

Postscript- I hear you asking:  What’s with the “media area” sign?  It’s a creation of the Atlanta Watershed Management Department.  Spokeswoman Janet Ward says the department had it custom-made after a wayward TV photographer nearly fell into a trench at a construction site.

My laptop

QHey, TV reporter!  Who writes your stories for you while you’re fixing your hair and makeup??

A: Unless my name is Jenna Bush Hager, nobody writes stories for me.  I write them myself.  This answer often surprises the questioner, until it’s explained:  “That’s why so many TV stories are so poorly written.”

Photo by Richard Crabbe, the photog / cryptologist who turned the notes below into a TV story.

Photo by Richard Crabbe, photog / cryptographer, who turned the notes below into a TV story.

I would guess that I’ve written a majority of my TV stories on my laptop.  My laptop is pictured to the left.  It’s a yellow pad of paper.  It typically sits in my lap while I work in the back of a live truck.  At the end of the shoot, I view the day’s video.  On the laptop, I make notes from the video.

Based on those notes, I write a script in longhand on the laptop (see below).

Frequently, a photographer must decipher the material produced on the laptop and use it to guide video editing decisions.  The editor uses another laptop in the truck, the one that’s next to my right knee that’s hard-wired and chip-driven.   It has Avid editing software.  Unlike my laptop, that laptop is bolted into the truck.

Below, you’ll find video of the story produced during this particular shoot.  Below that, you’ll find  the product of my laptop.  Feel free to try to follow along.  (The notes don’t include the anchor intro or live shot ad libs.)

While you’re doing that, I’ll be applying a bit of blush.

Update: I’ve had to remove embedded video from WXIA, which was causing LAF to temporarily freeze up.  You can still play along by dragging the handwritten script to your desktop.  Open the desktop file, then click on my mug below.  That will take you to the story on 11alive.com.  Teams of engineers are allegedly trying to solve the embedded video problem as we speak.  Ugh.

doug richards wxia 9.23.09

bridges script

Mentally handicapped

Poor parking in Douglasville, GA 09.23.09

2pm, Douglasville GA.  9.23.09.

When it’s insufficient to merely park illegally in a handicapped spot, do it sideways.

While I was on foot covering flooding, this asshat nearly hit me.  He was racing through a parking lot toward this spot.

We will resume our regular programming shortly.

Update: Now you’ve hit the bigtime, dipwad!

Should I stay or should I go?

Hiram, GA.  8pm, 9.20.09

Hiram, GA. 8pm, 9.20.09

When weather gets rough, it’s news.   Sure, a downed tree is sometimes overblown.  But severe weather deserves blowout treatment.  Problem is, weather makes logistics rough.  The story may be good, but it may also be impossible to get on the air.

The result may be a classic crapshoot.  Stay put in the rough weather, and you may be able to deliver compelling live coverage.  But the weather could prevent you from getting it on TV at all.

Sunday night, photog John Duffy and I found ourselves in an epic rainstorm.  We were in Paulding County.  It poured for three straight hours.  Paulding County had already had some flooding issues.  This rain wasn’t helping.

We shot some minor flooding and did a quick live shot at 6.

Then we got lucky.  We stopped at a restaurant to ask the manager about the absence of business over the previous rain-soaked week.  As we shot, rain started to seep into the restaurant from the parking lot.   So began the flooding that socked Georgia for the next two days.

It was 8pm.  The thunderstorm raged.  With its 40 foot mast, our microwave truck couldn’t deliver a live shot under those circumstances.  We had a 10pm deadline.

Should we stay?  The story was just beginning to develop.  We could continue to shoot.  If the storms broke, we’d be able to raise the mast and pop up a shot.

But if the storms didn’t break, we’d be doing phoners.  Nobody wanted that.  So we left Paulding County at 8:15pm.

En route back to WXIA, we drove up to a flooded spot on US 278.  There was a civilian car and a sheriff’s cruiser stuck in the water.  We shot it and talked to a cop.  It was a second stroke of luck.

As we drove back, Duffy said:  “So– you wanted to get back into TV, eh?”  He’d said it about a half dozen times during the shift.  Duffy’s a laugh riot.

When I offered to fetch the truck (a gesture to keep the gear somewhat dry), he shot my mad sprint.

We arrived in the newsroom, soaked, at 9:30 and got the pictures and story on WATL’s 10pm newscast.  The rain hadn’t let up.

On a competing station, they were doing phoners.

The gorilla ball

The Legend:  Willie B.

The Legend: Willie B.

The Gorilla Ball is Saturday.  The event is a competition among Atlanta TV stations to see which can produce the most entertaining blooper reel.  The reels are always worthy viewing.  CNN typically enlivens the event by providing a blooper reel, though CNN is ineligible for the Otto Focus Award, the plastic trophy handed over to the station judged to have the winning reel.

There are a few somewhat interesting facets to this year’s Gorilla Ball.  The first:  It appears WGCL is declining to participate, despite its production of excellent blooper reels in past years.  The reason is unclear.  (If I’m wrong, please feel free to correct me.)

Second:  Because there was no Gorilla Ball in 2008, this year’s reels should be better-than-average because of the backlog of material.

Third:  The Atlanta Press Club was apparently desperate enough for an emcee that it asked yours truly to co-host.  I accepted.  The good news is that I’m co-hosting with Tom Regan.  I’ve golfed and had adult beverages with Regan.  I’ve also gotten my ass kicked on stories by Regan, an excellent reporter at WSB.  We know each other well.

I’ve also praised and abused Regan on this site.   I now look forward to doing so in person.

Started by individuals employed by Atlanta TV stations in the early 1980s — when such folk drank and abused substances with reckless abandon — the Gorilla Ball began as a raucous, off-the-record party (the first one I attended was at the Limelight).  It got some stability when the Atlanta Press Club began sponsoring it.   It also became tamer.  As an old guy, I’m quite OK with that.

WAGA has been on a roll, winning the last several Otto Focus awards.  Editor Larry Winokur isn’t obsessive about gathering material for it, but he misses very little — especially when Good Day Atlanta erupts into something unexpected.  GDA typically dominates the WAGA reel.  The CNN reel is always entertaining because it includes off-air audio from the control room.  (“Camera two!  Why are you doing a 360 when you’re supposed to be on a closeup?  Holy f@#!”)

The Gorilla Ball is at Zoo Atlanta at 6:30pm Saturday.  You can join the APC and pay ten bucks for admission (but you have to do so by noon today.  It’s $15 at the door).  Non-members pay more.  Buy advance tickets here.

Sustenance

1pm Tuesday

1pm Tuesday

Thank goodness there are so many caring people who love TV.  Without them, the denizens of newsrooms across America would surely wither and die.

4pm Tuesday

4pm Tuesday

Tuesday was an excellent example.  As newsroom staff at WXIA were beginning to collapse from starvation — deprived, as they were, of nutrition due to their extraordinary hard work and their inability to spend even a moment away from their desks — salvation came in the form of a cake.

Actually, it was two cakes.  One of them, the carrot cake, provided nutritious vegetable fiber and Vitamins A and C.  The C vitamin was an especially timely addition to the newsroom diet, as a scurvy outbreak appeared imminent.

Likewise, the chocolate-on-chocolate cake delivered vitamins A and E, and minerals like potassium, zinc and paramecium.  More importantly, cocoa has phenylethylamine, which is a natural anti-depressant.  The staff at WXIA are extraordinarily well-adjusted and lack the suicidal tendencies often found in other newsrooms.  This may be attributable to the regular appearances of chocolate cakes, cookies and candies on the table adjacent to the assignment desk.

6pm Tuesday

6pm Tuesday

Sadly, the field crews tend to have only scattershot access to these life-sustaining newsroom deliveries.  However, their exposure to regular sunlight enhances their vitamin D intake, and wards off depressive bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder.   And their mental toughness is enhanced by regular exposure to crime scenes and slippery public information officers.

We heard that a place called the Marietta Diner provided these two nutritious confections.  Perhaps the bakers there believed they were merely providing a sweet gratuity for folks who may or may not deliver a bit of media buzz for their business.

They provided much more.

Overheard in the newsroom

OK, Florida actually has two different time zones, but whatever....

OK, Florida actually has two time zones, but whatever-- I need the IT guy to change my ribbon!

News professionals who are still unsure about using Facebook — and they are surprisingly numerous — may reconsider when they learn that they can “become a fan of” an entity called “overheard in the newsroom.”

By so doing, the daily Facebook feed will provide you with a regular litany of newsroom howlers.  Here are a few samples from September:

#1718: Assignment editor to Producer: “I have to run outside for a second. If anyone asks, I quit and walked out.”

#1724: Reporter 1: “There’s cake in the break room.” Reporter 2: “Did someone leave?”

#1731: Producer on the phone: “I’m not trying to be bitchy; it’s just coming out naturally right now.”

#1766: Page designer to editor: “I can’t make a shit sandwich until you give me some shit!”

#1770: Producer: “Is it sunny outside? I’m trying to tease weather, but I can’t because I’m in a window-less hell hole.”

#1717: IT guy: “So what’s the problem?” Multimedia editor: “See this little computer here? It’s a piece of shit.”

#1778: City editor to reporter: “You know, a company picnic would cost a lot less these days. Because there’s a lot less of us.”

With each “overheard” vignette, there are typically dozens of comments.

So you don’t miss out:  1) Join Facebook and 2) search “overheard in the newsroom.”  When its page comes up, click “become a fan.”

Multiple sources

Building the story's foundation:  Miss Lady Flex

Building the story's foundation: Miss Lady Flex

This week I got my first piece of hate mail at WXIA.  It could have been a critique of my prowess as a videographer.  That aspect of my Dragon*Con story, which aired Monday, was overlooked by the unhappy correspondent.

Had the writer carefully checked 11alive.com, he would have found that WXIA produced two pieces on Dragon*Con over the weekend.  Both were one-man-band pieces.  Photographer Stephen Boisey shot and produced his piece Saturday night.  I shot mine over portions of two days, then produced and delivered it Monday.

Boisey’s piece had better visuals.  He kept his eye out for the material that makes Dragon*Con the curiosity that it is:  Grown men and women in strange costumes.  He interviewed some of them.  He asked clever questions.  He pieced it together with some production music that’s stored in a library at WXIA.  It was a fun piece.  Regrettably, it’s no longer available on 11alive.com.


Auteur mode:  Darrell Hazelrig (right)

Auteur mode: Darrell Hazelrig (right)

Visually, my piece was somewhat of a failure.  Every time I camped out looking for odd costumes, none came.  Instead, I got abundant video of mediocre costumes, as well as garden-variety spectators.  Whenever I saw the truly amazing costumes, my camera was nowhere nearby.

Sensing my near-panic, my friend Darrell offered to assist.  Darrell is a filmmaker and freelance video guy.  For the price of a beer, he helped ensure that my interviewees stayed in frame and in focus.  I was grateful.  The interviews saved the piece.

My interview with Dana Swanson especially saved the piece.  Swanson is “Miss Lady Flex” in an Atlanta musical act called Le Sexoflex.  She grasped my storyline instantly.  She and her three band-mates, who’d already planned impromptu performances at Dragon*Con,  gave the piece a helpful aural thread (once I substituted a naughty word.  Download Le Sexoflex’s highly listenable mix tape at no charge here.  Warning:  It’s shamelessly raunchy and utterly hilarious.)

Bottom line:  Once I realized I lacked sufficient video of crazy costumes, I solicited help from Eddie Ray.  He’s a friend and spousal co-worker who put something like a thousand Dragon*Con photos on Flickr.  He blessed my use of his photos.

Stephen talks to Mr. & Mrs. Pirate

Stephen talks to Mr. & Mrs. Pirate

Doug talks to Mr. & Mrs. Pirate

Doug talks to Mr. & Mrs. Pirate

If you view both pieces, you’ll notice that Boisey and I both managed to interview the same couple at one point.  Given the fact that some 40,000 people attended Dragon*Con, this makes perfect sense.

Boisey and I both got separate hate mail from different viewers who claimed we failed to show Dragon*Con sufficient respect.  We respectfully disagreed.  Both pieces showed a lot of affection for the event.

Meantime, I’m burying the lede:  An epic failure that encapsulates the genuine hurdles I have yet to overcome as a photographer.  I’m saving that story for the next post, though.

Immunity

More to offer than a hankie:  Jerry Carnes, WXIA

More to offer than a hankie: Jerry Carnes, WXIA

Jerry Carnes is a clever, talented and mostly healthy TV reporter.  He’s one of the best storytellers in town.  But this isn’t about Carnes’s strengths as a journalist.  This is about how the finger of fate can point, then keep pointing.

First, Carnes beat prostate cancer.  He’s been cancer free for quite some time.

Then, this summer, Carnes was bitten by a spider.  A brown recluse, apparently.  It was a pain in his butt, as only a spider bite victim can attest.

Last month, as the news media began getting geeked up (again) about H1N1 / Swine flu, Jerry Carnes got the bug.  That is to say, Carnes caught the damned H1N1 flu.  It jacked up his body temperature, gave him the sweats, flash-fried his cranium, churned his innards and kept him away from work.  Carnes had been stricken well in advance of cases now being reported around various Georgia college campuses and elsewhere.

So Carnes became something of a curiosity.  News folk typically speak in the abstract about the phenomena they cover.  Carnes was an actual test subject.

At one point, I overheard the following during an editorial meeting at WXIA:  Let’s put Jerry on Skype so he can do a live shot from his home about his flu.  Around the  conference table, there were muttered affirmations.

I don’t think the sick-bed live shot actually happened, though Carnes is a trooper and probably would have done it.  When he returned to work, he produced a first-person story about his illness.  To view it, click here.

His health restored, Carnes became the go-to reporter on the H1N1 story.  At first, it was because Carnes was interested in the story.  Such first-hand experience tends to stoke a reporter’s interest.

Jerry's kids:  Emory's H1N1 dorm.

Jerry's kids: Emory's H1N1 dorm.

But Carnes had an even greater advantage:  Because he’d already gotten it, Jerry Carnes is immune to H1N1.  So when Emory created an entire dormitory for flu-stricken students, Carnes had little to fear by entering the building, breathing deeply and chatting up-close with college kids battling the flu.

“Been there, kid.  That’s quite a fever you’re running.  I feel your pain.  Oh, did you just sneeze on me while I was fitting you with a mic?  No problem.  Care for a Kleenex?”

Meantime, the rest of us have to wait for H1N1 vaccines, which (last I heard) are still weeks away from distribution.

WXIA has a reporter called the Commuter Dude.  He’s on in the mornings.  He’ll probably never run out of material.

Jerry Carnes now calls himself the Swine Dude.  He too has abundant material.  He has plenty of empathy.  And he has immunity, earned the hard way.