Monthly Archives: June 2010

Icing on the cake

“Hey — it’s hump day!”

As a part-time reporter at WXIA, I would occasionally utter this out loud among my full-time colleagues.   I would do it on Tuesdays, just to annoy people.  It worked.   My part-time work week went from Monday to Wednesday typically.

But during much of that time, the BL and I had been having periodic chats about upgrading my employment status to full-time.  She finally roped me in this month.  She did it, in spite of output like this:

When I left the news biz in 2007, I did it because I thought I no longer liked it.  Turns out, I’d only gotten it half right.  I liked the news business a lot.  I just needed a change of scenery.

WXIA has its problems.  Staff buyouts and such have strained the newsroom’s ability to do some basic things efficiently.  Technologically, it’s got issues, to put it mildly.  Some of those issues will get addressed this summer when its ten year old Avid editing system is replaced.

Jennifer "Jaye" Watson and Ellen Crooke, WXIA

I’ve preached a bit on this site about what I consider to be some of the mind-numbing shortcomings of local TV news.  WXIA’s philosophy happens to address a lot of that.  In my experience, management treats its staff like adults.  They trust the experience of their veteran people, and they appear to respect the talents of individuals in the newsroom.  It’s civilized.  It’s humane.  It’s spirited.  Compared to much of my previous experience, it’s very refreshing.

As a part-time guy, I was unable to devote myself sufficiently to my video production business, nor to the news profession.  It was logical to choose one or the other.  I chose news.

Now hump day comes a day later.  I consider myself fortunate.

Trophy case

There are three functions for an Emmy, the wing-tipped trophy handed out Saturday by the Southeast division of NATAS.

The first is so that the winner may have a suitable hyphenated adjective to describe his TV career in the event that he warrants an obituary upon his passing into the great live truck beyond.  “Emmy-winning TV newsman Claude Buchowski had a fatal heart attack while sneezing yesterday…”

But the Emmy trophy also has this little known use:  As a prop for schoolchildren.

As a fourth grader, my adorable daughter Leigh Richards asked me once if she could borrow an Emmy.  “For show and tell?” I asked, hoping that the daughter would use it to brag unnecessarily about her old man.  “No.  I need it for a skit I’m doing in class.”  I acquiesced, and casually admonished her to treat the trophy with care.

She came home crying.  At some point during the school day, the statue snapped off the base of the trophy.  I immediately set her mind at ease.  “Don’t worry.  That Emmy actually got some use today.  The others have never been used for anything.”  They currently reside in a plastic US Postal Service box in a dusty corner of the bedroom.  I added the busted Emmy to the box.

A few years later, the third use for an Emmy emerged:  As a tool for a prank.  But only if the statue has been snapped from the base.

Mrs. LAF and I attended an awards dinner, and I slipped the broken Emmy into a camera bag.  We were seated at a table with the cool kids from WAGA.  Dana Fowle was among them.  Eddie Cortes was there.  Tom Corvin was seated next to us.

Emmy-winning reporter Tom Corvin

Corvin won an Emmy early in the evening.  This was no surprise, as the 6 foot 7 inch Corvin was arguably the most talented TV news stylist in the Atlanta market in the 1990s.  Corvin treated TV storytelling like filmmaking.  He wrote witty double-entendres that referenced random video elements.  He worked with young photogs like Cortes and Dave Dawson on the framing of every shot, helping to turn them into supershooters.  His delivery was very Sam Spade / Jack Webb.  Corvin ought to be making a bunch of money in TV news or film production in San Francisco, but the local folks there haven’t discovered him yet.

Corvin went to the podium to accept his trophy.  He walked back and placed it on the table.  Within minutes, he exited to get a beer.  At that point, I confiscated his Emmy, and substituted it with the one broken by my daughter.

He returned as the rest of us at the table feigned indifference.  Corvin looked at the broken trophy and started sputtering.  We blandly ignored him.  He sputtered a bit more.  “Oh yeah, that.  I don’t know.  I think it spontaneously combusted or something,” I finally said.  “I’m sure you can glue it back together.”  His face sank.

A minute later, somebody unleashed a suppressed giggle.  I replaced the broken trophy with the one Corvin actually won.  Corvin was relieved and somewhat amused.  He forgave me over drinks later that evening.

So, that’s today’s lesson:  Break your Emmy in two, and let the fun begin.

To my knowledge, Tom Corvin is not a French Communist.  I took this photo during a 2002 visit to Paris, where Corvin was living in the Marais district, just a few doors away from the bathtub-bearing flat where Jim Morrison breathed his last.  When I last saw Corvin in SF, he had no Emmy trophies on display at his home.  He said they were in a box somewhere.

To see the list of Saturday’s Emmy winners, go here.

Sand wedge issue

Range rover: Jim Choi

One day earlier this month, I met a man named Jim Choi.  Choi is the manager of the Northcrest Driving Range.  I owe our acquaintance to Nathan Deal, the former Congressman and current GOP gubernatorial hopeful.   Deal met Choi the same day I did.

Aside from an accommodating personality and a well-appointed golf driving range, Choi happens to also possess an extraordinarily conveniently located space.  The Northcrest Driving Range is on Northcrest Rd., within spitting distance of Spaghetti Junction, the giant interchange that connects I-85 and I-285 in DeKalb County.

Such spaces are in great demand by the TV news goon seeking neutral ground for an interview.  In this case, Deal was traveling from his home base in Hall County to an event in Marietta.   I was trying to intercept him for an interview.  “Pick a spot,” said his campaign spokesman.

The Northcrest Driving Range is a two-tiered monolith which flies a giant US flag overhead.  Its signage is in English and Korean.  I’ve driven past it countless times.  Without asking permission first, I told Deal’s spokesman to send his man there.

This isn’t unusual.  Frequently when TV folks need to find a meeting spot with a potential interviewee, we lean toward parking lots.  “Better to ask forgiveness than permission,” goes the oft-repeated adage of mostly-harmless private property squatters armed with cameras and driving live trucks.

Deal’s camp asked no questions about pre-arrangements.  They just knew a TV camera would be there.  Deal showed up at the appointed hour.

Choi saw us, approached, and asked the obvious question:  Why’s the TV camera in my parking lot?  He seemed intrigued rather than threatened.  I told him why we were there.  “It won’t take long.  You mind?” I asked.

“Show my driving range on TV!” he answered.

I told him it would be in the background.  Two weeks later, the scenario repeated.  “Want to meet at the driving range again?” asked Deal’s press guy.

Nathan Deal with Jim Choi

This time, Choi invited us to use a room indoors to get out of the heat.  He offered us soft drinks.  “You play?” he asked.  I told him that perhaps, we could get some video of Deal driving some golf balls.  Regrettably, Deal declined.    Turns out he’s not a golfer.

This was in stark contrast to a time about five years ago when I watched a photographer at WAGA nearly come to blows with a parking lot owner who demanded the immediate departure of our live truck.  The property owner apparently held a grudge against the media generically, and was taking advantage of an opportunity to act on it.  The fact that the truck’s 40-foot microwave mast was raised only enraged him more.

Property Owner:  Leave or I’ll kick your ass.

Photog:  You can’t kick my ass.  You’re too fat.

At my insistence, we left.

If Choi had such a grudge, he suppressed it with charm and grace.  Next time we show up there, maybe he can teach Nathan Deal how to swing a golf club.

A loose screw

Update: See the last line of graf #3.

One day a fifth grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary in DeKalb County contacted the household to relay some urgent information:  You need to know that your son has a dark side that I’m unaccustomed to seeing in ten year olds.  The teacher found it disturbing.

In particular, the teacher was alarmed by his art work.  His doodlings were a bit existential.  Sometimes, he drew faces contorted in horrific expressions.  Sometimes the themes were a bit twisted.  “He’s quite good,” the teacher said, referring to his drawing skills.  He caused no trouble in class.  He wrote well and got good grades.  But she was afraid the boy had a screw loose.  He might need counseling, she gently suggested.

She was referring to Bill Richards, now the newest addition (along with a guy named Hullinger) to the news product of WXIA-TV.  He’ll draw editorial cartoons for WXIA’s newfangled political site, the Bullpen.   As he’s due to get (another) degree in May at UGA, he’ll draw a couple of cartoons a week for 11alive.comHis first offering is here.

This is what kills me:  It wasn’t my idea.  One day, WXIA’s manager of content Ben Mayer phoned me to ask if I thought Bill would want to draw cartoons for 11alive.com.  The question caught me out of the blue.  Bill has been drawing editorial cartoons for the Red and Black since his freshman year.  Mayer was a fan.  Mayer had cleared it with the bosslady before asking me for Bill’s contact info.

Happy together: Bill Richards et al

Bill does what few people can do:  Distill a concise message into a single panel of art, and make the message funny, timely and edgy.  Many would-be cartoonists can draw well.  But many fail at the message and the humor.  Yeah, I’m completely biased.  But I’m pretty blown away by the frequency with which he delivers solid editorial cartoon material while toiling full-time as a college student.

His stint at the Red and Black has also toughened him up.  For his first few years there, the newspaper’s website allowed the worst kind of personal attacks in the “comments” section of each story.  My kid has been clobbered by the public in ways I’ve never been.

At the AJC, Mike Luckovich sets the standard.  It’s no coincidence that Luckovich and Bill Richards share some stylistic similarities.  They’re also both leftists.  Don’t blame me — blame Bill’s grandparents, Dick and Judy Richards.

Speaking of–  Bill appears in the following Luckovich tribute video produced by Dale Russell.  It played prior to the First Amendment Foundation’s presentation of an award to Luckovich earlier this year.  Bill provides some comedy relief.

I’ll skip the whole “it’s Fathers Day and lookit my kid working somewhat under the same roof as his old man” theme and go straight to the analysis.

It goes without saying that newspapers are providing fewer and fewer opportunities for anybody these days.  When Bill Richards entered UGA, newspapers thrived.  He aspired to draw for one professionally.  Nowadays, he recognizes that career isn’t likely.

But he has a better chance now, working at a Gannett website, than he had before.  Gannett appears to churn its best talent internally.  Perhaps somebody will take notice of the doodlings appearing on 11alive.com, and won’t deem them too “dark.”

When  Bill moved on to sixth grade, I discussed the concerns of Bill’s fifth grade teacher with his new teacher.  Her take on the boy’s psychosis was quite refreshing, and straight outta John Lee Hooker:  Don’t change a thing.  Let that boy boogie-woogie.  It’s in him, and it’s got to come out.

Bill has managed to enter his twenties without any therapy, except for the kind provided by an easel and ink.

Fined by OSHA

Outside the Fulton Co. Jail, 11.18.09

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined WSB $5000 for safety violations surrounding its live truck accident in November.

The accident took place when a WSB crew exited the parking lot of the Fulton County jail with its microwave mast raised.  The mast came into contact with some 115,000 volt transmission lines above Rice Street, causing an electrical surge in the truck that slightly injured its occupants, photographer Leonard Raglin and reporter Tom Jones.  The shock and a flash fire destroyed the equipment inside the truck.

The citations are public record and were supposed to be posted someplace within the WSB monolith at 1601 Peachtree St.  You can download the nine-page PDF here. It’s not as enlightening as one might hope, however.

Leonard Raglin, WSB

Raglin, the truck operator and a veteran photographer, had failed to stow the mast prior to driving the vehicle.  Alarm systems in the truck had been disabled.

WSB was originally cited for two violations.  The first says “the employee operating the vehicle D-TEC and vehicle mounted mast system was not trained on electrical related safety work practices as per manufacturer specifications.  The employee was exposed to electrical hazards.”

The second says “the employees operating the vehicle D-TEC and Vehicle mounted mast system did not maintain a clearance of 10-feet from energized power lines.  The employees were exposed to electrical hazards.”

OSHA spokesman Michael Wald tells LAF via e-mail that WSB met with OSHA to negotiate the final outcome.  OSHA originally fined WSB $3500 each for the two citations.  OSHA agreed to drop one citation, and WSB agreed to increase the fine for the remaining one to $5000.  (The links and such seem to provide slightly varying information, which I can’t explain.)

Wald says WSB was cited under OSHA’s awkwardly-worded “general duty clause”:  Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970: The employer did not furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees…

Raglin and Jones were the first to admit that their nearly fatal oversight was the primary cause of the accident.  Yet it’s unclear whether OSHA specifically noted the station’s failure to maintain the truck’s alarm system.  It’s not mentioned in the citations.

Tom Jones, WSB

Both Jones and Raglin suffered from burns as a result of the flash fire that erupted in the truck.  Both men bunny-hopped out of the vehicle to safety (per their training).  Jones was back on the air within days.

The accident also damaged pavement and water lines below the scene of the accident.  That pavement has since been repaired.  Presumably, the city of Atlanta billed WSB for the damage, though we haven’t asked about that.

Although WAGA and WGCL covered the accident extensively the day it happened, it’s notable that Cox-owned media — WSB and the AJC specifically — have mostly ignored it.  WSB mentioned the accident on its web site the day it happened.  The AJC noted it in a brief.

A sharp-eyed reader of Rodney Ho’s AJC blog (and LAF) noted that Ho posted a follow-up a day or so later (wherein he interviewed Tom Jones, similar to a post on this site) — but the post mysteriously disappeared.  I’ve tried to ask Ho if Cox spiked it, but Ho won’t say.

I don’t expect to read about the OSHA fine in the AJC.

Oily encounter

Handcuffed: George Franco, WAGA (R)

Monday, WAGA’s George Franco got arrested while covering the oil cleanup in Pensacola Beach.   He was charged with misdemeanor battery during an encounter with a BP subcontractor.  “Franco grabbed his arm and spun him around,” the police report says.  Read the reports by clicking the images below.

Photographer Chris Rosenthal rolled on a portion of Franco’s encounter with a BP subcontractor named Joshua James Mitchell.  WAGA hasn’t shown the video on TV or the web.

The video doesn’t show the contact explicitly.  Just outside of the frame however, one surmises Franco’s left hand touches the right arm of Mitchell.  Mitchell freaks out:  “Hey!  Get your hands off of me.  Get your hands off of me!”  Franco raises a hand to object.  “You touched me again, sir,” Mitchell says.  As this is happening, Mitchell is backing away from Franco.  Holding a WAGA stick mic, Franco continues to step toward Mitchell.  “Do not touch me again.”  Franco apologizes, but continues his mic-wielding pursuit.

Franco was inside a staging area on a parking lot at Pensacola Beach.  There are trucks and buses and equipment on the lot, apparently used by workers cleaning up the oil mess.  Twenty seconds later, Mitchell calmly but firmly tells Franco repeatedly that he isn’t authorized to be in the staging area and needs to leave.

Franco’s presence in the staging area may be explainable.  Sure, a loud guy wearing a reflective vest is demanding that you leave; that doesn’t mean he has any authority to do so.  If the general public isn’t restricted from the site, then Franco and Rosenthal shouldn’t be restricted either.  I don’t know whether the area had any signage marking it as restricted.

Franco’s pursuit of a story about the cleanup workers is also understandable.  WAGA had dispatched them to the Florida panhandle late last week.  Franco was undoubtedly looking for a fresh angle on a story he’d already covered in several newscasts.

But the encounter is puzzling.  Certainly, Franco knew that BP subcontractors had been gagged by BP.  On one hand — a gag rule doesn’t necessarily rule out tidbits of commentary from those gagged.  If a reporter pursues it correctly — casual conversation works best for me, not bellicose pursuit with a hand mic — sometimes those who want to talk will find a way to do it.

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear:  Once the guy erupts over the arm contact, the odds of engaging him for purposes of your TV story become almost nonexistent.  Although the “battery” had apparently already taken place, Mitchell continued to invite Franco to leave.  (The police report says Mitchell told Franco he was free to shoot the staging area from the exterior perimeter.)  Franco probably now wishes he’d accepted the offer.

Franco was arrested around midday Monday.  By 5pm  he was out of the Escambia County jail and doing live shots for WAGA.  NewsBlues reports that WAGA never mentioned Franco’s arrest; a coworker (of mine) reports that WAGA mentioned the arrest in their noon news Monday.  WAGA news director Budd McEntee told the AJC that Franco and the station deny the charges.

The video does not show Franco “grabbing” and “spinning” the subcontractor, as described in the police report (the report says Mitchell outweighs Franco by 100 pounds).  But it shows Franco pursuing Mitchell beyond a zone of comfort.   Editorially, I can’t figure out what Franco expected to get from him.  As a BP subcontractor, Mitchell wasn’t responsible for the spill or the mess on the beach.  “Are you gonna get on the beach and clean up?  There’s a bunch of tar balls!” Franco is heard asking, as Mitchell continues to order him away.  Perhaps the idea is to ask Mitchell how he feels about it.

Instead, we find out how he felt about Franco.

Fall guy

After the fall: Pete Smith, WXIA

Conventional wisdom suggests that political candidates campaign every waking hour.  The facts are different:  Political candidates in big markets spend much of their time raising money.  They do it personally, frequently on the phone, and as far from camera range as possible.

I don’t know what candidate Rob Woodall was doing last week when I called for an interview for a piece about the Republican primary in the 7th Congressional district.  But his staff said yes, he’d do an interview and no, there were no naturally-occurring campaign events that day.

Though delighted to schedule the interview, the absence of a campaign event gave us scant opportunity to shoot the requisite video of Mr. Woodall in his natural state.  This void led to the acrobatic and very temporary demise of WXIA photographer Pete Smith, as shown in the 32 seconds of video below.

Smith was shooting some exciting motion pictures of Woodall and me doing laps around the old Gwinnett County courthouse.  In most of the shots, Smith was stationary, and Woodall and I made small-talk.  As I was explaining to Woodall why I’d left TV news in Washington DC in the 80s, Smith opted to stride backward perp-walk style, when he stumbled over a large decorative rock lodged alongside the sidewalk.

The video is a case-study in how to take a fall as a news photographer.  He fell squarely onto his back.  As you view the video, you see Smith’s legs splayed horizontally.  Immediately, you see him tilt the lens of his camera downward toward his belt.  This prevents the back of the camera from ever touching the ground.

At the same time, he arched his back and prevented (by an inch or so) the back of his skull from hitting the concrete.  Within four seconds, you hear him say “yep, we’re good,” as Smith realized nothing vital was impacted — or at least, nothing he felt at that particular moment.

Under normal circumstances, you’d hear the voice of a concerned reporter asking “are you all right?!?!”  The absence of this question is quite defensible here.   One would wait until the impact before asking such a question.  In this case, Smith short-circuited the impact by bouncing back up almost in one continuous motion.  His action answered the question before I ever got it out.

The “were you rolling” question was also quite defensible, given that I instantly conceived some usefulness for the video.

I’m still not sure how he bounced back upward so quickly.  But Smith was back on his feet, unassisted, within nine seconds.  Within twelve seconds, he had re-framed the shot into something usable.

Smith, who’s accustomed to looking under rocks at the state Capitol, is a fifty-something guy.  I don’t know how he felt the next day.  But for about 12 seconds or so, he was more than a guy shooting wallpaper video with a hifalutin TV camera.  He was a daredevil in the media circus.

This post and video first appeared on 11alive.com