Monthly Archives: December 2010

“But I’ve got a nice rhyme…”

And if you must keep talking, please try to make it rhyme.

Because your mind is on vacation, and your mouth is working overtime.

Edwin Newman, NBC News

- Mose Allison

As a youth, I devotedly watched NBC’s Today. At around the time when the Hugh Downs / Barbara Walters crew transitioned to Tom Brokaw / Jane Pauley, I would always take note of NBC newsman Edwin Newman’s contributions to the broadcast.  Newman was a hard-news guy with a clever touch.  Once I saw Newman sit on the set and read a yearender rhyme he’d written.  I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.

When Pauley left Today, I stopped watching.  But I remained a Newman devotee as I waded into the quagmire of my own TV news career.  As I became a dad, I appreciated the technique of Dr. Seuss.  But I can’t recall writing any rhymes of my own until a Christmas Eve in the late 80s.

The star-bellied Sneetches had bellies with stars; the plain-bellied Sneetches had none upon thars.

I was working at WAGA.  There was no news, per se.  I asked a producer named Cindy Glozier if I could interest her in a rhyming story about the stylings of decorative plastic Santas.  Glozier embraced it, with a caveat:  You can’t just write a rhyme.  You’ve got to incorporate sound from interviewees.  It went without saying that the sound had to be naturally-occurring; in other words, I couldn’t coach interviewees into saying stuff that rhymed with my prose.  I had to shape the voice track to accommodate the sound.  The rules of news still applied.

The late Tony Small and I prowled around for plastic Santas.  I wrote some lines in a notebook.  We interviewed folks about their plastic Santas and slammed it together for the 11pm show.  As it aired, I stood alongside Sandra Davenport, WAGA’s tape coordinator, and watched it in a feedbay monitor.  Whenever the rhymes clicked, Sandra loudly whooped.

Almost nobody whoops at local TV news stories.  I was hooked.

After Glozier improbably left WAGA for a start-up news operation then called WGNX, my pitches for rhyming stories became a tougher sell.  There’s almost nothing worse than a poorly-executed rhyme, and the fear of embarrassment always loomed.  “You’re no e.e. cummings,” EP Mark Shavin once told me, only half-kidding.

I produced fewer than a half-dozen rhyming pieces in my 21 years at WAGA.  I found the rhyme useful for pieces that otherwise lacked coherent storylines.  In the late 90s, photog Rodney Hall solo shot a piece on DOT employees who pick up trash alongside highways.  Hall’s video sat in my drawer for a couple of weeks as I wracked my brain to figure out a way to make it interesting.  I decided to turn it into a rhyme.  I recall that it inexplicably won an Emmy.

I’m pretty sure that was my final rhyming piece at WAGA.  By then, my pitches to produce rhymes had become a bit of a standing punch line.

e.e. cummings, coz he's all lowercase like that

Fast-forward to Christmas Eve 2010.  Without divulging fully the details of my sordid background as a Theodor Giesel / Edwin Newman wannabe, I pitched a rhyming story to the morning meeting at WXIA.  Again, there was little real news.  They bought it.

I scratched out a few lines that morning, and continued to shape it though the day.  I’d found a helpful site called Rhyme Zone.  If you need to write a rhyme quickly, it’s pretty essential.

Richard Crabbe and I produced the piece for the 7pm newscast.  It’s embedded at the top of this post.

Late that morning, I sent a rare e-mail across enemy lines to Shavin at WAGA, gloating that I’d found a fresh audience for my rhymes.  He good-naturedly fired back the following:

There once was a reporter named Doug

Who was told to cover some thug.

“But I’ve got a nice rhyme

And it works every time,

Plus, it’s like a big holiday hug.”

– haiku version below –

Must work holiday

Depressing me to no end

Trite rhyme could lift mood.

He could have just said:  “You’re no Edwin Newman.”

“Another overbearing, opinionated memo”

For many years, Bud Veazey functioned as a one-man language enforcement agency at WAGA.  Despite the futility of the position, he remained persistent and amusing.  Recently, he posted a collection of his memos on his Facebook page, which I’ve reproduced below in total.

Though a bit voluminous, every word is worth reading and heeding — especially his complaints about “allegedly,” “literally” and “tonight” (although I still retain a perverse affection for “at this hour…”).

Veazey retired from WAGA after 20 or so years as the number-two guy in the newsroom, and began custom-building electric guitars.  If a cool new guitar is on your shopping list, you should consider buying one.  Merry Christmas!

Fri, 13 Jun 2003 17:14:19 (EDT)

From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers
Subject: “bust” again

Please remember than many of our viewers—those who actually were taught English grammar in school—take great offense at the use of the word “bust” as a synonym for “burst” or “break.”

A balloon is burst, not busted. A window is broken or shattered, not busted.

It’s perfectly acceptable in conversational copy to refer to an arrest or a police raid as a “bust.” However, many of our viewers and yours truly still believe that it is unacceptable to use “bust” as a synonym for burst or break.

Fri, 7 Nov 2003 17:05:39 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters
Subject: “At this hour”

When you’re telling a story to your spouse, significant other, friend or mother, do you ever use the phrase “at this hour?”

It’s a dumb ass journalese convention and cliché that intelligent people ought to be able to wean themselves from using. Humor the old man and stop it. There is nothing wrong with the words “now,” or “right now.” And, please don’t replace “at this hour” with “as we speak.” I’ll have a freaking stroke.

The VZ Purpleheart Tele

Wed, 17 Dec 2003 17:58:49 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “center around”

It is literally and figuratively impossible to “center around” something. An investigation can center “on” police activity, but it cannot center “around” it. Think about it. It’s common sense. The center of anything is a point. How can a point surround anything? Better yet, how about using a more specific phrase like “focus on?”

Wed, 17 Dec 2003 17:20:27 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers
Subject: “Incredible”

It’s incredible how often we use the word “incredible” to describe things and events that really aren’t all that incredible. Please make me incredibly happy and give the word “incredible” a rest and reserve its use for something that really is “incredible.”

Tue, 17 Aug 2004 18:11:47 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Allegedly”

Please use a little common sense when using the word “allegedly.” We often drop the word into our copy when it is either redundant or meaningless. I suppose it’s a misguided effort to avoid finding someone guilty of a crime before they are tried. If we say, “Police said John Doe shot Jane Doe,” it is unnecessary to say, “Police said John Doe ALLEGEDLY shot Jane Doe.” The allegation has been attributed to authorities.

If someone has been convicted of a crime you can stop saying he ALLEGEDLY committed the crime. A jury has agreed he did it.

And please, when you are writing about an unknown perpetrator of a crime, don’t write “alleged robber.” If we know there was a robbery, it’s an unchallenged fact that there was a robber.

Use common sense and listen to what you write.

Tue, 7 Sep 2004 17:50:12 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: The word most often misused in Television journalism

The most misused word has to be “literally.” Over the weekend I heard the word used incorrectly, or stupidly, more times than I could count by network reporters and local reporters alike.

You won’t go wrong if you will remember one simple rule: Do not use the word “literally” in a sentence unless there is some likelihood that a listener might be confused as to whether you are speaking “literally” or “figuratively.”

If you are standing in water up to your knees, it is redundant and a little silly to say, “The water is literally up to my knees.” Of course it is. We can see it. Is there any likelihood the viewer might think you were speaking figuratively? It’s as dumb as saying something like, “My head is literally splitting,” to describe a headache. If your head is literally splitting, I’m getting out of the way

Strike a blow for the English language. Listen to what you write and say.

Wed, 18 May 2005 17:26:19 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Suspects”

Foolish optimist that I am, I will once again try to explain the proper use of the word “suspect” in the hope that eventually someone will get it.

Police have a “suspect” when—and only when—they know, or think they know, who they are looking for. In other words, an individual has been identified as a “suspect” in the crime. If no one has been identified, THERE IS NO SUSPECT!

Take a moment and think about the logic.

Until a “suspect” has been identified, police are looking for a robber, a burglar, a purse snatcher, a rapist, a murderer, a reckless driver, a bad person, a clown, a mime, etc.

Once again, if police haven’t identified a person as a suspect, THERE IS NO SUSPECT!!

(I know police officers misuse the word “suspect.” If you are using police speak as your example for writing your stories, we have a problem bigger than the misuse of a word.)

Fri, 20 May 2005 12:35:28 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Present Tense Leads

I know this will cause a controversy, but as you all know I have strong opinions on certain topics. The present tense lead is one of those topics.

I don’t care what your last news director told you; there is nothing conversational about present tense leads. Some people think they add immediacy to a story. Usually they do nothing but confuse the listener.

The present tense lead is great for teases when used properly. It seldom works as the lead to a story, especially when the writer adds a time reference or mixes tenses.

For instance, what does this lead mean? “A man dies when his car crashes today on I-20.” Has there been a crash or are we predicting one? Take “today” out and the lead is okay, but I still contend it is not conversational. What’s wrong with saying, “A car crash on I-20 today killed a man?”

Here’s a lead from our Noon newscast today:  “A senior at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont receives a special present during graduation.”

If you are telling this story to a friend, wouldn’t you have said “…received a special present…?” We’re supposed to be telling stories, not slavishly following the rules we learned from some journalism school instructor who worked 15 minutes in Podunk as an associate producer, or some consultant who flunked as news director. Forget the rules. Go with your instincts. If I don’t like your instincts I’ll write another overbearing, opinionated memo.

Here’s another problem with present tense leads from our Noon newscast: “A 16-year-old girl is in the hospital after a gun goes off…hitting her in the chest.”

A girl is in the hospital and a gun goes off. We have a clue that the gun went off because “after” was stuck in the middle of the sentence. Is that really how we speak? If you insist on using a present tense lead—and I wish you wouldn’t—how about, “A shotgun blast sends a girl to the hospital.”

Those are my thoughts. Feel free to argue with me.

Thu, 26 May 2005 17:35:11 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Young Child”

It’s redundant. A child is a young human being. “Child” is sufficient. If you feel the need to be more specific, use words like infant, toddler, pre-teen, teenager, or the child’s age.

Wed, 31 Aug 2005 12:25:11 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: While I’m on my soapbox…

“Destroyed” is like pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. “Completely” destroyed is ridiculously redundant. “Partially destroyed” is “damaged.”

Tue, 25 Oct 2005 18:51:01 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters
Subject: “Tonight”

Please avoid inserting the word “tonight” unnecessarily in your standups and anchoring. The effect of this misguided attempt to add “immediacy” to your copy not only is not conversational, it can also be misleading.

In this evening’s newscast, in the “A” section, a reporter said someone was seriously injured “tonight” even though the injury occurred much earlier in the day.

An anchor said, “A mother and daughter are seriously injured “tonight” after an SUV came crashing into a dentist’s office.” Two common sense rules were broken here: a present tense lead—which is not conversational writing—should never have a time reference. In addition, the people were hurt, not tonight, but earlier in the day.

I know some news director told you once to say “tonight” whenever possible to make an old story new, but it just doesn’t work.

Fri, 30 Dec 2005 17:47:02 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Out of”

You can go “out of” a door; you can run “out of” money; if you’re Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet” you can be working “out of” robbery division. However, breaking news happens “in” a location not “out of” a location.

We don’t have a “report on breaking news OUT OF Atlanta. We have a “report on breaking news IN Atlanta.

Please put “out of” on the list of phrases which, when misused, really get me agitated. I’m too old to get agitated.

Wed, 11 Jan 2006 12:26:22 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Very latest”

Just call me Don Quixote, but I’ll tilt at this windmill until I shuffle off this mortal coil.

“Very latest” like “very pregnant” or “very unique” is ridiculously redundant. The news doesn’t get any “later” because you add “very.”

Once upon a time long ago a news anchor uttered “very latest” and a news director and consultant said “this is good.” From that time forward “very latest” joined the lexicon of journalese clichés such as “at this hour,” “only time will tell,” “winter wonderland,” “the nation’s midsection,” and “officials say.”

Please help me in my crusade to stamp out “very latest” before I go to that big newsroom in the sky.

[A 2008 version of this memo follows]

Wed, 20 Feb 2008 16:07:00 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “completely destroyed” redux

Please add to your list of redundant phrases to be avoided “very latest.” If it’s the “latest” it ain’t going to get any “later” just because you added “very.” Sometimes I think we go for word count instead of making our words count.

Cold Warrior: SSG Veazey on the Armed Forces Korea Network, 1970

November 11, 2003
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Another Pet Peeve

Please don’t lapse into police speak and say things like “…the victim was shot multiple time.” (We’ll ignore the passive nature of the phrase for now.) I believe if you were telling the story to your dear old Granny, you might say, “…the victim was shot SEVERAL times.” When you write your stories, think of your dear old Granny.

August 30, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Conversational, active voice copy

One of our common goals is to write conversational copy—telling a story to our viewers much as we might tell it to a friend.

If that’s our goal, why in the name of Walter Cronkite do we write sentences like: “Anyone who may have any information on the crime is asked to call the police…”

Make is active. Make it conversational: “If you have any information on the crime, call the police.”

September 17, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Snuck”

Even though I am sure it will eventually sneak into the English language as acceptable usage, at the moment there is no such word as “snuck.” The past tense of sneak is “sneaked.” Please wait until I go to the big newsroom in the sky before using the word “snuck” in our news copy.

July 18, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Brutalizing”

We said in our 5 p.m. newscast that the Inglewood police officer was caught on tape “brutalizing” a suspect in handcuffs. In my opinion this is an editorial comment and is inappropriate. The objective, observable facts are that the officer is seen on tape slamming the young man into the hood of the police car and he is seen striking the handcuffed man in the face. Whether he “brutalized the man is up to either the police department’s internal affairs division or a jury to decide. Be careful of subjective words.

January 30, 2004
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “No Word Yet”

“No word yet.” Here’s a phrase that needs a rest. Often “no word yet” is the beginning phrase of the last sentence of a v/o, for instance, no word yet how the fire started, no word yet on the condition of the victim, no word yet on what caused the accident, no word yet on who shot John, etc.

“No word yet” often is code for “the P.I.O. hasn’t returned my call.” If you don’t know the information and it’s important to report that we don’t know the information, just say “we don’t know” or “we’ve been unable to find out…” or use your creativity to explain our lack of information.

The first question to ask yourself is, “Why do we need to tell our viewers what we don’t know?”

“No word yet” doesn’t need to be banned, but at least there ought to be a moratorium.

Also, please keep in mind that nothing sounds dumber than the phrase “no word yet” in an evening news story about an event that happened at 7  in the morning.

From TV's infancy

May 14, 2004
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Whether or not…NOT

This is one of those losing battles, call me a stubborn tilter at windmills if you must. “Or not” when used with “whether” is redundant and therefore unnecessary.

For example: A jury will decide whether a person is guilty of something. We don’t know whether dinosaurs could talk.

It’s understood when you use the word “whether” that there is a choice between two conditions, usually true or false. “Or not” is superfluous.

Wed, 4 Sep 2002 13:03:50 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: All
Subject: Keep your hands out of the toilet

Someone, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., is regularly taking the deodorant blocks out of the toilets in the men’s restroom next to the newsroom and throwing them on the floor.

We all have our phobias and idiosyncrasies, but toiletdeodorantblockophobia is a new one on me. If you are the person who has an aversion to toilet deodorant blocks, please find another way to deal with it. (There’s probably an organization with support groups or a web site.)

Anyhow, keep yer hands outta da terlet!

Daily No-Show

From the Daily Show: Justin Gray, WAGA

I have many reasons to resent Justin Gray.  I could resent the WAGA reporter for his youth.  I could resent his advanced Ivy League education, or his metrosexual fashion sense.  I could resent his apparent absence of body fat.  But those aren’t the reasons I resent Justin Gray.

I resent Justin Gray because in the last year, the WAGA reporter has made two cameo appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As regular viewers of The Daily Show, Mrs. LAF and I had the startling experience of seeing them both unexpectedly.

I’ve made appearances on Fox News, CNN, the Weather Channel and the long-defunct NBC News Overnight, anchored by Linda Ellerbee.   With the possible exception of Ellerbee’s show, I’ve never craved the attention of those national entities.  I do crave an appearance on the Daily Show.  It didn’t help that, when Gray popped up, the missus piped up:  “Wow, look.  Justin’s on the Daily Show.  Why aren’t you ever on the Daily Show?”

From the Daily Show

My ongoing failure was highlighted last week, as I came tantalizingly close to Daily Show infamy.  Once again, the Missus and I were languidly seated on the couch, when Stewart launched into a piece about the Civil War.  We saw Stewart introduce Larry Wilmore, who used two clips from an interview I’d done with the spokesman for the Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  (Mrs. LAF has recently figured out that the consistently-hilarious Wilmore was the EP for Bernie Mac’s sitcom.  Twelve weeks of maternity leave, coupled with countless hours of daytime television, lead to such revelations).

From 11alive.com

In my interview, SCV spokesman Dan Coleman derided as “politically correct” the well-documented notion that the Civil War started largely because of a volatile national rift over slavery.  I appeared on-camera in the piece, but The Daily Show apparently concluded it lacked comic qualities.  Wilmore got his laughs.  My long-sought Daily Show cameo continued to elude me.

The WXIA interview segments appear at 2:20 in the video below.

In fact, WXIA got no props either.  Early in my career, it was a given that any video lifted from another TV entity was fair game, but a “courtesy” graphic was expected.  Early in my career, networks like NBC and CNN would also pay individual local reporters if the network used a piece they’d produced.   Reporters ensconced in low-paying small markets were highly motivated to produce pieces that might entice the network.  Those days, and the “courtesy” graphics, are apparently long-gone.

So why crave an appearance on The Daily Show? I can’t explain it, really.  But it explains my resentment of Justin Gray.

In the clip below, Gray appears at about 4:20.

Jock Rap, posted with vodpod

Ahead of the weather

Under the weather: Mike Zakel, WXIA

“We’re going to get ahead of the weather,” I heard somebody say and yes, I rolled my eyes.  I’ve heard it many times before, killed countless hours in live trucks awaiting upcoming storms, forecast to have damaging winds. Because TV shows like Storm Chasers show tornado-tracking folk in just the right place, at the moment a tornado forms, the thinking is:  We can do this too.

We can, but we rarely do.  Actually, we almost never do.  But we keep trying, and we did so Tuesday.

The storms were forecast to hit early afternoon.  “Go to Douglasville,” somebody said, and we did.  When we arrived about 11:15am, we passed a WAGA live truck, mast raised, ready for action.  Great minds.

Mike Zakel and I parked in a church lot downtown, a location selected based mostly on the fact that we knew we could set a microwave shot from that spot.  The odds of a bad storm hitting that exact spot were no better or worse than any other location in North Georgia.

The noon hit was brief, its point only to convey to the audience that we were in the field, “monitoring” the weather.  Nothing was actually happening, and I killed thirty seconds of air time explaining that.  I went on too long.

Saying we’re “monitoring” the weather makes us sound much smarter than “we’re standing outside, waiting to get rained on.”

It seems like madness, but there’s a method behind it.  When weather is bad, local TV ratings shoot upward.  The audience either a) craves information or b) wants to chuckle at images of TV guys / gals outside in inclement weather.  I personally lean toward the latter.  Whatever the reason, no local TV station dares to ignore a weather system forecast to be dangerous — no matter how much eye-rolling takes place among newsroom cynics.

We knew thunderstorms were popping to our west.  We lowered the mast, and relocated.  Our goal was to find an abandoned bank drive-through, someplace with a tall roof.  It would enable us to exit the vehicle, shoot stormy weather and still have shelter.  I spotted a gas station advertising $1.69 regular.  The abandoned storefront had a fifteen foot roof covering an old tank.  When the rain came, Zakel shot it.  It rained hard for no more than twenty minutes.

I-85 ramp near I-285, 11.30.10

We returned to town.  We began to regroup.  I lurched around for another story.  Then I heard excited voices in the newsroom.  They were looking at a DOT camera, which showed cars trapped in floodwater off I-85.  A storm drain had clogged.  Two cars were partially under water.  Rush hour had started.  Traffic was stopped.

As Zakel and I drove to that location, word spread that a tornado had struck near Buford and clobbered a subdivision.

That night, we covered weather the way we usually do:  After the fact.  And yet next time, somebody’s still gonna say it:  We’re going to get ahead of the weather.