The long-awaited report into test cheating at the Atlanta Public Schools system was, journalistically, the paperwork equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. Everywhere you turned, there was a head-spinning story. Wednesday morning, Ellen Crooke recognized this prior to the start of the morning editorial meeting.. This commenced a most unusual half-week for reporters at WXIA, as well as our viewers.
Wednesday morning, every person in the editorial meeting was assigned to read a portion of the 800 page (or 400, depending on how you counted) report — managers, photographers, interns, reporters, everybody. The meeting broke up, then reconvened 45 minutes later. During that 45 minutes, there was more noise in the newsroom than I’d heard in months — mostly, the audible gasps of people reading, then sharing passages from the report.
For the next two days, WXIA focused single-mindedly on reporting the contents of the report and the consequences thereof. And even the newsroom’s eye-rolling cynics were on board. This story was bigger than Snowmageddon 2011, the last story that got whole-staff treatment.
Of course, not everybody agreed. WXIA’s Facebook page got a few squawks from suburbanites who felt that an inner-city cheating scandal didn’t concern them. What about “other” news? they asked. They could have found it on the other Atlanta stations, which led some of their newscasts with a fatal house fire.
The same Facebook page also had praise for appropriately focusing on, arguably, the biggest local story of the year.
Some were also amused by Crooke’s decision to clad her field reporters in matching red 11 Alive polo shirts. “Is that for real?” wrote one guy on another Facebook site. “What year is this, 1974?” The matching shirts gave the station’s audience visual reinforcement that everybody was on the same page, covering aspects of the same big story. I get it.
(Regrettably, I hadn’t brought mine to work Thursday. Somebody tossed me a new one. When I got to the live shot location, I learned the shirt was a women’s XL. I now know that women’s polo shirts have very, very short sleeves. When photog Steve Flood offered to lend me a generic men’s red polo from his news car, I took it and hoped nobody would notice.)
(It would be easy to blame myself for my regrettable pose above, marring an otherwise amusing photo taken by the legendary Al Ashe. I blame the shirt. Flood’s clothes look great on Flood. Perhaps I should have stuck with the women’s XL.)
It gets lost in the shuffle, but I can’t overlook the fact that this story would have never emerged had not the Atlanta Journal-Constitution broken it months ago by merely checking CRCT scores and examining the improbability of some of them. They did it at a time that the newspaper was cutting staff and fighting for its very survival.
It’s a story that could have easily gone untold, were it not for the “lamestream” commercial news media. Just imagine…