Monthly Archives: October 2011

Prognosticator

People often assume reporters have actual expertise in the stories they cover.  Some actually do.  Jim Galloway is a genuine expert on state government and politics.  But I’ve learned to tread lightly when called to represent myself as an expert on pretty much anything.

When Occupy Atlanta became a “thing,” I paid enough visits to the encampment to have developed more insight to the story than, say, those who watched the story unfold on TV.  It turned out my insight was very limited, though.

A guy totes an assault rifle into Woodruff Park during Occupy Atlanta

When Mayor Kasim Reed announced that he was rescinding the Executive Order that allowed Occupy Atlanta to stay overnight in Woodruff Park, he said he would lift the order “at a time of my choosing.”  He said he would try to negotiate the group’s withdrawal from Woodruff Park via a group of clergy.

This led me to casually predict that Reed was “in no hurry” to call in the cops to forcibly evict Occupy.  My prediction was based on my belief that Reed didn’t want to show a heavy hand against folks with whom he largely shared a leftist political outlook.  Specifically, I’d heard Reed complain weeks earlier about corporate America’s failure to create jobs while turning record profits — more or less the exact complaint of Occupy Atlanta.

Shows what I know.  Reed ordered Occupy Atlanta’s eviction less than 48 hours later.

The day after Reed’s announcement, I produced a story about Reed’s upcoming decision.  While I was in the park, another 11Alive crew told me they’d seen a guy walking around the park with an assault rifle.  The weapon was a semi-automatic knockoff of an AK-47.

My thought was:  This is Georgia, where politicians brag about their arsenals.  Ain’t nothing special about toting a big ol’ gun in public.

Shows what I know.

Reed specifically cited the presence of the weapon as his rationale for barricading Woodruff Park that day, then sending in the cops early the following morning.

Fortunately, nobody remembered me speculating about the timing of the dispersal of Occupy.  Or if they did, they were too polite to bring it up.

If I cover a murder trial, somebody will invariably ask me what the verdict will be.  I’ve been wrong so frequently that I won’t do it anymore.

I don’t mind somebody touting me as an “expert,” if you’re merely comparing me to somebody who has no first-hand knowledge of a news event.  But the truth is:  I’m only expert at putting facts together, and weaving them into a storyline on deadline.

That only makes me a TV reporter.

Mic check

"Where do you think you're putting those hands?" Lisa Borders might have reasonably asked.

“Here.  Let me clip this mic on you.”

There’s no getting around it.  One cannot gather news unless one records audio.  Operating in a world that lacks boom-mic toting audio techs, the local TV news goon typically has two options:  Hold the unwieldy, flag-draped stick microphone under the chin of your interview subject; or clip the discreet lavaliere mic to her garment.

From the standpoint of the visual aesthetic, the latter is almost always the preferred method.  It also has the greatest potential for personal embarrassment.

The above text is lifted from this 2009 post.  The video, which aired this weekend, freshens it up a bit.  Thanks to 11alive.com producer Eden Godbee for playing along; and to photog Richard Crabbe.

This blog encourages you to recycle.

Vernon Jones walks into a bar….

It happened October 4, a Tuesday evening.  Three political operative-types were seated with me at Manuel’s at a table in the non-smoking section.  The former DeKalb CEO enters the room.  Vernon Jones sees us and makes a beeline across the room toward our table.

Not doing "the robot": V.A. Jones

I have, shall we say, a peculiar history with Mr. Jones.  I covered many of the controversies that followed him while he held office.  During that time however, we had an ongoing rapport that only occasionally descended into head-shakingly unhinged qualities for which Jones became known.

Since leaving office, I’ve seen him three times.  Each time, he’s treated me as if I’m his mortal enemy.  I wrote about the first one, which was genuinely bizarre.

In 2010, I saw him with a freelance TV photographer at a Nathan Deal campaign event at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.  So that I couldn’t hear him, Jones whispered to other reporters that he was shooting something for a cable TV show.  I resisted the temptation to engage him about his apparent conversion to the fourth estate and gave him a wide berth.

This was the third.  As Jones approached our table, I stood and smiled and greeted him.  He shook my hand and those of the other folks at the table, who also knew him.

What are you doing now?  somebody asked.

I think I’m going to start a web site to fact-check reporters like Doug, he answers.

That’s actually kind of exciting, I start to say.  Then his body language changes.  He assumes a chilly stance toward me while continuing to chat with the other folks at the table, one of whom has grabbed him by the arm so that he wouldn’t leave.

Hey Vernon.  I hear I should call you “Angus” now, I say to him.

Friends of mine who live in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward have told me about two different dwellings Jones has moved into over the last three years.  In both locations, Vernon has identified himself as “Angus Jones,” an apparent nom de street.  I’ve been told Angus is his middle name.

It was intended as an icebreaker.  It didn’t work.

Jones turned his back to me while continuing to talk with one of my table-mates.  Periodically, he’d spin toward me and mutter something about “reporters like Doug who can’t ever get their stories right,” then spin back away.

Why yes, sir. This is a camera in my hand.

He was at the table ten minutes, tops.  He never sat.  He spoke about me but never to me.

I was disappointed.  I still think that Vernon has mistaken me for somebody else — another reporter, perhaps — who really did give him hell when he was in office.  Dale Cardwell, maybe.  Except I’m pretty sure Vernon can distinguish me from Cardwell.

It would have been a bonus to actually have a civilized chat with the guy over a beer.  There’s a lot to discuss.

Instead, Vernon walked off.  “Always good to see you Vernon.” I oozed sincerity.

As he got halfway across the room, Jones turned back toward the table and finally addressed me.

In a loud voice, he pointed toward me and said Hey Doug!  I know who she is!  I know her name!

What was he implying with that? I hear you asking.  The folks seated at the table certainly asked.

Beats the hell out of me.  And I’m disinclined to overanalyze it.  It is what it is — another strange encounter with one of the strangest dudes I’ve ever covered.

The cynics

Viewers of WXIA have undoubtedly noticed the TV station’s devotion to the storyof a teenager named Isaac DelValle.  He’s a Marist High School student with leukemia.  He badly needs a bone marrow transplant but has been unable to find a suitable donor.

Isaac DelValle

The TV station raised money and set up a donor testing event.  Hundreds of people attended (including a high-profile guy from a competing TV station) and got their mouths swabbed to see if they’re potential matches for Isaac.

Although I admire the fervor with which 11Alive throws itself into stories like Isaac’s, the cynic in me kept asking nagging questions:

  • Are we exploiting this kid’s story to attract an audience?
  • Why Isaac?  There have got to be other local leukemia patients with comparable issues.

I knew the answer to the first question already.  The story fits the station’s “brand,” the one that’s very selective about spot-news coverage and more driven to thoughtful stories.  (We’d be the first to admit we accomplish all of this with mixed results sometimes; but it’s a consistent goal and a daily theme during editorial meetings.)

And yes, that branding was created to draw an audience.  Just like every other commercial news organization’s brand.

The second question troubled me more.  I knew that somebody had contacted the station about Isaac’s story.  With management’s encouragement, Jaye Watson jumped on it quickly and stayed on it.

She told me she had asked the same question:  Was there, perhaps, a less camera-friendly patient out there with the same story?  She researched it and learned that Isaac’s case — his inability to find a donor match — was, unfortunately, pretty unique.

Last week, Richard Crabbe shot the above Suspicious Package segment on Isaac.  It’s essentially the me-waving-my-arms version of the above post, with a cameo appearance from Watson.  It’s not my best work (and probably the least amusing one ever.  A young manager correctly called it “meander-y.”  The same manager also called me “Pops” week before last.  Lousy kids!)

If you want to find out which competing news guy showed up, click the video.  His photo will pop up toward the end, if you want to turn the audio down.

A cynic might say I’m trying to increase the number of views of the video.  I actually don’t care about that– I’m just trying to fully exploit the twenty minutes Crabbe and I spent shooting this thing.

Mr. Popular

To:  Dough Richards

Even Mr. Winne is chortling at this "best of" thing.

From:  LAF

Re:  “Best of,” my ass.

Some of us have noticed that you’re named as Creative Loafing’s 2011 readers choice “Best Local TV, Magazine or Newspaper Reporter.”  This automatically raises some questions about you, and I doubt you’re prepared to answer them.

Why you?  You’re a TV reporter who writes a blog.  Readers of blogs may be more inclined to vote in the Loaf’s annual “best of” sweepstakes.  Yet readers of your blog know you aren’t the “best” at anything except, possibly, navel-gazing in public.  Have you actually seen what you look like, staring at your own navel while tapping on a keyboard?  It’s not very attractive.  And your navel has not improved with age, big guy.

“Best?”  Really?  Really?  Without even using my brain, I can name a dozen reporters in Atlanta with better sources, who break more news, and/or who can write circles around your ass.  Not to mention, they can actually get newsmakers to return their phone calls.  Have you noticed that it takes people a day-and-a-half to return your phone calls?  I have.  Is it because they take you seriously as the “best” of any-damn-thing?  I think you just answered your own question.

Your voters.  You can deny it all you want — and you went to great lengths to do it last year, when you “won” the same “award” — but it’s quite obvious you engineered a campaign to gin up votes in this contest.  Oh, I hear you denying it again.  But it’s not passing the stink test, amigo.  Are you that insecure?  You think Mark Winne needs some teetering-on-bankruptcy weekly hipster mag to validate his professional status?  These girls made no bones about their desire to be CL’s Miss Popularity in the “best blog” category.  You should mimic their approach to honesty.

Your humility.  Please spare us the fractured effort to be all “oh, I’m not worthy” and just go ahead and thank the people that actually took the time to click the link and scroll through the thing to find the category and actually type in your name.  Nobody outside of CL knows the vote tally, but it stands to reason that tens of people actually did just that, and somehow remembered to add your name by the time they got there.  If that many.  So enough, already, with the hand wringing.  Just say thanks.

Thanks.