Richard Crabbe’s retirement was a bittersweet moment. Viewed selfishly, it irritated me because he is such a talented photographer and editor. Such folk can make my stories look great and make me look like I actually know what I’m doing.
Viewed through the evolution of the TV news business, it makes more sense. Crabbe spent three decades at WXIA. During the first half of his career there, the station had developed a strong reputation for storytelling and news video. But the last decade was rough for Crabbe and other veteran photographers. As Gannett’s fortunes stumbled with the decline of the newspaper industry, WXIA shrunk its staff with buyouts; it furloughed staff in 2008. Photographers lost a valuable perk when they were no longer allowed to take home news vehicles.
In the last two years, WXIA has updated some of its technology and added staff. It seems to have built an identity as a news operation (flattered by the occasional cross-town copycat). The storytelling is still strong, and the newsgathering staff is slowly expanding again.
But one cannot overstate how tough it’s been to endure the last 15 years or so at WXIA, which has (by my reckoning) gone through more news directors during that period than WAGA and WSB (and WGCL too, maybe) combined.
Given a sometimes head-spinning absence of stability, one can see why a guy like Crabbe might favorably view an earlier, rather than later retirement.
As he told folks who attended his sendoff, Crabbe was also motivated to retire while still at the top of his game. Though approaching his mid-60s, he was still physically able to handle the demands of schlepping gear and gunning through breaking news (his coverage of the Fulton County Courthouse shootings in 2005 was pretty much unmatched).
He also embraced technology as a much younger man might. Crabbe frequently brought his personal Macbook to work, which he used for its Photoshop program, among other things. When WXIA updated its editing program in 2010, Crabbe immediately mastered it. Nobody in the building could create quality graphics as quickly as Crabbe did.
He had a personal standard for his own work that the entire staff appreciated. Photogs would say that Crabbe was the guy who set the standard that made WXIA the best news video shop in Atlanta in the 80s and 90s. Fortunately, many of that standard’s adherents are still on staff.
Crabbe said that he wanted to exit before his skills deteriorated, before he was unable to live up to his own standards.
I respect that. But damn. I’m still sorry to see him go.
Crabbe’s retirement spurred a reunion of old-school WXIA folks. Click here to see a photo gallery.