Happy holidays. Here’s my gift to you. I’m going to admit that a competitor kicked my ass on a story.
This will be a bit of heresy. Getting one’s ass kicked on a story isn’t something TV reporters enjoy discussing. Just the opposite actually. If somebody beats you on a story, you cling to the hope that nobody notices. Viewers almost certainly won’t notice — because, quaintly, they’re either watching my TV station or yours, in all likelihood. But not both.
But newsroom folks will notice because they tend to click amongst TV channels, or watch the wall with four monitors playing four TV stations at the same time.
The worst, of course, is when one of your own supervisors notices. This happened periodically at a previous employer, where my supervisors obsessively watched WSB’s newscasts instead of the newscasts on their own station. In fact, they would frequently see an element they liked in a WSB story — and automatically assume that we overlooked it. We’d have to explain: Hey– we had that element, and more! Watch your own TV station, for cryin’ out loud.
I don’t know if my previous employer is still that way. I’ve heard they’re still obsessed with WSB, but are less scornful of their own staff these days. I hope that’s right.
I digress. It’s the egg nog typing.
Not only did WGCL kick my ass, but they did it on a feature story. In other words, it was a story that was more cute than competitive. Or so I thought.
The story was about a guy who fired his shotgun into some trees at North DeKalb Mall in order to harvest some mistletoe, the kissy-face Christmas season fungus that grows in treetops. The cops caught him and he went to jail.
I learned that such practice is commonplace in rural areas. This gave the story a bizarre touch I found appealing. I wanted to explore the practice. Richard Crabbe and I spent all day compiling video elements to tell the story with a bit of flair, or so I hoped.
My first stop was at the guy’s house. There, I saw WGCL’s Mike Paluska sitting in a marked car. Paluska cheerfully informed me the guy wasn’t home. I’d heard elsewhere he was still in jail. The house looked empty, but I did the perfunctory knock on the door and nobody answered. We both drove off and I never saw Paluska again.
Crabbe and I then drove from the guy’s house to the mall; to a Big John’s Christmas tree store that sold mistletoe; to a shooting range; and to the DeKalb police department, where spokeswoman Mekka Parish agreed to answer my silly questions about this holiday tradition. Including lunch, it killed several hours.
Meantime, Paluska apparently single-mindedly focused on the mistletoe gunman’s house. Smart guy.
A one-man-band, it appeared Paluska encountered 66-year old Bill Robinson at his house at some point during the day. Paluska rolled while Robinson described and then justified what he did. Robinson was animated and colorful. Paluska’s story gave WGCL’s viewers a lovely first-person journey into the mind of a guy who would shoot mistletoe out of treetops at an urban shopping mall.
Absent the actual gunman, my story (below) was much more of a smoke-and-mirrors effort, dressed up with gunfire and fringe characters.
I saw Paluska’s story on a monitor across the newsroom as Crabbe was finishing editing our piece. My heart sank. Nobody else in our newsroom noticed. Or if they did, they were gracious enough to keep it to themselves.
The next day, I blandly suggested a follow-up. “The mistletoe guy might talk to us,” I said vaguely in the morning meeting. The consensus was that this story had gotten sufficient attention already, and I covered something else. Nobody mentioned our competitors’ treatment of the story, especially me. Until now.
Perhaps this confessional will go toward saving my tortured and occasionally misdirected soul. It seems appropriate for this particular season.
Here’s wishing Merry Christmas to TV’s Mike Paluska. I’ll get you next time.
And Merry Christmas to Richard Crabbe, who retired last week. I’m gonna miss that guy. A post is in the works.