It’s no secret that the visual demands of TV news are both a blessing and a curse. The blessings are what keep us in business: We can show you motion pictures, unlike newspapers and radio. Plus, there’s that whole “personality” thing embodied by the likes of Monica Pearson, whose retirement announcement was heartily welcomed by newsrooms across Atlanta.
The curse is this: We sometimes spend inordinate amounts of time developing visual gimmicks to tell stories. Reporters and photographers frequently have to make their own graphics nowadays from gnarly cookie-cutter templates. We’re told to perform clever, story-advancing standups — which frequently merely result in reporters walking and gesturing and whatnot.
I killed most of Friday tying together loose ends from a two-week period spent covering a murder trial, and Newt Gingrich campaigning in Georgia. And I spent an inordinate amount of time on a bit of performance art that may or may not have given our viewers valuable information about how Georgia’s Republican convention delegates will be allocated following the March 6 primary.
Ben Mayer, our Manager of Content wünderkind, walked in with the research in hand. He’d figured out the complex formula that would divide the state’s 76 convention delegates, based on votes statewide and within Congressional districts.
Do something interesting with it, I was told during the morning editorial meeting. Using conventional graphics, it was strongly suggested, would be too easy.
Use marbles! suggested Julie Wolfe helpfully. Somebody else suggested using old-school jacks as props. Somebody suggested baseball cards.
Due to the deleterious effects of a concert I’d attended the previous evening, I wasn’t thinking too clearly. I was sold on using marbles, but the idea of watching them rolling around uncontrollably as props gave me pause.
Then Dan Reilly, the photog assigned to shoot this looming disaster, suggested using poker chips. The fog began to clear as I envisioned poker chips and a poker table. I banged out a short script based on Mayer’s research.
A small circle of Atlanta media folk and other miscreants will recognize the poker table that I schlepped from my house to the studio.
The poker table was necessary because its edge has eight chip-holding pockets. Since the piece would explain the allocation of delgates-as-poker chips, the schtick would require the chips to have a place to go.
The woman who’d gotten me into these straits, Julie Wolfe, helpfully noted that WXIA promotions guy and artist Bryan Hendrix had previously created caricatures of the four GOP candidates. While I went home to fetch the table and some poker chips, Reilly assembled the art.
I’m not completely convinced the piece was illuminating. But it was different. One particular line required more than a dozen takes, due to my inability to get the poker chips to land in exactly the right spot. Maximizing my productivity, I edited a quick Suspicious Package segment (below) based on this exercise in near-futility.
The upshot was that I’d spent almost zero time on reportage this particular day, while spending lots of time on television production. The two tasks are mutually exclusive during the creation of a story, but seem to magically integrate by the time it gets on TV.
At the end of the piece, I crudely threw a handful of poker chips on the table, where the four caricatures stood. We’d had trouble keeping the caricatures upright during the shoot. Reilly and I reckoned that the tossed poker chips would knock over the artwork like bowling pins.
To our amazement, the artwork stayed upright. On TV, it looked like we’d planned it that way.
If only we were that good.