Monthly Archives: June 2012

Valuable prizes at popular prices

Awards aren’t important.  Or at least, they aren’t important enough to justify the cost.  That’s the clear message sent by WAGA, which has stopped spending money on the Southeast Regional Emmy awards.

Doug’s trophy room

This year, WAGA had fewer Emmy nominations than any other station.  Employees at the station coughed up cash from their own pockets to earn ten nominations.  By comparison, WGCL had 13, WSB had 35 and WXIA had 47.  (You can count ‘em up yourself here.  If you do, you’ll probably get the same headache I got.  You may also get different numbers, due to my flawed ability to count.)

Traditionally, TV stations select a limited number of entries worthy of submission and pay the entry fees, roughly $90 a pop.  Individuals within those stations may choose to fork out their own cash to pay for entries they believe the station has overlooked.

Do the math, and the costs add up quickly.  Figure that for every nomination, two or three additional entries didn’t get nominated.  Add the expenses paid for Emmy statues (first one’s free, the rest have to be purchased.  So when five names are on the winning entry, four trophies get purchased at $260 or more each).  Add the cost of banquet tickets, another hundred bucks a pop.  Add spouses and other guests.

If your station is WSB, a station that — I’ll stick my neck out here — is rolling in dough, a few tens of thousands of dollars for Emmys is chump change.

But if your station is fighting to survive in the changing world of TV news, you ask yourself the question WAGA has asked:  Should I devote tens of thousands of dollars for awards?  Or do I use that money for a salary or new equipment or repairs on existing gear– the stuff that actually helps a station gather news?

Awards serve several purposes:  They make the recipients feel good about themselves.  They send a message that their employers value the extraordinary work they do.  And they give the station something to brag about, promotion-wise.  If you’re trying to draw viewers to your station, you want to have tangible evidence that your station is actually worth watching.  Awards can help do that.

If you draw more viewers to your station, your ratings go up.  You get more advertising money.  Then you can hire another assignment editor or photographer.  At least, that’s the theory.

But they’re not buying it at WAGA.  To its credit, WAGA has resisted the temptation to thin its I-team, or to make reporters shoot their own stories.  Those things cost money — money they aren’t spending on Emmys.

Funny thing, though.  Plenty of folks filled the void left by WAGA.  Among many noteworthy awards (here’s the list), category 43 “news excellence” resulted in a tie between WXIA and Noticias 34 Atlanta, the Spanish-speaking Univision station. Both stations somehow beat the aforementioned rolling-in-dough station.

I’m guessing the folks at Noticias 34 Atlanta considered the expense a worthwhile one.

Congratulations to everybody who won Emmys in 2012, including Monica Pearson! Justin Gray! Chris Clark! Aaron Diamant! John Kirtley! Russ Bowen! Michael Codgill! Tom Corvin!?! 

And pretty much every single one of my coworkers at WXIA!

My gaffe

At 6:02pm Friday, I found myself responsible for an on-air gaffe that had understandably outraged some viewers of WXIA-TV.  It was an embarrassing conclusion to a day that had been rough from the get-go.

Pastor Creflo Dollar

The story was about the arrest of Creflo Dollar, pastor of the World Changers megachurch.  The gaffe was that my story showed an image of Bishop Eddie Long when identifying Dollar at the top of the piece.  My mistake was failing to view the piece, which was edited by an experienced and trusted coworker, before it aired.

One cannot overstate the seriousness of the gaffe.  Both pastors, Dollar and Long, are prominent African American megachurch preachers in metro Atlanta.  Long was in the news for months for allegedly having intimate relations with young men at his church.  Long was never arrested, but the scandal rocked his church.  Dollar was arrested for a one-time domestic violence incident at his home, concluding a confrontation with his teenage daughter.

Transposing their images was unintentional yet unforgivable.  It feeds into longstanding racial distrust, and notions that white folks have trouble distinguishing black folks from one another.

At 11 am or so Friday, WSB-TV tweeted that Dollar had been arrested on the family violence charge.  Tom Jones broke the story.  I’ve become an admirer of Jones’ work over the last decade or so.  He’s been rattling cages in Clayton and Fayette Counties on a daily basis for years, and I’m not surprised he learned of Dollar’s arrest before anybody else. Jones works out of a live truck every day in an unglamorous but news-packed Atlanta suburb, and breaks stories in WSB’s A-block regularly.

(Jones is also a tough SOB.  Following his near-death experience in a live truck, he showed up for work the next day.)

Tom Jones, WSB

Jones and a photographer were there when Dollar exited the Fayette County jail.  The raw video shows Jones respectfully but persistently questioning a mostly silent Dollar as he walked from the jail entrance to a waiting Mercedes.  It was, to use an insider phrase when referring to competitive newsgathering, “a nice lick.”  Nobody else had it.

About ten years ago, I remember attending an Emmy awards ceremony.  I recall hearing a half-dozen or so Emmy winners thanking God and Pastor Creflo Dollar during their acceptance speeches.  Dollar has his share of admirers in the news media.

Following the WSB tweet, a coworker and I headed toward Fayette County.  “Would you know Creflo Dollar if he walked past you?” I asked him.  We both agreed neither of us would recognize him.  Later that day, I went to the World Changers web site and pulled some images of Dollar.  We had also pulled some file video of a story about a federal investigation into megachurches.  That video included combined images of Dollar and Bishop Long.  I’m pretty sure that piece of file video was the source of our mistake.

Bishop Eddie Long

I was standing in front of Dollar’s church, where  I introduced the pretaped piece we’d produced.  A few seconds after I tossed to the piece, a producer’s voice in my earpiece told me that we’d used the image of Long while referring to Dollar.  (I couldn’t see the piece during my live shot.)

Her voice had a tone of disappointment and disbelief, and I was stunned.  When I appeared again at the end of the piece, I said something like “the image at the top of the piece should have been an image of Pastor Dollar.”  I acknowledged the error but probably should have expressed regret for it.

It certainly would have been genuine.  It was a humbling day from the start, and I’d only made it worse.

It was my responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the story before it aired.  The error was offensive, and I’m very sorry I made it.

There once was a golfer from Venus…

I’m not a fan of the word used to identify the male organ, the one that rhymes with “Venus.”  I’ll use the word, of course, when necessary– perhaps in a clinical sense, or when quoting somebody else.  But all things being equal, I avoid it.

And I especially avoid it on TV.  In the late 90s, as Bill Clinton shed his dignity with an intern, legions of newscasters followed suit by uttering that particular word ad nauseum while reporting the lurid details.  I don’t want to hear that word on the news.  I sure as hell don’t want to say it.

When I’d caught wind of a small but interesting story about the bad behavior of members of the moneyed class at Atlanta’s Piedmont Driving Club golf course, the details put me in a bit of a box.  The letter outlining the bad behavior was wry yet explicit.  One of the more amusing passages involved the word best not uttered by news folk:

“…one of the drunken golfers passed out in the men’s grill, and another member opened his pants, pulled out his penis, and slapped the passed out member’s head with his penis.”

A second passage, perhaps even more amusing, was this one:

One member decided to show off to other members and a caddie his ability to pick up a golf ball with his naked butt cheeks.”

The story cried out for quotes from the letter.  But I was averse to uttering the words “penis” or “butt cheeks” in my marginally basso profundo newscaster voice.   So I set out to find some golfers, and asked them to read the letter on camera for me.

This quest took me to Candler Park, a more accessible and better-behaved course than the Piedmont Driving Club course.

Thankfully, I found some golfers willing to play along.  They were equally obliging when I questioned them about their inclinations, or lack thereof, toward golf course undress.  I also questioned them about their technique for picking up golf balls.  The questions required a dead-serious approach.

In hindsight, I don’t recall ever interviewing anybody about those particular subjects before.

By the time Mike Zakel and I put the story on TV, I’d opted to omit the “slapped the passed-out member’s head with his penis” passage.  The “butt cheeks” material seemed to sufficiently convey the level of playfulness among certain members at the prestigious Piedmont Driving Club.

The result arguably had a serio-comic quality that obscured the fact that I had very little tangible editorial material in the piece.  Click the image below to see the video.

Oddly enough, it was the second time in one week that I’d produced paperwork quotes for a TV interview.  The first was Memorial Day, when I showed Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Georgia) passages from Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, and asked him to re-phrase them.  It made sense at the time.  Woodall, a politician with a refreshing sense of humor, also played along.

At least Churchill and Woodall avoided using any words rhyming with “Venus.”