Monthly Archives: August 2012

Sneidermania

It took Andrea Sneiderman about 45 hours to post bond and walk out of the DeKalb County jail.  Because she is the Atlanta news media’s favorite murder suspect, the four TV stations devoted, at minimum, some 180+ man-hours to staking out its main entrance from the time a judge granted bond to the moment she left jail.

When payoff time came, each station got about 25 seconds of video.  That’s the length of time it took her to walk from the jail’s main entrance to a waiting minivan.

Jail departures can be a bit awkward, especially when a corps of bored yet fully-caffeinated reporters and photographers is waiting to capture an image of the released inmate.  The only thing certain is the location of the exit.  What happens next is guesswork.

At the DeKalb County jail, most folks exiting the front door use one of two sidewalks that go east toward a public parking lot.  The parking lot was the logical place for Mrs. Sneiderman’s ride to await her release.

Erego, the cadre of photographers and reporters mostly guessed Mrs. Sneiderman would head toward the parking lot.  The question seemed to be:  Which of the two sidewalks would she use?  The photogs mostly waited between the front door and the parking lot, with a direct view of the jail entrance.

Turned out, the bodyguards she hired were pretty clever.  One of them went inside to get her.  A second one idled a minivan along a curb on Camp Road, away from the parking lot.  The strategy flanked the media gauntlet, and shortened Mrs. Sneiderman’s public exposure between the door and the waiting car.

From WGCL

I didn’t notice the parked minivan.   An elevated berm obscured my view of Camp Rd.  And I wasn’t really looking in that direction anyway.  Camp Road is fairly busy, carrying traffic to various DeKalb Co. government facilities behind the jail.  Parking isn’t really an option on Camp Road– unless someone is waiting in an idling vehicle.

A third sidewalk leads directly from the jail entrance to Camp Rd.   When Mrs. Sneiderman exited the jail, she hung an immediate left — due north on the map —  away from the two parking lot sidewalks.   When that happened, reporters and photographers scrambled north toward the third sidewalk.  Some got there more quickly than others.  A photog from WGCL got the best shot of Mrs. Sneiderman, who appeared to struggle to keep a straight face in light of the greeting she was getting from her friends in the press.

As she exited, she was peppered with questions.  Most of us have never been close enough to her, outside of a courtroom setting, to actually question her.

Not that it mattered.  She didn’t utter a peep, which is consistent with her tight-lipped behavior around news folk.  And it was certainly awkward.  As Mrs. Sneiderman walked forward, the mob of news folk backpedaled.  There was a concrete staircase, but there were no spills.   Nor were there angry words.  She and her bodyguard — and perhaps even the news mob — deserve credit for a somewhat civilized 25 seconds.

“Murder suspect Andrea Sneiderman was released from jail today on bond.  She declined comment.”  There wasn’t much else new to say.  But all that effort gave that short line on the news a memorable bit of visual theater.

At the Red and Black

Last week, the Red and Black made news when its owner attempted to strip editorial control from its student managers and soften the newspaper’s approach to hard news.  Because Bill Richards drew editorial cartoons at the University of Georgia-based (but independently owned) newspaper for five years, I asked him for a few words of perspective.  They’re below the cartoon.

By Bill Richards

For those of us who used to work at The Red & Black, the events of the past few days have been fascinating to watch. I have no firsthand knowledge of any of it, of course, but as someone who spent several years there, with some of the people involved, I have a few points on top of what everyone else has said over and over again.

First, the fact that the Board didn’t consider a walkout to be a possibility speaks to their cluelessness even more than do their inane recommendations. It’s clear that the Board had no idea what motivated their student employees to walk up Baxter Hill to the Red & Black office everyday. Obviously it wasn’t the money. Most non-editors make less than $50 per week. In the past, the trade-off for the crappy pay has been editorial independence. Students are willing to work for The Red & Black’s poverty wages because they are given complete control over content.

So, the board wasn’t in a position to tell students to suck it up, because they were offering the students nothing in return for giving up their autonomy. When you have nothing left to lose, it’s easy to walk out.

The other thing is how predictable and boring the consultant and board member Ed Stamper’s recommendations really were. There’s nothing in the memo that hasn’t already been done by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and numerous other papers at a larger scale. The difference is The Red & Black has a built-in audience and no competition, unlike the AJC, whose attempt to woo the suburban right-wing has only protracted its death spiral. I can’t speak to the wisdom of these changes from a business perspective, but the miniscule number of my former Red & Black colleagues who are pursuing careers in the newspaper industry, rather than other, marginally-more-stable professions, speaks to their folly.

Finally, it’s hard to overstate the importance of having a reservoir of goodwill to draw from when you’re announcing horrific transformations in your organization. We can see this by comparing the fallout for two characters central to the events. On one side there’s Ed Morales, the universally-respected editorial adviser-turned-director-turned-adviser.  He has managed to emerge from the drama unscathed, despite playing the main part of the “professional staff” in the national media’s version of the story. On the other side there’s Harry Montevideo, the authoritarian, penny-pinching publisher, who amazingly has managed to emerge even more unlikeable than before.

The dissident students could have made Ed, who delivered the board’s dopey marching orders, into the scapegoat. But they didn’t, because he’s always been an adviser, friend and equal. Harry, on the other hand, has never had much reason to garner goodwill from his young staff. Given the transient nature of a part-time student workforce, it’s understandable. But there’s no reason to escalate a physical conflict with a student journalist during a meeting where you’re trying to bolster your commitment to student journalism. As Kent State and Tiananmen Square showed us, assaulting college students is never a good look, especially when it’s in the service of war or puff pieces about sorority life. And when they’re carrying video cameras.

Bill Richards was The Red & Black’s editorial cartoonist from 2005 until 2010. He is currently a freelance animator and illustrator. Visit his website!

Live from Dougal County

Monday at 12:15am, I will appear as a voice and an animated caricature in Squidbillies, a show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.  By any reasonable standard, this is pretty high on the awesome scale; it probably even exceeds the cameo I’ve long craved on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report.

But this is where I officially debunk any notion that this actually makes me awesome, and disclose — for those who haven’t already figured it out — how this actually happened.

Here goes:  Mrs. LAF works down the hall from the creators of Squidbillies at Adult Swim’s Williams Street headquarters.

Sometime in 2008 or so — during the heyday of this blog — the missus had a conversation with Jim Fortier, co-creator of Squidbillies.  When they started talking about their families and the missus identified her spouse, Fortier revealed that he was an occasional reader of this blog.

You mean you’re Mrs. LAF?!?

She’s had that conversation with other coworkers at Cartoon Network.  Not many, of course.  To the extent they know me at all, they know me better as a blogger than as a local TV news goon dating back to the Reagan administration.

Fast forward to another occasion where either Fortier or co-creator Dave Willis — she’s not sure now — heard me on TV in Mrs. LAF’s office.  Hey, we could maybe use a voice like that sometime, she vaguely remembers somebody uttering.  She’s also not completely sure the voice didn’t actually belong to Fred Kalil.

Fast forward again to sometime in 2011, when I finally met Fortier for the first time.  He was the nicest guy in the world, pretty much.   I like the blog.  You still write it?  I get that a lot.

If you ever need a voice, hit me up.  Fortier politely nodded at my naked solicitation.

Fast forward to April 2012, when Mrs. LAF informed me that the Squidbillies creators wanted me to voice a local TV news guy.  I’m a fan of the show.  So for about half a day, I levitated.  After seeing the script, my bossfolk at WXIA blessed the appearance.

But you have to do a story on it!  The BL was insistent.

The script was about a crime spree committed by the show’s main character.  Hilarity ensues when media attention fixes on the character’s teenage son, who takes the fall for his daddy’s crime spree.

Days later, I recorded the voiceover at a studio within walking distance of my workplace, which Steve Flood documented on video.  Later, John Kirtley shot my interview with Fortier and Willis.  Willis is also a creator of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (or whatever they’re calling that show these days), and is the voice of Meatwad and Carl on that show.  “Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer both shot us down….” Willis deadpanned.

The story on 11Alive.com. describes the voiceover session, which I handled like an amateur.  Kirtley edited the video piece.  Watching the raw tape, I was a little embarrassed by my inability to handle basic instructions.  Afterward, the animators had to look me up on Google to see what I look like.  Their rendering of me was way more flattering than I deserved.

Lacking the in-house connection, the creators of Squidbillies could have made a more obvious choice by asking Atlanta’s leading cartoonish local news guy to voice their character.

Instead, they got me.  And they got me again.  They wrote me into another script in next season’s Squidbillies.  I’ve already voiced it.  It’s a story about Creationism v. Darwinism, near as I can tell.

So yeah.  It’s not how awesome you are. It’s who the wife knows.

Editor’s note:  Best I can figure, WordPress will no longer allow me to embed video from 11alive.com or any other news site.  I may move the blog to another platform, though the domain name would be the same.  I welcome your suggestions, including any info that can tell me what I’m doing wrong.  Thanks for visiting.

The devil in the temple

Occasionally, I’m asked to participate in seminars for publicists who want to learn how to get their stories told on TV.  They all know how to write press releases.  They want to take the next step, and actually get people like me to read them.

I typically find an excuse to sidestep such invitations, mostly because I can’t give them a good, positive answer.  My best answer shouldn’t require a seminar:  Don’t pitch bullshit.  If the story is interesting, we’ll use it.  “The News” is constantly starving for information that actually keeps people interested.

In good conscience, I can’t endorse some of the tricks used by some people to get their stories under our noses — even though they may work.  Let’s use the press release shown in the below image as an example.

The writer of the piece below apparently hand-delivered it to the lobby of WXIA-TV.  Presumably, the writer asked to see me.  If I got such a call from the receptionist, I wasn’t around to answer it.  The material ended up in my mailbox.  Some reporters check their mailboxes every day.  Our mailroom is just far enough out of the way that I overlook its contents for days.  No, make that weeks.  I don’t know how long this item sat in my mailbox.

This delay reveals a shortcoming on my part more than that of the writer.  Hand-delivery gets the recipient’s attention.  But it’s also risky.   Had I answered the receptionist’s call, I might have been forced to spend time, on deadline, entertaining this writer in the lobby.  I was probably busy.  Whatever the message, it may have simply irritated me, undermining the writer’s intent.  In this case, the message may have done more than that.

Here’s where the writer really botched this one:  The envelope contained twenty pages of densely-worded material.  Some of it was typed.  Much of it was hand-written.  There was ample redundancy.  To the writer’s credit, the handwriting is legible– almost spookily so.

Hot tip:  Don’t write too much.   Grab my attention with something brief and well-written.  (This is the extent of my positive advice at PR seminars.  Once I get past that, I don’t have much else to say.)  Also, keep the margins clean.

Here’s a trick I can’t endorse.   Want to get a newsroom’s attention?  Bring food.  Cupcakes and whatnot show up periodically in newsrooms.  While devouring them, the denizens of the newsroom will occasionally ask how they got there.  The provider’s name gets mentioned, though his message may get lost in the schrapnel of flying crumbs and smeared frosting.

With this bit of insider knowledge, the hand-deliverer of the above “possible whistleblower” missive would have known to bring dessert.

And maybe some Kool-Aid.

Unfashionably on-time

It took one day for the above photo to lurch through three different internet sites last week.  This would be the fourth.  It seems I’m late to my own photo.

Most of the blame goes to John Kirtley, the WXIA photog who snapped the picture on his Iphone Thursday.  He put it on Facebook.  But it took the Greensboro NC photog / blogger known as Lenslinger to give it the amusing analysis that, curiously, overlooked the fact I was wearing baseball pants.  His post made a point about the fact that I’m carrying “a fully erect tripod,” something he says young reporters are disinclined to do these days because “they’re too busy juggling status updates.”  Lousy kids!  Read his post here.  It’ll be two well-spent minutes.

Of course, the pants make the photo borderline absurd, not the tripod.  It was shot moments before my 6pm live shot Thursday in the parking lot of the DeKalb County Jail.  Andrea Sneiderman had been bookedin, charged with murder.

My people

I’d killed the entire day outside the jail.  By 6pm, I’d crawled into the live truck and replaced my professional clothing from the waist down with baseball pants and accessories.  The regrettable shower shoes are a fashion faux pas by any definition; I wear them to ease my transition into cleats once at the field.  My team’s game that night was east of town off I-20, making the jail a convenient jumping off point.  I just happened to have my personal vehicle with me.

Perhaps this ridiculous photo can yield some practical advice:  Anybody know how to remove dirt stains that are set in baseball pants?

As an aside, I’d also urge you to read Lenslinger’s Seussian piece about the adventures of an on-call news photographer.  Sample:

Pick up a live truck! Head straight out of town!

An unpleasant something has just fallen down!