Category Archives: WAGA

The general’s kid

My brother in law spotted Beth Galvin in a Decatur pub and got all giddy. Who could blame him? Galvin is an talented, humble, good-humored and lovely WAGA reporter who has owned that station’s medical beat for the last fifteen years.

Beth Galvin, WAGA

Beth Galvin, WAGA

“What should I say to her?” he texted me, looking for some inside-ball conversation-starter. In this case, I actually had an answer.

“Tell her you’re a Cold War buff.  Ask her if she’s Gen. John Galvin’s daughter. ”

Who? asked the BIL, a man who is many things– but not a Cold War buff.

Gen. Galvin, I explained via text, was a four-star Army general who became the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, among other resume highlights.  When he retired in 1992, the Washington Post described him as “without peer among living generals.”

Beth has her own claims to local-news fame. But I’m pretty sure she would say that none exceeds that of being daddy’s little girl.

Gen. Galvin (left) from Life Magazine

Gen. Galvin (left) from Life Magazine

She grew up an Army brat in far-flung posts across the globe, ranging from Belgium and Germany to Panama and Hinesville GA, where she graduated from high school. And wherever she went, she was the bossman’s kid. Her Army brat life was a lot different than most. She was the red carpet brat.

“Talk about opening doors,” says Mike Zakel, the WXIA photog who worked with Galvin for a bunch of years before she jumped ship from WXIA to WAGA in 1997 or so. Zakel and Galvin covered stories together at Ft. Stewart. Guess which general commanded the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) from 1981 to ’83 at Fort Stewart?

Gen. Galvin’s daughter is no ordinary local TV news chica whenever she darkens the gates at Ft. Stewart.

“I never minded the ribbing about being the General’s daughter because I knew I’d hit the Dad Lottery.  He is a great, funny, loving father,” Beth writes.  “In the military, he was respected, but he was also loved.  Which is rare in a world in which a lot of people lead by fear – or bravado.  He spoke quietly.”  Somewhere in Massachusetts, there’s a school named after Beth’s dad.

Beth describes her dad as her career’s biggest cheerleader.

Retired Gen. John Galvin

Retired Gen. John Galvin

Today, Gen. Galvin is retired. He has written a book about his life as a Cold Warrior. Posting the info on social media, Gen. Galvin’s kid couldn’t be prouder.

Following our texts, my brother in law stalked Beth Galvin’s table, introduced himself and deadpanned the Cold War inquiry about the General. He says Beth’s face brightened, surprised by the recognition, in a civilian setting, of her pre-TV claim to fame.

Beth writes: “He totally HAD me.  100% played.  I bow to him,”

“Filming”

Rest in peace, Dan Keever.  You were a smart, gentle soul– and a great, steadying presence in a rough business.  You’re gone too soon.

Is this where y’all film the news?

When I worked, as a poodle-headed youth, at my first TV news job in Mississippi, I’d hear that question.  It would come from folks touring WTVA-TV.  They would ask it upon entering the station’s airy studio, a familiar sight for viewers of Tupelo’s only TV station.

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Why, of course we don’t “film” the news here, I would nonverbally retort while verbally saying “yes, ma’am, and thank you for watching.”  By 1980, TV news technology had mostly discarded film as a newsgathering medium, replacing it with reusable videotape.  Tape was cheaper, lasted longer, required less guesswork / science and could be “turned” instantly — bypassing the soupy processing film required to get the nitrate images onto the film emulsion that gave us motion pictures.

Film was a terrific newsgathering medium for those skilled in its use.  Dan Keever, pictured left,  was.  I was not.

I used film while at KOMU-TV Columbia MO in 1979.  My fellow University of Missouri students and I shot my final pre-graduation project on film.  I did such a poor job of hot-splice editing it that Mackie Morris authorized me to transfer the raw material over to videotape.  That project taught me how to edit tape-to-tape.  I never attempted to edit film again.

Despite the shift in technology, “film” never went away, at least as a verb to describe what one does with a mobile TV camera.   People would see us reloading videotape into our “minicams” (or, back in the early 80s, the clunky tape decks that attached by cable to minicams), and still talk about us filming the news.

Even today, I talk to young adults who grew up shooting video on Iphones — and they still use the word “film” to describe what they’re doing.

I think they may be onto something.

For most of my adult life, I would painstakingly make the distinction:  No, we are not “filming.”  But we are “videotaping,” which is the same thing minus the film canisters, the film processing and the quaint hot-splice editing.

But we no longer use videotape.  We use chips, or “cards,” which encode video into what is essentially a portable hard drive.  What’s the right verb / gerund for that?

“Shooting” is accurate, but it has other meanings and fails to convey that there’s a recording process underway.

“Videoing” is a gnarly word I can’t bring myself to use.  “Encoding” is a word that would require an explanation.

“Documenting” is cute, but has other meanings and sounds a bit pretentious, especially for a guy or gal standing at a string of crime scene tape.  You might-could use that word if you do it with an ironic smirk.

I could continue to say “videotaping,” but that would make us sound anachronistic.  That’s not a good thing at a time when local TV news is struggling to stay relevant to young people.

So aside from the absence of film, “filming” works.  It doesn’t require an explanation.  It’s universally understood and, despite the disappearance of film, remains widely used.  Plus, it’s part of the kids’ jargon.  So it’s a thing.

So yeah.  I’m now part of a film crew.

Y’all filming the news?  Why, yes ma’am.  And we’re damn glad you still know what “the news” is.

 

News cycle, recycled

The Cronut

The Cronut

We think we’re so smart.  Here we are, finger-poppin,’ pixel-packin’ 21st century multiplatform news media delivery entities, all fresh and hot like a doughnut-shaped croissant.

And yet — try as we might to innovate, to update our technology and our storytelling conventions, one truth emerges:  TV news is wedded to images, interviews, sound and narration.

Lonnie Holley 2014

Lonnie Holley 2014

Last year, WXIA’s Jaye Watson produced a story about Lonnie Holley, an eccentric folk artist who has an eye-catching art habitat southwest of Turner Field.  Watson’s story told Holley’s story, showed his turf and did so with a dazzling array of sound and video that brought life to the art and the befuddling artist.  The piece won photog / editor Nick Moròn a first-place NPPA mention in its third quarter clip contest.

Lonnie Holley 1998-ish

Lonnie Holley 1998-ish

Now rewind 15 years, or so.  Yours truly visited the same artist at his previous habitat in Birmingham, AL.  The stories are remarkably similar, except Moròn and Watson used shorter and more frequent nat sound pops.  Watson’s writing is a bit crisper and cleverer. Mine had the editorial benefit of a conflict between Holley and the neighboring airport.  Mine was ably shot by Rodney Hall and edited by Andi Larner.  We let Holley’s rambling descriptions of his art play out in slightly longer bursts. We didn’t win diddly squat.  I don’t remember entering it in any contests.

How much of a difference does 17 years make?  Not much, it turns out.  In 1998, Hall and Larner and I produced a piece looking at the 50th anniversary of a killing in Coweta County that became the subject of a book and movie.

I wrote a kind-of throwaway line at the end of the piece, speculating about whether the road named after the killer was “the only road in America named for a man executed for murder.”  That line became the premise of a story Steve Flood and I produced this month, which also looked back at the killing and the why folks on John Wallace’s home turf still cling to the legend of the executed killer.

I hadn’t re-watched the 1998 piece prior to shooting the 2015 piece with Flood.  Instead, we independently had the stroke of genius to shoot a jittery / grainy re-enactment sequence of the 1948 highway chase that led to the killing.

Exactly like the 1998 piece, it turned out.  Innovative?  OK, not really.  But watchable?  Arguably, yes.  It used sound and pictures and interviews and narration, our familiar tools.

The biggest difference:  The reporter’s mom jeans, conspicuous in the late 90s Holley piece, had thankfully disappeared by 2015.

Punchline

Two years ago, the Little Five Points Halloween parade included a very amusing “Murder Kroger” float.  Staffed by people carrying toy weapons and dressed as bloody murder victims, the float paid comic homage to a grocery store on Ponce de Leon Ave. whose nickname has been, for years, a dark civic punchline.BnyxKqL

That punchline drove a story I produced on a slow Friday in November. I’d spotted a blog that said that the renovated “Murder Kroger” was scheduling a grand re-opening under a new name, the “Beltline Kroger.”

My story started with one line acknowledging a 1991 killing that begat the nickname.  It used a music video by a local band that had done a song called “Murder Kroger,” adding evidence to the name’s presence in the culture.  It was capped with an amusing moment while interviewing a longtime shopper, who both acknowledged the enduring nickname, while touting the store’s low prices and manager’s specials.

“Bargains to die for” I rejoined, and he chuckled in agreement.

Ha ha.

A few days later, a woman contacted DeMarco Morgan, one of 11Alive’s news anchors.  Without rancor, she quietly identified herself as the sister of the victim in the 1991 murder case.  DeMarco passed the info to reporter Jeremy Campbell.  Jeremy had actually produced a “Murder Kroger” story nearly a year earlier, which noted that the store had begun a renovation with an eye on upgrading its reputation.

Jeremy talked to the woman by phone.  She sent him her sister’s funeral brochure.  She also sent him a VHS cassette with TV coverage of the original case.

Jeremy hunted down a VHS machine and popped in the tape.  He saw a fuzzy-headed youngster named Doug Richards doing a live shot outside the Kroger store one evening, tossing to a piece that showed police at the crime scene.  It also had some sound with Danny Agan, the homicide detective who often spoke to news folk outside the old “homicide task force” building on Somerset Dr., just a couple blocks east of the Masquerade off North Ave.

Cynthia Prioleau

Cynthia Prioleau

25 year old Cynthia Prioleau was attacked as she tried to walk into the Kroger store to buy some groceries on April 1, 1991.  Jeremy  reported that the murder is still unsolved.

In the 1991 live shot, that youthful TV news goon had memorized a detailed narrative of the confrontation leading to Prioleau’s death.  There was a lateral 90 degree walk that more-or-less showed the dark parking lot, revealing the lighted facade of the grocery store.  There was an abundance of gestures, occasionally revealing a handful of cables that attached the reporter’s earpiece to the phone line delivering the broadcast audio and control room cues.  There was ample sincerity and dark curly hair.

The story, in hindsight, was clearly told — conveying the horror of the crime without stepping into sensationalistic turf.  Yet there was also a bit of mangled syntax, some misplaced words that mistakenly told the audience that the confrontation happened “as she was walking through the grocery store” after I’d already established that the crime took place in the parking lot.  My train of thought has always been an unsteady, derailment-prone vehicle.

Needless to say, latter-day Doug had completely forgotten that he had covered this particular bit of violence 23 years earlier.

The VHS tape also had coverage from WSB and WXIA, their anchors narrating similar video.  WAGA’s coverage, however, including two more packages — one dayside followup by Morse Diggs, and another nightside folo by yours truly.  My second story included a silhouette interview with the victim’s grieving sister– the same woman who contacted DeMarco Morgan more than two decades later–  and a parking lot standup where I’m holding a canister of pepper spray.  So the evidence shows I covered the “murder Kroger” story on two consecutive days.

How could I forget?

Richard Hyde - Fulton Daily Report photo

Richard Hyde – Fulton Daily Report photo

In 1991, working nightside, crime was a staple of my work at WAGA.  It seemed to be what the viewers wanted.  My bossfolk wanted it.  Our nightside assignment editor, Richard Hyde, was an ex-cop who reveled in catching police scanner tidbits and gleefully sending me out into the fray.  Because he was good at it, it made me look good as a breaking news guy.  I was a big fan of Hyde and embraced the role we played together.  (Hyde was also an outstanding contact for disgruntled cops who wanted to sic the news media on APD’s management, run at that time by the colorful Chief Eldrin Bell.)

Hyde is still stirring the pot, getting judges fired for misconduct in his role with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.  He also lent the investigative chops to the crew appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to investigate the APS cheating scandal.  I’m still his biggest fan.

Point being:  I covered a lot of crime.  Lots of yellow tape.  Lots of morgue hearses.  Lots of soundbites with Sgt / Lt. Agan on Somerset Dr.

So that horrifying moment in the grocery store parking lot became part of the blur of random violence delivered to an audience both enthralled and numbed by the nightly parade of yellow tape, produced by a kid who believed he was giving the people what they wanted.  And then forgot about it as quickly as possible.

My bud Jeremy Campbell has a TV news blog too!  Start your 2015 by giving it a click here!

Highlights from an election season

photo(6)Covering the 2014 election has been fulfilling and entertaining.  It’s also been very “clubby.” I can count on seeing the same reporters from WSB and the AJC at most events that I cover, with occasional visits from WABE and GPB radio.  I almost never see reporters from WAGA or WGCL.

I can understand why news managers might decide to pass on politics.  Specifically, audience research tends to show that political coverage isn’t much of a crowd-pleaser.  I suspect that TV viewers are so annoyed by political commercials that they don’t want to see another layer of their least-favorite pols taking up valuable dog-rescue space on the local news.

I’m very grateful that my two supervisors, Ellen Crooke and Matt King, have opted to interpret  that research within the framework of a TV newsroom’s traditional responsibilities to ask reasonable questions of those seeking positions of power.

My moments covering politics have included some pretty great highlights, including but not limited to

Mike Zakel has gotten a haircut since a GOP tracker captured this moment

Mike Zakel has gotten a haircut since a GOP tracker captured this moment

  • Spotting the image of WXIA photog Mike Zakel looming ominously in an anti-Jason Carter Republican Governors Association ad;
  • Spotting my cast-covered right wrist holding a mic in another anti-Carter ad (my still-broken wrist is improving, thanks);
  • Taking my mom, who is visiting from California and took me to my first political rally as a ten-year old, to the debates at the fairgrounds in Perry.   (We watched 5-7 year olds competitively ride sheep beforehand.)
  • Abundant emails in my inbox from candidates and their surrogates that aggressively suggest stories about why the other guy sucks;
  • Suggesting (and getting) a do-over from a candidate who awkwardly walked away in the middle of a contentious Q&A;
  • Getting that candidate to subsequently vow to never again walk away in the middle of a press scrum;
  • Getting a grammatically incorrect emailed statement from a candidate’s PR person — which I ran as-is when the publicist declined my suggestion to correct the grammar;
  • Watching two lesser-known statewide candidates crash a Jason Carter press conference;

    Women for Deal on the left, women for Carter on the right

    Women for Deal on the left, women for Carter on the right

  • Watching “women for Michelle Nunn” and “women for Nathan Deal” events get crashed by women backing their opponents;
  • Getting accused (incorrectly) by the staff of one candidate of attending a fundraiser for that candidate’s opponent;
  • Nearly getting Rep. Jack Kingston to play on my over-45 old-guy baseball team;
  • Seeing a retired WAGA assignment editor, Tammy Lloyd Clabby, at a Women for Nunn rally, decrying salary inequality in the news business.

    The unforgettable Tammy Lloyd Clabby

    The unforgettable Tammy Lloyd Clabby

As with much of our business, there is a sometimes tense, often amusing love-hate relationship candidates and their staff have with the news media.  Campaigns will occasionally issue press releases citing some story I’ve done (or the AJC or WSB) as proof positive of why their opponent isn’t fit to breathe the air of the Peach State, much less run for office.  Conversely, the same campaigns are quick to bust out text messages or emails squawking about a perfectly reasonable story that they wish I’d handled differently or overlooked completely.

photoThe adjacent text message exchange exemplifies it perfectly.  The text writer (we’ll call him “Brian,” the publicist for a GOP incumbent seeking re-election) had clobbered me for a story I’d done a few days earlier, then subsequently offered a hint of praise for another story.  This prompted me to ask him, tongue in cheek, to “make up your mind” about whether I was a right- or left-wing stooge.

His answer resulted in a genuine out-loud guffaw.  (He also agreed to let me post it here, knowing that you’d probably figure out who “Brian” is.)

Point being:  Those news entities that have sidestepped covering politics should maybe reconsider.  Lord knows, the campaigns are filling the coffers of their TV stations with cash from sweet, sweet political advertising.  One could argue that their viewers deserve a chance to see those people in a real-world context, answering questions posed by genuine newsm’n and women.

Plus, they’d further distract the already-overworked staffs of the candidates, perhaps divert their affection and ire, and add to an already gloriously-confused story.

 

The auteur

This post has to start with an admission:  I’m a bit of a thief.  I stole shamelessly from Tom Corvin.

When Corvin showed up as a freelancer at WAGA in the early 90s, he was a brooding, too-tall, chain smoking enigma; viewed warily as the object of a recently blown-apart relationship with a well-liked 11pm newscast producer.

Tom Corvin

Tom Corvin

Then Budd McEntee put him on the payroll as a reporter, and it kind of transformed the whole newsroom.

Corvin was a ridiculously talented writer, who packed multilayered, mindbending copy into prosaic ten or fifteen second increments, multiplied across the breadth of a 90 second or four-minute piece of TV.  At the same time, he rarely overwrote.  Some of his best pieces had no narration at all.

Corvin viewed TV news as filmmaking.  He didn’t shoot his own stories, but he was the director of photography on his shoots.  In our shop, he blazed trails on techniques widely used today as afterthoughts:  Wide angle lenses, starkly-lit interviews, using foreground objects to frame background images.  Corvin had a sharp eye for meaningful cutaways that lent texture (and often irony) to stories.

Compound the irony with his Rod Serling-esque delivery, and the copy he wrote for anchors.  You can just envision Corvin chuckling as he wrote lead-ins to his pieces, wondering if Jim Axel or Brenda Wood would actually intone the circuitous barrage of words he’d written for them.

He was also the king of the standup-as-cameo.  He was loathe to make a story about him, but understood that local news more-or-less requires the presence of the reporter as newsgatherer.  His interactions with newsmakers added Corvin’s personality to stories and enhanced the journalism at the same time.  His occasional appearances as a participant or observer were typically brief, surprising and hilarious.

In May 1993, WAGA sent Corvin out to produce a series called “Night People.”  In it, Corvin visited the legendary 24-hour gay bar Backstreet for a look at Charlie Brown’s Cabaret, the nightclub’s infamous drag show.  (Years later, Backstreet was forced to shut down after WAGA’s I-team exposed its 24 hour license as a sham.)

In July 1994, Corvin produced a two-part series (!) on Romeo Cologne, the Atlanta DJ who brought back disco and continues to power funk dance parties around town.  The pieces, shot by Jeff Moore, blew my mind stylistically.  (“This is out of control,” said Mrs. LAF when I showed her the Cologne series last weekend.)

“Night People” was an apt subject for Corvin, inasmuch as he became one of them, a bit of a legend for his after-hours carousing in Little 5 Points and beyond.  I still get asked about his doings all the time, and not by people who watched local news.

He left WAGA to move to Kansas City, where he pulled a nights-and-weekends shift at a TV station, then left the business and never returned.  He wrote a rousing, fanciful resignation letter, posted on this site in 2008, that was a cri de coeur about the things that drive everybody in our business a little nuts.

A face in the crowd:  TC at Turner Field in July 2014

A face in the crowd: TC at Turner Field in July 2014

He now lives with his family in San Francisco.  Prior to a recent trip to Atlanta, I twisted his arm into bringing the Cologne pieces with him, and he obliged with an entire Beta tape filled with his now-vintage work at WAGA.

The son of a Baptist minister and a Bob Jones University graduate, he has reacquainted himself with Christianity and has evened out his life.  He ought to be a fighting off offers for TV and teaching work, but competes against kids who are now mimicking, digitally, what Corvin did in analog twenty years ago.

“Everybody’s a thief,” he texted me when I gave him a heads-up about this post.  Count me among the many who swiped from him.

 

 

Holsteins and the helipad

Wednesday was a classic, a humbling day in the life of your friendly neighborhood TV reporter.  It was humbling for two reasons:  I spent part of it awkwardly stalking the governor of Georgia; and was doing so in pursuit of a story broken two days earlier by another TV station.TV-ad-4001

Monday, WAGA ballyhooed a big interview with Holly LaBerge, the embattled director of Georgia’s ethics commission.  Mrs. LAF and I actually cranked up the TV set and sat on the couch, 1950s style, to watch the report on their 10pm news.  I actually gasped when I saw the revelation of the memo LaBerge wrote documenting what she described as an intimidating phone call from the governor’s staff.  Good story, Dale Russell, I thought.  Damn your eyes.

Tuesday, the AJC appeared in my driveway with an “AJC exclusive” that had the same info as Russell’s story.  The “exclusive” also cited Russell’s exclusive interview with LaBerge, thus broadening the already-overused word to include exclusive coverage of your competitor’s exclusive material.

Tuesday, I followed Russell’s story with no pretense to exclusivity.  An Open Records Act request for the LaBerge memo was fruitful, as was my request to interview her attorney. (“I said my piece to Dale Russell” LaBerge answered when I phoned her, politely referring me to the lawyer.  Damn your eyes, Russell.)

By Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal still hadn’t talked at any length about the memo and the allegation his office had intimidated his hand-picked ethics director.  His spokesman gave me a vague “maybe, maybe not” response to my request for an interview.

So photog Steven Boissy and I wandered to the Capitol Wednesday morning.  I’ve never really staked out the Capitol with the hope of having an unscheduled encounter with the Governor.

Swiped from Atlantatimemachine.com

Swiped from Atlantatimemachine.com

But that’s how Wednesday began.  I believed that Gov. Deal was at an event but returning to the Capitol.  I didn’t know whether he was traveling by car or helicopter.  His SUV was absent from its usual parking space, leading me to believe he was probably in it.

Boissy and I hung around outside the Capitol, a building whose grounds have surprisingly little space for comfortable and inconspicuous loitering.  We found a spot that might have allowed us to see Gov. Deal arrive by car, and waited.

There was no place to sit.  The sun was shining and getting hotter.  Our stakeout spot was out of eyeshot of windows to the Governor’s office, and away from Capitol police perches.  One security guard walked past us but said nothing except “good morning.” We waited, maybe, thirty minutes.  I felt ridiculous and conspicuous and spent much of the time figuring out a) what to say when somebody questioned why we were hanging around there, and b) what to do after this gambit failed.

Boissy and I read obscure historic inscriptions, noted the surrounding flora and observed the increasing intensity of the sunshine. We discussed varying breeds of cattle, a subject in which we both share a surprising interest.

Our smalltalk dwindled rapidly.

And then we heard a helicopter.

It bore down on the new helipad built atop the new parking garage across from the Capitol’s southeast corner.  Boissy and I scurried over, and saw the governor’s SUV parked outside the garage at a door.  His usual driver was behind the wheel.

The stakeout concludes

The stakeout concludes

The Governor exited the building.  I didn’t bum-rush him, but called from a respectful distance and asked if he would stop to chat.  “What about?” he asked, as if he didn’t already know.

“Our office has already issued a statement about that,” he said.  I said I’d like to clarify some of what the statement said.  “OK, sure,” he answered.

What followed was a four minute chat wherein he challenged the accuracy of my first question, then proceeded to interlace his answers with questions for me that seemed to challenge the veracity of LaBerge’s memo.  He was lively and a bit more contentious than we usually see him.  He obviously wanted to talk.  The unedited interview is here.

Midway into our  Q&A, I saw a WSB mic flag pop into view alongside mine.  Richard Elliott had popped up, seemingly out of nowhere.

Elliott got what he needed without the indignity of the awkward stakeout. 

Damn your eyes.