Category Archives: WXIA

The cheap suit

My favorite suit right now is one I purchased for $150 on eBay.  Its label says “Kenneth Cole / Reaction.”  It was listed as $300 retail.  It’s the proverbial cheap suit.

El cheapo

El cheapo

Yet the wife actually went “ooh!” last time I put it on, and without irony.  The label says it’s composed of 85 percent polyester and 15 percent rayon.  It has proven water resistant qualities.  Presumably, it’s durable and fireproof. And it looks OK on my lumpy frame.

I know many adult male professionals who never wear suits.  But lawyers, politicians and TV reporters are saddled with the burden of purchasing and wearing suits.  Lawyers and TV anchors can be frequently seen in thousand dollar-plus tailored suits.

The rest of us with more modest paychecks have to dress accordingly.  I know plenty of TV reporters who sing the praises of their cheap suits.  Their go-to typically is K&G Men’s Warehouse.  It’s also the go-to for police detectives, a profession whose couture and salaries are more mismatched than most.

Less cheap

Less cheap

My go-to is eBay, first suggested by my sister who is a public defender.  I’ve bought at least five suits off eBay.  All of them were new (verified by the fact that the pants were unhemmed).  Three of them were Hickey-Freeman brand, and had tags sewn in that indicated retail prices that were substantially higher than the two to three hundred dollars I paid for them.  They are my “expensive” suits.

Portia Bruner: Clearance rack dress, thrift store belt.

Portia Bruner: Clearance rack dress, thrift store belt.

But lately I’m more sold on the cheap suits, and I’m not alone.

My friend Portia Bruner has created a thread on Facebook that shows her (looking great) in garments she has purchased at thrift stores.  Portia is a reporter and substitute anchor at WAGA, and a mom with two adorable boys in private school.  In other words, she is understandably budget-minded.

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

My coworker Valerie Hoff is a walking bargain-bin promotion, as detailed on her Ways to Save site and in random anecdotes I frequently overhear from her desk.  The WXIA anchor/reporter views bargain hunting as a sport.  Like Portia, she wears the cheap stuff with style.

I purchased the “Kenneth Cole / Reaction” suit by accident.  I needed a suit for a costume.  The suit that arrived in the mail had a subtle color that surprised me.  When I put it on, I was horrified that it not only lacked the costumey quality I’d expected, but also looked better than some of my pricier suits.

This points to one of the pitfalls of ordering a suit from eBay:  You may get surprised.  But it may be a pleasant surprise.

Last word:  Cheap neckties.

 

Our fan base

His eyes were lidded.  His speech was slurred.  He identified me as “Drag Ringus.”  I had told him my real name, but that was how it came out of his mouth.

Reilly uses his Ninja powers to control a spectator

Reilly uses his Ninja powers to control a spectator

Although he hung around our live truck for a solid 90 minutes Friday, I didn’t catch his name.  There’s a line one walks when encountering persistent lingerers out in the field.  Your instinct is to discourage them.  But you don’t want to make them hostile, either.

Plus, we were more-or-less stuck in our location.  Dan Reilly and I were in a live truck.  Our microwave shot had been set.  We were producing a piece for the 6.

Our encounters with people out in the world — the expected and the unexpected — are part of what make the job interesting.  But sometimes they corner you when you’re trying to make a deadline.  Friday, my new friend had nothing better to do for 90 minutes but hang around our live truck.

He wasn’t an unpleasant man.  He was well groomed.  There was, as cops say, an “odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath.”  But it wasn’t overpowering.

Sometimes, he would make conversation that was more-or-less coherent.  He brought up the missing airliner.  He mentioned the Falcons.  My responses were brief but respectful.

He surprised me when he asked me if WXIA anchor Karyn Greer would “cheat on her husband.”  You mean, with you?  I asked.  “Well, yeah!”

I told him there was no chance whatsoever.

Yet he still hung around.  We were busy, and I tried to look it.

Sometimes, writing for the web is an afterthought.  On this day, I did it with great urgency.  As he persisted in engaging me, I pointed out that I was trying to make a deadline.  He backed off for a few minutes.  A woman walked past our truck and he hoofed after her.  She outpaced him and lost him.  He returned to our truck within minutes.

When air time came, Dan and I went to the sidewalk and our friend got kind of excited.  I told him I needed his help:  I need for you to help with crowd control.  Keep the crazy people away.    There was no crowd — he was it.  But he nodded his head agreeably.  At one point, he fumbled around in his pants pocket.  A small baggie appeared.  “What’s in the baggie?” I asked him.  I got no answer.

I was actually secretly rooting for him to disrupt my live shot.  It was Friday and my story was kind of dull.  Although he was a bit of a pest, he seemed to be a gentle soul.  I figured he would quietly photobomb me.

But whenever he moved toward camera range, Reilly would give him the stink eye and point to a spot behind him.  The man obediently stayed put.

As we concluded, we parted agreeably.  He never panhandled us, typically a pro forma part of our encounters with our lingering fans.  I choose to believe he was so dazzled by his encounter with a Real TV News Crew, he may have forgotten to do that.

Trust me, I’m a reporter

The good news: My family owns a 2004 Scion Xb, one of those ridiculous cube-shaped cars.  It has abundant passenger space.

The bad news: While parked at a grocery store, somebody slammed it and tore up the right front bumper, then drove off.2004 Scion xB

The good news:  Somebody saw it, got the license number and left a note with the description of the errant car.

The bad news:  The person who left the note did not identify him/herself.

The good news:  In its police report, DeKalb PD apparently ran the tag and verified the make / model of the vehicle, which matched the description of the note.

The bad news:  Nothing else happened.  PD didn’t visit the culprit, nor did they ID the vehicle owner in the police report.

The good news:  I have auto insurance.  They sent me to Gerber Collision, a well-known auto body shop with numerous facilities in metro Atlanta.  Gerber gave me an estimate of the damage.  My insurance company sent me a check.

The bad news:  My insurance company apparently didn’t investigate it either, leaving me to pay the $500 deductible on the repair.

The good news:  I knew a place, American Auto Body, 4095 Lawrenceville Hwy in Tucker, that does good auto body work pretty inexpensively.  They gave me an estimate $230 lower than Gerber, cutting my out-of-pocket payment almost in half.  They did the repair.

The bad news:  When I went to pick up my vehicle, I was reminded that my friends at American Auto Body don’t routinely take debit or credit cards for payment.  And I hadn’t brought my checkbook, because who takes the checkbook anywhere anymore?

The good news:  When I suggested that I take the car and subsequently mail the proprietor a check, he didn’t completely laugh in my face.

The bad news:  He was disinclined to allow me to take the car without paying for it on the spot.

The good news:  I was dressed in a suit.  I actually had some 11Alive business cards in my pocket.  I pulled a business card and dropped it on his desk.  “You’ll get your check.  I’m easy to find.”IMG_3387[1]

The bad news:  I was playing the “trust me, I’m a reporter” card.  Over the years, I’ve heard too many stories about TV reporters who had scammed trusting businesses under similar  circumstances.  I did not make that disclosure to him.

The good news:  He hadn’t heard those stories.  Instead, his eyes kinda lit up.  “I didn’t know you were on the news!” he answered.  Of course I’ll let you drive your vehicle off my lot with the promise of a check.  “I’ll put it in the mail tonight,” I assured him.

And of course, I did.

Hecklers

Last week, a crowd heckled me at a press event.  It was a crowd of 40-50 people, in tow with Michelle Nunn.  The Democrat was at the state Capitol, filing to make her run for US Senate official.

Michelle Nunn

Michelle Nunn

Nunn is a political newcomer who has rarely appeared at press events around Atlanta.  She also appears to be very disciplined with her rhetoric, sticking to the talking points that drive her message.

I approached the story about her appearance at the Capitol last week with a series of questions that I thought anybody might want asked of a candidate who presumes to step from relative obscurity to one of America’s most prestigious political offices.  The questions were mostly about her experience.  They were challenging.  They were also quite predictable.  (I asked many of the same questions of Jason Carter during his first sit-down with us after announcing his run for Governor.)

But the wild card was the crowd.  They were there to cheer their candidate, not hear some blow-dried dimwit with a microphone.

When I prefaced a question with the supposition that she hadn’t “paid (her) dues” as a politician, some voices piped up in the background challenging the question.  It was an uncomfortable moment.  It was also, in many ways, a fabulous free-speech moment.  Just as I was free to raise questions in public setting, they were just as free to weigh in.

But the crowd had no idea how close they were to breaking me.  A look at the video reveals an unmistakable moment (at about 1:14) where my poker face kind of unravels in light of the heckling.  I nearly didn’t get the question out.

Sen. Jason Carter

Sen. Jason Carter

To her credit, Nunn (like Carter) handled my predictable yet not-necessarily “friendly” questions with skill and mostly without evasion.

On this site, Steve Schwaid once observed that the Atlanta press corps is sometimes too “laid back” and “reserved.”  Schwaid, the former News Director at WGCL, is accustomed to the press in Philadelphia.  Like him, I’m kind of amazed at how deferential the press frequently is around Atlanta.  One notable exception was during some recent snow “events,” when the press asked pointed questions of Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed.

After some of those pressers — which the TV stations typically carried live — I got a lot of positive feedback from viewers, expressing thanks for making them answer questions that the audience wanted answered.  One stranger notably stopped his car in the middle of a street in Grant Park, jumped out and made me shake his hand.

Meantime, last week one of the my coworkers greeted me with a you were mean to Michelle Nunn.

“Did you think the questions were unfair?”  I asked her.

Not at all, she answered.  She just cheerfully admitted that asking those questions, in that setting, would have scared her shitless.

And she said her husband, who watched the piece on TV with her, was cheering me on from the safety of their living room.

Holiday sampler

It’s Presidents Day.  For most of you, it marks the start of a shortened work week.  Mine will be a six-day work week.  My coworkers will experience the same thing.  This will be the second of three six-day work weeks for us.

It’s been foreordained for months.  WXIA is carrying the winter Olympics, a wildly popular TV event.  Our news operation gets a spike in viewership whenever the Olympics airs.  Erego, our staff is asked to bust its hump to show these viewers what we can do.

Paul Crawley and a sheet of ice

Paul Crawley and a sheet of ice

The timing of this particular six-day work week is noteworthy (actually, “brutal” is the correct word), given the workload of the previous week.  For most of last week, much of our staff worked 12-18 hour days and never went home because of the round-the-clock coverage we gave to the ice storm that struck north Georgia.  I spent two nights away from the family and sweet-talked my way out of a third.

It really struck me when I turned on the TV Sunday and saw Paul Crawley covering some sort of mayhem.  Crawley was an animal during our 24 hour coverage; it seemed like he was on TV constantly, describing ad infinitum the snow and ice he encountered in Cobb County on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Crawley got a one-day weekend after that, like the rest of us.

So here’s why I’m not complaining.

My workplace is in a dogfight to remain competitive and relevant and to win the hearts and minds of viewers and web users as news consumption habits change.

This is further aggravated by the fact that one Atlanta TV station, WSB, has been wildly successful at all-but cornering the market and hoarding the ratings.  To its credit, WSB appears to have plowed its profits back into its news operation.  They’ve hired talented staff.  They pay them well.  They have lots of up-to-date gear, and they keep it in good working order.  Despite some hubris that comes with being at the top of the heap, they do good work and are a formidable presence.

During the Olympics, many of their viewers keep their TVs somewhat locked on WXIA.  When our newscast shows up following Olympic coverage, our job is to keep those viewers’ brains from firing the synapses required to pick up their clickers and switch the channel or shut down the TV set.

The overnight ratings show that we are somewhat successful in this venture.  The goal is to seduce those viewers into enjoying a fulfilling, long-term relationship with our news operation.

We’ve tried this previously.  We had the same ratings spikes during the 2012 summer Olympics.  When the games ended, our gains were largely temporary.

So why do it again?  Because we can’t afford not to.  Plus, our product is worth showcasing.  There’s no better newsman in town than Paul Crawley.  It’s high time some of those habitual WSB viewers, watching WXIA on a Sunday, noticed that.

The dogfight to which I referred earlier is quite real.   Behind WSB, there are three other stations clumped together, stepping on each other’s heads to try to become the most viable alternative.  The one that fails most could become the first local news operation in town to just go away completely.

Crawley's "storm chaser" is the one on the right.

WXIA’s “storm chaser” is the one on the right.

My boss, Ellen Crooke, has been struggling for six years to make WXIA the top alternative to WSB.  She is sharp, energetic and creative and can be a little off-the-wall.  She is pursuing this goal with one hand tied behind her back; her budget is a fraction of WSB’s, and she can’t do a damned thing about that.

Yet she doesn’t give up — which would be easy to do, given the stubbornness of Atlanta news viewers to stick with WSB.

So when there are fresh eyeballs glued to WXIA, and she asks me to work a bit harder, my response is:  Yes ma’am.  It’s not just because I need to stay in her good graces.  It’s because I want my employer to survive.  If it could also thrive, that would be a nice bonus.

Here’s hoping you’re enjoying your Presidents Day holiday, and WXIA’s Olympics coverage.  And here’s hoping you’ll stick around for the A-block of our newscast.  You might actually like what you see.  And change your viewing habits, already!  Geez.

The airline publicist

Bill Liss, airline PR guy

Bill Liss, airline PR guy

Before he was a newsman, Bill Liss was a PR guy.  This is a rare thing.  Many PR folks start their careers in the news biz — then flee to (what they hope will be) the 9 to 5 world of public relations.  Liss, who has been a reporter at WXIA since 1989, got his first job at Trans World Airlines as a publicist in New York.  It was the mid 1960s.

“I got a call one day from the senior vice president for public affairs at the airline, who said, ‘We’ve got the Beatles coming to the United States. We want you to handle it. And I sort of said, ‘well why not?’” Liss recalls.

“It was an intriguing phenomenon at that point to me,” Liss says. He was a jazz fan in the 1960s.

Bill Liss, WXIA

Bill Liss, WXIA

Liss flew to London where he said he got acquainted with the pop group that had first appeared in America one year earlier on the Ed Sullivan Show. While in London, Liss said says he spent some time with the band and its manager, Brian Epstein. Then they boarded a Boeing 707 for the flight back to New York.

“We had a great time. It was all first name basis, back and forth, and just had a very nice experience,” Liss says.

“But also part of my job was to keep an eye on them and make sure that they didn’t go crazy on the plane because… it was a commercial flight. It was a regular commercial flight.” Liss says there were Beatles fans in the coach section of the aircraft, mostly women, who’d booked travel once they learned the Beatles would be on that flight.

Liss recalled his transatlantic flight with the Beatles in a story I produced Friday on 11Alive.  You can see the video or read the text here.

When they landed, a photographer recorded the Beatles deplaning at Kennedy Airport. The photo shows Liss is at the top of the ramp stairs holding a camera — documenting it from above.

“Which, at least, it’s proof that I was there,” Liss said.

I swiped much of this text from the story I posted on 11Alive.com

Liss is the guy with the camera behind the flight attendant at the top of the stairs.

Liss is the guy with the camera behind the flight attendant at the top of the stairs.

Finger pointing

AJC photo by Ben Gray

AJC photo by Ben Gray

On behalf of the Atlanta media, I’d like to thank you for not blaming us for the slow response to the Tuesday storm we’ll call Gridlockalypse 2014.  Because one could argue that you could.

Chesley McNeal delivers the Winter Storm Warning on WXIA's 4am news Tuesday

Chesley McNeal delivers the Winter Storm Warning on WXIA’s 4am news Tuesday

No, the blame rests with the government officials who failed to heed the hue and cry we raised Tuesday morning, when the National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning at 3:39am.

That’s the technicality that lets us off the hook.

Here’s the reality:  The Atlanta news media — especially TV — likes nothing more than to raise a hue and cry about upcoming “weather events.”  And it doesn’t take a Winter Storm Warning to prompt it.  We get excited about Winter Weather Advisories, Winter Storm Watches, Severe Thunderstorm Watches, and Heat Advisories.  We get geeked when the temperature drops below freezing.

There’s a reason for that.  The audience actually turns on local TV news when they think the weather is getting bad.  It’s measurable.  And we are always happy to welcome our larger audience with hearty doses of the information they seek.

Whenever it happens, we are utterly truthful with the details. If the NWS has issued a Winter Storm Watch and not a warning, we’ll say that — over and over and over again, while producing  perilous-looking color schemes moving ominously across maps.

The problem, one could argue, is that we lack proportion.  We beat the weather drum with great urgency.  We put human beings — “team coverage!” — in the elements to add a measure of performance art to the story.  Residents of Carrollton are bracing for the line of thunderstorms that’s expected here any minute.  As you can see, the wind is starting to pick up and the sky is darkening…

It may not be apocalyptic, but it sure seems that way.

Gov. Nathan Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal

Can you blame state officials for failing to discern that the real thing was advancing upon us Tuesday?

Technically, you can.  A Winter Storm Warning means that a winter storm is “imminent or occurring.” The word “warning” is always the key when attuned to NWS information.

But what if TV and radio routinely makes it sound like the bogeyman is about to get you?  It is up to you, dear viewer, to know the difference.  Sometimes, we just give you information that merely sounds really, really urgent.  And other times, you need to react by closing schools and staying off the roads.  (But by all means, go purchase some bread and milk first, and be sure to say hi to our highly trained journalist stationed live outside your grocery store.)

Meantime, you’ve got political appointees running agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency who are supposed to discern the subtle differences between our usual weather drumbeat, and the real deal.

So yes:  An alarm should go off in GEMA whenever the NWS issues a Winter Storm Warning.  That’s a tangible signal that our routine drumbeat of weather coverage has flipped into something genuinely noteworthy, and its time to activate Georgia’s paltry fleet of salt trucks.

Likewise, it would have been unseemly for Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal to point back at the news media and say “it’d help if y’all only got excited about serious weather.  Because it’s kind of hard to tell when it’s really getting dangerous, or whether it’s just y’all trying to excite the audience and keep them tuned into your TV station.”

That would have been petty.  But it would have been an interesting conversation starter.

Sources

Geary, left, and James

Geary, left, and James

Thursday a local district attorney outed a couple of his former employees as the sources of leaks during a couple of high-profile investigations.  The DA was under oath, testifying in a pretrial hearing in one of those cases.

The DA was Robert James of DeKalb County.  The employees, he said, were his former chief assistant DA Don Geary, and John Melvin, who worked closely with Geary.  The testimony explained some WSB-TV scoops that puzzled the rest of the market and perplexed some in the legal community.

First, the scoops were great.  Amazing, actually.  In August 2012, on the same day Andrea Sneiderman was indicted for murder, investigators went to her parents’ home on Lake Oconee and arrested her.  Somebody tipped off WSB – not only to the pending indictment, but also to the arrest.  WSB (and the cojoined AJC) had the correct address of the lake house, and a photographer was positioned to shoot video of Mrs. Sneiderman getting taken into custody.

The Sneiderman arrest. AJC photo

The Sneiderman arrest. AJC photo

The presence of “the media” at Mrs. Sneiderman’s arrest became a rallying cry for her defense team.  It showed, they said, that the prosecution was vindictive – and overreaching (the DA dropped the murder charge on the eve of Mrs. Sneiderman’s trial).  Defense attorneys said they had pleaded with the DA to allow them to arrange a low-key surrender of Mrs. Sneiderman in the event of an indictment.  Instead, the DA went for what turned out to be a flashy arrest.

Wish I’d gotten the tip.  I’d have done the same thing.

The same day, WSB reporter Jodie Fleischer reported details of the indictment during a noon live shot.  The indictment hadn’t yet been officially filed in the Superior Court clerk’s office, which makes it public record.  Somebody leaked it to Fleischer.

The rest of us knew the indictment was pending but didn’t have a copy.  During his testimony last week, James said he deduced that Fleischer got the leaked indictment info from Melvin, because the copy she had was identical to a copy Melvin had before the indictment was revised.  (In the courthouse media room last week, Fleischer disputed that, saying she had a copy of the revised indictment, identical to the one certified in the clerk’s office.)

Fleischer - from her Twitter page

Fleischer – from her Twitter page

Fleischer’s name came up several times during James’ testimony.  James said Melvin and Geary had “a relationship” with the WSB reporter.  That may sound like more than it really is.  Reporters develop relationships with sources and they’re based mostly on mutual trust.

James also talked about the indictment of Ellis, and the fact that a WSB photographer was waiting at Ellis’s house when the DA’s office executed a search warrant there.  When he realized “the media” had been tipped off, James testified that he tried unsuccessfully to warn Ellis and postpone the search.

James said he confronted Melvin and Geary about the leaks.  James said both men denied being Fleischer’s source.

Both men quit the DA’s office in 2012.  After they quit, James said, “the leaks stopped.”

I didn’t ask Fleischer if the story James told under oath was correct.  I wouldn’t have answered such a question and I wouldn’t have expected her too, either.

It’s worth noting that prosecutors didn’t question Geary and Melvin about it while they were under oath.  Good call.

Scoops get noticed inside newsrooms but rarely outside them.  The moment of triumph that accompanies them rarely last much longer than a moment.  But these were different — especially the Sneiderman indictment, because the info came from inside a “secret” grand jury proceeding.

Sources depend on reporters to keep their names under wraps — and Fleischer undoubtedly upheld her end of the deal.  But here’s a tip for those inclined to discreetly help their friends in the media:  Try to be a little less obvious than Geary and / or Melvin might have been.

And call me next time!

This post has been updated to correct the description of Fleischer’s noon live shot, which did not include actual paperwork from the indictment.

Off-topic with Hizzoner

Two weeks ago, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed was upbeat as he greeted the press corps covering his post-inauguration press conference.  He invited reporters to ask him about “anything,” but the questions politely followed the ground he’d trod in his speech a few minutes earlier.reed's inauguration

The questions didn’t last long, either.  “Anything else?” Reed asked during an awkward silence that seemed destined to finish the event.  I spoke up.

“This is a little off topic, but you said we could ask about anything,” I remember saying.  Reed nodded and smiled, ready for whatever.

I asked him about Jason Carter, the Democrat running for Governor.  The AJC had written stories hinting about Reed’s cold shoulder toward his fellow Democrat.  The political buzz had been that Reed had been eyeing a run for Governor in 2018, and had wanted the Democrats to take a pass on challenging his buddy, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal in 2014.

Carter’s candidacy this year — whether he wins or loses — threatens Reed’s presumed front-runner status in the Democratic primary in 2018.  It’s all inside ball, but a fascinating subtext.

Nobody would have blamed Reed for dodging the question, especially on his inauguration day.

Sen. Jason Carter

Sen. Jason Carter

Instead, Reed ramped up the intrigue:  “I ran for mayor twice.  Jason didn’t support me,” he said.  “I’m not a bandwagon jumper.”

As Reed concluded and left the room, you could see dropped jaws among the press corps.  Though Reed would undoubtedly disagree, it was easily the most interesting thing he’d said on his inauguration day.  Reed’s inauguration made headlines, but the sidebar stories were about the “chill” between Reed and Carter.

Reed is great about responding to off-topic questions. It would have out-of-character for him to dodge the Carter question.

But the longer he’s been mayor, the more combative he’s become with reporters.  I always have to make sure whatever question I ask is precise and accurately framed, or he’ll expend many words challenging the question before answers it.

But typically, he will answer — even questions he doesn’t like.

Irritated:  Kasim Reed

Irritated: Kasim Reed endures a follow-up question

Friday, Reed challenged the entire Carter story.  I’d met with him following an event in Buckhead.  “May I ask you a question about politics?” I began, and Reed was agreeable.  I asked about his comments last week in Washington, wherein he described himself as “Robin” to Gov. Nathan Deal’s “Batman.”

Reed provided a long answer that quickly circled back to the inauguration presser.  He conveyed irritation that I’d asked that question on that occasion.  He derided what he called “the most insanely overblown, falsely created narrative that I’ve ever seen,” referring to stories about the chill between Reed and Carter.  The interview lasted five minutes, and is posted here in its entirety.  Reed’s irritation at yours truly is quite plain.

But mostly, he seemed to be arguing that the story was overblown.  Maybe he’s right.  I think a lot of stories are overblown.  The news media grasps onto material it finds interesting, often to the exclusion of other stories that are at least as important.  Consider how many times weather dominates a newscast.  Frequently, no other news exists on such days.

The Reed / Carter story got nothing close to “Snowmageddon” treatment.  But it got ample attention in a political season that has had little drama so far.  Like it or not, the news (and our audience) is drawn to drama.

Once again, Reed could have sidestepped my question.  But that would have been out of character.  Instead, he denounced coverage of the story as “crap.”  In so doing, he made news and gave the story legs for another day.

The interview is also an example of an opportunity wasted by yours truly.

During his answer, Reed complained that nobody had reported about his enthusiastic support for Michelle Nunn, the Democrat seeking the open US Senate seat in 2014.

“If you’re not a bandwagon jumper — then why’d you jump so enthusiastically onto Michelle Nunn’s bandwagon?”  That’s the follow-up question I failed to ask.

At some point, Reed will undoubtedly answer that question — probably at length, and with a wary eye directed at the questioner.

 

The collaborator

One of Atlanta’s best TV reporters covered the funeral of Nelson Mandela — yet never once appeared on-air as part of his station’s coverage.

That’s one way to look at Jon Shirek’s trip to South Africa this month.

The other way to view it, as photographer Stephen Boissy related over lunch Christmas Eve (we shared the ridiculous beef rib at Fox Bros. BBQ) is that Shirek played a role in WXIA’s coverage that went beyond “essential.”

“Couldn’t have done it without him,” Boissy kept saying.

Shirek and Boissy are the two guys in the back.

Derek McGinty of WUSA is on the left.  Brenda Wiood of WXIA is next to him.  Shirek is behind Wood.  Boissy is next to Shirek, wearing sunglasses.  WUSA photog Kevin King is in sunglasses on the far right.  The other men are South African drivers hired to work with the crews..

Shirek has been a clever and elegant on-air presence at WXIA since the Carter administration. He “volunteered” to become a one-man-band / multimedia journalist sometime in 2008.

When WXIA decided to cover Mandela’s funeral, Shirek got a phone call asking if his passport was current — and could he leave the next day?  From the get-go, Shirek says his role was “coordinating producer,” which meant he was a logistics and editorial wrangler for anchor / photog teams from Gannett properties WXIA and WUSA, Washington DC.

Both stations expected to do extensive live coverage in newscasts around the clock.  “I wanted a coordinating producer who understands news crews travel issues, can shoot and edit and can write,” Ellen Crooke, our boss, wrote me in an email.

Who better than a smart, experienced one-man-band?

Shirek not only had the hands-on skills to handle those issues, but he’s also one of the calmest individuals in the western hemisphere.  I’m convinced the man’s pulse never gets above 50 bpm.

It became Shirek’s business to solve equations:  How to cover events, at times that often overlapped with live shots (11:30am to 2pm in Pretoria equals 4:30am to 7am in Atlanta); sorting the elements gathered by three photogs (including Shirek); and figuring out how to fold them into both stations’ coverage.

And– how to get credentials; where can they do live shots; how will they get around in an unfamiliar city; and what’s the deadline exit strategy for covering thick crowds of mourners?

“Brenda (Wood) and Stephen and Ellen suggested during that week that I do my own stories, too, if possible, and I would have,” Shirek wrote me in an email.  “But I could see that the ‘fifth person’ role was working out well for our enterprise, and it was all-consuming; and, again, I was glad I got to be part of it.”

The role clearly demanded journalistic smarts, plus the technical skills of a photog / editor.  For an on-camera guy like Shirek, it also demanded an uncommon selflessness.  Throw a microphone in the air, and many TV reporters would leap like Bill Russell to grab it.  Shirek is not one of those guys.

“Finding important stories and telling them well — on or off camera, by yourself or as part of a team — is always the mission, the goal,” Shirek wrote.

Shirek stresses that all five of them carried their own weight and then some, handling editorial and logistics issues, while largely setting aside issues like proper meals and a decent night’s sleep.   It sounds like they experienced an extraordinary and exhausting news adventure. 

One-man-bands became vogue in some big TV markets because of their cost savings.  In this instance, Shirek ably expanded the definition — and was probably the most qualified guy in the building to do what he did.