Monthly Archives: March 2008

I was this guy, once

This is my shout-out to an Atlanta-based blog called Mostly Media, which mentioned Live Apt Fire this week. Edited by Spacey G, she does media stuff on her blog too– more “new media” eg. blogging, social networking and such– and screwball news vignettes such as this:

As long as I’m doing blog shout-outs: Thanks also to Drifting Through the Grift for giving us some ink this week. And if you want to check out the real-life adventures of my business partner in TomorrowVision Media, go to the Daly Briefing on your right. His arrival in Iraq this month means our company has gone worldwide. I guess that’s what it means.

Comparing coverage

All four Atlanta TV stations covered an official bus tour of the city’s tornado damaged areas.  They focused on Vine City, whose residents are less protected by insurance.   What we saw:

Richard Elliott on WSB provided a very by-the-numbers look at the tour, with nothing especially memorable.  He identified tourgoer Millard Fuller,  founder of Habitat for Humanity, as an afterthought.

Clarence Reynolds on WXIA inexplicably focused on the city council members who toured the affected neighborhoods, giving them time to grandstand on camera. The audience learned little from his report.

Joanna Massee on WGCL, by far, told the best story.  With lots of “oh my gosh”-type natural sound, crisp editing and nice writing– she gave a much needed human touch to a story that was stilted and uninteresting elsewhere.  But WGCL needs to be slapped, too:  What’s the point of having Massee do a live shot after midnight (late because of basketball) in a dark neighborhood, many hours after the tour ended?   Same with Jennifer Mayerle, who was live in East Atlanta at 12:15am, fronting a story that had been shot in daylight.  Is it just me, or do most viewers cringe a little when they see such stuff?

Morning presence

I’m not a fan of morning TV, which I stopped watching when Brokaw switched from “Today” to the Nightly News following the retirement of John Chancellor. The local morning staple, Good Day Atlanta on WAGA, is painful– though legions of viewers clearly love it. The Road Warrior segments are an opportunity for the show to get out of the studio. But they, too, are often painful to watch.

Mark Hyman has a somewhat understated, slightly mad, comedic touch. But when Hyman shows up to do the tour of homes in Roswell— with a tour guide who is exceedingly well coiffed at 7:30 in the morning– the comedic potential seems almost nonexistent. The presentation is informative, but not very memorable. Few situations seem to avail themselves at 7:30am for Hyman to shine.

Hyman is a vast improvement over his predecessor Bret Martin, who now shills for movie promoters at WGCL’s Better Mornings show. At WAGA, Martin’s shtick was to demean himself on-camera whenever possible. Now, as a “movie reviewer,” he shamelessly promotes the worst drek in Hollywood. While interviewing the star of a movie called Never Back Down, Martin likened the actor (whose studio likely flew Martin to Hollywood to interview him) to a young Tom Cruise. The New York Times called the movie “lunkheaded.” The Minneapolis Star-Tribune said it had “no brains.” Martin called it “forgettable,” in an otherwise favorable piece that doubtlessly pleased the movie’s promoters.

At least Martin wasn’t interviewing an attractive starlet. He tends to salivate openly in the presence of female hotness.

46’s Better Mornings show isn’t a news program, which is their “out” for adhering to any standards of objectivity or journalistic ethics. It’s hard to imagine that morning TV can become any less watchable.  But by gosh, the suits in TV land are trying.

Delivery failure

Few TV newscasts are completely free of glitches. Some viewers may not have even noticed the one that struck WSB’s 11pm news Tuesday. But Mrs. Aptfire, who watched the ABC show Dancing with the Stars, absolutely noticed. During the program, which leads into WSB’s 11pm news, the station repeatedly promoted a story about a carriage-ride horse that took off during Friday’s downtown tornado– the animal’s frightened gallop, happily (for TV news) caught on surveillance tape. The promotion said: You won’t believe where they found him!

Cue Ashley Hayes, a new-ish WSB reporter doing a downtown live shot in the C-block of the newscast (after more “coming up!” promotion). Hayes flawlessly delivers a live lead-in. The package rolls. The story is compellingly told.  Inexplicably, the package is interrupted by– what, we’re not sure– but another story. The control room abruptly cuts to Hayes, who, after a moment of awkward silence, explains there’s been a technical problem. She recovers and wraps.

But much of the story never played. And never is the question answered: Where did they find the horse? The question remains unanswered, apparently. The story isn’t posted on 2’s web site.

More tornado snapshots

With this post, we stop ignoring our friends at WGCL, CBS 46 and their coverage of the Atlanta tornado. Rebekka Schramm’s coverage of Vine City Monday was solid, dovetailing nicely into the charitable efforts of the Salvation Army in that impoverished area. She had the nat sound of the day: A resident, viewing his home that had been crushed by a tree, deadpanning: We’re going to need a structural engineer out here.

Adam Murphy drew the short straw, covering a news conference with Atlanta boosters who insisted the city remains “open for business.” When he speaks, I can’t help but actually hear the voice of Aasif Mandvi of the Daily Show . Apparently desperate for a prop to use during his live shot, Murphy held shards of broken glass in his hand. At least Aasif Mandvi would have bled on-air.

The Craven Chest-beating Award goes to Ryan Deal, who touted his “exclusive, unfettered access to the parking deck” near the Fulton Mill Lofts. He went on to boast about his recording of conversations “rarely caught on camera”– and barely audible to the listener. His story would have been much better without his heavy handedness. We know management encourages that stuff– but c’mon. A parking deck exclusive? That’s the kind of stuff that make normal people laugh at TV news guys.

tornado scorecard, partial

  • When big news breaks over a weekend– as was the case with the Atlanta tornado– Sunday’s late news should be a good time for viewers to see the coverage at its best.  Viewership is high, and the chaos of Friday night and Saturday has settled somewhat.  Here’s what a look-see of local TV reveals:
  • WAGA’s 10 o’clock news had a single breathtaking photo– shot by a local professional photographer named Shane Durrance– of the tornado perched over downtown.  It was apparently shot from Howell Mill Rd.  The photo is magnificent.  I didn’t see it on any other news; however, one hour later, WXIA posted the same photo on its website.  The funnel is on the left, just to the right of the NationsBank tower.
  • WSB’s 11pm news had two pieces of surveillance video, shot during the storm at two downtown buildings.  Both clips were excellent.  No other station appeared to have it.   A separate report had two more pieces of home video of the storm, also apparently exclusive.  The surprise is that there isn’t more of this homemade video.
  • WXIA’s 10pm news was middling by comparison.   There was an exceedingly dull live v/o by a reporter, tossing to sound from a police spokeswoman (all live v/o-sots should be banished unless done under duress).  WXIA redeemed itself with a package by Jerry Carnes in Cabbagetown.  Carnes is a skilled writer and storyteller for whom this kind of story is made.  He had emotional material and showcased it without being maudlin or overwrought.

Tornado drinking game

  • (update:  two reported dead in Polk County) 
  • Since nobody got killed in Atlanta’s tornado (last I heard), we can have some fun with the coverage on a Saturday night.  Grab hold of the remote, flip amongst the four local channels.  When you hear a TV reporter or anchor say “war zone,” “epicenter,” “path of destruction” or “ground zero,” do a shot.  If they intone it with extra gravity, do an extra-gravity shot.

Downtown tornado

  • TV stations love to overreact to weather, treating every fallen tree limb as if it’s armageddon.  Last night, they got it right.  Some got it more right than others.  
  • Through 8am, it appeared WSB’s coverage was tops.  2 had interior footage of the CNN Center and Dome (as did WXIA).  Jim Strickland’s overnight package on the Fulton Mill Lofts damage was terrific.  And of all the TV reporters who were on scene at dawn, you know that Ross Cavitt was the first (and perhaps only) one to actually volunteer to be there.
  • If WAGA had the interiors that WSB had, I didn’t see them.  Tony Thomas stayed up all night downtown (and also may have volunteered) and did nice live shots, but his pictures and interviews were a bit middling– possibly because he was rarely untethered from his live camera.  It was fun to watch WAGA call in Dana Fowle, Cheryl White and Ken Cook to co-anchor the little-watched Saturday morning news.  And they called in Randy Travis to play catch-up to Strickland’s coverage in Cabbagetown.  Yet by noon, it appeared WAGA was still out to lunch on the story at the Fulton Mill Lofts, which was chock-full of residents when the tornado hit.
  • WXIA’s Jennifer Leslie, holding up a hand during a live shot to stop traffic on Butler St. while she crossed, had the Edgewood Ave. damage to herself.  Kudos to the motorist who let Jennifer and her photog cross.
  • WGCL showed cartoons in the morning.  And at noon, it showed a basketball game.