Our favorite headline on WGCL’s website is for a video entitled “Groups of people clog DeKalb County streets.” It begins with a weekend anchor urgently intoning about a “night of chaos” connected to a yearly festival called Glenwood Days. Then Ryan Deal appears on-scene, with an empty street behind him. Deal says he’s at the “epicenter of trouble.” He says DeKalb had to send “extra officers to disperse hundreds and hundreds of people.” Then he allows that “overall, despite the crowds, things appeared pretty peaceful.”
Sounds like Deal could have been covering the aftermath of a regular-season Braves game. He did mention that a teenager “in the area was shot in the leg” but didn’t link the shooting with the festival.
The scenario is common in local TV news: The assignment desk probably heard about the shooting. The desk probably heard scanner traffic about the added police presence. Deal was sent in to connect the dots. Once the resources were committed, late in the evening, Deal had to “sell” the story. This means: Don’t make us look like ninnies for sending you, a photographer and a live truck out there to cover a “pretty peaceful” situation.
The concept of “selling” a story sounds corrupt. But it’s a time-honored journalistic tradition that dates back to Hearst and Pulitzer. If you don’t want a “sold” story, join the tens of viewers who watch PBS each night (and even “Frontline” sells news well). Don’t blame Deal. Though he oversold with his “epicenter of trouble” line, (“epicenter” is ‘way overused, btw), his story appeared to walk a line of accuracy. But the “night of chaos” treatment gave this story a whiff of Armageddon that clearly wasn’t there.