Monthly Archives: April 2008

Colorless China

WAGA’s “Mission to China” was a distressingly colorless thirty-minute recap of Russ Spencer’s recent trip to China with Gov. Sonny Perdue. It appeared that WAGA simply re-broadcast pieces Spencer and chief photographer Fred Plummer produced on-the-fly in China and fed back. The pieces were acceptable deadline stories, but weren’t worthy of showcasing in a half-hour special.

There were upsides: Spencer gamely tried to address the issues of Tibet and China’s choking totalitarianism. Gov. Perdue evaded Spencer’s questions, laughably saying “that’s for politicians,” as if Perdue was suddenly above politics. Even worse, when asked about Tibet, Perdue answered by saying “our nation sometimes has disruptions,” as if there was a parallel between Tibet and anything happening in the US. Hopefully, John McCain will keep this guy off his long list for VP. This stuff would haunt him.

But the downside was the editing. Not once was there a bit of natural sound. We saw pictures of some Chinese shooshing away Plummer’s camera, but they were covered with sound from an interview. We saw pictures of rural Chinese stoking a fire with bamboo, but heard no crunch, no pop. There was nary a peep of Chinese language– no excited chatter at a train station or market. None, even from the cop who questioned the crew about its presence at Tianenmen Square.

Short natural sound breaks are an underutilized tool to give TV stories flavor. Spencer’s stories cried out for it, especially given the colorful locale.

Spencer was able to question exactly one English-speaking Shanghai resident on board a train (and that man blamed Tibetan protestors for unrest there). But Spencer and Plummer clearly could have used a translator. If WAGA was planning a documentary, it should have hired one. And it should have given Spencer and Plummer a few more days in China, away from the Governor’s junket. That would have given Plummer a chance to really show his stuff as a photographer. WAGA sold plenty of advertising for the half-hour. The station should have spent the coin.

The station also could have sent reporter Patty Pan instead of (or in addition to) Spencer.  Just so happens, Pan is fluent in Mandarin.  The station should know this– it’s in her bio on WAGA’s website.

But it didn’t. Absent that, it’s dumbfounding that the station didn’t give Plummer’s raw tapes to one of its top editors, and give Spencer an opportunity to produce the material with more polish and more color. A worldly guy and a solid newsman, Spencer has the capability. Instead, the whole thing looked like an afterthought– a local TV station trying to give its news anchor some international cachet, while giving its audience the cheapskate version of international coverage.

Flat-footed

In TV land, it seems everybody but WAGA got caught flat-footed on the Mike Evans resignation from the DOT board. Evans quit after revealing he’d developed a “personal relationship” with the board’s newest hire, commissioner Gena Abraham. Unlike other stations, WAGA actually covered the meeting with reporters Dale Russell and Paul Yates. WAGA did an excellent job of capturing the discomfort and awkwardness of the whole situation, without exploiting or sensationalizing it. WXIA and WSB were forced to use written statements from Evans– statements, which turned out to be verbatim quotes of material WAGA had on-camera.

The story is significant because Evans and Abraham came into the sights of the squirrelly House Speaker Glenn Richardson during the recently-completed session. The fact that they survived it was a political victory for them (and the Governor, who was absent yesterday). The fact that their political survival unraveled because of an apparent romance was– awkward. And worthy of the headlines it got.

Nice scoop by Russell and Yates, who broke the story at noon.

And nice headline in today’s Augusta Chronicle: “DOT Leader Quits to Pursue Colleague.”

Bottom feeding

“Never saw that before,” chortled the LAF spouse while watching WSB’s Thursday 6pm news. Tom Jones was covering a police chase / wreck in East Point. As such stories go, Jones had all the goods: An interview with a driver who’s car got whacked by a severed power pole; and an interview with the driver of the chased car. The driver was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car. Oddly, he was responsive to Jones’s questions. But he was unwilling to show his face, awkwardly crouching down. Jones’s photographer had only the option of shooting the driver’s ass while the suspect spoke.

Jones: You were running from police, though.

Driver’s ass: No.

Jones: How do you explain a light pole being down and people’s cars crashing?

Driver’s ass: What, a car got hit?

Turns of phrase

Some noteworthy lines that emerged from our too-long sit in front of the DVR this morning:

  • WSB’s Mark Winne, reporting that a victim’s car “turned up burned up on Church Street.”
  • WSB’s Ryan Young, reporting this morning that “at 2am, we discovered from police that the motive in this multiple shooting is still not clear.”
  • An eyewitness to a shooting telling WSB’s Ashley Hayes that “the bullet grazed the arm and whatnot.”  The witness’s name was Kaka Blackwell.  Thankfully, she did not appear to be Spanish-speaking.

Dispiriting

Your name is Aungelique Proctor. You’ve been a reporter at WAGA for, what– 15 years. You got into the news business for all the right reasons. You’re a digger. You’re a wife and mother, a native Atlantan, and you’re good at your job.

You spent much of Wednesday digging into some story, probably a story you brought to the table that morning. You spent the day shooting it. You were about to start producing it for the 5 or 6pm news (or both). Then, mid-afternoon, you get a call from the assignment desk. Four teenagers have been shot in DeKalb County. Drop whatever you’ve done all day. Go cover this.

So begins a scenario that drives good reporters to the taps at Manuel’s, or out of the TV news business.

At WSB, the same call went to Ashley Hayes. But unlike Proctor, Hayes had just walked in to the TV station to work a night shift. She hadn’t invested a day’s work in another story.

Proctor and Hayes produced live shots for their stations’ 6pm shows. Proctor’s was superior. The story had two different crime scenes. Proctor went to the one that happened to be active when her live shot came up. Proctor is smart like that. Hayes, a rookie, will learn– assuming she stays in the business.

Since she’s working a night shift, Hayes can develop the story for WSB’s 11pm news too. Meantime, Proctor is greeted by WAGA’s Tony Thomas, a nightside reporter who was not sent to cover the story for the 6pm show. Thomas is gathering material on the same story for the 10pm news.

WAGA does this as a matter of policy. Nightside reporters aren’t sent to cover breaking news in order to put it on TV on the early evening broadcasts. Instead, WAGA’s policy is to pivot dayside reporters like Proctor to do the down-and-dirty work of breaking news. In so doing, it also dropkicks their daylong investment in developing another story. It wastes good work and breaks the spirits of those who’ve actually used their journalistic training covering something worthwhile.

WAGA would explain this policy by saying it wants its nightside reporters to develop fresh or exclusive material for the later broadcast– even if they’re covering the exact same breaking story.

As TV news operations go, WAGA’s is as good as it gets in this town. But this policy is absurdly inefficient, unproductive and very dispiriting. In this instance, and most others, WAGA would have lost nothing by having the nightside reporter produce the 6pm coverage as well.

When we ended such workdays, the spouse would ask “how was work?” Our one-word answer, typically, was: “Stupid.” We haven’t spoken to Aungelique Proctor about her workday yesterday. But we know she covered the same story that another WAGA reporter should have covered– but didn’t, because of a policy that seems designed to punish good folks like Aungelique Proctor.

Apartment fire drinking game

During today’s coverage of the Norcross apartment fire, do a shot whenever you hear

“narrowly escaped,” “lost everything,” “escaped with their lives” “lucky to be alive,” “team coverage.” Do a double shot if anybody says “the roof is on fire.”

If you have to go anyplace afterward, please take a cab.

Deadline reporting

This is puzzling. Why did WAGA do a tax-deadline live shot Tuesday at 10pm in Decatur? Is “lazy” too strong a word?

The post office live shot is an irresistible staple of local TV news on April 15. It usually makes sense. Each year, TV captures the good-natured last-minute scramble to file before the midnight deadline. And Decatur is certainly conveniently located to WAGA.

But chances are, every single taxpayer showed in WAGA’s coverage had no April 15 deadline. That’s because the IRS granted extensions to residents of DeKalb, Fulton and six other Georgia counties declared federal disaster areas from the March tornado. Decatur is the seat of DeKalb Co.

Sure, it’s possible a stray taxpayer from Henry or Rockdale County made the long drive to the Decatur post office to file taxes. But the odds were slim to none.

Denise Dillon’s story was solidly standard-issue, as tax deadline stories go. It would have made much more sense (and been more fun, perhaps) to bust taxpayers for not realizing the traditional deadline didn’t apply to them:

Dillon: Why are you here?

Taxpayer: Tax deadline.

Dillon: You live in DeKalb?

Taxpayer: Yes

Dillon: The IRS says you have until mid-May to file ’cause of the tornado.

Taxpayer: d’oh!

(OK, so it’s not the greatest material, we admit…)

Dillon briefly mentioned the deadline extension. But the station should have sent its live truck to Gwinnett or Cobb County, whose taxpayers actually faced a filing deadline at midnight last night.

Michelle’s Racist Roommate

Some local bloggers are getting very, very excited about a Sunday AJC story they consider to be hideously written. The piece was about a local woman who was a roommate at Princeton with Michelle Obama. From The Stone’s Colossal Dream:

“Poor Brian Feagans must have drawn the short straw when he got assigned this remarkable piece

The writing itself is horrific; I wouldn’t know where to begin. But what’s worse is the entire premise, along with the literal length(s) it goes to to make its point(lessness). And by the end of the article, I certainly don’t have the impression anyone has learned anything at all.”

It’s getting mentions at Mostly Media and the Peach Pundit, thanks to Spacey G, who calls the writing “patronizing,” among other things.

We read the article Sunday. The subject was uncomfortable. It was remarkable that the former roommate talked about her past racism. Some of the prose was awkward, which we took as a reflection of the subject matter.

Our take: Go to any Terence Moore column, and you’ll find patronizing. Brian Feagans can only get better, we hope. Nothing wrong with demanding excellence from an increasingly mediocre newspaper. But let’s cut the kid some slack.

Get this man / woman a hard hat

Though we’ve seen much of this through the years, this compilation of dangerous on-camera moments is pretty eye-opening. The guy with the dog is our favorite. Every TV reporter learns how to talk down an angry dog.

Melissa Sander’s unfortunate on-camera plunge at Chateau Elan is still hard to watch.

Thanks to Matt-!

Windblown

Put yourself in the shoes of WSB’s Richard Elliott. He’s working the late shift on a Friday night. The weather turns slightly ugly, a few thunderstorms. But nothing gets Elliott’s bossfolk more excited than the potential for storm damage.

Elliott gets the call: A tree is down! Location: Dawsonville. So Elliott and a photog drive sixty miles to take a picture of a downed tree and lead WSB’s 11pm news with “storm damage.”

Why does TV news get excited about weather? Because its viewers apparently do. When the weather gets nasty, folks like to turn on their TVs. A Nielsen statistic called “households using television” proves it. Folks may watch because they want to see TV meteorologists like Ken Cook use their truly eye-popping graphics (and Satanic eyebrows) to detail the movement of the storm.

But we think they also watch because they know they’re in for some high entertainment. Local news started the live-shot-in-a-hurricane trend. The Weather Channel perfected it. Now people watch simply because they know they’ll be awestruck by the bravado / stupidity of such windblown performances.

All this trickles down to guys like Richard Elliott, making the 120 mile round-trip on a Friday night in a thunderstorm to do a live shot in front of a horizontal pine. Here’s the sad part: He killed. Guys with chainsaws were behind him as he spoke. At one point, a chainsaw-bearing local shooed Elliott out of the way so he could do his tree-carving work. It was, sorry to say, fun to watch.

On paper, the whole exercise was dumb. But after Elliott signed off, his bossfolk were undoubtedly high-fiving each other, congratulating themselves on their brilliance, and further emboldened to chase downed trees to the end of the earth next time there’s a storm.