Daily Archives: May 20, 2008

If it doesn’t bleed….

Some cliches will never die. “If it bleeds, it leads” is one of them, a cute catch-phrase grasped by smirking detractors of TV news. Like many cliches, it’s an oversimplification. It’s a stereotype. It’s tiresome. But it also hints at a larger truth. TV chases breaking news. It doesn’t have to “bleed,” though. It can be stuff as mundane as a gas leak, a water-main break, a traffic tie-up. What’s more insidious is TV’s obsession with breaking “news” that is barely news at all. A “suspicious package” at a post office? A bomb threat at the Capitol? Get it on TV before the other station does.

Monday was significant for this reason: On WSB’s 6pm news, nothing bled in the A-block. There was no “breaking news,” real or imagined. Every story was worthy of the front page of the metro section of any respectable newspaper.

  • An exclusive on a judge jailing a motorist for violating the HOV lane (see below).
  • Coverage of a sheriff candidate’s last-minute qualification to get on the ballot.
  • News about lousy test scores in public schools
  • A cop arrested for DUI whose supervisor apparently requested special treatment for him.
  • The Atlanta city council’s override of three mayoral vetoes.

There was some traditional death-and-destruction in some of the other stations’ newscasts– anchor v/o’s on a trench collapse, a smash & grab, a school bus accident. But WAGA led with an exclusive on some squirrelly unauthorized spending at city hall. WXIA led with the mayoral overrides.

No doubt, there were newsroom personnel complaining that Monday was a “slow” news day. But TV is at its best when the “breaking news” goes on hiatus, and its reasonably-well-paid news staffs develop newspaper-worthy stories.


WSB’s lead story Monday at 6 was terrific. Tom Jones interviewed a broke college student who went to municipal court to pay a fine for an HOV violation. When the court added some fees to the $75 fine, the woman said she couldn’t pay it in full. So the municipal court judge threw her in jail.

And Jones nailed it. He had accessed court footage that is apparently routinely taped, surveillance-camera style. The footage had clear audio of the judge blandly ordering the defendant to jail (initially to serve one year!), and the deputies taking her away. Jones had a lawyer and the solicitor saying the judge had overstepped. He also had an off-camera phone interview with the judge herself, who confessed that she shouldn’t have done what she did. Jones’ piece was clearheaded and damning.

If you want to see this story again, watch tonight. The other stations will be chasing it. The AJC may even get around to it in a few days.