Monthly Archives: May 2008

Overstepping

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.

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Barr’s slush fund

The AJC’s front-page story Sunday about Bob Barr’s PAC was a great read and months overdue. Barr has been using the PAC to finance his own career as a speaker and political pundit, but raising the money from donors by telling them they’re advancing conservative causes. The normally media-friendly Barr’s testy answers to the AJC said it all: “I will not be cross-examined” and “next question!” This issue will short-circuit his already-hopeless Libertarian presidential campaign.

The AJC first broached the issue in a “Q&A In the News” brief, when a reader asked about the breakdown of Barr’s PAC. The AJC blandly reported that Barr kept the vast majority of the PAC’s proceeds to pay salary and office expenses. At that point, any news media outlet should have seen the red flag and uncovered what the AJC did Sunday.

Our only complaint is the AJC’s wimpy headline: “Does he spend it wisely?” The real question is whether Barr, a former AJC columnist, was duping contributors and lining his own pockets.

Prospects

Watching Atlanta TV news on weekends is a little like watching minor league baseball. It lacks the big names and the big audience. (It also lacks the whip-cracking management, which often makes the weekend shifts easier on the nerves and psyche.) There are rookie mistakes. But the game is still played with gusto, and there are gems to discover.

Saturday at 6, WSB had an interesting C-block story by Darryn Moore about thieves who dismantle gas pumps in order to swipe fuel. Gasoline stories are rapidly becoming rather tiresome fixtures in the news these days, but Moore’s photog / editor ramped up the piece with some clever shooting and cool editing. Moore’s live tease was slightly botched with an earpiece feedback problem, but Moore removed his earpiece in mid-tease and kept talking. Ashley Hayes had a similar problem with her lead story from Newton Co., but recovered to produce a solid piece on a TB patient / inmate at the Newton Co. jail.

WAGA’s 10 o’clock news Saturday lacked the technical glitches, and surpassed its competitor content-wise. Julia Harding had some eye-popping surveillance tape shot by an East Atlanta homeowner, showing three young men breaking into her home and running off with a TV set. Harding’s exclusive was also well-shot and well-told. The thieves have struck numerous times. The story could have been hot with emotion and fear, but the production (and interviews with homeowners) gave the story a refreshing cool texture.

Portia Bruner’s coverage of a protest on behalf of death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis was also solid and even-handed. Bruner folded in a previous interview with the widow of the police officer Davis was convicted of killing. However, Bruner’s editor mistakenly used video of the Georgia Supreme Court while Bruner spoke about the US Supreme Court. It was a small, minor-league error on a news day otherwise full of prospect.

Footsie

TV news loves to play footsie with police. When it works, TV gets a cool story with insider access. And police get vital info to the public— or, more often, public credit for arresting bad guys. The media does this at its peril sometimes. Folks in crime-ridden areas see TV trucks and think “the man” is in their midst. Reporters talking to drug dealers or ticket scalpers often have to explain that they aren’t in cahoots with the cops.

With this underlying concern, we recently had a conversation with a writer from the Southern Voice about a WSB piece, wherein Jodie Fleischer played a bit of footsie with DeKalb police. The subject was the Belvedere Theater, one of the last “adult” theaters in town. Fleischer sent a WSB photog into the theater. Once inside, veteran photog Rick Nelson saw and recorded images of men having sex in the theater as the Feature Presentation played. Fleischer showed the tape to the cops. The cops raided the theater. WSB’s camera happened to be there as some sheepish-looking dudes were loaded onto the paddy wagon.

Our take: Despite the tawdry and sensational nature of the story, it was a clean hit. Fleischer was reacting to complaints from neighbors, who said the theater was a blight. She interviewed Nelson on camera, partly because it was impossible to fully show the images he’d recorded. And she showed the tape to police, which apparently prompted them to do their own investigation and make subsequent arrests.

Is it reasonable for police and journalistic resources to be devoted to cracking down on otherwise-harmless middle-aged men playing footsie, and more, in a public theater? That may be debatable. But it’s obnoxious public behavior at best. As such stories go, Fleischer’s was well done.

Wednesday’s bright spots

Items of interest in Wednesday’s early evening newscasts (and we spent way too much time looking for something interesting and finding little. Our mood is foul as a result):

  • Beth Galvin’s report on WAGA showing that the fastest growing population of AIDS patients is African American women over the age of 50.
  • Bill Nigut’s cameo on WSB, in his capacity as SE director of the ADL. Nigut was sounding off about the boneheaded Curious George T-shirt. Nigut worked for WSB not so far back in the day. Though less blustery now, he’s still good TV.
  • Ross Cavitt’s tornado aftermath live shot in Carrollton. The WSB photog took heroic steps to frame the shot really cool, with a splintered tree trunk in the foreground.

And the winner is….

  • Wendy Saltzman’s piece on WGCL about the owner of Auburn Avenue’s Soul Food Museum allegedly ripping off eight of his fellow restaurant owners during the Sweet Auburn Festival. Seems the museum keeper sold “a nine-foot patch of concrete to eight vendors” at $500 apiece. Interesting, well-edited and well-told. And weird! We won’t quibble over whether this constituted “investigative” reporting, as WGCL contended. It was still fun to watch, on an otherwise grim night in front of the DVR.

Update:  We should have just waited for the Thursday AJC.  Its front-page Joey Ivansco photo showing a Peregrine Falcon soaring over downtown is killer.

Old School

Bloggers can be awfully self-righteous, present company included. Many see the “new media” as superior to the old. And when they break a story, bloggers can beat their chests as strenuously as any ladder-climbing TV news guy. So it’s been with the Soulja Girl story. The video of a disturbed young woman’s too-long verbal abuse of an elderly passenger on a MARTA train went viral on youtube. The major Atlanta media overlooked it mostly. Some elements of the blogosphere went kinda nutso. It accused the media of ignoring a “critical” story. It demanded a MARTA response.

But the story was never really about MARTA. It was about the disturbed woman, and the curiously sanguine reaction of the other passengers. Although Ryan Cameron’s radio show got the first hint of the inside story, it finally took WSB’s Monica Pearson to nail it. Pearson interviewed the offensive woman’s mom, revealing that she’s bipolar and isn’t consistently medicated. Pearson also chatted by phone with the son of the elderly victim, who said she immediately recognized the woman was mentally disturbed. She simply sat and waited for the outburst to end. And she didn’t want to add to her grief by pressing charges or talking on TV. Good call.

Pearson was transparent about her method: She got an e-mail from the mom, obviously a fan of the longtime anchorwoman. The mom agreed to submit to Pearson’s tender mercies on-camera. Pearson got an exclusive, and the anguished mom got to explain, to a friendly face, her daughter’s now-famous erratic behavior.

It wasn’t rocket science, but Pearson has the experience to avoid fumbling a handoff. And Pearson, who is as old-media as it gets, became the source for the next round of Soulja Girl blogging.