Daily Archives: June 17, 2008

Meet the new boss

That didn’t take long.

We have unconfirmed reports WGCL hired an old-school news hound named Steve Schwaid to run its sputtering newsroom. Schwaid has been with NBC since 2001. Bloggers at TV Spy describe him as a guy with a heavy hand and little patience.

This guy is a rare, smart, savvy, and damn good exec. You should consider yourself lucky if you’re at 46. He’ll make you, the station, and even the other newsrooms better just trying to keep up. It’s the best thing Meredith [WGCL’s Des Moines-based owner] has ever done.

And more:

Type A personality. All the general whiners from CBS46 may want to polish up their resumes as I do not belive this guy will put up with it. You will be out the door.

Ten years ago, Schwaid was hired in Philadelphia, at a time when the TV market churned and upstart stations upended old favorites. Schwaid led one of the upstarts. From a March 2003 article in Philadelphia Magazine:

Before landing in Philadelphia, Schwaid… had built a reputation for sweeping through newsrooms from Tampa to Hartford with the destructive force of the storms he loves to hype, and getting results in the process. Though he looked bookish in his suspenders and glasses, Schwaid made it clear that things were going to be done his way, with an emphasis on splashy graphics, breaking news, and weather.

Most news directors fall into one of two categories: people persons who are sensitive to personnel issues and can carry on a conversation; and field generals who set aside the common courtesies most humans extend to each other and focus on nothing but the news and the numbers. Even his fans, [WCAU GM Dennis] Bianchi included, know which category Schwaid falls into. “Does Steve have some ‘development areas,’ as we like to say in human resources? Absolutely,” says Bianchi. “But we all do.”

When news broke… reporters had three minutes to be at their posts or face his wrath. “It was like we were under attack,” says a former employee. In a staff meeting, Schwaid announced, “If I had an Uzi right now, I’d take all of you out with no remorse.” On another occasion, he walked into the newsroom and asked, “Who are the writers here?” When arms went up, Schwaid bellowed: “Our writing sucks!”

We’ll see if age has mellowed the Schwaid of a decade ago. If it hasn’t, then it may mean that WGCL will try to out-shout WSB and WAGA in breaking news and hyping weather. Atlanta needs a smarter newscast.

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Immigrant Song

Fifteen to twenty people are abducted, tied up, robbed and abandoned in a vacant house. The robbers gain control of the victims by claiming to be federal agents. Sounds like news, no?

If the victims are Hispanic, the answer is “yes, but….” No denying that it’s news. The question is whether it’ll get on TV or in the newspaper.

Local TV news craves the “get.” Get the victim. Get the next-of-kin. Get them to talk on camera about how horrified / sorrowful they are. News managers all but carry a scorecard, recording which station has the better “get.” (The pursuit of the “get” is also one of the many factors that drive audiences away from local TV news.)

But when the victims are Hispanic, the “get” is less likely. There’s the language barrier. There’s the distrust of English-speaking TV, and whether its presence is a precursor to a raid by immigration agents.

So give WGCL credit for pursuing the above story Friday night. Sarah Parker gave the story as much life as she could. Since it happened in Doraville, it benefited from the on-camera presence of John King, arguably metro Atlanta’s most engaging police chief. And it benefited from Parker’s knowledge of Spanish. She  translated the remarks of a Spanish-speaking woman who admitted on-camera that Hispanics are less inclined to seek law enforcement help when they’re victims of crime.

Parker’s story also proved why TV doesn’t rush to embrace such stories. The 15 to 20 victims were nowhere to be found.

Monday night, WAGA’s George Franco somewhat successfully told another story that benefited from Franco’s Spanish-speaking skills. Franco’s story raised questions about the killing of a day laborer by a DeKalb sheriff’s deputy. (The story mimicked a similar story by WSB’s Tom Jones Friday.) But unlike Jones, Franco’s story leaned on Spanish speaking folk to tell it, with Franco skillfully translating on the fly.

Both stories—Parker’s and Franco’s—were worthwhile pursuits. There are many more that we never hear about.