The next news director at WGCL will probably get plenty of friendly advice. We lead the charge with this bit of wisdom: Let your investigative reporters investigate. Let your general assignment staff cover the news du jour.
This mini-rant comes after watching Wendy Saltzman, identified on-air and on WGCL’s web site as an investigative reporter, covering a routine day-of story Wednesday. Saltzman was live in Cherokee County at 6pm, tossing to a package about a piece of surveillance tape showing men in an act of thievery. In other words, it was nothing special. Certainly nothing “investigative,” except for the fact that this was a story about a police investigation. It wasn’t even exclusive. WSB had the same story, buried in its 5pm news.
We’ve seen Saltzman’s investigative work. It ain’t half bad. The stories are slickly produced. The problem: There are too many of them. Genuine investigative reporting takes time.
WGCL has to allow its investigative reporters to fail once in a while. Sometimes, something that appears to be a story actually isn’t. That’s what requires investigation. There’s no guarantee. The upside is that the payoff is truly special— an original revelation, uncovered and vetted by the muscle of a major market TV station. It’s one of the reasons people actually watch TV news, and one of the few reasons people with half a brain watch.
But the station has to leave them alone and let them investigate.
If the new news director at WGCL uses the station’s investigative reporters correctly, they would appear on TV a few dozen times per year at most. He would protect Saltzman from his middle-level managers in the newsroom, who see Saltzman at her desk, rub their hands in glee and see her as just another resource.
If there’s a triple murder at the courthouse or a tornado downtown, then yes: Dislodge your investigative reporter and put her on the genuinely big story. But not on nickel-and-dime crapola like a garden-variety surveillance tape story.
It’s hard to imagine what was going through the mind of the man who carjacked a WSB news vehicle in Midtown Memorial Day weekend. The man brandished a gun as the WSB photog was en route to the start of a work shift. The photog yielded control. The gunman took off with the vehicle and the photog’s gear.
As he drove, perhaps the gunman had second thoughts. If it was brightly painted with the “channel two action news” logo and other insignia, the SUV would have been easier to spot than most stolen cars. Early on a Sunday, there was less traffic than usual. The addled gunman probably figured out that his time behind the wheel was very limited.
News crews often bemoan the gaudy vehicles in which they ride. Pulling into sensitive situations, like a fresh tragedy, the trucks visually scream “here comes the media!” From a practical standpoint, such trucks are often quickly targeted by private security in places like mall parking lots. They make discreet ingress and egress almost impossible. TV investigative units roll in unmarked trucks. The rest of the staff often needs, but can’t get, the same kind of down-low anonymity. The marked trucks persist because station management misguidedly sees them as promotional tools, overlooking the fact that they hinder newsgathering efforts far more often than they help.
You might think that a marked truck might even deter a carjacker.
The man who carjacked the WSB truck ditched it pretty quickly. A couple of personal items were missing. But a day later, the photog’s gear was found intact, along with the truck itself. The photog, we understand, was unharmed and no doubt anxious to get back to work.
Our account of the carjacking is based on a couple of communications with people who have second-hand knowledge of the incident. We welcome corrections / elaborations.
Morse Diggs’ 6pm lead story Monday on WAGA focused on what he called a “bureaucratic gap” in Fulton County government. Under some circumstances, the phrase might signal the viewer to change channels– or for the producers of the newscast to drop the story into the “witness protection block”– 6:30 or later.
But Diggs’ story was lead-worthy and remarkable. It was a new development in an ongoing saga about Fulton County government failing to pay its vendors. One of those vendors, owed more than $100,000, operates the ankle bracelets on low-grade criminals and suspects under house arrest. And the company said “enough.” It told the Sheriff’s Department it would stop monitoring the ankle bracelets.
Diggs and a photographer were in the room when a probation officer told a man he’d have to go back to jail because he couldn’t wear the ankle bracelet any longer. When the man tearfully asked why, the officer told him it was because Fulton Co. failed to pay its bill. Officials explained that the probationers had faithfully followed the terms of their house arrest. Their re-jailing, one official said, was “morally indefensible.”
Diggs later explained that it would cost the county $65 per day to jail the man. The ankle bracelet program costs $14 per day.
Diggs has made a twenty-plus year career of knocking on the doors of bureaucrats at City Hall and Fulton County. In a medium that thrives on the sensational and the visual, Diggs improbably thrives. And he beats the other guys, including the AJC, with remarkable consistency.
“The liquor store burglars were likely cold stone sober while inside, judging by their ruthless efficiency.”
-WSB’s Mark Winne, Monday at 6. His live shot opened with the image of Winne’s face framed by burglar bars. As the camera pulled out, Winne stepped through the door. Drama rating: √√√ (out of five.)
Ask Anissa Centers about the glamor of TV news. Saturday, Centers showed up for the 3am shift at WSB. Her job: To slog through WSB’s three hours of morning news, which airs from 6-9am Saturday. Do any real people anybody actually watch this program? The answer is: Just enough, and just enough for WXIA and WAGA to run their own local news blocks in roughly the same time period.
We’ve never met Centers, but we assume that her career began with much promise. She probably got into journalism for all the right reasons. She probably chose TV because research has shown most folks depend on it for news. And TV liked her enough to advance her career into a top ten market, Atlanta.
And now she’s on the graveyard of all graveyard shifts, doing the wee-hours on the weekend.
(Her story may only be exceeded by Catherine Kim. Kim worked WXIA’s version of the same shift Saturday. But unlike Centers, Kim is a “backpack journalist,” WXIA’s unfortunate labor-saving experiment. So even when Kim works a normal shift, she has to shoot and edit her own material, as well as report and drive to her stories.)
Centers and Kim are playing dues-paying, low-man-on-the-totem-pole roles. If the graveyard shift has sapped Centers’ spirit, she doesn’t show it on TV. Saturday, she performed six live shots about a gambling raid that had taken place the previous day (and apparently covered by another WSB reporter) at a DeKalb game room. She energetically delivered each report, despite the obvious tedium of her assignment.
Channel Two Action News Saturday AM, by the numbers:
- Three hours on the air, from 6am to 9am.
- Three on-air talent for the entire broadcast: Centers, anchor Amanda Rosseter, and weather guy Brad Nitz.
- Sixteen weather teases or weather reports.
- Sixteen recycled reporter packages from previous newscasts.
- Six live shots by Centers.
- Six times Rosseter used variations of the phrase “only channel two cameras were rolling” while teasing or pitching to Centers’ live shots.
- Two times Centers used the phrase “officers say this is where they hit the jackpot” during a live shot on the gambling raid, showing, we thought, remarkable restraint.