Six Flags Over Georgia should have allowed Atlanta’s TV stations onto its property for a limited, one-time-only photo opportunity for their coverage of the accidental death of a teenager last weekend. But the amusement park apparently played hardball, banishing news cameras from the property. This left the stations to their own devices. Some played the game of cat and mouse better than others.
Six Flags’ stance should instantly raise a question among TV reporters: Any shorts-and-a-t-shirt wearing patron can buy a ticket and carry a camera onto the property. Shouldn’t a newsman be able to carry a camera anyplace the public is allowed to do so?
WAGA apparently stayed off the property, as instructed. Darryl Carver’s 6pm coverage Monday had telephoto shots of the property and file tape of the Batman roller coaster, which struck and killed the teen who climbed into a restricted area surrounding the ride.
But WSB found a way around the rules. Ross Cavitt’s 6pm piece had a nice walk-shot of the iron fence the teen apparently climbed. It showed the “restricted area” sign on the fence. It also showed a second chain-link fence the teen traversed. And Cavitt’s piece showed the Batman ride, empty, getting tested by park officials Monday. (Cavitt’s 5pm piece doesn’t show the chain-link fence.)
How did Cavitt pull it off? One easy way: Pay the parking fee and drive onto the Six Flags lot with an unmarked vehicle. Then spend ten minutes shooting video with a betacam. And in the process, get lucky by seeing the testing of the Batman ride. If security stops you, Cavitt steps in and makes apologies while the photog gets a few final shots.
Another possibility: Remove the TV necktie and WSB ID badge and walk onto the parking lot with a camcorder. The camcorder video is likely shot in a format that’s different from your standard TV video. That shouldn’t be a problem. Just go to the live truck, link up some cables and convert it.
In all likelihood, Carver would have had difficulty performing either of the cloak-and-dagger acts described above. WAGA fiercely insists that its general assignment crews roll in unmistakably marked trucks that exclaim: Here comes the media! And its trucks are notoriously ill-equipped to convert video from formats other than betacam. Apparently, it’s a money thing. (In the last couple of years, WAGA started putting inexpensive DVD players in its live trucks. That wouldn’t have helped in this instance.)
Cavitt was justified in making the effort to get the better video. It better depicted the efforts made by this teenage victim to breach security, resulting in a vivid cautionary tale at a place visited by a gazillion people every summer. Likewise, Cavitt matter-of-factly used the term “decapitated” to describe the victim’s death, a term avoided by Carver. It’s a sensational fact. It’s also an essential detail that described how quickly a walk in the amusement park can become fatally tragic.