Daily Archives: July 2, 2008

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WAGA’s 5 o’clock news tonight began with a truly spectacular meltdown. Almost nothing worked. No pre-taped video elements worked. No graphics worked. Even the news set and, it appeared, the control room were unusable. Our guess is that the first block of the newscast was switched out of master control. Scary.

By the numbers:

At least nine Fox 5 promos ran in lieu of news at the top of the broadcast. The promos cloaked the tumult behind the scenes.

5:03pm. The time Tom Haynes appeared on a newsroom camera and announced the start of the broadcast. Fortunately for Haynes, the camera’s teleprompter was working.

One minute, twenty seconds. The length of Stacy Elgin’s live shot with no tape or graphics. Elgin was at the scene of a long-gone police wreck.

Portia Bruner

No tape? No problem. Portia Bruner, WAGA

Two minutes, six seconds. The length of Portia Bruner’s live shot at the Fulton Co. Courthouse. Bruner also had no tape and no graphics.

Forty. The number of seconds Bruner spent talking about Brian Nichols’ facial hair. Nichols’ lack of a shave had been an issue in court.

Eight and a half. Our rating for both reporters’ live shots, out of ten. Nice dance moves, ladies.

Two. The number of times WAGA news EP Beth Black sprinted in the background through the newsroom while Haynes talked on camera.

Thirteen minutes into the newscast, Amanda Davis appeared on the now-usable news set, saying “we apologize for the rather strange start to the newscast. We are converting some of our systems and we have some technical difficulties at the start of the newscast. We hope to have them fixed shortly.”

Fourteen minutes in, the first piece of video appears. It’s a package produced by Denise Dillon on a carnival accident in Loganville. Still no graphics, though.

Twenty eight minutes in, the first graphics appear for weather and traffic.

5:34pm. The Fox 5 cube / bug appears in the lower left corner.

5:41pm. The Fox 5 cube starts to rotate, indicating that Heaven and earth are sure to follow.

5:49pm. The first chyron appears, identifying Tom Haynes.

5:52pm. The first locater chyron appears during Karen Graham’s live shot.

5:54pm. The first name chyron appears, identifying a Peachtree Road Race runner.

5:56pm. The first full screen graphic appears. The newscast appears to return to normal. The system conversion of which Davis spoke appears to be, shall we say, a work in progress.

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Surviving Disaster

If you’re a true sports fan, you don’t watch hockey for the fights. Likewise, we reckon that true fans of NASCAR don’t watch races for the wrecks. They watch for the competition. They watch to revel in the graceful and the less-than-graceful play of true professionals.

So it is with our viewing of local news. Frequently, what we see is slick and solid. Occasionally, it’s raw and unpolished. Too often, it’s plain silly. And every now and then, there’s a disaster. Or at least, a mini-disaster. It’s part of the game.

Monday, WAGA’s Mo Diggs produced a story about budget cuts at city hall, routine stuff for this umpteen-years-on-the-city-hall-beat reporter. It was even an exclusive, though it was arcane enough to be ignored by the other stations. 99 times out of a hundred, Diggs pulls it off without a hitch.

Diggs smoothly delivered his live material. He uttered his roll cue, the words the control room waits to hear before rolling his package. Then disaster struck. OK, disaster may be an overstatement. But it wasn’t pretty.  And the audience– like the race fans at Talladega– had to be a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’.

Instead of rolling Diggs’ package, the control room rolled a piece of tape showing a guy cleaning a toilet. The tape played for perhaps five seconds.

Lacking a better alternative, the control room cut away from the commode. Up popped Diggs, who most assuredly did not want to be on TV at that particular moment.

Diggs: “Wrong package. OK. (Hopefully, now: ) Let’s go to that package if we’ve got it. Um, if we have to, come back to that package.” Long pause. Diggs is on camera. He owns the license to the TV station, figuratively. In his earpiece, Diggs is hearing the most dreaded word in broadcasting: “stretch.”

The voice in his earpiece is probably cool and detached. The situation is so not cool. The director in the control room has uttered one or more profanities, transmitted through the headsets of the production crew, as the feedbay guy scrambles to load the correct tape.

Diggs’ expression changes as he realizes there’s no bailout coming. You can see him gathering his thoughts, and quickly. Thankfully, he knows the story. He’s been working on it all day. He resumes talking: “As we said– as we said, leading into this package. The Mayor, uh– was told by the council she would have to cut two and a half percent. Now, she says, everything’s being considered. It may be three percent, perhaps as much as five percent.” In his earpiece, Diggs now hears the long-overdue words: “We’ve got it. Go to the package.”

Diggs: “We’ve got that tape now. Let’s see what those numbers look like.”

The package rolls. Blessed relief. By now, the news director has likely popped from his office like a cork, bobbing into the newsroom, awaiting an explanation.

90 seconds later, Diggs returns for an on-camera tag, which he executes perfectly. He also concludes it with an uncharacteristic smile, a slight one, knowing that he’s ably survived the TV news version of a train wreck.

It’s on WAGA’s web site. However, the web folk mercifully excluded the live intro.  It’ll be in this year’s Gorilla Ball if you want to see it.