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.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Surviving Disaster

  1. WagaNews

    Glad you were entertained by this, but the switch from tape to server happened Monday. Nobody is perfect on the first day, or week for that matter.

    Reply
  2. Newsguy

    I’m watching a live-stream of FOX5 News at 5 online, but things look very odd. First, it starts late. Also, Tom Haynes is anchoring solo from the newsroom. Does anybody know what the deal is with this arrangement?

    Reply
  3. Newsguy

    And the moment I submit my comment, Amanda pops up and apologizes for the technical difficulties caused by their “digital conversion”. Looks like the broadcast has moved to the studio…

    Reply
  4. rptrcub

    OK, side note: I have seen so many people in the Atlanta TV world respond to every critical note, even constructive, on this Web site. Especially Tom Regan’s little diatribe. Are you people really that touchy? Sheesh.

    Reply
  5. Travis Bickle

    Oh of course you’re gonna bring that up as soon as someone attacks WAGA…

    (slight sarcasm)

    Reply
  6. 2, 5 & 11

    I’ve discovered that I laugh even more if I try to read LAF like you’re narrating it with your wonderfully dry delivery. Speaking of dry, my favorite Doug Richards story is the 1995 visit to the Jack Daniels distillery. I seem to recall a delightful interview with Lynn Tolley, a proper southern woman who doubled as a taste tester. I would pay to have a copy of that story and your Emmy winner from 1994 on the humorous changes of the Atlanta TV affiliation swap.

    Reply
  7. Krusty

    Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the future of local TV news. WAGA is now undergoing the same system changes that destroyed WSB’s news quality last year… they are most likely using Ignite, the worst thing to happen to local news since spray on hair. Ignite has been responsible for WHDH (Boston) losing an entire 11pm news on the day that nut job told the world he killed Jon Benet Ramsey… WPXI’s (Pittsburgh) noon news the day they opened their new station (in front of the Cox TV division president and VP)… and countless other gaffs with wrong camera, wrong package, lost audio, etc. all across the US. Ignite was responsible for the dumbass college kid doing his “Boom goes the dynamite” highlight at Ball State.

    As stations try their best to cut jobs and expenses, these automated systems are counted on to do the work, and the early results have been scary. Such as, last year, automation cost Home Depot their million dollar product positioning in “According to Jim” in the Atlanta market. WSB-TV ran a rogue break (thanks to automation) right when Home Depot’s paid positioning of a new product was about to be revealed. “It was only one market in the country,” you say? True… but it was the ONE MARKET that was holding a live viewing party with Home Depot dignitaries… who were none too pleased to see the rogue break cover up their little expenditure.

    Reply
  8. sayejibley

    I remember a certain reporter in this situation one time who, not realizing that the tape still wasn’t ready the second time that he tossed to it, said “Bite me!” on air. A classic!

    Reply

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