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.