Monthly Archives: August 2008

Curious

WXIA is talking the best game in town. Its eye-popping news promos during the Olympics are gorgeous. Its tag line, “are you curious?” is a cool, refreshing contrast to the rat-a-tat breaking news! drumbeat employed in the promotion of WAGA and WSB. Its placement of these alt-promos during the Olympics is genius. The suits at WXIA have figured out that legions of Olympics viewers are among those who have turned their backs to local TV news, disgusted by its bottom-feeding tendencies. WXIA is trying to get those more-discerning viewers back with a smarter-sounding and -looking promo.

(Gotta say, though: When we first saw the tagline, we thought of “I Am Curious (Yellow),” a 1967 taboo-breaking Swedish art film, made famous when a journalist spotted Jackie Kennedy at a screening. But we digress….)

It’s interesting what the promos don’t say. They don’t say: “Our Brenda Wood is the only Atlanta TV reporter in China covering the Olympics!” And they don’t actually tell viewers to watch WXIA at 6 and 11. Instead, the spots promote the station’s web site. In an unsubtle industry, WXIA’s use of subtlety seems downright revolutionary.

Can it work? There’s a reason TV news produces loud, hyperkinetic promotion. It’s because they’re directed at the folks who regularly tune in to Oprah or The Price is Right or American Idol. WXIA’s campaign seems aimed at folks whose TV sets are usually switched off. And it targets those accustomed to using the web to find news. It’s very forward-thinking. We can only imagine the hand-wringing that went on when these promos were first screened at the station.

And yes, WXIA has tried this sort of thing before without leapfrogging into WSB’s ratings territory. But WXIA seems content to be a back-bencher, ratings-wise. With that in mind, it can afford a touch of subtlety, and can afford to make a run at folks who would normally turn off the TV when the local news comes on.

AJC Lite

It costs more now to print and deliver a newspaper. That’s the reason the AJC cited Sunday for announcing that it would eliminate its Sunday @Issue opinions section, starting next week. @Issue was the liveliest section of the newspaper. Yesterday’s @Issue consisted of two broadsheets folded into eight pages. We’re trying to picture how its elimination will substantially save precious money spent on newsprint and fuel.

The untold story is the one behind the scenes, nicely outlined last week in Creative Loafing. The Loaf has a long list of familiar names that will leave the newspaper in the most recent buyout upheaval. Among them: Columnists Furman Bisher (who may continue to write freelance) and Maria Saporta. From the Loaf:

According to sources who said they had direct knowledge, the familiar bylines taking the buyout include golf writer Stan Awtrey, college football editor Tony Barnhart, city and regional editor Arthur Brice, high school sports writer Curtis Bunn, real estate (and former government) reporter Julie Hairston, investigative reporter Ann Hardie, veteran reporter Bill Hendrick, news feature writer Michelle Hiskey, “Technobuddy” columnist Bill Husted, higher ed reporter Andrea Jones, film reviewer Longino, Gwinnett reporter Rebecca McCarthy, Cobb reporter Tom Opdyke, Horizon reporter David Pendered and Saporta.

The article says that 73 AJC staffers accepted the buyout. The high number means the AJC will avoid involuntary layoffs of editorial staff. But imagine being among those left behind; this Loaf quote from an unnamed staffer says it best: “All the people who are leaving wish they were staying; all the people who are staying wish they were leaving.”

From the LAF mailbag

The writer is an old college buddy (Missouri ’79). He worked in TV news out of college. He’s now raking it in as a PR guy in Atlanta:

I find it hard to believe you’re as charitable about the industry as you make out to be on the blog. I think the TV news industry has gone to s**t in a handbag and local news is embarrassingly horrible. I can’t think of any good reason to watch…other than trying to get a traffic update just before I leave the house in the morning.

The name of your blog and the reasoning behind are both right on and sadly funny. What has happened? Before I left TV, I worked at two stations where we had policies AGAINST covering house fires and car wrecks unless they had a major impact on the area e.g. the interstate is shut down at 5pm or nuns are tossing babies from the third story while stamping out flames with dampened habits.

He’s mostly right, of course. There are a few good reasons to watch local TV news: Investigative reporting, coverage of major legitimate breaking news and weather. But there’s too little storytelling, and too much garbage to wade through before finding the gems.

And the trend has been to make it worse while pandering to viewers and cutting budgets. Will it ever turn around? Hate to answer that one.

Live mic!

You would think that a wiley media vet like Jesse Jackson would know better. While wearing a microphone, seated in a Fox News Channel studio, he famously mused about surgically turning the bullish Barack Obama into a steer. The fact that Jackson whispered it indicates that he did know better, but did it anyway. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

The folks at gawker.com have assembled this compilation of such moments.

The majority of them fall into the same category as the Jackson gaffe: Moments recorded backstage while the mic’d talent was off-air. Then, some mischief-maker from within pulled the tape, made it public and now it lives forever. Much more never even gets recorded.

Jackson’s gaffe didn’t get on the air until long after he uttered it. Sometimes, the words fly on-air instantly and irretrievably.

It happens. Cari Champion of WGCL was fired and re-hired (and has since resigned) after uttering an unkind word while wearing a mic last November (she insisted the word was “mothersucka”). Years back, a WSB reporter muttered “fucking assholes” while hooked to a live remote at WSB. He was reacting to some dopey teens who were acting a fool behind him. WSB declined to overreact, and that reporter hasn’t made the mistake since. Jesse Jackson probably won’t either.

The Evan Thomason Show

At first blush, this was just weird as hell. We found it on WGCL’s website: A 14:39 piece it calls “the Evan Thomason Show.” It’s an absurdly elaborate spoof of a TV show featuring an absurdly cute tow-headed boy of that name. There’s no explanation offered. He appears to be nine. In the piece, Thomason turns up in WGCL’s newsroom. The following hilarity ensues:

  • Meteorologist Laura Huckabee puts Thomason in front of a green screen and advises: “When you point, don’t use your pointer finger. Be as vague as possible. That way nobody can hold you to anything.”
  • The camera goes to the control room. Thomason narrates: “This is the producer. He thinks he’s in charge.”
  • Thomason, co-anchoring a “special report” with Bill Gaines (“in our matching Brooks Brothers suits”), watches video of Gaines hitting some golf shots during a charity fundraiser. “Looks like you could use a little practice, Bill,” the boy opines.
  • In a ridiculous original song commissioned by WGCL to conclude the piece, the singer lists Thomason’s many amazing attributes. Among them: he’s “smarter than the scientists that can’t get it right.”

WGCL never actually says that Thomason owes this elaborate bit of TV to WGCL’s involvement in the Make-A-Wish foundation. But there’s some obvious product placement. With that as the background, it starts to make sense.

WGCL deserves credit for poking a fair amount of fun at itself publicly.  And it deserves credit for going all-out on the production, for a “show” that probably never aired on TV.

“Peskajumba”

LAF is going on semi-hiatus for much of August. Our stand-in will be moderating the blog and adding some pre-packaged, timeless posts.

But the fun continues. Turn on the news. Grab a bottle (not before noon, please). Do a shot whenever you hear:

  • Makeshift memorial
  • Totally destroyed
  • Barely escaped with their lives
  • only on (this station)
  • our helicopter is over an accident now…
  • “he was a quiet guy, kept to himself…”
  • closure
  • the staccato voice of Mark Winne
  • Ken Cook calling Atlanta “the city of fountains.”

Do a double shot whenever you hear these horrifying cliches:

  • More questions than answers
  • Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst
  • It sounded like a freight train
  • Remains to be seen
  • Monica Pearson appearing overly sincere (limit: two per newscast).

And then, when you’re done, chase it with a beer and watch Tom Waits conduct the best news conference ever. Stay tuned for the visual punch line at the end:

Dueling choppers

For 45 minutes, Atlanta police and Georgia State Patrol cruisers chased some fool in a pickup truck Wednesday morning. An Atlanta police helicopter joined in, as did the helicopters of three of the four Atlanta TV stations. Once the TV aircraft joined the fray, it became a Live Breaking News event. And as the fool drove the wrong way on I-20, then plowed through in-town neighborhoods and streets, the chase became increasingly dangerous.

In the final seconds of Wednesday’s chase, the pickup truck clipped a State Patrol vehicle on Amsterdam Avenue in Midtown. Then another cruiser performed a PIT maneuver, spinning the truck sideways and crashing it into a fence. The suspect exited the truck, tried to flee but stumbled. Three cops jumped him and took him into custody. Here’s how it shook out Wednesday.

  • WXIA’s chopper got the best shot of the last seconds of the chase. It had the cleanest shot of the clipping of the State Patrol car and the pit maneuver. A tree obscured the take-down of the suspect however.
  • WAGA was as good. The clipping of the State Patrol car was clean. A tree briefly obscured the pit maneuver. But WAGA’s view of the take-down of the suspect was easily the best. You could see (and count) as a cop pulled his baton and delivered nine blows to the prone suspect.
  • WSB had plain lousy luck by comparison. A tree completely obscured the clipping of the state patrol cruiser. Though the finale was visible, a tree obscured some of the action, including the take-down.
  • WGCL’s helicopter showed up after it was over.

One can’t begin to overstate the danger when four or five helicopters (including police) begin a pursuit, then suddenly stop. The 2007 mid-air collision of two Phoenix news helicopters killed four people. It happened at the end of a fairly tame police chase. KNXV’s helicopter was doing a live shot when it happened. (If you click the link, be forewarned: What you’ll see is pretty haunting.)

Thankfully, the days are gone when a photog stood on the skid of a news helicopter and shot shoulder-mounted video. Helicopters are now equipped with gyroscopic cameras mounted on the belly of the aircraft, operated with a joystick inside. The video is steady, and the pilot no longer has to keep the action on the starboard side of the aircraft.

But it’s still a game of musical chairs. When the action suddenly ends, as it did Wednesday, the random positioning of the helicopters— and the skills of the pilots and joystick operators— will decide which station will see what.