Daily Archives: September 23, 2008

Addition by subtraction

On Friday, there was a shooting and kidnapping in SE Atlanta.  Two stations managed to get cameras to the scene, WGCL and WXIA.  Their approaches to the story were completely different, and quite instructive.  Both stations appeared to get the facts right.  One of them produced a broilerplate, garden variety package.  The other produced a rare thing of beauty.

Here’s WGCL’s Ryan Deal, Friday at 4pm.

Deal gives the story standard-issue treatment:  A fusillade of too-many facts in too short a period of time.  Soundbites that add urgency to the shooting part of the story while downplaying the most compelling part of it:  The fact that a father watched in horror as his toddler was kidnapped.  Deal’s piece discusses bullet holes, the consciousness of the victim, the fact that a dog was attacked, the whereabouts of the “shooter.”  In so doing, he fails to convey to the audience why this story is worth watching.

Contrast that with Jaye Watson at WXIA, who produced this piece Friday at 7pm:

Jaye Watson, WXIA

The wrath of the math: Jaye Watson, WXIA

Watson’s story focuses on the woman who ended the kidnapping, an element completely overlooked in Deal’s coverage.  Watson bypasses the on-camera interviews gathered about the shooting that started it all.  Instead, she stays with the kidnapping and its conclusion.  She matches pictures and words with elegance and simplicity.   She never mentions the “shooter.”  And her audience watches with a full understanding of what happened and why it was worth putting on TV.

The photogs at both stations did a fine job of shooting the story, though WXIA aired better video.  WXIA’s photog may very well have identified the child’s rescuer and alerted Watson to her importance in the story.  In fact, we suspect Watson wasn’t on scene while much of the drama played out, and viewed the key video elements later.  In the real world of breaking news, that’s not unusual.

Deal is a sympathetic figure here.  He worked hard to gather the material and to completely understand the head-spinning crime scene he was covering.  He doubtless felt compelled to give his audience coverage that was as “complete” as he could muster.  Most TV reporters would have done much the same.

But Watson skillfully saw this story as a case of addition by subtraction, weeding out the extraneous elements that clouded Deal’s story.  True, her story lacked the soundbites and natural sound hits that typically dress up local news packages.  She never named or interviewed the rescuer.  It didn’t matter.

Local TV news rarely yields pleasure, especially when covering crime scenes.  It was a pleasure to watch Jaye Watson’s coverage of this story.