Monthly Archives: September 2008

Friday night follies

Lakeside v. Tucker

In your face: Lakeside v. Tucker

TV viewership all but disappears on Friday nights.  Yet TV stations fight tooth-and-nail for that small pool of folks who actually watch local news on Friday nights.  Within that pool is, apparently, a sizable number of high school football fans.

This explains why local TV sports departments go slightly nutso covering high school football on Friday nights.

WAGA is clearly the nuttiest of the bunch.  It’s also the most fun to watch.  It starts with the rather quirky branding of its Friday night follies, “high five sports is in your face.”  The icon is a hand over the face.  And when WAGA’s photogs visit football stadiums across north Georgia, fans respond accordingly.  It’s almost like a secret handshake.  It’s also hilarious, starting with its pre-produced open:

What followed Friday were highlights lasting for some fourteen minutes from a staggering 21 different football games.  Anchor Ken Rodriguez is the maestro.  Or the tongue-in-cheek high priest.  Midway, introducing highlights from North Gwinnett v. Brookwood, he intoned with faux gravity:  “The power of five compels you.  In your face with a vengeance!”

WAGA does it like this:  It recruits / conscripts dayside photogs to work (and get paid overtime) into the night.  Each photog is assigned two or three games within a geographic area.  The photogs stay long enough to record a few good plays and some color from fans and cheerleaders.  The photogs tromp up to the press box to fetch a printed program.  When they return to the station, they turn the video over to sports producers, who use the programs to figure out which players made the highlight plays.

WXIA makes a quality effort to lure the same viewers.  Friday, more than half of its 11pm newscast made way for “Operation Football.”  Fred Kalil and Sam Crenshaw tag-teamed highlights from 18 games.  The pair has a somewhat awkward on-air chemistry, and there were a couple of technical glitches.  Crenshaw covered the Marietta v. Buford game, highlighted by an amusing standup next to a Wolverine mascot.  Kalil covered a game with “Fredcam.”  We’re unsure if the pixelated, distorted picture from Fredcam was intentional or not.

WSB’s football coverage is the least comprehensive of the three, but probably the most cravenly forward-thinking.  It’s rife with sponsorships, from Chevy to McDonalds to the “ALFA player of the week.”  It also highlights “student photojournalists,” who shoot highlights on camcorders and provide the video to WSB.  The students get their names on TV.  The video we saw Friday was pretty ugly; we’ll take professionally-produced video over “citizen journalism” anytime.  But it engages the community, and the price is right.

WSB put Chuck Dowdle at North Cobb’s stadium live at 11, long after the game had ended.  A few cheerleaders agreed to hang around to give Dowdle’s live shot some needed life.  Dowdle ably pitched to highlights from eight games, including two shot by students. Compared to the other stations, WSB’s volume was lame.

Why WSB’s stuff is so heavily sponsored, we’re not sure.  Commercially, it makes WSB arguably the winner; its viewers, not so much.  Those sponsors ought to consider looking elsewhere for a Friday night product worthy of their cash.

Future cancer survivors

On WXIA’s news Friday, Ted Hall told viewers that reporter Jerry Carnes is now fighting prostate cancer.  Carnes has been with WXIA since 1988.  He’s a swell guy and one of Atlanta’s best TV storytellers.

He’s still on the job.  Hall’s announcement followed a moving piece Carnes produced Friday night about a fallen US soldier, and a dedication made in his memory at Shiloh High School’s football game.

Carnes is blogging about his fight against cancer.  In the spirit of sharing his optimism, we’ve taken the liberty of swiping the headline from his first post.  Best wishes, amigo.

Meantime, the AJC reports that reporter / anchor JaQuitta Williams is leaving WSB.  Williams tells Rodney Ho that her recent fight against breast cancer caused her to change perspective on her TV news career.  She also relates a couple of amusing “signs” that signaled her it was time to move on.  Williams joined WSB in 2004.

Williams tells Ho that she’s now cancer-free.

Best wishes to Williams as she presumably changes careers, a course of action we strongly endorse for TV newsies who value their sanity.  (Stage whisper to JaQuitta:  Write me.  You’d be a great guest blogger on LAF.)

Off topic…

Sound familiar?

We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity…

To a crisis of the spirit, we need an answer of the spirit.

To find that answer, we need only look within ourselves.

When we listen to “the better angels of our nature,” we find that they celebrate the simple things, the basic things–such as goodness, decency, love, kindness.

Greatness comes in simple trappings.

The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.

To lower our voices would be a simple thing.

In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.

We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another— until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.

Richard Nixon, January 20, 1969

The second coming

Justin Farmer, WSB

Justin Farmer, WSB

WSB’s buildup of its newest reporter / anchor Justin Farmer is truly harrowing.  The station announced his hiring in January— months before his contract with a Dallas station had expired in August.  He’s already made the AJC’s Peach Buzz a couple of times, once for his coverage of Skip Caray’s funeral.  Now, the new kid is covering the Republican National Convention alongside John Pruitt.

Is this guy that special?  His journalistic skills seem adequate.  His TV presence seems pleasant, an attractive enough cross between Huey Lewis and Howdy Doody.

His pedigree seems to be the clincher:  He’s the offspring of Don Farmer, a guy who helped launch CNN and became a nighttime anchor at WSB.  From 1990:

Justin Farmer may know Georgia well enough to distinguish Hahira from Hepzibah.  He went to high school here before striking out into the world as a TV guy.  His first job was in Albany GA.  He’s paid some dues.

Yet of the Georgia reporters covering the RNC, Farmer had to have the least familiarity with the folks seated in the state delegation.  Does it matter?  Probably not.  WSB’s coverage has kept pace with and occasionally exceeded that of veteran political reporter Paul Yates of WAGA.  At one point, Pruitt and a photog apparently stumbled into Bob Barr outside a St. Paul restaurant.  Pruitt’s report on Barr’s Libertarian candidacy (and Newt Gingrich’s advice:  “Get out”) was the best piece we’ve seen from the St. Paul conclave.

Farmer’s mile-high profile points to the likelihood that WSB is grooming him to replace Pruitt eventually.  When that happens— and Jovita Moore joins him— we’d like to see WSB make this leap into the 21st century:  Quit calling it “Action News.”

A mighty wind

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Ross Cavitt, WSB

No two guys in Atlanta TV news love hurricanes more than Tony Thomas and Ross Cavitt.  Both men went to Louisiana to cover Gustav.  Ultimately, the story was one of a storm that bore little resemblance to Katrina, despite endless comparisons during the media build-up.

WSB’s Cavitt is also a meteorologist.  He gives his weather coverage a whiff of the scientific, without devolving into pocket-protector nerdiness.  Cavitt always plays up the human element, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the truth.  On Monday, he found a guy named Todd Browning who told WSB viewers “this really wasn’t a hurricane.”  This report shows Cavitt in full wind-blown glory.

Tony Thomas, WAGA

Tony Thomas, WAGA

WAGA’s Thomas isn’t a meteorologist.  He’s more of a human cannonball.  Thomas won three Emmys this year, two for weather coverage.  He’s the kind of guy who will lead his crew from hurricane to hurricane, stoically working double shifts for the sheer joy of being a TV guy.  It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Like Cavitt, Thomas’s quest is for the spectacular video and the human story.  It’s the best reason to want to be in the middle of a hurricane.  Otherwise, it’s all about police roadblocks (that don’t always yield for media trucks), accommodations on the fly in power-less locales, and meals of QuickTrip taquitoes.  Plus, the wet clothes and body odor.  In other words, sheer misery.

(First hand, here are my top three overnight hurricane coverage accommodations:  Once, in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of Miami; once in the back of an ambulance in a fire station in Niceville FL; once on a cot outdoors at an Army Air station in New Orleans; the latter two with this guy.)

CNN’s Jeanne Moos produced an amusing story spoofing the gusty antics of TV folks covering Gustav.  It’s worth watching for her treatment of Geraldo Rivera.

Here’s the downer:  WXIA sent no reporter to Gustav.  Yet their feed story Monday from an NBC guy had more diverse elements and was more completely told than either Cavitt’s or Thomas’s stories.  The reason:  Cavitt and Thomas are lone wolves.  They have too many deadlines and too many logistical hurdles (and no field producer working with them) to get copies of video from other sources.

The NBC guy also declined to use the phrase “we’re not out of the woods yet.”  We realize this cliche is like an old friend during hurricanes.  We’d like to hear it re-phrased.

If tropical storm Hanna continues its path for Tybee Island, don’t be surprised if Cavitt and Thomas show up there too.

The dog ate it

Last week, WAGA’s I-Team produced a solid story on a Gwinnett Hindu temple leader with a taste for wealth and alleged fraud.  It had almost all the classic elements of investigative TV reporting:  Records indicating trouble, damning undercover video and a disgruntled finger-pointing former insider.

But it lacked one important element.

The story’s main allegation:  That the temple leader, a Swami who calls himself “Doctor Commander,” routinely added thousands of dollars to credit card transactions made with his faithful followers.  One complainant received a response from the Temple:  the Hindu faith doesn’t allow refunds.  No wonder this stuff raised an eyebrow or two.

Randy Travis reported that the Swami declined interview requests.  Glaringly absent was the on-camera confrontation with the Swami, the signature element that typically shows investigative targets trying to elude the mic-wielding reporter and his/her photog.

Turns out, Randy Travis had this material with the Swami.  He and his photog shot it in a parking lot following a court hearing.  The Swami mutely made a beeline for his vehicle as Travis tried to pepper him with questions.  But it never aired.

Shot on a P-2 card, I-Team staff uploaded the video into WAGA’s hard drive.  Word is somebody hit a “delete” button, believing the file was a duplicate.  It made the entire “interview” go away.  Because P-2 cards are absurdly expensive (compared to videotape, which has been eliminated), the I-Team photog had already recycled his card, readying it for the next story.

WAGA went to this tape-less format in July.  It has resulted in some clunky growing pains for the station, including at least one newscast that had no video whatsoever for the first fourteen minutes.  The frustration has made some staffers long for a return to videotape.

Full disclosure would have compelled Travis to report on-air that the I-Team had asked the Swami questions in a parking lot after a court hearing.  Full disclosure would have likewise compelled WAGA to report the embarrassing truth:  Its hard drive ate the interview.

To his credit, Travis didn’t try to recoup with another confrontation in another public place.   Such treatment could have turned the Swami into a media victim, a label he clearly doesn’t deserve.  Ultimately, this glitch doesn’t diminish Travis’s story.  It seems he’s got a genuinely greedy, craven and possibly criminal bad guy on the hook.  He’ll probably have other opportunities.