Daily Archives: October 5, 2008

Too little work

Wendy Saltzman, WGCL

Checking her watch: Wendy Saltzman, WGCL

Today’s question is this:  Whose work is more slipshod — the Atlanta sanitation department, or the TV station investigating the department’s allegedly slipshod work habits?

The “lazy government employees” story is a local TV perennial.  WGCL’s latest version of this bit of investigative schtick is a classic example of why viewers should watch these stories with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Wendy Saltzman reports that a whistleblower inside Atlanta’s sanitation department has griped to city officials that sanitation workers spend countless hours hangin’ out and not picking up garbage.  The whistleblower, his voice and face cloaked, specifically told Saltzman that sanitation workers chill out at the office until the 4pm quitting time.  Then, they go out and collect garbage, racking up overtime.

That allegation seems easy enough to document:  Go to the sanitation yard, and shoot pictures of garbage trucks rolling out after 4pm.  But Saltzman never shows it.

Instead, she takes the too-easy approach:  She goes to the sanitation yard at 3:15pm, and demands to know why workers lingering there aren’t collecting garbage.  To us, there’s an entirely plausible answer:  They’ve completed their routes! All the garbage sitting in cans by the curb has been collected.

WGCL also sent a hidden camera to the yard.  It shows sanitation workers chilling out in a lounge and playing checkers.  But there’s nothing to suggest that they aren’t on a legitimate break.  Lord knows, sanitation workers — of all people — are deserving of reasonable breaks during the workday.

If there’s a legit explanation, the city of Atlanta is doing a mighty poor job of providing it.  The city provided a statement to Saltzman suggesting that she had photographed workers during their lunch hours.  The city declined to provide an interview, and tossed Saltzman from the property.  The city’s evasions are giving Saltzman legitimate reason to continue her pursuit of the story, despite the editorial red flags in WGCL’s reporting.

To do this story right, WGCL would have to stalk sanitation crews for an entire workday, observing their work and break habits.  There’s no evidence that the station did this.  Maybe there’s a reason:  WGCL’s  investigative unit was taking a long, leisurely lunch.