WGCL has produced a third piece in its crudely titled “city workers wasting time” series. In so doing, one of the central premises of the original piece quietly disappeared, and the series became more unconvincing than ever.
Investigative reporter Wendy Saltzman originally reported that Atlanta sanitation workers racked up overtime by sitting around until the 4pm quitting time, then collecting garbage afterward. WGCL never documented that allegation with any video of garbage trucks leaving the sanitation yard at 4pm. Our guess: They tried to, but never saw it. That should have raised a big ol’ red flag internally.
In the report that aired yesterday, WGCL didn’t repeat that allegation. Smart move.
The city of Atlanta also got smart, providing public works commissioner Joe Basista for a sit-down interview. Basista made some points that should have occurred to WGCL from the get-go: 1) Sanitation workers are among the hardest-working people in city government and 2) garbage crews are collecting all the trash on their routes.
The “gotcha” tape in Saltzman’s stories shows her at the sanitation yard at 3:15 pm, demanding to know why workers aren’t collecting garbage. If they’re finished with their routes— what should they be doing? Filling potholes? Solving crimes?
For this segment, Saltzman and a photog stalked a sanitation crew at the start of a shift. Their video showed the crew stopping at an ATM and at a fast-food restaurant prior to beginning its route. This, Saltzman suggested, was more evidence of “city workers wasting time.” We’re sure no WGCL crew has ever stopped for coffee before heading out to cover a story.
If Saltzman followed the crew for an entire shift, she never said so. Our guess: If she did, she would have seen them collecting garbage, finishing their route, and heading back to the yard.
WGCL’s investigative unit is often a bright spot at a station that has had too few of them. But the stink rising from this story exceeded the smell of any garbage truck. It should have been much more thoroughly vetted internally before it aired. Hopefully, its investigative unit has better things in store for the November book, and will toss what’s left of this series into the circular file.