Here’s a story that should have been vetted over and over in the WAGA newsroom before its managers decided to send Denise Dillon after it: Three pigeons were hanged at the Cobb Co. sanitation transfer station. Hanged, as in somebody took fishing line and tied it around the necks of the three pigeons.
The story showed pigeons roosting in the rafters of the open-air facility. It showed a county spokesman, talking a little too glibly about an “investigation.”
WAGA took a story that should have been a reader at best, and gave it a little twist. Dillon reported that a viewer, apparently unidentified, told the newsroom that there had been racial tension at the facility in the last week. The same unidentified viewer also provided this tidbit: One of the fishing lines used to kill the pigeons was tied into “a noose.”
All of a sudden, WAGA’s story is hooked on the word of an unidentified and, it appears, unverifiable tipster who implies that the hanging of the pigeons was “race related.” Nobody at the transfer station verifies any of this in Dillon’s story.
Now step back: Pigeons are hanged, weird enough. But now, it’s as a result of racial tension that may or may not exist. This is news, and a live shot on the 6pm news… seriously? Uh, yes.
Bad move. Denise Dillon did a swell job with the assignment, couching the story in language that didn’t go beyond what she knew. That, unfortunately, reveals the flaws behind WAGA’s thinking.
Even if the station had a person on TV saying there were racial tensions at the transfer station, the hanging of the pigeons was still little more than a reader. By putting a reporter there, in a live shot in the dark, the station elevates the importance of the story into something well beyond the story’s already-sketchy facts.
And by leaning so heavily on the word of an unidentified and unverified tipster, the station exposed itself to a possible hoax.
WAGA can occasionally be very circumspect and thoughtful about issues like proportion and context. On issues involving race, this thoughfulness is vital. In this case, the live shot and package should have never happened. WAGA embarrassed itself. Grade: D