Monthly Archives: December 2008

Ne Ne’s no no’s

neneGotta admit, we didn’t expect much from Dana Fowle’s I-Team piece on NeNe Leakes, one of the insufferable blowhards who starred on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”  The AJC had  reported six days earlier that NeNe and her family had been evicted from the pricey Sugarloaf Country Club home they occupied for the Bravo reality show.  That short piece in the newspaper spoke volumes about the phony-baloney quality of the woman who boasted that she doesn’t “keep up with the Joneses.  I am the Joneses.”  How much more can there be?

Quite a bit, it turns out.  Fowle’s piece on WAGA focused on her husband, Gregg Leakes.  The reality show describes him as a real estate investor.  Fowle learned that he’s actually a property manager.  And not a very good one, according to the on-camera finger-pointer who said that one of his tenants — a friend of Ne Ne and his — all but ruined the pricey home the tenant rented under his management.

NeNe & Gregg Leakes

NeNe & Gregg Leakes

Various legal actions ensued, including the one that forced NeNe’s family out of their TV mansion.  It seems they owe over $100,000 in back taxes. Complaints with the Georgia real estate board have driven Gregg Leakes out of business and the family into seclusion.  Fowle went a-huntin’ for them, but was rebuffed at the doorway of their townhouse by disembodied voices coming from an intercom.  (Leakes did a sit down interview with WXIA earlier– see comments below…)

Who cares?  All your neighbors and family members who watch shows like TMZ, the syndicated program that airs on WAGA.  TMZ’s MO is to revel in the sport of celebrity harassment.   Who cares?  All your neighbors and family members who loved or despised the Bravo reality show, who doubtless were shocked by or cheered the comeuppance of its arguably most arrogant yet likable (so we’re told) character.  Yes, there’s an audience for this investigative report.

Dana Fowle, WAGA

Dana Fowle, WAGA

Did Fowle cringe at the prospect of spending days or weeks stalking this pseudo-celeb, rather than pursuing other important investigative stories on corruption and ripoffs?  Not likely.  Tearing down a bloviating fraud is good, useful work.  NeNe sought the spotlight.  The reality show covered up her reality.  On its best days, the news biz tears away that baloneyous charade.  And Fowle got the goods.  Grade:  A-

Flashes of subtlety

Beth Galvin, WAGA

Beth Galvin, WAGA

At WAGA last week, health reporter Beth Galvin produced an uncommonly moving piece about a project called “Flashes of Hope,” which photographs gravely ill children at children’s hospitals.  The story showed ex-AJC photographer Jean Shifrin and other volunteers setting up a studio at Egleston and “letting kids be kids,” as Galvin put it.  It was a feature piece about cute kids, but it had a life-or-death edge.

We watched the piece after a reporter at a competing TV station told us about it.  Galvin told the story while walking a fine line.   She knew the kids and their parents would watch.  She couldn’t say that these kids’ photos may very well be their last if their lives are cut short by illness.  One parent told her the photo was important because it commemorated the fact that her daughter “made it this far.”  That was about as close as Galvin came to laying out what was really at stake– studio photos of children who may not have long to live.

Subtlety is an all-but lost art in local TV news.   Galvin used it like a fine tool.  “None of us have any guarantees.  We have now, and now is enough,” she concluded.    Nicely done.  Grade:  A-

Mourning Mike Kavanagh

mike-kavanaghLongtime WSB radio reporter and “Money Matters” host Mike Kavanagh died at his suburban Atlanta home Saturday.  He was 57.  The AJC reports that Kavanagh was decorating his home for the holidays when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

WSB radio’s web site has a nice tribute to Kavanagh, a 40 year veteran of radio and TV.  He and Lisa Campbell hosted WSB’s Atlanta’s Evening News before the station shut down the newscast in favor of syndicated talk.  He remained with the station as the host of a financial planning program, and producer of financial segments for WSB’s news.  Among his awards was an Edward R. Murrow award for an investigative series called “Ripped Off in the Name of God.”

Though he’d worked in TV in the early days of CNN, Kavanagh was a devoted radio guy.  He helped create the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.  He also created and managed a web site devoted to the history of WSB radio.

Quoted on WSB’s web site, Campbell says “Mike was an incredible talent, a good human being, my longtime co-anchor, but most of all, my dear, dear friend…. There will never be another Kavanagh.”  Our condolences to his friends, family and colleagues.

Mise en scene

We’re the first to admit this blog isn’t timely.  But Sarah Palin, who visited Georgia this week, will apparently never become passé.  Palin’s post election exploits remain improbably au courant. One of our favorite local pols is proudly circulating his photo with Palin on Facebook, the image captured at a Gwinnett Co. rally Monday.  And this week, two cute old lady bloggers analyze her (and Max Cleland) in a post called “Sarah Palin’s accomplishments are greater because she did it with half a brain.”

But we’re here to take a moment to explore the most controversially-framed TV interview in recorded history.

Lenslinger’s take on the incident is pretty dead on.  The turkey-killin’ guy in the background spent way too long staring at the camera.  That was the distraction that would have cued most photogs to zoom past him and tighter onto the face of Palin.  His gruesome task isn’t really evident until about forty seconds into the interview, long after the grim reaper of fowl breaks off his unsettling stare.

The photog is an Anchorage guy named Scott Jensen.  Turns out Jensen is well known and well respected in the photog community.  He showed up late for the interview.  His framing was somewhat the result of having the last tripod on scene.  From Viewfinder Blues:

Jensen then framed his shot just as it appears, even warning the Governor of the ensuing slaughter so clearly visible behind her. “That’s fine,” Palin reportedly replied, “Let the people see where their food comes from.”

To his credit, Jensen has defended his work on b-roll.net.

‘I’m a photojournalist. It is my goal to convey every scene I shoot as close to reality as possible. I want truthfulness over tastefulness – every time. From my perspective the background dominated the scene. It wasn’t way off in the distance. It was like ten feet away! Guess what?! It really was distracting! Ask anyone who was paying attention. The video I made portrayed the scene exactly. I believe that is what we are supposed to do.”

It’s a good argument.  It’s also problematic.  Aside from the distraction, it made Jensen seem to be either a) clueless or b) a partisan enemy of the politician he’s videotaping.  Surely his instinct kicked in and said “this ain’t right,” even after Palin gave him the go-ahead to shoot with the slaughtering operation behind her.

Many photogs would have halted the interview and said “Governor, sorry, but neither you nor I want this in the background.”  Photogs do control their background, bypassing “truthfulness over tastefulness.”  The pro sports locker room is an excellent example.

And yet, history will show that Jensen made the right call.



Snow squall

Justin Gray, WAGA

Ivy Leaguer: Justin Gray, WAGA

You become a journalist because you want to be where the action is.  You become a TV reporter because it pays decent and most folks depend on TV for news.  You go to a prestigious college for an undergrad degree, then an even more prestigious college for a Masters in Journalism.  You slog through small markets in West Virginia and northern California.  Then you hit it big, with a contract in Atlanta at a top-ten market station.

Your name is Justin Gray.  You’re a reporter at WAGA.  Tuesday morning, you found yourself on an overnight shift at Neels Gap near Blairsville, doing stories about snowfall in north Georgia.  Your education at Emory and Columbia make you vastly overqualified to produce a report that weaves through the supposed perils of snow and ice, only to conclude “the roads are looking pretty good up here in North Georgia.”  The conclusion validates your own honesty and tacitly exposes the foolhardiness of the managerial mindset of local TV news.

You aren’t alone.  Your competitor, the wily veteran Ross Cavitt at WSB, did something comparable the previous night in Ellijay.  One of the best reporters in Atlanta, Cavitt was reduced to questioning motorists in a parking lot and asking them if they were surprised by a half-inch of snow.  Because Cavitt made a decent package out of it Monday, his managers at WSB will ask him to do it again when another snow flurry rears its flaky head.

These by-the-book approaches to weather drive TV reporters nutso, and drive viewers with a fragment of intelligence away from local TV news.  Research measures “households using television,” and that number jumps when weather gets squirrelly.  But it’s not because viewers want to see Cavitt and Gray tap-dancing in the snow; it’s because they want to know the forecast.

Chris Sweigart, WXIA

Less noise: Chris Sweigart, WXIA

Interestingly, WXIA approached the snow flurry story differently.  WXIA sent its web guy, Chris Sweigart to Blue Ridge — possibly with no photog, but with a camcorder.  Sweigart recorded some video in various locales, and voiced over the scenes matter-of-factly, without the “omigod, it could be armageddon” urgency of a story on the effects / surprise of a November snow flurry.  “What I’m doing right now — enjoying the silence.  There’s always a beautiful silence when snow is falling,” Sweigart prosaically concluded, capturing the essence of the “story.”  For some local news directors who demand more sturm und drang with their weather coverage, Sweigart’s prose would be borderline subversive.

We only tell four stories

Tom Tucker, W%&#

Tom Tucker, W%&#

By Tom Tucker

I didn’t go into TV because I love TV. In fact, I don’t like the industry very much at all, and for a lot of reasons. But through a series of peculiar circumstances, I find myself working at an Atlanta TV station, though not as a member of the news staff.

That doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention. And in the past few years, I’ve noticed that we only tell four stories.

1. The Political Story: Here’s a candidate, here’s an issue, here’s the person involved in the issue from a governmental perspective, and here’s the MOS. Pithy remark, reporter tag, the end.

2. The Complicated Issue: Usually financial in nature. Stations tend to tag-team financial stories, with one person doing the number-crunching angle (maybe as a VOSOT) and the other doing the impact on a single person or small group. However, anything really complicated falls under this banner. People tune out of these stories fairly quickly.

3. Breaking News: Apartment fires, shootings, evacuations, police chases, anything that happens so quickly that all the reporter has time to do is talk to the PIO, get some location footage, and slam it together before they go on the air.

4. The Fourth Story. This is the one I really want to talk about. Have you watched TV news… um… EVER? Because all any reporter (or anchor doing the special segments they bring themselves to do every so often) does, if they’re not doing one of the other three, is take the following script, fill in the blanks, and call it “great reporting.”

ANCHOR: Something happened to a person we think is just like you. It’s so horrible/so great, we want you to identify with our station because we talk to ordinary people. Our Reporter has the story.

REPORTER: Ordinary Person has a problem/cause/story to tell.

*NATS OF ORDINARY PERSON DOING ORDINARY THING*

REPORTER: Ordinary is a mother of three/single dad/retired army sergeant/teacher/plucky 11-year-old  who is doing This Thing because of reasons X, Y, and Z.

ORDINARY PERSON ONCAM: Well, I just saw something happening and I thought, why can’t I, a perfectly ordinary citizen of Our Town, do something about it?

* BEGIN SHOWING STAGED VIDEO OF ORDINARY PERSON DOING WHATEVER OSTENSIBLY MAKES HIM/HER SPECIAL *

REPORTER: So s/he did. S/he did A, B, and C, and started making a difference.

MOS 1: This is pretty great/cool/amazing. I’m so glad Ordinary Person is doing this.

*BUTT TO*

MOS 2: I just feel so blessed that Ordinary Person is doing this thing for me.

REPORTER ONCAM AT LOCATION OR WALKING THROUGH A HALLWAY: It turns out that This Thing is a problem nationwide, and people across the United States are working to stop it/spread it/fix it.

EXPERT SITTING BEHIND DESK OR IN FRONT OF TV OR IN LOBBY OF TV STATION: This Thing has grown/shrunk/gotten better/gotten worse over the years. Here are three statistics that sound made-up but probably aren’t. I’ll be nodding now as I give them, to make myself seem like I actually care.

*CUT/WIPE TO ORDINARY PERSON INTERACTING WITH OTHER ORDINARY PEOPLE*

REPORTER VO: So, Ordinary Person has taken on this mantle in the hopes to make a change for the better. Reporting from what we hope is Your Hometown, TV Reporter, TV News Station.

* ANCHOR 2-SHOT AT DESK *

LEAD ANCHOR: Wow, Bob, that’s just amazing/sad/inspiring.

OTHER ANCHOR: Absolutely.

* HALF-SECOND PAUSE FOR EFFECT, THEN OTHER ANCHOR TURNS TO CAMERA 3 TO BEGIN NEXT STORY*

Don’t believe me? Sit down and watch an hour of TV news on WSB, WGCL, WXIA, or WAGA. The faces and causes change, but the script remains the same. I wonder if they teach it in journalism school. (I don’t know; I didn’t go.) In this era when viewership is down and people are turning away from television in favor of their computers, telling the same types of stories in the same fashion, day in and day out, is not going to save your product.

Tom Tucker is a pseudonym for an employee of an Atlanta TV news station. He submitted it on condition of anonymity. He is not a member of any news team. In his spare time, he likes to actively avoid TV news altogether.