Should she have kept driving?

Should she have kept driving?

Home Depot lays off 500 people at its Atlanta HQ.  It’s a big story.  The best way to chase the story is to talk with beleaguered just-fired employees.  To find them, the TV reporter beelines to the HQ parking lot.  He camps out at the exit.  He tries to chat with those who’ve just lost their jobs and are leaving the premises, possibly  forever.

It’s an ugly assignment, no question.  To produce a story, you only need a couple of the just-fired to talk  predictably on camera.

“My gosh, I had no idea!”

“Not sure what I’ll do next!”

And if you get lucky, you’ll get somebody to emote:  “How will I feed my family without a job?”  Yeah, a soudbite like that would be considered a stroke of good luck if you’re a TV reporter.

It’s one of those how-do-you-sleep stories.  Deep down, the reporter knows this:  Home Depot probably doesn’t want those ex-employees talking to the news media.  In fact, some of the employees hurrying out have probably said exactly that to the mic-holding reporter.  And Home Depot has a carrot:  It has offered to help those laid-off folks relocate elsewhere within the company.  The employee has good reason to drive past those reporters camped at the top of the HQ parking lot exit.

But the reporter has no options.  His boss won’t let him off the hook.  The boss knows that the story won’t be worth a damn without a laid-off employee or two talking on camera.  And your TV competitors are camped out at the same exit, staking out the same folks.

A few — it only takes a couple — employees stop anyway.  Their minds are already reeling.  They haven’t stopped to consider the ramifications of talking to the smiling, friendly reporters beckoning them at the exit.  They stop.  They chat.  They speak from the heart, then drive off.

Maybe after they appear on TV,  they get a phone call from an ex-coworker:  Did I just see you on the news?  Do you really think Home Depot is going to bust its hump to re-hire you after you’ve spouted off to the media?  D’oh!

To the TV reporter, it’s a soundbite in a 70 second package. The TV reporter rationalizes:  Surely, an upstanding company like Home Depot wouldn’t punish a laid-off employee for talking to the media.  If it does, by gosh — we’ll do an exposé on it!

To the ex-employee, it may be a catastrophic  and irretrievable mistake.  And another solid citizen learns to distrust the news media.  Which, incidentally, was just doing its job.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Insomnia

  1. Mike

    Great post. As a TV reporter in another market who often has to camp out in front of a Ford plant that lays people off all the time, I can empathize with those assigned the Home Depot story. I feel cheap having to do it, but that’s the assignment my bosses gave me. It’s a tough line to walk when you’re trying to do your job without hurting someone else’s future job prospects. For the most part, the ex-employees understand it’s my job even if they don’t want to talk to me, but I still feel like a used car salesman pitching the reasons why talking to me will benefit them!

  2. Daniel

    I can’t think of a single good reason for a reporter to talk to a just-laid-off employee. It doesn’t make the story any more insightful. What do we expect the employee to say, anyway? “It was a good thing for the company. They really had overhired.”

    Maybe one news outlet should do the same thing you did: Cover the other news outlets covering this story. That’s something I’d watch the news to see.

  3. Lynn Harasin

    Years ago in Atlanta, I remember when Delta laid off hundreds of employees. The company threatened its employees not to talk to the media. As a reporter for WSB-TV, I tried to get employees to talk. None of them did. That evening, back at the tv station, my managing editor fussed at me for not getting any employees to talk. He said, “Doug Richards from Channel 5 got employees to talk.” So Doug, maybe you can pass on to today’s reporters how you did it. Good story. I’m so glad I’m not doing that anymore. To Daniel above, don’t you understand, it’s not our decision? It’s our bosses who are tucked back in the warmth of the newsroom ordering us to do such things?

  4. live apt fire Post author

    Lynn: Thanks for killing my self-righteous buzz. I remember talking with you about that. I’d given up on talking with white-collar Delta employees near the HQ building. I’d gone to the lower level of the airport, where Delta buses would drop employees working at the terminal. Lower-income employees, out of eyeshot from HQ, were less skittish there. Another tip: Go to the “secret” pilot entrance in one of the terminal hallways. Many pilots won’t talk on TV, but many will because they’re unionized and they’re not frightened for their jobs, like non-union Delta employees.

  5. gooberpeas

    taking advantage of people at their weakest moment…ugh…kinda puts reporters right up there with the hollywood bunch, anything for ratings/publicity.

    and I have difficulty with the “my boss (the devil) made me do it” argument. I’ve been instructed by my boss to do things that were against my conscience, but I wouldn’t.

    [[ Thanks for reinstating the self-righteous aspect to this post. But I bet you: When you were declining your boss’s instruction, he wasn’t watching your competitors doing the exact same thing on a TV screen in his office. — LAF }}

  6. gooberpeas

    always glad to help, Doug 😉

    but seriously, let the competition look like morons….take the high ground, maybe some of it will rub off on the boss.

    I know it’s hard when the boss is only concerned with looking good to his boss (maybe “hard” is a bit of an understatement)….maybe that’s why the tv news business is in such bad shape. there are some fine folks out there for sure, but they seem to be getting out of it and leaving it to the…, well, fill in the blank….but then again, given the apparent mentality of the average viewer, maybe the high ground is over their heads.
    it’s getting to where I only tune in for the weather, and the station has moved it to :35 with the idea that viewers will stick with the newscast since it’s past the half hour mark and the other shows have already started…..doesn’t work though since the first 5 minutes of most shows are commercials anyway.

    oh well, enough from me…..FWIW, I love your blog.

  7. Eunice

    The woman above is a subcontractor and her job was not in danger. The only employee who did talk that day took a hefty severence package and did not show her face. No one hoping for a job within, would dare talk!

  8. jeff

    There is actually a very good and valid reason for using interviews with people who have just had something bad happen to them. Think about if you hear on the traffic report there’s been a fatal car wreck and it’s tying up traffic. You are concerned about your commute! But if you meet the mother of the dead person and you see that grief, you really care about what happened, maybe enough to change the way you drive or to hug your children before they drive, or to fuss at dangerous drivers and not be one. Emotion is the only way to really get through to people.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s