Monthly Archives: April 2009

Cheapskate chic

"If I'm gonna pay ten bucks for a suit, then I'm going to show it off!"

A blogger's moment of reflection: "If I'm gonna pay ten bucks for a suit, then I'm gonna to show it off!"

By Trevor Pettiford

A news director once told me, “In news, we give people what they want and occasionally, we give them what they need”. That axiom seemed to be in play Wednesday night during  WXIA-TV’s 11:00  newscast.  After the obligatory murder, crash and “you’re gonna die” stories of the night, the folks at 11Alive  turned their attentions and 20 minutes of semi-commercial free time over to “Ways to Save”, a special how-to series of reports and interviews to help us all make the most with less.

I have to say though, I had to chuckle at the special’s opening shot of 11Alive’s anchorless HD desk, hearing Brenda Wood and Ted Hall exclaim it was empty because there was “work to be done”.  (Hmm… what’s being done when they are sitting at that desk?) But regardless of where they sat, stood or aimlessly walked, I have to tip my press hat to their work in putting together 20 minutes of true news you could use.  From  making your bills lower to  being a smarter shopper,  there were so many tips and ideas, Clark Howard  had to be taking a few notes.

Valerie Hoff, a.k.a. “The Coupon Queen” should’ve been carrying a pair of scissors instead of a mic with the way she was cutting through the details of being a coupon clipper.  Bill Liss  offered up some bargain vacation ideas and Sports Director Fred Kalil had a few “stay-cation” tips (vacations you take at home) for cheaper tickets to local sporting events.  And while we’re on the subject of new econo-phrases, Doug Richards coined a new one… Chic-skate.  Cheap is the new chic, he explained in his story about how you can raid the Last Chance Thrift Store for designer clothes for the price of a latte. (note to Doug: reporter involvement is great, but you don’t have to actually wear clothes on-air that you purchased from those places) 😉

In all, if you were keeping score… and I was… there were 51 tips and 27 websites offered up  to viewers in 20 minutes.  I didn’t  included among those sites the 15 times “” was mentioned or plastered in Hi Def on my screen… shameless, but expected.

So much important and useful information, in such a short period of time,  didn’t newscasts used to be like that? If news gave people more of what they need, maybe they would no longer want what they’ve been getting.

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Hey- that’s not my name…

There were a few surprises during our top-secret day-long visit to WXIA Monday.  Two of them stood out.

The first was the climate.  It was odd hearing day-laboring reporters and photographers speak of their mutual respect with management, a quality sadly lacking in much of my previous Atlanta TV experience.  It was as if I’d departed Burma, went into suspended animation briefly, then landed in Holland.

jaye watson wxiaThe second was a story told by Kenny Hamilton, the respected photog with whom I spent the day.  Hamilton is married to the reporter known as Jaye Watson.  Many have heard this story, but somehow I hadn’t:

A few days after Jennifer Watson joined the ranks at WXIA, she was called into the office by its famously erratic then-news director, Dave Roberts.  It seemed Roberts was troubled with the fact that he now had two blonde women reporters with the first name of Jennifer.

Because Jennifer Leslie had seniority, Roberts told Jennifer Watson to change her first name.  Watson resisted, then stalled.   The name has meaning, and she comes from a family that shuns nicknames.

Roberts pressed.  Irritated but uneasy, Watson finally said (something like):  “If you think the viewers are that confused, why don’t you just call me J. Watson?”  The standoff in the ND’s office ended when Watson was called to cover something at the airport.

Hours later, Watson hooks up to an earpiece to do a live shot.  From the control room, a producer remarks:  That’s an unusual spelling.

Of what?  Watson asks.

Your new first name, the producer replies.  J-A-Y-E.

The reporter is unamused.   Her face is rapidly changing colors.  The voice shakes with anger.  Hooked to a microphone, she struggles to keep her language G-rated.

Then the anchor tosses to Watson’s live shot.   Watson delivers her story, and tags with her new sig out:  Jaye Watson, Eleven Alive News.  That was in 1999.

Today, Jaye Watson answers to both names.  In the newsroom and among friends, it’s Jennifer.  On the street, she answers to a name made up by a squirrelly news director whose shelf life was much shorter than the name he created for Jennifer Watson.

When college professors attack

Michelle Marsh, WGCL

Michelle Marsh, WGCL

This post has been updated, correcting an error wherein we mistakenly reported that Mike Moore is currently a weekend anchor at WGCL.   Our bad.

Give WGCL credit for immediately recognizing the gravity of the story that erupted in Athens midday Saturday.  The killing of three people at a theater gathering was a big breaking story.  It was also a “talker,” a story that horrified and lodged in the consciousness of average folk.  It was the kind of story that would make normal people actually switch on their TV sets to see a breaking news story.

WGCL dispatched reporters Leslie Tanner and Michelle Marsh to Athens, where the manhunt had begun for University of Georgia professor George Zinkhan.  It also sent Mike Moore, who prowled for students familiar with the unlikely triple-murder suspect.  It gave WGCL the best presence on Saturday’s big story.

By 6pm Saturday, there were three ripe newsgathering scenes in Athens:  The scene of the triple killing, near downtown; in the at-large professor’s neighborhood, where police had gathered to look for him; and on UGA’s campus, where students and colleagues knew the alleged bad guy.  WGCL had them all covered.

Portia Bruner, WAGA

Portia Bruner, WAGA

Despite WGCL’s manpower, WAGA’s Portia Bruner delivered the best piece we saw.  It appeared WAGA was the only station on-scene when a SWAT team showed up at Zinkhan’s house Saturday afternoon (he wasn’t there, it turned out).  Bruner’s piece was well produced.  She had compelling sound with neighbors, including a guy who saw Zinkhan drive into the neighborhood to drop off his kids shortly after the killings.

WSB sent Darryn Moore, who gathered some unhelpful amateur video of the SWAT assault.  The material was hand-held, telephoto’d and ‘way shaky.  Moore discarded it by the 11pm show.  At 6, Moore was live at the neighborhood where the SWAT standoff was still underway.  Give him credit for that. (And don’t look for it on WSB’s web site.  As of Monday morning, there is zero mention of the Athens story on

WXIA’s Duffie Dixon, meantime, was live near downtown at the scene of the killings at six.  Dixon told her audience about the SWAT standoff across town, but wasn’t there to show it.  It was an underwhelming mirror-image of her competitors at WGCL.

Tastes like fruit


This post has been updated, correcting the date of the broadcast.

You know how some smart-ass Ivy League liberal went “undercover” and enrolled at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University?  Great idea.  He wrote a book about it.  Wish one of my kids had thought of it.

Anyway.  We’re not above stealing a good idea.  So when an opportunity arose to infiltrate a commercial Atlanta TV newsroom, we decided to jump.  On Monday, we’ll pull a shift at WXIA.  The idea is to produce a piece that will air Wednesday at 11.  We’ll see about that.

Let’s hope it has at least a fraction of Dr. Steve Brule’s style and panache.

Keep it on the down-low.

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“TV news stinks”

Ellen Crooke, WXIA

Ellen Crooke, WXIA

Last week, WXIA News Director Ellen Crooke spoke to a class of journalism students at Georgia State University.  During a powerpoint presentation, she displayed a slide that read: TV news stinks.  Intrigued, we asked her to respond to a few e-mailed questions.

1. You told the GSU students that “TV news stinks.” Please elaborate.

Local television news everywhere needs to improve. Words used to describe it all over the country are boring, repetitive, irrelevant and too depressing. At 11 Alive we are committed to trying to break away from doing the same type of local news that has been done for years. We will serve our community with great journalism… journalism that inspires, enlightens and holds people in power accountable. When was the last time you watched an entire half hour of local news and said – wow that was great? We’re working to change that. I just read a great quote from a Business professor at Notre Dame: “If we fail to change, the world goes on. We just become increasingly irrelevant.” While it may sound crazy (and many people think I am) for a local News Director to bash local news I think it’s a lot like a form of an addiction. Local news producers and crews are addicted to a certain formula that is not working anymore and we can’t break ourselves from the habit. We have to first admit we have a problem, and then we can begin healing ourselves. Local Journalism is so important to the health of a community, I feel so passionate about it. It is my crusade in life to prove ….if you give them great journalism they will come!

2. Atlanta’s most successful stations, WSB and WAGA, play up crime and “breaking news.” Won’t the audience always buy into that formula?

What I do know is that local news viewers are smart, well informed citizens and they will definitely buy into a local news formula that does not insult their intelligence. People will respond to great story telling, great pursuits of the truth, holding people accountable and giving helpful information and solutions. Most people’s lives do not revolve around police reports and court room hearings. We can’t be afraid to try different things and see what the people of Atlanta want. Great innovation and change comes from not being afraid to fail.

3. You’ve been at WXIA since September.  Have you gotten any encouragement from the ratings since you’ve been here?

To quote President Obama we are starting to see “glimmers of hope”.

4. WGCL has been very aggressively promoting its “we ask tough questions” premise. Thoughts?

We actually created the concept of the “tough questions” brand at my former station WGRZ in Buffalo New York. I was surprised to see the concept we came up with in Buffalo started here a few weeks before I arrived. We’re flattered to see our brand has been duplicated in the Atlanta market. The concept of tough question journalism was started in Buffalo due to the specific problems facing that city.

5. WXIA is the only station in town that lacks folks it calls “investigative” reporters. Is that a weakness?

Stay tuned… we’ve just hired an investigative team from Washington. D.C. They’ll start this summer. I don’t know if the word “investigative” is overused in our industry. We like to call it within our newsroom a search for the truth… and it is a mission for our entire newsroom not just a few members of the staff. Bringing in this new team will help push us in that direction. The key will be to search for truth within issues and stories people really care about.

6. WXIA was the first station in town with a top-notch web site. Will the web do to TV what it’s doing to newspapers? is a great website! Using our website to help improve our television content is our mission. Our ability to get immediate feedback from the people we serve on the web is making our television content better. Our users and viewers are part of the process. We can see what stories are popular, we can invite users to be part of our stories, and we can see what questions they want answered. Using the web to improve our television product will help save our industry… and help fix that pesky statement in your first question, that local television news stinks!

7. Any general observations about the Atlanta market?

Atlanta is the coolest news market in the country. It is filled with so much news, great history, unbelievable arts and pop culture events. Many of the people who live here are not originally from Atlanta and we find people are hungry for local news that informs them about their community… what’s happening and what it has to offer. The great thing I’ve learned about 11Alive…the reporters and photojournalists at 11Alive are absolutely the most talented, passionate, committed journalists I have ever been honored to work with. Letting this great group of people do what they do best will be remarkable to watch.

New tilt?

Cynthia Tucker

Cynthia Tucker

The editorial voice of the AJC is both a blessing and a curse.  For liberals who like to see their views passionately argued in print, it’s a blessing.  It’s a curse, however, for liberals who want anybody else to actually listen to them.   Its viewpoint is so predictable that the newspaper is reviled and ignored by outstate legislators.

Cynthia Tucker has shaped that voice for years.  The Pulitzer winner’s abrupt re-assignment to Washington is a bit of a puzzle.  So is her removal, and Jay Bookman’s, from the editorial board.  This leads the New York Times to write in Sunday’s edition that “an Atlanta editorial voice may move to the right.”

Andre Jackson

Andre Jackson

Of greater import, however, is the fact that the newspaper’s editorial board will be led by Andre Jackson, a guy who has lived in Atlanta for less than a year.  Ken Edelstein has covered this issue quite well in his blog.  An Edelstein post last week apparently sparked the NYT piece (though quoted in the piece, Edelstein might understandably lament that the NYT declined to name his blog).  Edelstein, the onetime editor of Creative Loafing, is covering politics and media in Atlanta Unsheltered.  It’s a new addition to our blogroll on the right.

Edelstein told the NYT “it’s definitely a move to the right.”  The hand-wringing invariably goes back to Ralph McGill, the crusading Constitution editor who helped break the white logjam against civil rights.  But times have changed.  McGill’s voice and newspaper mattered much more in the 1950s than they do in the 21st century version of the AJC.

Made for TV

Richard Belcher with guest

Richard Belcher with guest

The Atlanta Tea party Wednesday was a legit story.  But it carried lots of baggage, mostly because of its heavy embrace by the Fox News Channel.  And two stations had ties to the event’s host, an unabashed partisan who jumped at the chance to do interviews.  Observations:

Though he’s obviously a fan, Richard Belcher approached his interview with Sean Hannity with skepticism.  “What am I — Alan Colmes?  I can’t get a word in edgewise,” Belcher muttered as he closed his four-minute interview with Hannity in WSB radio’s studios.  WSB-TV only aired a soundbite, but put the unedited interview on its website.  Belcher asked great questions and Hannity delivered his famously nutty charm.  Grade:  A-

Loved Kevin Rowson’s 6pm live shot at the Capit0l (which followed a solid Paul Crawley preview piece).  “So it was an hour and a half ago, Ted.  I was there in the studios with you.  And I was told to go down to the Capitol and tell us what the traffic is like, right?  An hour and a half later, at 5:59 I just walked up to this spot.”  It spoke volumes about TV’s inability to make rational planning decisions for events that are planned weeks in advance.  Grade:  B+

"This rally's been planned for how long...?"  Kevin Rowson, WXIA

"This rally's been planned for how long...?" Kevin Rowson, WXIA

Ditto, Rowson’s piece on WXIA at 11pm on the rally itself, tag-teamed with John Cater’s coverage.  Rowson’s piece mentioned that the entire event was staged by Fox News Channel, and both men declined to name Hannity during their pieces (though Rowson allowed a small child to do so, which delivered the “ugh” effect Rowson doubtless sought).  Made sense, since the story was about the rank-and-file true believers who showed up.  Cater closed by showing a teabag, saying “I guess I’m supposed to throw it away.”  Grade:  B+

John Bachman’s 6pm piece on WSB was a little cringe-inducing.  If Bachman had any skepticism about the event, it didn’t show.  Grade:  C+

WAGA sent Tom Haynes to talk with Hannity.  It’s not fair to compare Haynes’ edited interview with Belcher’s raw interview, because Haynes’ piece was edited for TV.  Haynes wasn’t exactly in the tank with Hannity.  But he was too easy on him, starting by asking Hannity a softball question about his rise as a radio star in Atlanta.  And he allowed Hannity to say, without challenge, that Rush Limbaugh “never said that” he wanted the Obama presidency to fail.    Unlike Belcher, Hannity apparently outmaneuvered Haynes.  Grade:  C-

Thanks for nothin’, Comcast

You write the caption!

You write the caption!

The cable company known as Comcast is taking its sweet time restoring service to LAF World HQ, located in the 30033 area code.  Sadly, LAF’s internet service is dependent on this company.   So this blog will be on hiaitus until Comcast gets around plugging us back in.

Feel free to advise us to switch our internet service to another provider.  You won’t be the first.

Old habit

When the LAF household renewed its AJC subscription last week, it was a classic act of faith, hope and a hint of charity.  The newspaper is no longer indispensible.  Rather, it’s an old habit.  During baseball season, the habit starts with the sports page.  And with a new pro baseball team in town — the Gwinnett Braves — the act of faith was that the AJC, while shrinking its coverage everyplace, would add a beat reporter to metro Atlanta’s most significant new sports franchise since the Thrashers.

But on the same day that the LAF household was renewing, the AJC was cutting more staff.  This blog has done a poor job of chronicling the newspaper’s numerous spasms — sorry about that — but other blogs have done better.  One is CB Hackworth’s newsy media / events blog called Certain Speculation.  Once an investigative producer at WXIA and WSB, Hackworth produces Andy Young documentaries and may be best known for giving the best Emmy acceptance speech ever (“I want to thank my ex-wife for divorcing me 15 years ago. I’m here with someone much nicer”).

Hackworth reports that the AJC has run out of staff reduction volunteers and had to enact “involuntary separations” last week.  He says the staff figured it out the hard way:

  • … the newspaper’s entire graphics department was wiped out.   I’m told there was no announcement at all.   Suddenly, reporters just began to realize no one in graphics was, well, in graphics.  Although that’s just four people, the effect was devastating not just for those individuals but for the entire staff. The move was completely unexpected, and the lack of communication jarring.  The experience has left many, if not most, extremely distrustful of management.

Hackworth’s blog also has an amusing Jim Wooten Retirement Countdown Clock on its home page. He also writes about politics and such.  And there’s this gossipy Atlanta TV bit:

  • One of local television’s best known and most recognizable personalities has been told to accept a massive pay cut if he wants to keep his job — despite research that gives him consistently high approval ratings among viewers.

If Hackworth gives us some blogger competition on the local TV news front, we’re completely OK with that.  He may wish to start by writing about the local TV station that’s asking its entire staff to take a ten percent pay cut this year — and the contractually-bound anchors who agreed to it even though they didn’t have to.

Too bad Hackworth doesn’t cover baseball.  After the LAF household renewed its subscription, it became apparent that the AJC won’t cover Atlanta’s new AAA baseball team with anything beyond novelty treatment.  The new team’s first series in Charlotte got scant wire service coverage in its hometown newspaper.