Daily Archives: May 14, 2009

Bigmouth strikes again

No city car for the mayor?  Wendy Saltzman with Shirley Franklin

Love your scarf: Wendy Saltzman with Shirley Franklin

Wendy Saltzman has been a busy woman.   Like most reporters in understaffed shops, she’s probably overworked.  And she solely bears the on-air burden of giving WGCL badly needed credibility in classic, research-based investigative reporting (as distinguished from, say, consumer reporting or bare-hands-on-food-in-restaurants exposés).

Sometime over the winter, it appears Saltzman began work on a story about Atlanta Water Department employees driving city cars to their homes each night.  She found they lived as far away as Macon.  She researched city policy, which showed only the biggest of city bigshots and “first responders” should take home cars.  She bum-rushed Mayor Shirley Franklin, who dodged Saltzman’s question about the cost.  Both women wore winter-wear during the encounter.

And then Saltzman apparently sat on the story.  In the interim, she produced additional unrelated kick-ass material — including an expose of an auto dealer that sold used cars which were previously crashed and listed as “totaled” by insurance.

But while Saltzman waited, the tipsters within City Hall who knew about the practice probably grew antsy.   They kept talking.

WXIA’s Jerry Carnes got wind of the story.  Carnes learned that one of the employees drove his car home to Cedartown — a few hops shy of the Alabama border.  One morning, Carnes watched the city car make the trip and got video documenting it.  That set Carnes down the same path Saltzman had already visited weeks earlier.  But Carnes got it on TV first.

Of course, very few people in TV land actually notice these scorekeeping details, nor particularly care who did what “first” or “exclusively.”  But bragging rights are important in TV newsrooms, and management cares desperately about such stuff.  And Wendy Saltzman probably cares more than a little bit, an overworked reporter managing numerous high-profile stories.  She produced a story the following day that proved she’d had the goods, minus the damning video of the Cedartown-based city employee.  Carnes’s story was excellent.  So was Saltzman’s.

A day later, Saltzman had moved on to another unrelated investigation.  Meantime, Carnes was doing solid follow-ups to the city car story.  Both deserve credit for good work.  One of them was just a day late.