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.

15 thoughts on “Bigmouth strikes again

  1. Frank Booth

    You’ve got to be kidding!
    “Overworked” How often are these two reporters even on the air?!!?
    …and it’s the May book! How ridiculous. Even if they spent “weeks” developing this story, it’s one story! I don’t believe she even turns dailies. Get with the times. I can’t believe Meredith can afford to allow Pepperman to be turning so few stories

  2. tony

    I wonder how much the 46 reporters’ managers care about getting an exclusive.
    Didn’t she get similarly trumped by CH 2 for a garbage-men story? That’s got to be painful
    Good catch LAF about the winter clothes worn by the mayor

  3. Bettina

    I guess this is a practical story and worth doing. But you have to wonder: don’t newsrooms provide take-home cars for photographers? I would assume, like the city workers, it can be considered part of their salary/benefits. I know its not tax dollars but it always worries me when officials could easily turn a tough question around with respect to a newsperson’s company or operation expenses

    1. Archie

      All the Photogs at WXIA turned in their cars around the first of the year. Cost cutting. If it’s sauce for the goose…

  4. Element

    Frank, clearly you are not paying attention because she is turning quality I-pieces nearly every day. Tony, first off, its CBS Atlanta and it would be very safe to say that Steve Schwaid (among others) damn sure cares about getting an exclusive. Bettina, you nailed your own question because news take home cars have not one thing to do with your (or the Mayors’s) money and, in many cases, would qualify even under the city’s policy. And, finally LAF, you may have noticed the same Rob Hunter sound bite in both pieces? That was Wendy’s question. You do the math. But, a big thumbs up on the Smiths reference!

    1. Frank Booth

      “nearly everyday”? I call BS. Where are they airing? I’m sure she’s leaving for home by 6 everyday

  5. Element

    Frank, I won’t disagree that she leaves nearly every day well before six, but she is deeply involved in several ongoing investigations that are airing regularly. That’s a fact.

    1. josephine

      for the month of may Wendy has had more than 13 pieces on the air. All investigations and all produced by her.

      She has no producer. Schwaid is her EP.

      But she’s doing it all herself.

      I dare any other station to show the investigative ouput put she provides as a one person unit.

      1. Frank Booth

        Are you turning dailies? I know at least one station that puts your output to shame
        However, for some reason its taboo to talk about that station here.

        Who is “Schwaid”?

  6. Element

    Frank, Wendy isn’t here. She wouldn’t waste time with you. But, yes, she does do dailies. And, Wendy is one person, not a station. Steve Schwaid is the ND at CBS Atlanta.

    1. Frank Booth

      I was referring to the output of the reporters at one station…
      And excuuuse me if I’d be wasting her time. It’s not 6 o clock is it?

      Again, I reference back to the original posting here. You have to snicker when a random viewing of a newscast at that station offers little local content, comparatively.
      Therefore a perception of an overworked reporter there probably would frustrate the heck out of reporters at another

      Thats all…

  7. live apt fire Post author

    Frank, welcome to the site. Thanks for commenting.

    My two cents is: If Saltzman is turning dailies, then WGCL is squandering her as a resource. Any reporter can turn dailies. An investigative reporter is supposed to turn tough, vigorous pieces that take more than one day to produce. Saltzman has been doing that, and it’s a big reason why WGCL’s credibility has risen. And that’s why Meredith can’t afford to have her turning stories every day.

    IMHO Frank, you’re not asking the right question. I don’t want to see Wendy Saltzman turning dailies (unless they’re followups to her original stories). Every day that she’s doing that, is a day that she’s diverted from working on some kickass investigation.

    As long as she’s doing that, she can clock out whenever she wants.

  8. Frank Booth

    LAF: thanks for jumping in.
    And let’s face it: yes, you are right. I agree 100 percent.
    But I wonder if it’s is a bit of a naive thought-process. You have to acknowledge what purpose local tv news serves these days. There’s too much out there.

    Of course it would be great if an investigative reporter could be left alone to do their thing. But how much does that exclusivity contribute to the success of a station anymore? Things are different.

    For better or (probably) worse “Investigative” has been cheapened (OK, for worse). But , am I crazy?, there also seems to be a whole heck of a lot more stories out there that deserve digging. Or maybe it’s just the tools are so much more available to do them.

    Yes, if you are lucky enough and stumble onto a great story you blow it out (a little bit; I think that annoys viewers). But there’s plenty of stories that are “investigative” to be done everyday while still picking at the big ones as you go. And you can still knock it out of the park. We all know who the reporters are that are better suited for it. And so do the viewers. (I hope) They’re not often sent to spot news, for one. Which, of course, is the other vital part of what local news does.

    And really this mostly speaks directly to the core of your comment, I’m not necessarily speaking about those referenced in your original post.

    I’m sure there are exceptions in which a market has a ratings leader that can do 6 minute-2 parters on a regular basis and/or has reporters you only see every once in awhile. But not in this market or too many others by my very unscientific research. And those that are are probably feeling some pressures they are not accustomed to.

    You say WGCL’s credibility has risen. But have their ratings? I honestly don’t know. Someone can probably tell me they have. (And does Gannett’s rough year or so factor into that?) Sadly, I guess that’s what it comes down to.

    Good topic. Hope to hear more thoughts

  9. Man from Atlanta

    LAF, I’m impressed with the timing of the headline choice, given that Morrissey’s 50th birthday is just around the corner.


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