Daily Archives: June 2, 2009

Cameras in our heads

Patty Pan, WAGA

Patty Pan, WAGA

Fighting off exhaust fumes, one can just imagine the sardonic chuckling emanating from a WAGA live truck as Patty Pan’s photographer edited her piece last week from the scene of a police crackdown / media event that spanned metro Atlanta.

It was Pan’s misfortune to cover a coordinated sweep of somewhat bad guys in the somewhat crime-ridden suburbs of Gwinnett.  She and a photog rode along in a patrol car during the “sweep,” which appeared to consist of cops mostly setting aside fourth-amendment probable-cause standards and cuffing folks for TV (“round up the usual suspects!”), knowing full well that a judge would probably let them go within hours.

Because Pan and other media were in cahoots with the law — tipped off, as they were, in advance of the sweep — Pan overlooked the denial-of-suspect-rights story.

Thank goodness!  From WGCL

Thank goodness! From WGCL

(WGCL covered a similar story in Fulton County around the same time, using the banner “keeping your family safe.”  Not only is that a catchier banner than “cops run roughshod over the Bill of Rights,” but TV is loathe to question such technicalities unless it results in something awful, like the Kathryn Johnston killing on Neal St. NW in late 2006.)

Back to our heroine, Ms. Pan, an enterprising and resourceful reporter.  She clearly lacked much of a story.

The big tipoff was her repeated first-person references to her presence on-scene.  Normally, this is kind of a given.  When you don’t have much material, it’s a safe haven for by-the-numbers news writing.

The first reference was merely “we are out here” at the command post.  That was during her live intro.

The second, during the same intro, was “my photographer and I rode along with Lawrenceville police” as the fun began.

The third, in her package, was “we were there” as stuff kind of started to happen.  At this point, Pan showed some generic video of cops interacting with folks in bad neighborhoods, occasionally restraining them with the casual use of handcuffs.

The fourth time, Pan signaled to the audience that she really had nothing to say.  “Our cameras were rolling as….” well, nothing much happened.  No drama.  No takedowns.  Nothing that one might normally expect to see when hearing such a line.

How many “cameras” did WAGA send to this sweep?  It’s possible they sent an extra photog.  But this staged event demanded only the minimum resources from any staff-strapped TV station:  One photog, one reporter.  Other stations apparently deemed that kind of manpower too much for this police / media circle-jerk.

Pan isn’t alone using this bit of TV boilerplate.  The “our cameras” line is an increasingly tiresome mainstay, driven by news managers who want to “sell” stories with jargon that generates heat but sheds no light.  That, and it’s an easy line to use when there’s nothing else to say.

Thank goodness Pan’s photog had the good sense to hit the “REC” button, thus “rolling” images onto a video card.  If he hadn’t, Pan would have lacked video and a line that usefully consumed precious seconds in her package.

The time-killing line reminds us of a line from a similar Mark Winne package that has stuck in our heads for years:  “There were handcuffs.  Lots of handcuffs.”

Wait a minute.  “Our” heads?  How many heads do we think we have?  How many of “us” are there, exactly, writing this dumb blog?

Never mind.