Monthly Archives: June 2009

“Hybrid”

Original hybrid:  Julie Wolfe, WXIA

Original hybrid: Julie Wolfe, WXIA

WXIA was the first.  WGCL jumped in a few months ago.  WSB did it last week.  All of those Atlanta TV stations now employ “backpack journalists” a/k/a one-man-bands a/k/a “hybrids.”

The position seems to be a natural part of the evolution of 21st century newsgathering, where budgets have contracted alongside viewership and advertising dollars.  It’s regrettable in a big market, where both the reporter and photographer have challenging jobs.  It’s also inevitable, as the four Atlanta TV news directors seemed to agree during an Atlanta Press Club forum last week.

(It’s also very retro.  As WSB anchor Monica Pearson loudly proclaimed during the forum, “everything old is new again.”  Pearson told the gathering that in her first TV job in the 1960s, she reported, shot film, processed and edited film, then anchored the broadcast.)

Here’s what the Big Four had to say about one-man-bands.

Oh, wait– did we say Monica Pearson started her career in the 1960s?  We need to double check that….

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TV news stinks, part two

"Absolutely, I'll look at your resume, kid!"  Marian Pittman, WSB

"Absolutely, I'll look at your resume, kid!" Marian Pittman, WSB

"When you need a change of scenery, Monica, you know who to call."  Steve Schwaid, WGCL

"When you need a change of scenery, Monica, you know who to call." Steve Schwaid, WGCL

When the Atlanta Press Club gathered the four Atlanta TV news directors for a forum last week, the first question from moderator Denis O’Hayer addressed this hypothesis:  TV news stinks.

The hypothesis wasn’t shocking.  The shocking part is that it came from the mouth of the VP of News at WXIA-TV, Ellen Crooke.  Crooke uttered the words in a GSU journalism class (and flashed them on a Powerpoint slide).  We dutifully reported it on this site.

The happy debunker:  Ellen Crooke, WXIA

The cheery contrarian: Ellen Crooke, WXIA

Crooke expanded on her hypothesis during the forum.  Predictably, the news directors at WSB and WAGA disagreed.  Given the fact that their newscasts have the largest audiences in town, Marian Pittman and Budd McEntee told the audience that local TV news is mostly doing a fine job, thank you.  WGCL’s Steve Schwaid gave a more nuanced answer that agreed with the essence of Crooke’s remark.

"Don't worry.  Be happy."  Budd McEntee, WAGA

"Don't worry. Be happy." Budd McEntee, WAGA

The four news directors were collegial and in mostly good humor.  The forum was a unique look at the four most influential behind-the-scenes folks in Atlanta TV news.  Below, there are four unedited clips from the APC forum in response to the “TV news stinks” question.  We may post additional material in the coming days.


Video and stills courtesy of Grayson Daughters; she’s also the blogger known as “spaceyg,” who recently referred to me on this blog as “his royal smugness.”  Thanks, Spacey.  Next time, you’re buying.

Ellen Crooke, WXIA

Budd McEntee, WAGA

Marian Pittman, WSB

Steve Schwaid, WGCL

Duck, and cover up

Evasive maneuver:  A well-coached Fulton school board member with Wendy Saltzman, WGCL

Evasive maneuver: A well-coached Fulton school board member with Wendy Saltzman, WGCL

There are many things to like about Wendy Saltzman’s WGCL series on wasteful spending in the Fulton County school system.

First, the money is substantial.  Saltzman convincingly reports that Fulton’s school system rigged its bidding process so that Office Depot could land a contract for school supplies.  Office Depot’s bid was nearly $1.6 million higher than the lower bidder.

Second, it passes the stink test.  Saltzman uses grade-school math to demonstrate that Office Depot is charging Fulton Co. substantially more than what the general public would pay for pencils, copiers, paper, binders and other supplies at an Office Depot store.  This is in stark contrast to other TV “investigations” into government “waste” that can’t get the math right, or don’t even try to calculate it.

No answers:  Susan Hale, Fulton School system

No answers: Susan Hale, Fulton School system

Third, there’s the astonishing hubris on the part of Fulton County Schools, whose spokeswoman laughably dodges Saltzman’s tough, yet entirely predictable questions about the contract.  The spokeswoman, whose name is Susan Hale, deserves enshrinement in the Stonewalling Hall of Fame.  She also deserves a pink slip from the school system she so poorly served.

Hale’s is a classic how-not-to for publicists and media relations personnel.  Her machinations gave Saltzman a perfectly good reason to double her output on this story, producing parts three and four on the silly Looney Tunes-style evasions of the public officials who voted for the contract.

The evasions potentially raised even more suspicions.  Saltzman didn’t say it, but this contract probably deserves the attention of a prosecutor.

Parts three and  four were pure entertainment.  In part three, Saltzman showed up at a school board meeting.  When the meeting wasn’t gaveled into session, Saltzman and her photog bum-rushed the elected officials, as any member of the public is entitled to do at a public meeting.  Saltzman showed board members embracing police officers and running to the rest room to avoid answering questions.  It was pitiful, and entirely fair game for WGCL.

They pay her to write this stuff:  Hale's e-mail

They pay her to write this stuff: Hale's e-mail

In part four,  Saltzman acquired an e-mail Hale wrote to school board members prior to that meeting.  Instead of advising school board members  how to handle the issue, she gives them tips for avoiding Saltzman and her photographer.

  • She will try to surprise you and catch you off-balance… It will be tempting to try to answer her questions — she will try to ‘bait’ you and get you riled up.
  • “…keep from saying anything on camera that could come across as flustered, nervous or guilty-looking.”

Not only did Hale fail to respond to WGCL’s questions, but she did an enormous disservice to her bosses.  By advising them to avoid Saltzman’s questions, she put the school board members in the exact position she strove to have them avoid:  Appearing flustered, nervous and guilty-looking.

What Hale failed to understand is this:  The story won’t go away just because she and her chums don’t want to talk about it.  The best way to handle bad news is with honesty and directness.  She finally figured that out Thursday, when Superintendent Cindy Loe and School Board Chairman Linda Bryant talked with Saltzman, wherein they admitted the Office Depot contract was fishy.  This gave WGCL fodder for a fifth piece in the investigation.

By making a public admission of the obvious, the Fulton County School Board may be able to avoid mobs of torch-bearing parents demanding their heads.  Loe told Saltzman that Office Depot is refunding the overage uncovered by WGCL.

Saltzman is tenacious and rather fearless.  Her output is extraordinary, wasting no time putting material on TV when it’s ready.  In part four of this series, she even employed a welcome touch of humor.  The goofy spectre of school board members running from her camera certainly deserved it.

WGCL deserves credit for a top-notch piece of investigative reporting, made even more entertaining by the boneheadedness of its target.  Grade:  A

In his own words

jim axel1 6.10.09jim axel 6.10.09WAGA produced a nice piece on Jim Axel, the terminally-ill retired anchor who now lives in Florida.  In it, Axel talks about his life, his career, and the cancer that will probably kill him.  It’s a long but moving story, especially for those of us who worked with and admired Axel.

Fireplug

Blogging “has not gotten there yet,” according the WGCL news director Steve Schwaid.  Can’t really disagree.  Some blogs are there– Huffington Post, Gawker, Politico.  But locally, the only must-read (aside from the AJC, arguably) — and the one other bloggers go to most days — seems to be Peach Pundit.  You may disagree, of course.

But if your name is Monica Pearson, you don’t read Peach Pundit.  Apparently, you read this one.  And a few others.

I-priestess  / blogging / twitter guru Grayson Daughters sampled some opinions about blogs and such following Tuesday’s Atlanta Press Club forum.

(In honor of Pearson, maybe we should just change the name of this blog to “doug.”  Or “fireplug,” which is Tom Houck‘s nickname for this site…)

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News Directors at 11

press club

Scroll to the bottom of the post for an update.

Eleven snapshots from the Atlanta Press Club forum, featuring Atlanta’s four local TV news directors:

TV news stinks. WXIA’s Ellen Crooke, commenting the state of TV news:  “It doesn’t have to be a list of all the terrible things that happen every day.  That’s why TV news sometimes stinks.”

Mystery solved. WSB’s Marian Pittman, explaining why her TV station inexhaustibly covers traffic accidents:  “You never know when the Mayor is going to be in that car.”

View from below. From WGCL’s Steve Schwaid:  “We had a good May book.  We’re up.  Life is good.”

Blazing, sleuthing. WAGA’s Budd McEntee, talking about the relevance of local TV news to the community:  “And sometimes it is the live apartment fire… and sometimes, it’s great investigative reporting.”

Easy on gas: “I prefer ‘hybrid.'”  –Schwaid, on his preferred term for one-man-band (or backpack journalist).  WGCL has just hired its first “hybrid,” as has WSB.

Watch out, Monica. “The icons are going away.  They are.”  Pittman, in response to a question about highly-paid news anchors.  WSB anchor / diva Monica Pearson was in the audience, as was her less-flashy on-air partner, John Pruitt.  Pittman said she was especially talking about local TV stations rated third or fourth in the market.  WSB is numero uno in Atlanta, ratings-wise.

Who says the news has to be “new?” When asked to describe recent innovations at his station, McEntee listed WAGA’s aces-in-the-hole:

  • The I-Team, which has been around for thirty years;
  • Good Day Atlanta, which debuted in the early 1990s, and;
  • WAGA’s 10pm / prime time newscast, which debuted in 1995.

That wasn’t a trick question! Crooke answered the same question by citing these 2009 innovations:

  • WXIA’s webcasting of editorial meetings;
  • Re-formating the 11pm news to occasionally focus largely on one topic;
  • Leading a newscast with a story about triplets graduating from high school, and attaining video of their father in Iraq participating in the ceremony.  “There was no crime scene tape involved,” said Crooke.

Pittman told the crowd she “wasn’t invited” to a meeting that set up the local news service, a camera-sharing arrangement among WAGA, WXIA and WGCL.  Now, she says “I don’t know if they’ll invite” WSB.  (Pittman also said she still would have declined to sign up.)

McEntee responded by inviting her on the spot.

“Chicken!” – A good-natured audience heckler to McEntee, when he said he wouldn’t discuss anchor salaries.

Update: Click here for another perspective on the APC forum.  The blogger has written more extensively about the event.  He has also linked to this piece of video, showing Ellen Crooke discussing innovations at WXIA (in an “arrogant” and “narcissistic” manner, if you believe some of this blog’s commenteriat.  Did you folks actually attend?  Just wondering…).

Rodney Ho also writes about it here in his AJC blog.

Camp Kudzu

There’s a reason there were fewer posts last week.  Once I left the TV news business, I realized that I had an opportunity to be more productive with my free time.  Last year, I debuted at a counselor at Camp Kudzu, a week-long camp for Georgia kids with diabetes.  This past week, I did it again.

Last year, I produced a promotional piece for Camp Kudzu (with photography help from Helen Lester).  This year, I left the camcorder at home.

Camp Kudzu is great.  Feel free to make a donation.  My daughter, Leigh, has been attending variations of it since age 7.  She’s now a counselor, showing her old man the ropes.

This has been a public service announcement from LAF Enterprises and TomorrowVision Media.

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