Monthly Archives: August 2009

View from inside

The blogger returns to the TV news business Monday.  Here’s a look at what LAF could become after returning to (what others have referred to as) the Dark Side.

Great success!

Great success!

Nothing stirs the blood of a journalist like a good Morning Editorial Meeting!!!  And ours are just the best.  The daybook is packed with lots of cool, newsworthy events.  The assignment editors track the police blotter and tips (why, you should hear the racket back there LOL!!!).  And our reporters walk in with amazing insights into ongoing stories or brand new stuff that nobody had ever known.  It’s so awesome!!! =:)

As a reporter, I love getting out in the community.  Atlanta is just the best!!!  Even the parts of town that are not-so-nice, the people are genuine and down-to-earth (that is, the ones that aren’t selling drugs or hurting each other LOL!!!).  Atlanta is so great.  There’s so much history here — living legends like Joe Lowery and Andy Young and Jeff Foxworthy.  And I’ve been photographed with all of them!!!  OMG!!! I love hangin’ with the celebs.  Sometimes, I can get backstage at concerts or behind-the-scenes at Braves games.  It’s just one of the perks of this job I love so much LOL !!!

The work is great.  I love being on the front lines of important events.  I love being able to bark tough questions at wrongdoers.  I love tying it all together in a TV story — 60 or 90 seconds of “the first draft of history.”  It’s such a huge responsibility!!!

And here’s what’s so amazing:  I work so hard.  The expenditure of energy is constant.  The deadline pressure is well, kind of crushing, really!!! And at the end of the day, I have to put my mug on TV!!!  Can you imagine?  Busting your hump all day, then having to look all pretty for the camera?  I don’t know how I do it!!!  LOL!!!  =:)

Well, thanks for letting me give you a little insight into my busy, hectic life.  It’s non-stop — but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!!!

Gotta go now — that’s my Blackberry!  The old adage:  The phone rings, a story begins!!! ROTFLMAO!!!

Have a blessed day!!!


“Pay no mind to what they say…”

WXIA blogsHere’s the problem: Blogging takes time.  Even bloggers complain that they don’t have time to blog.

Blogging also requires a leap of faith:  If I write it, will anybody actually read it?  And if they do, so what?  Is it better to Twitter instead?  Some Twitterers would argue that blogging is soooo 2007.

We killed an hour rooting around Atlanta TV websites looking for blogs.  They were easy to find on WGCL’s site.  They were difficult to find on WSB, WAGA and WXIA’s sites.  One of the few reporters to post recently was WXIA anchor Jill Becker, who blogged about blogging:

” I haven’t been totally resistant to the new technology.  I’m blogging right now—that’s something, right?  But i have to wonder…are people still reading blogs?  Is blogging quick enough, instant enough, gadgety enough? I wonder, almost fear, that I am technically illiterate.  I want to (sort of) venture into the new forms of communication, but I’m fairly certain it will be with baby steps, one “tweet” at a time…. Would I get followers?  Would anybody care?”

Here’s the problem:  Not only does blogging take time, but there are other hurdles.  The content has to be interesting enough to encourage the reader to return.  And the posts have to be updated regularly.  Otherwise, readers will forget about you.wgcl blogs

This would help explain why Atlanta’s TV reporters have blogged rather poorly:  Their jobs are too demanding.  Every TV station has had blogs.  WGCL is the latest station to engage in a blogging kick.  Go to the “news” page of WGCL’s web site, and you’ll find the word “BLOGS” in all caps on the left toolbar.  WGCL has set up WordPress blogs for some of its reporters.

Some folks may find WGCL’s blogs compelling.  Mostly, they’re not our cup of tea.

Stephany Fisher tends to write straight-up synopses of her health alert stories.

Kenny Rogers with Adam Murphy

Kenny Rogers with Adam Murphy

Adam Murphy challenges the gag reflex by posting photos of himself with celebrities.

Kim Fettig promotes charitable causes and good works.  Though she overuses exclamation marks, Fettig doesn’t overwrite and may have the most readable blog on WGCL’s site.  It’s faint praise, though.

Years ago, we remember reading a blog by Jeff Dore on WSB’s web site.  Dore is one of Atlanta  TV’s cleverest writers and coolest dudes.  We recall thinking:  “Wow.  I wonder if WAGA would let me write a blog that honestly examines the TV news biz?”  We never asked, because experience had taught us that such stuff wouldn’t have been appreciated by the folks who assign stories, negotiate contracts and send timesheets to the payroll department.

Regrettably, WSB no longer has a Jeff Dore blog.  The only blog we can find on WSB’s site belongs to weather guy David Chandley.  It’s about – weather.

WAGA has bloggers, but they rarely post.  Karen Graham and Mark Hayes last posted in April.  Dale Russell, who has been known to post interesting behind-the-scenes stuff about investigative reporting,  hasn’t posted since Thanksgiving.

Even anchor Tom Haynes, who had devotedly blogged for viewer feedback on stories, has no blog linked to his bio.  Maybe it’s gone away, or we’re just too dim to find it on WAGA’s site.  (Update:  Just found it here.   It’s called the Fox News Edge blog.  It’s not linked to Haynes’ bio, but it’s on WAGA’s home page.)

Curiously, WXIA’s blogs are next-to-impossible to find on their site (though, again, it may be due to our knuckleheadedness).  This is puzzling, given WXIA’s devotion to melding its TV and web presence.  It appears their reporters can contribute to a combined “news” blog, but nothing that distinguishes them individually.   For example, Jaye Watson has blogged insightfully about coverage of difficult stories.  Want to find Jaye Watson’s blog?  Good luck.

Like we said:  Blogs take time.  WGCL’s bloggers will probably lose interest soon as the crush of work overtakes them.  And seriously, does anybody really want to read this stuff anyway?

Same story, different day

Some jaws undoubtedly dropped at WGCL late last month when WAGA’s I-Team produced an investigation on a used car dealership that sold cars with histories of accidents.  Dana Fowle’s two-parter showed that the dealership failed to disclose to customers the fact that its used cars had sustained significant damage in accidents.

The jaws dropped because WGCL’s Wendy Saltzman had done the same story three months earlier.

The dealerships weren’t the same, but the storylines were almost identical:

  • Dealership buys the used car at auction;
  • auction house discloses to the dealer that the car has damage;
  • yet Carfax fails to note the damage;
  • dealer sees Carfax report and purchases the car at auction, despite warning of damage;
  • dealer shows the Carfax report to potential customers and falsely claims the vehicle has no damage;
  • Customer purchases car, then later has nightmarish auto issues relating to earlier damage.
Ahead of her time:  Wendy Saltzman WGCL (with Roswell's finest)

Ahead of her time: Wendy Saltzman WGCL (with Roswell’s finest)

Saltzman presented her piece in an April prime-time special on WGCL.  Fowle delivered hers on the 6pm news.  Both pieces were hard-hitting.  Saltzman’s piece was excellent, though Fowle’s breezier storytelling style is refreshing and lacks Saltzman’s emphatic “we’re on a crusade here!” sensibility.

Saltzman was tougher on Carfax, an entity that inexplicably fails to get vital info from auction houses about accident histories, yet sells itself as the authority on such stuff.  Saltzman also managed to make herself enough of a pain in the ass at a Roswell dealership that the dealer called the cops.  Fowle, whose mobility is limited these days due to her pregnancy, skipped the crowd-pleasing theatrics.

Give WAGA credit for declining to promote the story as an exclusive.  Some stations might have done that anyway.

“Well this was a real eye opener for me,” Russ Spencer told Fowle following her set tag.  Spencer is among the legions of TV viewers who might overlook the groundbreaking work going on in WGCL’s investigative unit.

Perp walk…

In the 2004 motion picture “The Clearing,” Robert Redford stars as a business tycoon who has been kidnapped for ransom.  His understandably distraught family members decide to “go public” with a direct appeal through the media and schedule a press conference.

I happened to get a little face time in the movie as an extra — playing, of course, a reporter (just as I once did in real life).

In the scene, Helen Mirren, as Redford’s wife, emerges with her grown children to face the legion of media representatives waiting outside their mansion.

We didn’t have actual lines, but I remember the film’s director’s instructions.  “As soon as you see them open the door, just start shouting questions all at once, like you usually do.”

I raised my hand.

“Well, we really wouldn’t do that,” I said.

He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

“What?

“We wouldn’t just start yelling.”

“Why not?”

“Well, first, this is a press conference, so we’d wait for them to get down here and start talking to us,” I explained.  “And, more importantly, they’re victims who have done nothing wrong, so we’d really go out of our way to respect what they are going through.”

I don’t recall the director’s exact response, but it basically came down to, “Do you want to be in this movie or not?”

So, as soon at the door opened and Helen Mirren stepped out, I started screaming at her like a ravening jackal — thus directly contributing to a pervasive Hollywood stereotype that, until recently, I have always felt was unfair and undeserved.

I’m not a good enough actor, or even a good enough extra, to think up any questions appropriate for the situation.  I couldn’t picture myself ever doing this kind of thing to people with a loved one who was probably dead at that very moment.  So, I made things up.

“Where did you buy those shoes?” I yelled, knowing the words would never actually be audible on screen.  “The people have a right to know!”

That was make believe.  Not real life.

In more than one darkened theater, I’ve leaned over to whoever was with me and said, “I don’t know any real reporters who would do that.”

Oh, sure.   I have witnessed, and even participated in, my share of media circuses.  But, as far as I can recall, they were always centered around a deserving target — like, say, an indicted congressman or someone suspected of hiring a hit man to kill his wife.

The journalists I knew throughout my career were professional and had enough self respect not to  stumble over themselves and each other just to torture people arbitrarily.

But what a difference a few years make.  Times have changed since I left local television three-and-a-half years ago.

If you want to see TV reporters at their worst — (And, really, who among the readers of this blog doesn’t?) — look no further than this video clip.

mayor

I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but she had me at, “No comment.”

By that, I mean to say that, unlike all these guys with the cameras and microphones, I understand English.

This woman is not one of Michael Jackson’s doctors.  She’s not Casey Anthony or some other party-happy mother of a missing and presumably dead tot.  She’s not the governor of South Carolina stepping out of a plane from Argentina after being missing for a week.

This is the mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin.

She is not accused of any crime — unlike at least one of her predecessors and unlike some of her contemporaries around the country.  She is a public official with lots of responsibilities and a busy schedule that may or may not happen to coincide with or accommodate some arbitrary deadline for the 5 o’clock news.

I make very few statements with absolute certainty.  However, one thing I know for sure is that I would make a very bad mayor.  And each of the so-called newspeople chasing Franklin down the street would be just as abysmal as me.  Potholes would go unfilled, garbage wouldn’t be picked up, taxes would skyrocket, public corruption would run amok and crime really would turn the streets into an urban jungle — something that as yet has not happened.

Franklin has done a good job, for a very long time, of running the city.  And that includes not just the last eight years, but many more in which she basically did the job without the title.

Even if you’re not the fan I am, why treat someone of her caliber like a perp?  Why live down to the public’s already low opinion that journalists are all bottom feeders?  Why not simply go back to your newsrooms and report that the mayor had no comment today, but has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow morning?

Here’s why:

“Good TV.”

I mentioned that phrase the other day.

It refers not to television that will help to inform viewers, but, rather, to video that people will want to watch.

Someone being tasered, for instance, is always “Good TV.

The folks at WGCL-TV — or CBS Atlanta, as the station prefers to call itself — were so unembarrassed by the scene depicted in this ugly video that they posted unedited “raw” video of the entire confrontation on their official website.

“Raw: Mayor Declines to Comment About Crime,” the heading reads.  And a caption underneath that says, “Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin refuses to answer CBS Atlanta’s Tony McNary’s questions about crime in the city.”

That statement — while technically true — is pretty hilarious since Tony McNary is just one of a gazillion reporters descending en masse upon Mayor Franklin as she attempts to negotiate her way down a public street.  I think you can see the mic flags of just about every station in town at one point or another (and I am very sorry to say I recognized an old friend in there).  So, for WGCL to imply that the mayor refused to answer McNary’s questions in particular is perhaps the strangest example of self promotion I’ve come across lately.

All this over-the-top behavior and coverage is because of a perceived crime wave in Atlanta.

It’s an issue that has inflamed passions throughout the city (at least in part because of the media) but the facts are subject to a great deal of debate.  I don’t claim to know the truth, but I’ve talked to various people — from neighborhood advocates to public officials — who have very different views on the matter and very different interpretations of the available statistics.  The fact that it’s an election year, with three leading candidates for mayor loudly pushing anti-crime agendas, may also figure into the overal equation.

Who is right?  Not sure.

Either way, Mayor Franklin’s decision to wait and discuss crime at a scheduled press conference the following morning did not result in a single homicide or burglary that wouldn’t have happened even if she’d been willing to stop what she was doing and deal with this journalistic lynch mob.

“I will not have any comments at this point, with you chasing me down the street, today,” Franklin says in the video.  “I have not run from the press, I have not run from issues, I have a reputation for being open and willing to talk to you.  I will not do it now.”

At which point, a reporter — quite possibly WGCL’s Tony McNary — lectures the mayor, in a tone dripping with righteousness and condescension, “There’s a crisis right now with crime in the city!”

The reporter makes that statement as if it is absolute fact, as if he really knows more about it than she does.

“And I have a crisis every day as mayor,” the mayor answers tersely.  “Thank you.”

At that point, I almost expected one of the reporters to shout, “Where did you buy those shoes?”

It is hard to believe that the local media has degenerated into a poor man’s TMZ, dogging a respected public official as if she was Britney Spears and presumably hoping to drive her crazy enough to shave her head and attack them with an umbrella.  And it is equally hard to believe that this is stuff that WGCL or any of the other news stations actually want the public to ever see.

Mayor Franklin is the only person in this “raw” video clip who was elected by the citizens of this community.  I strongly suspect she is the only person in the clip who would have a job at all if the public got to vote on reporters and photographers, as well.

— CB Hackworth