In most professions, your competition is a pain in your neck. That’s certainly true in the business of TV news. But today I’m here to praise my competition. I might even say I’m thankful for them. But that’s just the tryptophan talking.
The tryptophan reminds me of the time when, following the verdict in the Gold Club trial, we TV news goons were covering the exits at the Federal Courthouse, hunting jurors.
The organized crime trial had lasted for months. The jurors had heard mind-numbing quantities of disjointed evidence. When it was over, many jurors were eager to vent. As they emerged one-by-one, cameras surrounded them and reporters asked them about the evidence. The jurors mostly stood and answered.
And my photog’s camera died.
Died, as in: Stopped working. Wouldn’t record video and audio. Wouldn’t roll when he hit the “REC” button. Thus, all this one-time-only material went uncaptured by WAGA-TV, which had covered the trial from start to finish.
That’s when a competitor stepped in. Jon Shirek of WXIA-TV and I had listened to much of the Gold Club trial testimony together. We’d killed countless lunch hours together in the courthouse cafeteria. We’d compared quotes from testimony because the damned US Supreme Court won’t allow recording devices in Federal courtrooms.
Shirek saw what was happening to us. He and photog Mike Zakel offered to dub and share their juror video. With no other options, I gratefully accepted. Funny thing is this: If Shirek hadn’t offered, I’m pretty sure Jeff Dore and / or Lyn Harasin at WSB would have made the same offer.
This sharing-of-video isn’t exactly commonplace. But in a situation where exclusivity isn’t an issue — and where the competitor is facing an “it could happen to anybody” technical issue — such sharing is a back-alley secret that usually takes place with management never finding out. The payoff is Karma. I can’t remember the specifics, but I’ve slipped video to a few competitors in my day. They, too, were grateful.
This unlikely competitive behavior apparently dates back to the early days of TV news. Don McClellan touchingly outlines a similar incident in his blog. The story was the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As McClellan writes, he was at the Atlanta airport covering the return of King’s remains for WSB. McClellan was the voice behind a hard-wired live shot as the passengers and cargo emerged.
We were the only live shot when the plane landed. Our pictures and my voice were the only ones on all three networks: NBC, CBS and ABC. There were no others in 1968. I was trying to describe what was happening from a distance without being able to see things clearly across the tarmac. Engineers had not had time to set up a monitor. Suddenly beside and beneath me was Jim Axel [of WAGA] with this tiny battery powered monitor. Though we were competitors, Jim held the monitor directly in front of me so I could identify the members of the entourage accompanying Dr. King’s body.
McClellan has been writing some retrospective posts of late, looking back at his long career in Atlanta TV news. Though he also writes about his medical issues, his marathon running and his skydiving exploits, his recent historical posts are worth reading.
He wrote this about his correspondence with King’s assassin, James Earl Ray.
Here’s a piece about Mayor Ivan Allen hitching a ride with McClellan following a visit to Atlanta by Lyndon Johnson.
Scroll through his blog back to August 2009 and beyond, and another succession of memories-from-TV flows in his posts. Don McClellan’s blog is now linked under “Atlanta TV blogs” to the right.