Monthly Archives: November 2009

Election night

doug richards, wxia with tharon johnson

Interviewing Tharon Johnson, Reed's campaign manager

Election night is a noble pursuit for local TV news.  It’s about the delivery of timely information to that desirable part of the audience that actually pays attention to issues.  There’s drama and intrigue.  It’s a night to deliver breaking news which doesn’t involve a police investigation.

Below are 10 random observations about election night, which transpired last Tuesday in Atlanta and a handful of other cities / states around the USA.

Along with Kym France Wilson, Devin Miller, Bill Jones and John Samuels, I worked Kasim Reed’s election night party at the downtown Hyatt Regency.  I also brought a camcorder.  The result is below.

1.  Though required to arrive at your candidate’s election night party in time for a 6pm live shot, there’s almost nothing truly relevant to report at that hour.  The campaign is over.  The results haven’t come in yet.  It’s no-man’s-land, information-wise.  You’re there to set the stage and ensure the viewer that — you’re there.

2.  Since meaningful results rarely come in prior to 9pm, election night is mostly about standing around.  You make smalltalk with politicos and other media.  You read a book.  You watch people drink.

3.  If the candidate actually shows up prior to 9pm, nothing good can come of it.  There’s nothing they can say that’s new — unless they’re conceding or claiming victory based on exit polls, which doesn’t happen.

4.  Democrats have more fun at election night parties than Republicans.  They just do.

5.  Mary Norwood’s election night party was at the Varsity, a giant hot dog stand.  I kinda get the symbolism, but I’m pretty sure I’d rather kill an evening at a hotel ballroom.

6.  Kasim Reed’s press guy vowed that Reed would be on the podium, making a speech at exactly 11:01.  Or, at least that’s what I thought he said.  Reed didn’t hit the podium until 11:25, however.  This all but scotched Reed’s face time on the local news that night.

7.  WSB’s Alan Hand wasn’t actually snoozing during the evening.  He and Lori Geary humped into the lobby to shoot a quick chat with Reed as he arrived at the hotel.  See #3 above.

8.  I got my best updated election returns via Twitter, #chrissweigart,  #11alive.  Just sayin.’

9.  The only election night I can vividly remember was in 1986.  I was covering Sen. Mack Mattingly’s party.  Mattingly lost a whisker-thin vote to Wyche Fowler, but wouldn’t concede.   I ended up staying at Mattingly’s hotel HQ through noon the next day, when he finally threw in the towel.  As a guy in my 20s, I could barely handle it then.  I can’t imagine trying it now.

10.  We hear WGCL didn’t do an election live shot during its 11pm newscast until 11:25pm, apparently by design.


The shootist


Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

An Army Major identified by police as Nidal Malik Hasan goes on a killing rampage in Ft. Hood Texas, and the media calls him a “shooter.”  A student at Virginia Tech massacres his fellow students, and the press calls him the “Virginia Tech shooter.”  Brian Nichols murders a judge and a court reporter in cold blood, then kills two more people as he escapes the Fulton County Courthouse and flees to Gwinnett County.  Nichols becomes “the Fulton County Courthouse Shooter.”

How did mass murderers become “shooters”?  How did guys who left behind more carnage than the likes of Ted Bundy, Richard Speck and Charlie Starkweather get saddled with “shooter,” a handle that is easily confused with a shot of liquor during happy hour?


Charlie Starkweather

It’s sloppy, lazy, inexact and limp to call a guy like Nichols a “shooter.”  A “shooter” can be a guy in the back yard with a .22 rifle, shooting cans off  a fence post.  Nichols is a “killer.”  He’s a “gunman.”  He’s a “murderer.”  He’s even a “mass murderer,” a term no longer used because it’s so chilling, and would describe too many homicidal hotheads in the late 20th / early 21st century.

It’s reasonable to take “mass murderer” off the table, then, if only to avoid the possible cheapening of the term, the same way “brutal” and “bizarre” are cheapened by overuse on TV.

Big Al

Big Al

But to replace it with “shooter” is to whitewash the meaning from an act that shouldn’t be sugarcoated.   Alexander Hamilton was a “shooter,” maybe — a guy pointing his gun semi-upward during a competitive blood sport.  Aaron Burr was the gunman who declined to point his weapon upward.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed twelve people and injured 31 in a rampage at Ft. Hood.  Police say he’s a killer.  If a jury convicts him, he’s a murderer.

If you can use a term that more accurately describes the lethal nature of the crime eg. “killer,” why would anybody call Hasan, Nichols et al a “shooter”?

(And it has nothing to do with legal hairsplitting; “police say the gunman walked from room to room” works just as easily as when substituting the less descriptive word.)

Pet peeve?  Yes.

It’s time to bury “shooter.”  Unless it’s happy hour.

High wire act

Audio_Technica_SharpLavalierMicrophones“Here.  Let me clip this mic on you.”

There’s no getting around it.  One cannot gather news unless one records audio.  Operating in a world that lacks boom-mic toting audio techs, the local TV news goon typically has two options:  Hold the unwieldy, flag-draped stick microphone under the chin of your interview subject; or clip the discreet lavaliere mic to her garment.

From the standpoint of the visual aesthetic, the latter is almost always the preferred method.  It also has the greatest potential for personal embarrassment.

Lisa Borders, Doug Richards, WXIA

Is that a mugger? IRS agent? Perv? Or TV reporter?

“Let me clip this mic on you” is the easy part.  As those words are uttered, the TV goon is making an immediate assessment of the couture of the interview subject.

The woman above is Lisa Borders, Atlanta’s City Council President and candidate for Mayor in today’s election.  Not only does Borders have the best haircut of the six candidates, but she’s also a very smartly dressed woman.  Such well-dressed women are often the most difficult to rig with a lav.

There are three components to the procedure.

lisa borders on wxiaClip the mic to the garment. Though you can’t see it in the photo, the mic is clipped to Borders’ left lapel.  When evaluating the subject’s couture, the TV goon almost always looks first for a jacket.  Jackets make life much easier than, say, a mere T-shirt or, God forbid, a form-fitting garment constructed of mesh or lace.  There needs to be a place to apply the clip.

Whatever the female subject is wearing, the TV goon almost always finds himself positioning his awkward, sweaty hands on or near her upper torso.  “Sorry.  I do this all the time,” he might find himself saying, trying to maintain an air of straight-faced professionalism.  Most women react with passive bemusement, closely watching where the stranger’s hands are headed.

Hide the wire. The tiny mic is attached to a wire.  The wire either attaches to the camera, or to a small, boxy wireless transmitter.  The wire should be invisible.  On Borders, it was easily placed inside the jacket.  Again, the TV goon must ensure such placement by opening the jacket and gently running the wire within.  Awkward.

However, the wire sometimes has to go inside the woman’s only outergarment.  You hand her the mic and wire, then ask her to extend it inside the waist opening of the garment, then out her collar.  I always casually turn my back for a few seconds while she fishes the gizmo through the inside of a shirt or blouse.


(L) Mic and transmitter, (R) receiver

Secure the transmitter. The boxy transmitter, attached to the mic via the wire, has to go somewhere.  Sometimes, if the wire is long enough, the TV goon can hold the transmitter.  More often, however, the transmitter has to be attached to the interview subject, out of sight of the camera.

Most transmitters have clips that can be put on belts.  Sometimes, the transmitters slip easily into the pants pockets of the subject.   Neither option worked with Borders.  Our transmitter lacked a clip, and it was too bulky to fit into her pants pockets (a conclusion I drew from the earlier couture assessment).

But Borders was carrying a purse.  “How ’bout I just put this in your purse?”  Borders agreed, opened it and I slipped the transmitter onto the top of whatever was inside.

Following this ritual, the TV goon must shake off the awkwardness and conduct the interview.  Sometimes, the interview is contentious.  Frequently, the interview subject has gone through the same thing herself many, many times.  She knows the drill.  Occasionally, she can even manipulate the gear herself.  But it’s almost always quicker to assist.

Rookie interviewees are tougher.  You have to talk them through it.  “You need to run this wire inside your blouse somehow, ma’am.  Then I’m going to clip this to your collar…”  Many laugh giddily at the unexpected placement of gear and hands.  A rare few will feel a bit threatened by it.

Then afterward, the process is reversed.  The TV goon reaches toward the interviewee and liberates her from the transmitter, wire and microphone.  Tear-down is (almost) always much quicker than the setup.  By then, the awkwardness is an accepted part of the encounter.

“I’m a professional.  I do this all the time.”

Photo credit / blame:  Liz Flowers, press secretary to Lisa Borders.  Story on WXIA is here.

For Fox sake

hannity in california

Rallying: Hannity in California

Many pixels have been spilled (as well as a few quarts of ink) about the Obama administration aggressively snubbing Fox News.  Most commentators have chosen to use Nixonian analogies, typically concluding that presidencies rarely win in such conflicts.  This may be Obama’s fate as well.  I’m not smart enough to know.

But I think the analogy is the wrong one to use.  Obama’s people argue that Fox is the “research arm or communications arm of the Republican Party.”   To me, that’s not a problem.   The media is supposed to research what’s wrong with government.  If Fox unearths legitimate issues that undermine the administration’s agenda, so be it.

Likewise, if Fox approaches news from a conservative viewpoint, so be it.  From the dawn of the Republic, newspapers have been rooted in political viewpoints.  There’s no reason why Fox or MSNBC should be any different.

But for some reason, I never hear this argument:  Fox is a political organization in and of itself.  Fox crosses the line when it organizes and promotes issue-related rallies, like the Tea Parties or Sean Hannity’s water rally in California (wherein he decried what he claimed were environmentalists choosing endangered species over people).

Once a media organization becomes a political organization, then it loses its credibility.  You can’t do both.  You can’t actively rally folks to a viewpoint, then expect the other side (or anybody else, except for your amen chorus in the audience) to take you seriously as a news organization.

Jon Stewart also overlooks this argument.  But he makes some other good points, bolstered by Fox’s own spin.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

With Mike Daly in New Orleans, Sept. 2005

When I worked at WAGA,  folks loved to roll down their windows at stoplights when pulled up alongside marked “Fox 5 News” vehicles and holler passionate words of support for the Fox News Channel.  I always absorbed them with a friendly nod and a fake smile.  Sometimes I threw in a “hell yeah” for comic effect.

One time, a photog and I happened to drive by a small lefty-type protest at Ponce de Leon Ave. and North Highland.  One of the protesters scrunched up his face and spat on the windshield.  The loogie landed squarely in the drivers side.  It was a nice hit on a moving target.


Sleepless in KC, March 28 2003

He didn’t know that WAGA’s Fox 5 News occasionally uses Fox News Channel as a resource (and vice versa), but otherwise has very little to do them.   In 2007, a few weeks before I left WAGA, I did a live shot on Shepard Smith’s afternoon newscast.   In 2003, I did a live shot from Fox’s bureau in Kuwait City.  (It’s worth noting that as the US/Coalition was invading Iraq, Fox’s staff in Kuwait City showed no behind-the-scenes hint of ideology.  They seemed only interested in covering the story and doing it safely, like any other TV network.)

As of 2007, nobody from Roger Ailes’ office had ever tried to put a political spin on WAGA’s news coverage, to my knowledge.  I suspect WAGA is still a very, very distant blip on Ailes’ radar.  Most folks don’t know that WAGA also had a resources-sharing relationship with CNN until recently.

So the loogie gesture was a bit misplaced.  But I respected the protester’s power to spit accurately.  And I understood his confusion.