Monthly Archives: December 2009

Roof access

Undisputed: Kasim Reed, Mayor-elect

It was a last-minute mini-brainstorm, which took place at a traffic light during the morning commute.  It went something like this:  Eight days after the runoff, Kasim Reed may finally become the undisputed mayor-elect today.   We should hang out with him.

Reed had scheduled an 11am news conference to announce his new interim police chief.  I called his communications guy, Reese McCranie, and left a voice mail.

At the news conference, McCranie said he hadn’t listened to my message.  I made the pitch:  We know the recount will be finished this afternoon.  In all likelihood, Mary Norwood will finally concede.  We want to be nearby.

It was a last-minute request for unusual access to the next mayor.  McCranie’s instinct was to reject it.   “I’ll see what Kasim says,” said McCranie.  “I don’t know what’s on his schedule.”

We lingered at the end of Reed’s news conference.  So did Reed. I made the pitch directly to Reed.  Reed’s instinct was to accept  it.

Victory lap: Reed near the Capitol

Many political PR folks would have taken offense at my approach.  McCranie, a twenty-something guy who earned the respect of reporters covering the mayor’s race, took none.  “We’ll make it happen,” he said.

The news conference had taken place at Reed’s transition office at city hall (set up despite the fact that the election was still unsettled.  Reed’s mentor, Mayor Shirley Franklin, gave Reed the space in the old Board of Aldermen meeting room).   We hung around city hall.

Then McCranie disappeared to watch the recount across town.  Reed slipped out a door to attend a meeting.  Photog Pete Smith and I went to the Capitol for lunch.

The recount was expected to take most of the day.  It finished by 12:40pm, and went to Reed.    “You just missed Shirley Franklin,” said McCranie when we returned.  We entered Reed’s “office” — a curtained-off area in the old Board room — where he was taking congratulatory phone calls.  He had just talked with Norwood, who’d phoned to concede.  WXIA reported Norwood’s concession, a small but significant scoop.

Following the phone calls, Reed said he needed some air.  We watched as Reed walked from City Hall to his car at the Capitol and back.  Reed received congratulatory handshakes and horn honks.  We chatted about the upheaval in the state House of Representatives.  Reed had just resigned as a Senator to run for Mayor.

At a street corner, he pointed to the tower in the old City Hall building.  “Do you know what’s up there?” he asked me, pointing to the top floor.  Like Reed, I’d never been to the 17th floor.

Following our walk, other news media began to gather at Reed’s office.  He’d scheduled another news conference, his first as the undisputed mayor-elect.

I got in the elevator and rode to the top floor.  At the fifteenth floor, I saw the Office of Grant Management.  “What’s upstairs?” I asked a city worker.  She didn’t know.

17th floor, City Hall

I went into the stairwell, where I saw a sign that said “no roof access.”  I tried the door.  It was unlocked.  I entered the mysterious top floor of the City Hall tower.  It was filled with boxes, cobwebs and wasp nests.  I took three photos.

And then I went to Kasim Reed’s news conference.  I’d intended to show him the photos, but a 6pm deadline pressed.

Perhaps another time.

Election method

Election night is always a little misleading.  During the evening, the public watches and listens to broadcast media to see who is “leading” in the vote.  If a candidate is “leading,” it implies that there is an ongoing competition.  But there isn’t.

Once the polls close, no candidate is “leading.”  One of them has already won.  But the vote-count is ongoing, with results trickling out to the public through the news media.  That trickle of information yields a deceptive horse-race quality that adds drama to the evening, and keeps political geeks (as well as your garden-variety well-informed citizens) glued to the media on election night.

On November 1, WXIA delivered partial election results more quickly than the rest of the news media.  It showed the horse-race quality of the vote count more quickly.  WXIA also geographically showed which precincts were voting for Mary Norwood or Kasim Reed.   This was unique.  Nobody else did it.

This was the result of a brainstorm from the bosslady.  She figured out that the law requires precincts to post the results of the race after the polls close.  The post is supposed to be visible to the public, typically affixed to a door.  She reckoned that WXIA could find a way to send staff and / or volunteers to nearly all of the 160 or so of Atlanta’s election day / runoff precincts.

There were skeptics.  I was among those who feared that pollworkers would simply ignore the obscure law requiring the posting of results.  With fewer than a half-dozen exceptions, it turned out I was quite wrong.

It worked quite well.  It was remarkable, actually.  As the Associated Press (and as a result, every other news media in town) reported next-to-zero election returns, WXIA was gathering results from volunteers and and tabulating the vote total.

This wasn’t exit-polling.  These weren’t estimates.  They were official results, gathered at the precinct level.

It also resulted in some confusion for those who watched WXIA’s vote totals alongside those of other media.  Rodney Ho wrote about it in the AJC Wednesday.

Because our volunteers mostly fanned out from WXIA’s Midtown studios, they gathered numbers earliest from Northside precincts that favored Norwood.  Our board showed Norwood with an early lead that shrank as the evening wore on and the numbers came in.

But unlike most local election night totals — which don’t give the geographic breakdown of the incoming numbers — WXIA was able to fully disclose which precincts it had counted.  The station used a color-coded map that showed which precincts had been counted, and which ones hadn’t.  This gave viewers more information to make informed judgments about what the early numbers meant.

In his post, Rodney Ho quoted WGCL news director Steve Schwaid, who implied that WXIA’s numbers somehow weren’t “official.”  Quoth Schwaid:  “It would never cross our minds not to use the official counting source for information.”

WGCL was among the stations that had next-to-zero election totals for the first 90 minutes after the polls closed.  Schwaid apparently misunderstood;  the numbers WXIA used were official.   The next day, WXIA updated its map with numbers provided by the Board of Elections website.  Except for absentee ballots, they were the same.

Funny thing is, it’s unlikely WXIA (or anybody else in Atlanta) will be able to repeat this method anytime soon.  There are too many precincts in Congressional and state elections to staff them all.  A city election is just right for this kind of exercise.

There’s always 2013.

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Dale Russell, WAGA

You’re now seeing insane jealousy, the greenest, ugliest and sickest sort imaginable.

There was no chance in hell Susan Richardson would talk to any reporter.  As a political wife recently divorced from one of Georgia’s most media-unfriendly politicians, Mrs. Richardson should have retained her ex-husband’s stonewalling nature. Her ex-, only weeks earlier, had publicly revealed a suicide attempt.

Political wives don’t talk on the record about their shifty husbands.  At least, not while the wounds are still fresh.  Hardly ever.

And yet, Susan Richardson did so.   Why?  Two reasons.  It suited her purposes, because she was desperate to get her scheming, manipulative ex-husband out of her life for good.  And, because Dale Russell of WAGA presumably had the audacity to actually ask her to do it.

(That’s an assumption.  It’s possible Mrs. Richardson initiated contact with Russell directly or through an intermediary.  Russell may not be able to say, though.  The details of those early communications probably involve the give-and-take of negotiating the interview.  I’m hoping Russell will enlighten us with a post on this site in the next few days, but I don’t expect him to tell everything…)

There are several reasons why this story is a pretty amazing feather in Russell’s cap.

The enormity.  Glenn Richardson just announced his resignation from the House of Representatives.  The House will have to choose another speaker.  Call it seismic, cataclysmic, apocalyptic — the story is the biggest talker in town.  It’s bigger than the mayor’s race.  It’s huge because Richardson was a huge force in state government, undone by his own arrogance, his willingness to transpose his brain and his boy-parts, and his inability to let his poor ex-wife get on with her life.

Richardson was forced to resign from his position of power because of this story.

The exclusivity.  Because Susan Richardson talked to nobody else, any other media reporting the story had to either cite WAGA as the source of the bombshell info (as the AJC did), or give vague (and wimpy) credit to “a TV interview” or “broadcast reports.”  Russell owned the story.

And yes, other media made efforts to play catchup.  WSB had a live truck parked outside Mrs. Richardson’s house all day Tuesday, we’re told.   She was unwilling to tell her story again.  She didn’t have to.  She didn’t tell the story as a public service.  She told the story to get her ex-husband off her back.  If she’d become a large-scale media presence, it could have turned Glenn Richardson into a victim, giving him ammunition he now lacks.

Once was enough.  Boy, was it ever.

Tight-lipped: Susan and Glenn Richardson

The storytelling. Sure, he had plenty of excellent raw material from the scorned woman.  But watch the story.    It starts off with her take on his suicide attempt, an effort to manipulate her, she says.  Then Russell goes into the back story.    He weaves  Richardson’s suicide drama with events in their estranged relationship.  (Turns out he’d threatened suicide previously, after she discovered he was having an affair with a lobbyist.)

Then we learn Richardson had threatened to use his political power to help his mistress and harm his estranged wife.   This is the stuff that cost Richardson his job as Speaker of the House.

It caps with the image of her unhappily holding a Bible for his swearing-in.   Now we know it was a climactic, abusive moment in a marriage that had already unraveled.

The story was expertly told, and WAGA gave Russell enough time (seven minutes, plus) to let Mrs. Richardson say her piece, devastatingly so.

Jealous?  Absolutely.  Dale Russell makes me sick with envy.  Others may not admit it.  I just did.

When “the latest” isn’t late enough…


From:  Bud Veazey

To:  Reporters, producers, anchors, promotions

Re:  “the very latest,” et al

A good writing teacher will tell you, “Never use two words when one word will do.” TV reporters and writers turn that rule on its head. Take “very latest” for instance. How many times have you heard an anchor tell you he or she will have the “very latest” on a story after the commercial break or that reporter John Doe has the “very latest” from the scene?

Shouldn’t “latest” be enough? What’s the difference between “very latest” and “latest?” Am I getting my money’s worth when I’m getting only the “latest” information?

I recently heard a reporter refer to a “brazen and bold” robber. Why not just “brazen?” Why not just “bold?” Aren’t the two words synonyms?

Get yourself a six-pack and take a sip every time you hear an unnecessary or redundant adjective in a TV newscast. You’ll be knee-walking drunk by 7 p.m. (Okay, I exaggerate. I once wrote TV news and habits of hyperbole are hard to break.)

In another place: Bud Veazey

After decades of reading and correcting TV news copy, I came to the conclusion that it must be a rhythm thing, sort of like the iambic pentameter of reporter tracking. Perhaps reporters and writers throw in superfluous adjectives and adverbs for the same reason producers insist on three teases on a break—it just feels right. That’s the reason you’ll see a tease for a 15-second video of a car wreck in Seattle. The story is hardly worthy of advance promotion, but a producer needed a third tease to maintain the rhythm.

Don’t get me started on “young child,” “very unique,” or “completely destroyed.”

Until his retirement in 2007, Bud Veazey was assistant news director at WAGA, where he wrote memos like this regularly (minus the “take a sip” challenge, unfortunately…).  Veazey now creates and restores guitars.  Visit his ebay page here.