Monthly Archives: May 2010

NeNe’s naysayers

I can understand why knees are jerking and tongues are clucking over WXIA’s announcement that it’s engaging the services of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” diva NeNe Leakes.  Perhaps like you, my initial reaction was visceral and negative.  She’s a person I barely know from television.  Yet I feel like I know enough:  She’s mouthy, somewhat obnoxious and has a hilariously high opinion of herself.    And that’s not a pejorative assessment.  That seems to be the persona she cultivates, to apparent great success, on the “Housewives” show.  I doubt she’d disagree.  Yet it helps explain the reaction.

Once I got past the shock, my assessment changed.  To wit:  It’s pretty f—ing brilliant.  (The expletive is a shout-out to the show, which is  rife with them.)

Leakes is showing up at WXIA to shoot a limited number of feature pieces that will appear this summer on “11 Alive Today,” the newscast that airs between 5 and 7am.  In so doing, she’ll have the backup of an experienced news photographer and a news producer. Leakes’ skills as a story producer are unknown and likely nonexistent.  She’ll have journalistic backing in the wings, off-camera.

If this gives you the willies — the “woe unto WXIA, for it’s sending a non-journalist to do a journalist’s job,” I would advise relaxation.  Especially if you’ve worked at, or are a fan of any TV news organization that has used a doctor as a medical reporter, or an athlete as a sports reporter, or a politician as a news anchor, or an actor as a weather forecaster.  Leakes is a socialite.  Her stories will be light and culturally-oriented.  She will not be covering the July primary elections.  Nor will she be taking the valuable salary space of a journalist.  Leakes will be an unpaid presence.

Is it a ratings gimmick?  Of course.  And a pretty brilliant one, as such stuff goes.  For some reason, my wife thinks Leakes is pretty awesome.  She’ll probably DVR WXIA’s morning show to see Leakes’ stuff.  Others will undoubtedly do the same.  Some will want to watch for the train wreck potential, including folks who aren’t necessarily “Housewives” fans but have nonetheless caught a whiff of Leakes’ notoriety.

I doubt I’d be able to pick George Strait or TI or Matt Ryan out of a lineup.  But I’d recognize Leakes.  This side of Monica Pearson, I’d opine she’s as well-recognized a TV personality as any in Atlanta.  You are free to disagree.  My opinion in that regard is quite meaningless.

There are also the questions raised about Leakes in Dana Fowle’s piece on WAGA two years ago. Fowle’s story stung Leakes; recently she reportedly bailed on an interview at New York’s Fox station because of a grudge she holds against the network, thanks to Fowle.

Leakes subsequently admitted to WXIA’s Karyn Greer that proverbial wolves at the door forced her family to move from the Sugarloaf mansion where they’d lived.  Fowle’s piece raised additional questions about husband Gregg Leakes’ business practices.

It’s worth noting that when I praised Fowle’s piece shortly after it aired, she and I were both roundly denounced by LAF readers.

I’ll have none of that now.

Vote for me

"A full dinner bucket!"

Some of my best and worst ideas come while running, which is something I do for exercise most mornings.  Typically the brainstorms come during mile four and five.  Many of the posts on this site are direct results of these moments, as well as moments parked alongside a glass of high-octane beer.

One materialized after I actually read a mass e-mail from NATAS. This is the organization best known for providing Emmys, and its spelled-backward acronym.  The e-mail suggested running for the board of Governors of this organization.  During mile four recently, a voice whispered:  Run.  You can “give back.”  Plus it might give you material for the blog.

Since I have no real clue what the Board of Governors does for NATAS, I was unsure.  I wrote an e-mail to the current president, who urged me to submit a 50 – 100 word narrative outlining my relevant experience.  (My word count on this post, so far, is 143.)

This week, I got an e-mail urging me to vote in the NATAS election.  Within it, there’s a list of ten nominees.  I’m one of them.

"Front Porch" Bill McKinley

So, apparently I’m running for the NATAS board of Governors.

In one blog post, here’s my campaign, a new-media version of William McKinley’s front porch campaign, minus the impending fatal brush with an anarchist in Buffalo hopefully.  I’m the proud owner of three McKinley buttons.  That’s one reason why you should vote for me.

Another is:  There are certain unsung behind-the-scenes folk in the Atlanta TV news biz who deserve consideration in this NATAS Silver Circle thing.  Because I may be asked to actually vote on such stuff, if elected, I won’t give up those names now.  I’m playing the Sotomayor / Kagan / Thomas / Frankfurter cards.  You’ll find out after it’s too late.  Vote for me.

Plus, if it’s interesting enough, I’ll blog about it.  Given my history, the “interesting” threshold is pretty low.  If the board has a pulse, I’ll probably write about it.  This could be instructive, for NATAS and for LAF readers.  I can’t say with certainly which of those groups would actually benefit, however, from such exposure.  If any.  Vote for me.

The NATAS Board allows members to vote for as many as eight “hard-working talented and accomplished individuals willing to dedicate time and energy to the success of the Southeast Chapter.”  If you’re a member, you got a link and a password in an e-mail this week.  You may select as few as one.  These are the nominees.

Felix "The Cat" Frankfurter

  • Lee Brown
  • Karyn Greer
  • Ray Goodrich
  • Myrna Moore
  • Thom Murrell
  • Lisa Rayam
  • Doug Richards
  • Laurel Ripley
  • Tom Regan
  • Bill Sykes

For your convenience, I’ve entered in bold type the names of nominees with whom I feel an effective coalition government could be formed.  Or a cabal.  Or a junta.  We’ll see which, if any, apply.  Vote for us.

My risk, of course, is this:  I’ll wage this one-post campaign, then end up ranking number nine or ten in the vote total.  This would be a crushing, devastating embarrassment.

If the results never get posted in this spot, you may surmise the worst.  Vote for me.  Thank you.

Use the children

The YouTubes are rife with images of hapless TV reporters appearing on camera while people act a fool behind them.  If these encounters take place during live shots, there’s not a doggone thing you can do about it.  Your best hope:  React in a way that retains dignity while somebody clotheslines the reporter or moons the camera.

But children are different.  As a dad, I’ve spent a much of my life bending the will of children to suit me.

You’re in a child-rich environment.  You’re conducting an interview or shooting a standup.  There are children nearby, probably old enough to realize what you’re doing and sufficiently headstrong to try to get in your shot.  You don’t want them to sully what you’re doing.  You have choices.

Bad idea: Adopt a combative, parental-type tone.  Admonish them to go away, or there’ll be trouble.

They know you aren’t their parent.  You’re probably on their turf, where they’re comfortable and you probably are looking increasingly uncomfortable.  You’ve only emboldened them.

Good idea: “Hey, you guys want to be on TV?”  They answer excitedly and affirmatively.

“OK.  Here’s the deal.  I’m going to walk around and talk out loud to the camera.  You stand here.  You’ll be in the background.  Look cool.  Look at the camera if you want.  Just don’t wave your hands or do stupid stuff.  We can only use it if you look smart.”

In the instance seen below, the children leaned or sat on the hood of a car and did exactly as instructed.  One of them was an eleven year old boy named Antonio (dark shirt), whom I’d met earlier in the week.  Their presence lent a touch of needed flavor to a background that otherwise consisted solely of real estate.

Cautionary note: Make sure the photog is in on the scheme.  I once had a gaggle of kids pose in the background of a standup.  Afterward, the photog snickered and said, triumphantly “Ha!  I kept ’em out of the frame!”

Ugh.  No.

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Winne watch 5.13.10

Mark Winne, WSB

“…Before one of three robbers posing as police gunned down Donnie Glass, one of them stole his big platinum ring with diamonds.  And now (the detective) hopes a description of the fake cops rings true with someone who calls in a tip.”

WSB’s Mark Winne, in a piece about the unsolved murder of a man killed by men posing as cops.

During his live intro, Winne sprinted through a door, then crouched behind it where the victim took the fatal shot.  Drama points:  √√√√√ (out of five possible).

Secret Squirrel

It appears a cluster of irony (and God knows what else) -fueled middle-aged women has created a Facebook page called Mark Winne Is a Badass Crime Reporter.

The creator is blogger Grayson Daughters, who spends much of her time online clobbering mainstream media.  The “irony” clue is that the group lists a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.

At this writing, there are five members.


I was in an apartment complex, talking in my outdoor voice in the direction of a TV camera.  I’d somewhat memorized the remarks, which would be placed within the body of a TV story in a format known as a “standup.”

As I finished, I heard a voice:  “How do you know what you said is really true?”

Riley Freeman

It was not the typical question posed by stray bystanders watching men talking out loud, committing acts of television.

I was reporting on an incident where police applied repeated Taser bursts to a carjacking suspect.  According to the police report, the suspect followed the second burst by exclaiming “fuck y’all motherfuckers,” then lost consciousness.  She died a short time later.  I sidestepped the “final words” part of the story.

The voice belonged to a boy, about age 11.  He was standing with a friend who was holding a young box turtle he’d  found.  They’d just exited a school bus.  They were wearing khaki pants and blue polo shirts, the uniforms of their public school.  The 11 year old kinda looked like Riley from the Boondocks.

Hoping this young man had asked the question I thought I’d heard, I walked toward them, introduced myself and asked them to repeat the question.

“How do you know what you just said is really true?”

This kid was casually questioning the very essence of journalism.  I was impressed.  He deserved a complete answer.

“I can only interpret what I’ve seen with my own eyes, or what I’ve been told, or what I’ve seen in records.  Since I wasn’t here when this happened, I have to rely on what I’ve read in a police report.  I’ve also spoken with people who were here when it happened.  Based on all that information, I have to come up with a narrative that’s as truthful as I can make it.  Are you familiar with the word ‘attribution?'”  He shook his head.

“Attribution’ is when you tell people the source of your information.  Honestly, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’m giving a truthful account of what happened.  But I’m giving the best information I’ve got, based on what I’ve learned.  It’s why attribution is so important when you’re covering news.”  I was starting to lose him.  “Why do you ask?”

“Because that’s not what happened,'” he said politely.

Well, what happened?

“I saw it.  The police were all around her.   They were putting her in an ambulance, pushing on her chest and stuff.”

Did you see what happened before that?  “No,” he said.

He was a resident of a ghastly, sprawling multi-family complex that almost defies description.  Many units were boarded up, apparently uninhabitable.  We stood near an entire eight-unit building that had been gutted by fire weeks or months earlier.  Yet the complex teemed with life.

I explained that there was more to the story, which is why it was newsworthy and why I was there.

I urged the boy holding the turtle to wash his hands thoroughly.  “You guys are going to college, right?”

“Oh yes,” they answered in unison.  “What’s that college called where I’m going?” said the 11 year old, smiling at his friend with the turtle.  “Oh yeah.  Harvard.”

Check it out

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Perhaps you missed Sunday night’s debut of “Check It out! With Dr. Steve Brule.”  It appears on the Adult Swim division of Cartoon Network.  Odds are, you aren’t part of the demographic they’re trying to reach.  I know I’m not.

Dr. Steve Brule is that guy on the local news who does interaction more than reporting.  In the real world, that guy / gal appears on morning news shows, and has the natural performing talent of a radio DJ or TV talk show host.   WAGA’s Stacey Elgin and Karen Graham do this sort of stuff admirably.  I can’t do it, which is why my TV appearances tend toward the deadpan.  Were I to try to morph into a “personality,” I’d end up like Steve Brule.  Which may be why I’m drawn to him.  Watching him is like glimpsing a funhouse mirror.

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Played by John C. Reilly, Dr. Steve Brule is a spoof.  But spoof and reality merged of late when a guy who calls himself “K-Strass” has appeared on local TV proffering himself as a master of the yo-yo.  When you are booking guests for morning shows in outback burgs like St. Joseph MO, folks like K-Strass are welcome time-killers.  But when they actually show up, the result is bewilderment.  K-Strass videos are now all over Youtube.  Dr. Steve Brule needs to book this guy.

Sweeping performance

“Your mind is totally controlled.  It has been stuffed into my mold.  And you will do as you are told, until the rights to you are sold.” Frank Zappa, “I’m the Slime”

There are three reasons to watch local TV news.  One:  The content.  Two:  Your friend or family member is on TV.  Three:  The spectacle.  Let’s address the spectacle at one Atlanta TV station.

On the move: Portia Bruner, WAGA

The spectacle is especially rich during the sweeps months of February, May and November.  During these months, WAGA treats its viewers to special reports.  It takes the I-Team out of hiding during sweeps.  But just as importantly — the reporters and photographers are beseeched to perform.

Woe to the WAGA reporter or photographer who delivers a live shot merely framing a nicely-lit reporter with a static backdrop.  A casual look at WAGA this month indicates the issuance and re-issuance of orders heard regularly during my tenure at this TV station:  Don’t just stand there.  Do something.  Show us something.  Move someplace.  “Produce” the live shot.

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Here Morse Diggs and his photog execute the simple zoom-in.  The mise-en-scene behind him was a bit of a stretch — his story was about take-home vehicles driven by city employees; he delivered the live shot in front of gas pumps.

But the tag afterward is exemplary:  Diggs waves paper, but intentionally blocks it with his hand because he can’t show it on TV. This is solid evidence that Diggs got the message, repeated by supervisors during his work day:  Make that live shot sing, even if it’s a bit off-key.

Below, Patty Pan’s photog zooms into the school building behind her.  Since the story is about the school all-but closing, it makes a measure of sense to see the building.  Pan delivered on the mandate ably, albeit minimally.

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Within our random sampling of video from WAGA’s web site, Portia Bruner wins the LAF “produce the live shot!” prize.  She’s standing in front of a government building (as were Pan and Diggs).  She’s static at the start, which worries us.  But then she produces a piece of paper, which lends excitement.  And then — she walks toward the door, mimicking the steps of the subject of her story.

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Because we were so spellbound by the performance, we didn’t absorb the content of her remarks.  But that’s OK — if the audience is spellbound, it’s not switching channels or leaving the room to fix supper.  Bruner’s supervisors viewed it with approval.  Her job is safe for another day.

Of course, there’s all that other stuff:  Reporting the story accurately, writing it clearly, developing new information from sources, shooting  and editing video that meaningfully tells the story.  These aren’t afterthoughts.  But that’s not what WAGA’s reporters are hearing about when they walk out the door during sweeps.

Produce the live shot.”

Who wins?  Perhaps the puzzled viewer, who wonders why these TV folks are being all hyper on th’ TV.  Certainly WAGA’s reporters and photogs, who have learned to handle sweeps edicts the way H.R. Haldeman endured the psychotic rants of Nixon.

But the biggest winner is that damned lawyer who sponsors WAGA’s embedded video.  By the way, did you notice how that guy moved?