Monthly Archives: November 2010

The ultimate scam

“You pulled the ultimate scam.  Hats off, my friend.”  So spoke a coworker to me the day after Thanksgiving.  I couldn’t argue, though I could have nitpicked the word scam. But we both knew what she meant:  In TV news land, a scam is a work day in which you manage to parlay a leisure activity into a work activity.  If a cool story emerges, so much the better.

I had to work Thanksgiving, due to my lack of seniority at WXIA.  As I pondered this bit of scheduling reality a week earlier, it occurred to me that Thanksgiving is the day the Atlanta half-marathon takes place.  I’d run this race several times over the years.  My brainstorm went thusly:  I’ll run the half marathon, I’ll carry a camcorder, and produce a story about the race from a runner’s perspective.

I pitched it to the seniority-impaired supervisor scheduled to work Thanksgiving, and he bought it.  (This is where the word scam becomes a misnomer.  In the classic sense, a scam takes place when somebody is unwittingly taken advantage of; in this case, the supervisor was a willing participant who bought into it hoping to gain an unusual TV package for the 6pm newscast.)

The only problem with this scam was:  I hadn’t trained to run 13 miles.  I knew I could run seven or eight miles.  Getting to 13 would be a challenge.  By the time I got up Thanksgiving morning, I was feeling like I had possibly scammed myself.

About the shoot:

* I shot it on my personal Canon HV20 camcorder, using a DV widescreen setting.  It rolled a mini DV tape.  It has only an auto-focus setting.  The audio came off the camera’s internal mic.

* I made a point of stopping to shoot as much static video as possible.  Video shot whilst running tends to jar the senses.

* I came up with narrative threads as I progressed through the race.  I stopped a couple of times and shot some on-camera bits so that I’d have clean audio and video.  I shot them handheld, arm extended.  I’m sure the other runners thought I was pretty ridiculous.

* I ended up shooting 45 minutes of raw tape.  For the closing shots, I balanced the camcorder on the roof of my 2002 Honda Accord, parked in the Orange lot at Turner Field.

* It took me three hours and thirteen minutes to finish the race, about an hour longer than usual.  My frequent stops would help explain this, as would my advanced age and lack of training.  Physically, I started to hit a serious wall around the nine mile mark.  But I’m convinced I was able to finish the 13 miles because I’d stopped so frequently.

Upon completion, I went home and ingested the tape into the FCP system on my Mac.  I took a shower, ate some lunch, then started editing without a script.  The rough cut was about 2:40.  The producer had requested 1:40.  She graciously compromised at 2:08.

By 4:30pm, I staggered into One Monroe Place with a Quicktime movie file on a thumbdrive.  An editor transferred the piece into the server while I wrote an anchor lead-in.  Within 15 minutes, I was headed up the road to supper.

Except for my comic inability to move my legs that night, it was the ultimate scam.

Tone deaf

To the amazement of my friends and the annoyance of my wife, I’ve once again renewed my subscription to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  In the last year it has re-emerged as a must-read.  Its coverage of government and politics has been vigorous and top notch.  The AJC has been enterprising and investigative.    Because of the AJC, we know about

  • the CRCT cheating scandal
  • the DeKalb schools construction scandal that eventually cost the superintendent his job
  • Governor-elect Nathan Deal’s strong-arming of the Department of Revenue to benefit his business, as well as his personal financial problems
  • John Oxendine’s illegal campaign contributions, which he subsequently returned
  • Gov. Perdue’s use of state resources and contacts to further his private business interests

… and the list goes on.

But the AJC has a curious bunker mentality that is unseemly for a re-emerging news organization.  That mentality became glaringly evident when editor Julia Wallace blew off a scheduled interview with WABE radio last week.

It appeared to start this fall, when the Georgia Voice criticized the AJC for completely ignoring Pride in its print edition.   Pride is a festival recognizing Atlanta’s gay community.  Atlanta’s Pride celebration is one of America’s largest.  (WXIA streamed the Pride parade on

Pride is a lot like the Peachtree Road Race.  They’re both predictable festivals, but both draw tens of thousands of people to the city (and a lot of money) for a cultural happening.  The AJC breathlessly covers the Peachtree Road Race (which it also sponsors) every year.

(True, the Peachtree Road Race is a competition, and the AJC covers that part of it as a sports story.  But most of the newsprint spilled is about the cultural part of the event.  Pride and the PRR are comparable in terms of size, impact and Atlanta-style flavor.)

Empty space: Former AJC offices at 72 Marietta St. Creative Loafing photo.

It’s well documented that the AJC moved its office from downtown Atlanta to Dunwoody early this year.  The AJC also announced it would stop endorsing candidates in elections.  It began showcasing conservative commentators and cartoonists, and began deliberately muting its traditionally liberal viewpoint, to the point where it now employs a “bias” editor to weed out lefty tendencies.

In her blog last week, former AJC columnist Maria Saporta suggested that the AJC’s effort to win the hearts of potential suburban subscribers is a loser business-wise and conscience-wise.

“Turning its back on its core readers has been a devastating strategy. To the best of my knowledge, Atlanta Journal-Constitution has lost more readers in the past decade than any other major newspaper in the United States… So the AJC’s attempts to appeal to conservative, Republican suburbanites by alienating its urban readers is not paying off — to the detriment of Atlanta and to the detriment of itself” Saporta writes.

Creative Loafing gave serious treatment to the evolution of the AJC in an article last week, then dressed it up with a hilarious spoof (click on it and read Thomas Wheatley’s text in a mock-up of the “Dunwoody Journal Constitution”) of the newspaper’s suburban drift.  Editor Julia Wallace answered questions for that piece.  Yet she chose to merely release a prepared statement when WABE followed up.  Next time an AJC reporter seeks an interview with a beleaguered newsmaker, that newsmaker can cite Wallace’s approach as sufficient reason to refuse to answer questions.

Thanks, Julia.

Julia Wallace, AJC

I respect the AJC’s struggle to survive, and the hard choices its management has had to make to cut costs and become more customer-friendly.

On the other hand, I can’t respect its refusal to even mention Pride in its print editions.  It seems like blatant cowardice, based on fear of alienating its all-important readership in the conservative (and in many quarters, homophobic) suburbs.

And I can’t respect Wallace’s cowardly refusal to answer WABE’s questions.  It seems that the editor of a major newspaper would understand the kind of signal that sends to those pondering interview requests from AJC reporters.

A great newspaper ought to show no fear.

Wallace missed an opportunity to tell WABE a great story about the AJC’s renewal.   Despite some unsettling tone deafness,  I continue to root for the AJC.  It’s a much better newspaper than it was two years ago, and worth the price I pay to get it from my driveway every morning.

I wish I’d have broken those stories.

The future

“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.  And remember, my friends:  Future events such as these will affect you in the future.” Criswell, in the intro to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.

On the ballot in 2012: Mae West

The prognosticator known as Criswell had many appealing qualities.  Foremost, Criswell had a firm grasp of the obvious, as the above soliloquy shows.  Further, he had a gift for making the most banal observation seem profound.  He understood that a shock of hair, dramatic lighting, a nice suit coupled with a sweet bow tie, and a ramped-up delivery can dress up any otherwise-lightweight package of oratory.

And Criswell embraced the future.  Turns out, he was ahead of his time.

In recent years, the weather divisions of local TV news departments have presented something called “the Futurecast.”  It appears to consist of animated graphics that show still-developing weather systems zipping through weather maps in the future.

As made-up words go, the futurecast appears to be a close cousin to the forecast, which is an actual English word and basically says the same thing with one less syllable.  However, the forecast has been a tool used by weather predictors predating Poor Richard’s Almanac. The futurecast has more of an attention-grabbing crystal-ball quality, something so aptly grasped by Criswell.

If presented with the TV weather tool called “Vipir HD,” Criswell would undoubtedly be puzzled.  At first blush, the Vipir HD appears to derive from a high-definition snake.  The viper’s legless, low-to-the-ground quality makes it an appealingly creepy image.  But its inability to see beyond the foliage seems to make it inconsistent with predicting the future.  Vulture HD might have made more sense.

Criswell could only wish that he had predicted the rise of the Wizometer, another attention-getting tool now in use by WXIA’s weather division.  The Wizometer quantifies the audience’s interest in the future (for that is where we will spend the rest of our lives), and assigns future events such as these a numeric quantity.  Perfection is given an eleven, of course.  The audience can then gauge the numeral against their own experience and hold the forecaster accountable, ‘punishing the guilty and rewarding the innocent.’  I have no doubt Criswell would endorse the Wizometer.

Just so happens, Criswell is one of the guys responsible for those predictions of the world’s end on the morning of the winter solstice in December 2012. He also predicted that a ray from outer space would destroy Denver, and Mae West would be elected president.  Like any forecaster, Criswell was flawed.

But what a delivery.  God help us — in the future.

I’m onto your game

Hey Doug!  Last month, you used the phrase “slake the thirst” in a story on 11Alive to describe how negative political advertising satisfies viewers with a taste for fear or horror.  I don’t hear “slake” much.  Is that really a word?  If so, why wouldn’t you use a more common word, such as “satisfy,” “quench,” “gratify” or “relieve”?  Thanks.  Btw, are you still writing your blog? – Ted Simmons, Decatur GA

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Thanks for checking in, “Ted.”  I get writing inspiration from many sources.  Here’s a partial list.

Cold fear. That describes my normal state, as I crunch out words at 5pm for a piece due to air at six.  This writing is by-the-numbers, where I cling to the hope that my grammar and facts are accurate and rarely produce anything memorable, writing-wise, unless it’s memorably awful.

– Embarrassment. I have numerous reporter –  colleagues at WXIA who seem to effortlessly write elegant prose on a nightly basis.  One of these days, they’re all going to figure out that my effortless writing is utterly pedestrian by comparison.  So I have to try harder than everybody else, or else they’ll get onto my game.

– Squidbillies. This is a TV show, which happens to be made in Atlanta.  It’s among many that are well-written.  When a character named Krystal told a convenience store clerk that she wouldn’t stop ordering soft drink refills “until my bottomless thirst is slaked,” it stuck with me.  When that happens, such phrases seem to find their way into news stories.

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– Music. Once, I sidled up alongside the singer for the Rock*A*Teens on a barstool at Manuel’s, and told him I’d swiped a lyric he’d written for a story.  He was neither impressed nor flattered.

– Jeff Dore. The WSB reporter is a clever dude, a standard-setter.  When covering a hailstorm, he described the ice chunklets as “the size of Spanish olives,” discarding the conventions of marbles and golf balls.  I copy him shamelessly whenever possible.

As Tom Lehrer once sang:   “Let no one else’s work evade your eyes.  Remember why the good Lord made your eyes.  So don’t shade your eyes, but plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize.”

November’s child

No child of mine, this

It’s a happy coincidence that my new young ‘un was born November 2, resulting in three weeks of downtime during this month’s sweeps.  Tune into 11 Alive during the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond, and you may stumble upon my dazed return to the news biz.  My hiatus started Monday, when Mrs. LAF went into labor and delivered a boy named Clinton early the morning of Election Day.

An actual photo, the origin of Clint’s name, and other musings on my curious adventure into later-in-life paternity is viewable on another blog I started some months ago at the direction of my mother, who remains disappointed that I didn’t become a photographer for National Geographic or a writer for Life.   I’ve kept it under wraps until now.  Click here and be the first to actually visit this site, which I may or may not update indefinitely depending on my level of energy and spare time.

You parents of babies may know something about that.