Monthly Archives: July 2011

The commentariat

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The best and worst thing about blogs is the “comments” section.  This blog has had 3967 comments (not including a couple dozen I’ve deleted), and I’ve read every word of each of them.  Blog commentary can be illuminating.  Because the comment-makers can stay anonymous, they can also be horrifying, ugly, personal and hateful.   The AJC’s blogs — which appear to lack moderators, who would have the discretion to delete over-the-top, pointless commentary — are outstanding examples of the latter.

Unfortunately, blog commentary is the closest thing Atlanta has to news media analysis nowadays.

Without any judgmental prose, Jim Galloway posted the above video of Monica Pearson’s lamentable encounter with Beverly Hall.  The commentary, critical of Pearson and Hall, drove the storyline.  Yet most of it missed the salient point:  WSB spent a bunch of money to send Pearson to Hawaii to find and interview Hall, only to get an on-camera apology from Pearson for “invading your privacy.”

No apologies! Rod Gelatt, University of Missouri professor emeritus guy

(Back in the ’70s, J-school professors named Gelatt, Gafke, Dugan, Utsler, Morris and others pounded a point to we callow students at Mizzou:  Never apologize for doing your job as a reporter — especially when pursuing an evasive public figure implicated in a big-time scandal.)

Elsewhere at the AJC, Rodney Ho’s Radio and TV column lacked any mention of this remarkable gaffe by Atlanta TV’s highest-profile personality.

The absence of coverage is almost certainly a function of the newfound integration of the Cox-owned WSB and AJC properties.  AJC reporters, booted from their longtime Marietta St. HQ, now occupy space in the WSB building at 1601 Peachtree St.  The pages of the AJC now promote WSB material as a matter of course.  The newspaper’s long-running disclaimer — WSB-TV is owned by Cox Enterprises, which also owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — is no longer used when mentioning WSB.  The merger of the two news organizations is all-but complete.

(Quaintly, WABE-FM still uses a disclaimer whenever reporting on the Atlanta Board of Education, which owns the NPR affiliate.)

In the 1980s and 90s, the AJC expended some noteworthy energy and talent covering the local TV news biz.  A writer named Gerry Yandel frequently mentioned talent moves and sweeps pieces produced by the various TV stations.  Another writer named Drew Jubera once wrote a lengthy piece wherein he watched local news for an entire month and analyzed what he saw, a clever and amusing snapshot of a significant element of local life in Atlanta.  Both wrote critically of WSB, treating it no differently than WXIA, WAGA or WGCL / WGNX.  And their pieces always used the disclaimer.

Ho writes irregularly about hires and departures in Atlanta TV news during gaps in his coverage of commercial radio and American Idol.  Apart from that, his last substantial piece about local news was a profile of Dagmar Midcap.  That was three years ago.

So who’s going to write thoughtful analysis of local news — print, radio or TV?  Not me.  I don’t have time.  Nor do any other bloggers, apparently.

So it’ll stay unruly, occasionally enlightening and frequently ugly as the commentariat fills the void.

Moment of grief

WXIA reporter Jerry Carnes was invited by the family of a missing Gwinnett County woman to cover a ground search Saturday. Carnes and photographer Stephen Boissy had covered this sort of thing before; rarely are TV crews on hand when such a search actually yields the discovery of a body.

It happened Saturday.  Carnes writes about it here.

An excerpt:

Amy Elk, sister of missing woman

Photographer Stephen Boissy and I were with Nique Leili’s mother when we heard sirens. Two Gwinnett County police officers peeled off toward the commotion. Then mom got a phone call.  

“They found a body,” she screamed out to me. 

Nique Leili’s family had grown so accustomed to our presence by then, they even reached out to us with expressions of confusion and mourning. 

Never once did they wave us away. Instead, after just a few heartbreaking minutes, Stephen and I realized it was time to point the camera elsewhere. Much of what we observed would never make it to a television set.

Carnes’ post explores the complexities of reporters covering news while retaining empathy and discretion.  The latter, especially, is a lost art in an industry that thrives on hype and exclusivity.  Carnes has been around long enough to know to gather what’s necessary and avoid the intrusive.

Seeing red

"News team! Assemble!" Doug Richards, Julie Wolfe, Jerry Carnes, Matt Pearl, Ted Hall, Blayne Alexander

The long-awaited report into test cheating at the Atlanta Public Schools system was, journalistically, the paperwork equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane.  Everywhere you turned, there was a head-spinning story.  Wednesday morning, Ellen Crooke recognized this prior to the start of the morning editorial meeting..  This commenced a most unusual half-week for reporters at WXIA, as well as our viewers.

Wednesday morning, every person in the editorial meeting was assigned to read a portion of the 800 page (or 400, depending on how you counted) report — managers, photographers, interns, reporters, everybody.  The meeting broke up, then reconvened 45 minutes later.  During that 45 minutes, there was more noise in the newsroom than I’d heard in months — mostly, the audible gasps of people reading, then sharing passages from the report.

For the next two days, WXIA focused single-mindedly on reporting the contents of the report and the consequences thereof.   And even the newsroom’s eye-rolling cynics were on board.  This story was bigger than Snowmageddon 2011, the last story that got whole-staff treatment.

Of course, not everybody agreed.  WXIA’s Facebook page got a few squawks from suburbanites who felt that an inner-city cheating scandal didn’t concern them.  What about “other” news? they asked.  They could have found it on the other Atlanta stations, which led some of their newscasts with a fatal house fire.

The same Facebook page also had praise for appropriately focusing on, arguably, the biggest local story of the year.

Some were also amused by Crooke’s decision to clad her field reporters in matching red 11 Alive polo shirts.  “Is that for real?” wrote one guy on another Facebook site.  “What year is this, 1974?”  The matching shirts gave the station’s audience visual reinforcement that everybody was on the same page, covering aspects of the same big story.  I get it.

(Regrettably, I hadn’t brought mine to work Thursday.  Somebody tossed me a new one.  When I got to the live shot location, I learned the shirt was a women’s XL.  I now know that women’s polo shirts have very, very short sleeves.  When photog Steve Flood offered to lend me a generic men’s red polo from his news car, I took it and hoped nobody would notice.)

(It would be easy to blame myself for my regrettable pose above, marring an otherwise amusing photo taken by the legendary Al Ashe.  I blame the shirt.  Flood’s clothes look great on Flood.  Perhaps I should have stuck with the women’s XL.)

It gets lost in the shuffle, but I can’t overlook the fact that this story would have never emerged had not the Atlanta Journal-Constitution broken it months ago by merely checking CRCT scores and examining the improbability of some of them.  They did it at a time that the newspaper was cutting staff and fighting for its very survival.

It’s a story that could have easily gone untold, were it not for the “lamestream” commercial news media.  Just imagine…