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…

This entry was posted in AJC, WXIA on by .

About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

13 thoughts on “Seeing red

  1. Steve

    Just don’t overwork the thing now – the bit a few weeks back about charging the military for excess baggage went on way too long. You’ve made your point, now let nature take its course.

  2. Jack

    I agree that this is the most important local story in decades. When Leno makes a joke about it, it’s already national news. Those northern suburbanites who poo-poo your coverage should have cause for concern if for nothing other than the negative perception the scandal is bringing to the entire region. I noticed your shirt didn’t match by the way, but attributed it to your rebel nature and fierce independence!

  3. Brian

    I actually liked the matching shirts. And I bet the reporters appreciate not having to wear shirts and ties or heavy dresses in the summer. But the pair of very prominently displayed Emmys on the news table was a bit much. Is that where they are usually kept – like a set of paperweights — or was the trophy case being dusted that day?

  4. griftdrift

    The story went international in less than 48 hours. If there are idiots who don’t recognize its importance, they live in a narrow little world and get what they deserve.

    You guys made the right call.

  5. rptrcub

    Commenters to a media outlet’s Facebook page or story on the outlet’s own site generally, are idiots. Like the one woman who didn’t want you guys to talk to students because 11 Alive is a “family station.” At least that’s my theory.

  6. jimmy john

    No question it’s an important story.

    However, the morning meeting was staged, but the viewer was led to believe that it was spontaneous a la TMZ.

    Also, whiile the content may have been good it was overshadowed by the small market look of having folks in red polo shirts gathered around a stick mike.

    And yes, it’s a big story. But Atlanta is only 25 percent of the DMA – should it have been the ONLY content in a full days worth of newscasts?

  7. Gato del Valle

    I was speechless when I saw all of you gathered around a single microphone and wearing uniforms. It was impossible to even pay attention to what exactly you were saying because the group looked so dumb. I imagine this is what newscasts look like in North Korea.

  8. Deanna

    Suburbanites can poo-poo this story all they like, but every school district has “that part of the county,” that part where the disadvantaged and/or minority families live and the place all those poo-pooers snub and thank God that they don’t have to send their kid to “that school.” With the pressure on every school to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, I’ll bet you good money that cheating could be uncovered in almost every school district – maybe even in some of the affluent schools.

  9. Jerry Carnes

    First, in the above picture, I’m wearing a women’s XXL. I made sure to bring my own shirt the next day.
    Secondly, there was nothing staged about the morning meeting.
    Third, in the photo, Julie Wolfe is pointing at the truth. I asked her.

  10. jOSH

    The biggest story of the year will be mostly forgotten in a month.

    Nothing new about the Atlanta schools be horrible or incompetent. The real villain is the Atlanta Chamber who loved the good news headlines and who ignored, then tried to hide, the truth.


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