Who’s out of line?

Good news!  Today, this blog launches a service called Who’s Out of Line?  It’s a service nobody wants, and does no good whatsoever, designed to resolve the occasional disputes that arise in the field among competing TV news crews.  Because most TV news crews in the Atlanta market behave professionally and get along reasonably well, this service will appear irregularly at best.

Last week, there were a couple of unusual conflicts among competing TV crews in the Atlanta market.  I will mediate them ex post facto in this post, and another post tomorrow.   

Disclaimer:  My knowledge of these disputes is second-hand.  I’m leaving out names and TV stations.  Do I really know what I’m talking about?  Absolutely not!  Ready?  Let’s play!

Aimee Copeland

The situation:  TV stations are covering a meditation / prayer vigil in Carrollton on behalf of Aimee Copeland, a young woman who is fighting a life-threatening flesh-eating bacteria.  The vigil is indoors in a too-small room, and begins about 5pm — shortly before each station’s 6pm newscast.  The attendees arrive at the appointed hour, immediately take their positions and begin a semi-structured, mostly-silent vigil.  TV crews are awkwardly maneuvering in the tiny room, documenting the event.

The scenario:  A reporter for one station — Station X, we’ll call it — awkwardly requests an interview with one of the principals.  He whispers the request, pointing out that he is bumping up against a 6pm deadline.  It has the effect of interrupting the vigil, and is exacerbated by the principal loudly a) agreeing to the request, but b) proclaiming that “the media” is ruining the vigil.  Irritated, he invites the TV crews to immediately complete their interviews, so the group can resume the vigil uninterrupted.

The confrontation:   A reporter for another station — Station A, we’ll call it–  loudly admonishes the reporter at Station X in front of the group.  The reporter at Station A is working nightside, and has no 6pm obligation.  The reporter at Station A then follows the Station X reporter to his live truck, berating him for interrupting the vigil (which resumed following the interviews).

The call:   Unfortunately, TV folk routinely have to insert themselves into ongoing events in order to gather deadline information and other elements for their stories.  Usually, the events are big enough that the interruption of one participant doesn’t scotch the entire event.  In this case, the organizers of the event invited the news media to cover it.  The request for an interview shouldn’t have surprised the organizers.  The request, and the overreaction by the participant, made the interruption a bigger deal than it should have been.  The reporter at Station X had to do his job.

That said, the reporter at Station A was given a golden opportunity to do a bit of grandstanding, and he took advantage of it.  His competitor’s clunky behavior in a sensitive situation probably annoyed most of the participants.  The Station A reporter took an opportunity to appear to be sensitive, caring and respectful, a rare thing in local TV news.  His absence of an immediate deadline made that possible.  Yet, had the Station A reporter faced a 6pm deadline, he probably would have done the exact same thing the Station X reporter did.

I too might have been unable to resist the opportunity to grandstand. But I would have made the point, then stayed on the high road (and probably winked at the Station X reporter, because I would have respected the fact that his awkward situation could have easily been mine instead).  I certainly wouldn’t have followed the station X reporter to his truck, berating him while he was trying to make his deadline.

Who’s out of line?  The reporter from Station A should have kept his grandstanding down to a dull roar, then shut up and let it go.

Join us later in the week — maybe tomorrow — for another edition of Who’s Out of Line?!

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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.

8 thoughts on “Who’s out of line?

  1. George Franco

    There are always two sides to every story.
    The reporter who interrupted the people in a prayer vigil interrupted three people. After one woman declined to talk to him he went across the room and asked two more people. The last person he asked rightfully so asked for privacy for the group as a result of the interruption. The reporter was not grandstanding but apologizing to the group after their peace and serenity had been broken. The result was all media were forced to leave which left one station without Ny b roll since they had just arrived. The confrontation occurred outside of the building a good distance away from the gathering not in front of the group. We were also told by people gathered there that the reporter had ample opportunity to get interviews before the event started. And no not every reporter would interrupt to make a deadline. We’ve all been there but after he was refused the first time he should have left it alone. It’s ok to say we could not talk to anybody because we did not want to disrupt them.

    Reply
  2. Joey Flash

    And – even funnier – WSB probably wasn’t even there, yet claimed exclusivity when they ran a reader. I wish you would call these people out by name, Doug, it would be a lot more interesting…

    Reply
    1. George Franco

      I don’t need to be called out. George Franco Fox Five News here. I was there and WSB was also there.

      Reply
      1. George Franco

        I should also say I was the reporter involves. I apologized to the crowd because they should have had their time in peace. If you call that grandstanding so be it!

        Reply
  3. mogfxdesign

    The one thing that annoys me about this particular story is that almost every account states that the flesh eating bacteria was contracted through zip lining. It’s my understanding that the wound happened while zip lining (home made and poorly supported zip line), but the bacteria was contracted when she fell in the water. The bacteria was contracted in the water and not directly through the act of zip lining. In an effort to cram in as many stories, every story comes down to a :10 second reader/sound bite and important facts are omitted.

    As to who’s out of line, it all depends on perspective and actual first hand accounts of what happened. I do find it disrespectful to shove a microphone in someone’s face when their home has burned and are asked how do you feel or a community has been leveled by a tornado and the media swarms (that’s an actual WSB internal term, they don’t cover news, they swarm on it) in and walks all over the rubble of what used to be their homes and asks what they’re feeling. One of the reasons I like Doug, is that he’s very conscious of this and has written about the fine line between doing his job and showing respect to families.

    TV news uses the idea of serving the public and local community, but it’s a fine line between covering news and exploiting it. There are times when it does so, but it’s less and less these days. TV news is more about ratings and generating revenue than it is about serving the public interest. Remember, it’s the May ratings period and when there’s blood in the water, it’s a feeding frenzy that translates to higher ratings = higher advertising rates.

    Reply
  4. rcrabbe

    Coming from someone who has engaged in every possible newsgathering activity – good and bad – it sounds like some serious adult supervision could be useful in both cases. I don’t miss it at all.

    Reply

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