Monthly Archives: January 2013

The nicest guy in TV news

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor passed away January 18. Mark was a video editor / producer who spent most of his 20 years at WAGA working the morning shift. He suffered a heart attack while seated in his chair in edit room 8, and his coworkers and paramedics were unable to revive him. He was 54.

It was a very dark day at WAGA. Taylor may have been the nicest man to ever work in TV news.

The morning of his funeral, a short speech formed in my mind. There was a succession of heartfelt speeches from his friends and family, delivered in front of 500 people or more. I lost my nerve and never got up, but in hindsight I wish I had. So here goes.

Yesterday, I had a phone conversation with former WAGA photographer Robert O’Brien.  Like me, Robert worked with Mark Taylor for most of his twenty years at WAGA.  Robert lives in Charleston now and regrets he couldn’t be here.  We talked about Mark, and Robert kinda nailed it.  I’ll relay it in the first person because it reflects my experience with Mark, and the experiences of a lot of us who worked with him.

I spent much of my career asking favors of Mark Taylor.  I would ask him to edit my stories.  I would ask him to provide snippets of file video for me to take out of the building on stories we’d cover live.  I would ask him to make difficult transfers from one video medium to another.

I would ask these favors of Mark and more often than not, I’d be in a desperate hurry.  I’d be facing facing a 45 minute drive to a destination I needed to be at in 15 minutes.  My mood was sometimes sour or surly, and I’d be asking Mark to make me look good.

Mark unfailingly did the favors I asked of him, and always with a smile.  He not only did it with respect to my deadlines, but in spite of my mood swings.  He was the unfrazzled guy who took the chaos of the day and lunacy of our business, and steadied it with good cheer.

Every single time I saw him, Mark acted like he was glad to see me.  Always.

I spent a career asking favors of Mark Taylor, and he never asked me to do anything for him.

I am sorry he’s gone.  To his wife Olga and his sons Mark Jr. and Ryan, thank you for sharing him with us.

Changing the question

For much of the last month, I’ve produced a steady drumbeat of stories about the project to build a new football stadium.   The story — and the project — is intriguing.  It seemed audacious to suggest the Georgia Dome was obsolete.  I’ve been in Atlanta 27 years, and went to a couple of Falcons games at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium.  The Georgia Dome still seems “new” to me.

Atlanta Fulton County Stadium

Atlanta Fulton County Stadium

Once you get past that, and once you accept that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is talking seriously about building his own open-air stadium in the suburbs if the state doesn’t help him replace the Dome (and many think Blank is bluffing), then the arguments to not not build the project become compelling.

  • If the Falcons leave, the Dome loses its biggest tenant and much of its revenue stream;
  • The stadium is an essential selling point for the Georgia World Congress Center, one of the world’s premier convention facilities;
  • Conventions — including stadium events — are the lifeblood of Atlanta’s tourism business, a huge moneymaker;
  • Blank wants to contribute $700 million to the project, giving the state and the Falcons a billion dollar stadium in exchange for a $300 million tax contribution, plus the cost of city infrastructure improvements;
  • If Blank builds another stadium, it would essentially become a competitor to the Dome;
  • The Dome without an NFL franchise quickly becomes the Astrodome, an aging and pathetic white elephant hosting tractor pulls and motocross, while requiring gobs of state money for upkeep.
The Astrodome is the giant relic next to Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans play football.

The Astrodome is the giant relic next to Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans play football.

This mostly puts aside the politics of contributing hotel-motel tax money.  The hotel-motel tax, paid by visitors to Atlanta, is specifically dedicated to the World Congress Center and a few other entities.  Yet it’s still tax money.  The legislature could pass a bill to put it in the state’s general fund and spend it on transportation, teacher salaries or something else.

Two days before Gov. Deal asked the Falcons to reshape its proposal— asking to reduce the hotel-motel tax contribution to the project from $300 million to $200 million — 11Alive conducted a poll on the stadium question.  The response arguably shifted the debate, showing less public opposition to the project than suggested by previous polls.

An 11Alive poll conducted in February 2012 showed 74% of Georgians opposed public funding for a new stadium.  The survey generically asked about “using tax dollars to pay for a portion” of the project.

A Cox poll conducted of “metro Atlanta residents” in December asks “do you favor hotel/motel tax providing $300 million our of (sic) $1.1 billion in funding?”  There was a similar Cox poll in January (though it’s apparently impossible to find the actual poll data in AJC and WSB stories).  Both put opposition at 67 – 73 percent.

The 11Alive News poll question, which I wrote,  actually explained the hotel-motel tax, saying  “the hotel-motel tax is collected from visitors to Atlanta paying for hotel rooms, and was used to build the Georgia Dome.”  It lacked snappy brevity, I’ll admit.

The Georgia Dome, possibly the most unimaginatively named stadium in America.

The Georgia Dome, possibly the most unimaginatively named stadium in America.

Countless people had told me they didn’t understand the funding for the stadium.  They assumed the stadium project would compete, in the traditional sense,  for funding for  other state programs.  Neutral lawmakers and backers of the project likewise griped that plain folks didn’t understand the funding scheme.

So I changed the question, sacrificing brevity for a bit of context.  The results showed strong opposition, but that it settled closer to 50-50 than 70-30.

Some commenters on Peach Pundit suggested that I’d skewed the question to bump the approval rating.  I would argue that we changed the question to account for Georgians’ well-known anti-tax tendencies, and to see if the type of tax involved actually matters.  Though there’s much truth to the argument that a tax is a tax is a tax, the respondents in our poll had ample opportunity to apply that position to the more-contextual question.

Until this poll, I’d been among the many reporters who routinely characterized the stadium project as being wildly unpopular among voters.  Now I’ll have to find a more contextual phrase to describe it.

It’s my own damned fault.

The swag store

Drink up

Drink up

You’re the proud owner / general manager of a TV station.  You want to buy stuff emblazoned with your logo.  Two words from a guy who’s been collecting that crapola for decades:  Coffee cups.

TV stations like to produce t-shirts, polo shirts, sweat shirts, raincoats, wristbands, mousepads, lapel pins, pens, jump drives and motor vehicles emblazoned with their logos.  On those rare occasions when I’ve acquired a solid piece of swag, I’ve relished the addition, then mostly stuck it in a drawer or closet and forgot about it.

These are shirts

These are shirts

Most of the stuff in my house comes from WAGA, which employed me the longest.  Most of the items are shirts.  The best were t-shirts, made of heavy cotton with embroidered logos.  They were perfect for hurricane coverage, when a polo shirt is arguably too dressy.  There are also long-sleeved t-shirts, polo shirts and a couple of stray Fox5 News jackets.

I still wear the t-shirts sometimes, but only before dawn, under cover of darkness, while running for exercise.  I don’t need to exacerbate ongoing “what station you at?” confusion among the populace.

WAGA also issued a noteworthy limited-edition beige-on-beige “Fox5 News” long sleeved polo that I liked for its subtlety, a rare thing in logo gear.  They gave the shirts to Eddie Cortes and me prior to our coverage of the invasion of Iraq.  Though it’s a lovely shirt, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn it.

Aside from its 11Alive News red polos and jackets, WXIA has issued Wizometer t-shirt and wristbands.  But the station distributed them sparingly, mostly to viewers and clients.  I spotted a Wizometer shirt in the building and sweet-talked a coworker out of it.  Given the audacity of the “Wizometer” (a curiously-named gauge by which our meteorologists in the Weather Information Zone, or WIZ, render judgment on the upcoming forecast on a one-to-eleven scale), I cherish the items and actually use the wristbands while playing baseball or running.  11Alive needs to issue some subtle, high-quality t-shirts.

Trade ya a mic flag...

Trade ya a mic flag…

I have other stray items of logo swag, including

  • cheaper-than-cheap pens and disposable flashlights from WGCL, given out during a meeting with bloggers;
  • a too-large jacket from KMTV, the Omaha station that employed me 1982-85;
  • a custom-made 11Alive running shirt which I only wear for the Peachtree Road Race.  Red, of course;
  • a handmade wood “Closer Look” somesuch given to me by a fan of my late 90s feature franchise at WAGA;
  • mic flags from the 90s and 00s;
  • a lovely “wheelchair” logo WAGA-TV motorcycle helmet painted by my ex-wife, a thoughtful, handmade and humorous gift given to me following a challenging newsgathering incident in 1992 in which a crash helmet might have been useful.  If WAGA had a museum space, I’d donate it.

closer lookUnlike coffee cups, none of that stuff is useful.

WXIA’s most recent coffee cups are bright red and oversized.  It’s a go-to in my house, as has been the faded WAGA /5 Atlanta / TV cup with the “wheelchair” logo produced in the early 90s.  Not a drop of coffee has ever leaked from either one.

So, yes.  Coffee cups are the way to go.  Or better still:  A Wizometer pint glass, though I won’t hold my breath.

But it’d be a keeper.

Scooping myself

Friday, I reported that Georgia lawmakers had gotten free tickets to every Atlanta Falcons home game this season.  Two dozen lawmakers received tickets valued at $9630 from the Georgia World Congress Center, for Falcons and other games at the Georgia Dome.  It was significant because the GWCC is asking the legislature to raise its bond limit so it can build a new stadium for the Falcons, partially funded by hotel-motel tax proceeds.  It was a decent little enterprise piece to lead Friday’s evening newscast.

The scroll at its conclusion

Sharing the screen with a list of lawmakers

It also corrected an erroneous conclusion I’d made in a piece three days earlier.

In December, I interviewed GWCC director Frank Poe about the new stadium.  Poe and Rich McKay of the Falcons have gone on a PR blitz of sorts, visiting news outlets to explain why it makes sense to tear down the 22-year old Georgia Dome and construct a billion-dollar replacement.  When I interviewed Poe, I asked him about all the free ticket giveaways he’s done for lawmakers over the last two years.  I saved that portion of the interview, knowing the Christmas holidays were upcoming.  That’s typically a slow time in the news biz.

New Year’s Day, I fished out the Poe interview.  I re-examined his Lobbyist Disclosure Forms, available online at the state Ethics Commission website.   Poe had given away a gazillion tickets through the 2010-2011 legislative sessions.  His disclosure form showed he’d given away zero tickets in the last six months of 2012.

New Year’s Day, I concluded my piece by saying that Poe’s latest disclosure “shows lawmakers have apparently stopped asking for free tickets.”  Oops.

Frank Poe, Georgia World Congress Center executive director

Frank Poe, Georgia World Congress Center executive director

Later that week, a friendly source suggested that I check further.  Previously, Poe’s disclosures had shown that he was the source of free tickets for lawmakers.  Unbeknownst to me, another GWCC lobbyist named Stephanie Carter Kindregan assumed the role of playing Santa for lawmakers.  When I examined her disclosure form Friday morning, it was rather breathtaking — both in its revelation of how shameless lawmakers ponied up for freebies, and in its revelation of how wrong I’d been three days earlier.

“Technically, you were correct,” the source helpfully noted, pointing out my attribution to Poe’s disclosure form.  It was a sin of omission, however, which gave viewers a very incorrect impression.

Fortunately, near as I can tell, no other news media had reported the lawmaker ticket bonanza based on Kindregan’s report.  Friday’s story was still a decent scoop.

I’d much rather correct my own flawed information than have it done for me by a competitor.