I’m on TV, in short bursts on the evening news. Because I’m on TV, talking in a manner that conveys knowledge of the subject matter, people often assume I have a measure of expertise. Sometimes, there’s truth to that. Oftentimes, I’m merely a quick study on a story where my expertise is limited to the 90 seconds of information I’m conveying.
If you want to find the real experts on local news, find the photographers.
Photographers tend to have greater staying power in a local market. They lack the ladder-climbing ambition that reporters and anchors frequently have. They’re also more under-the-radar, less vulnerable to the whims of regime change in newsrooms. And regimes, old and new, tend to value their technical and journalistic expertise. Or at least, they should.
This brings us to a guy named Ira Spradlin, the WAGA photographer who has covered the Georgia legislature longer than any of the other reporters or photographers in the press room.
The first time I got thrown into legislative coverage– an intimidating assignment, where the process of lawmaking is byzantine, and the players are numerous and often cagey — the assignment editor told me I needn’t worry. I’d be working with Ira.
Ira didn’t schmooze legislators. But he was around them so much, over a career that spanned four decades, that he became as familiar to them as the doormen to the House and Senate chambers.
It doesn’t hurt that Ira, who grew up on a dairy farm in rural Meriwether County (just north of Warm Springs), has a soft rural Georgia accent that can easily disarm the uninitiated. He sounds like the good ol’ boys who often still dominate the legislature. They were comfortable around him.
Like those old timey pols, Ira is easy to underestimate. Under that southern accent, he can be as fierce as any photographer in town.
He’d be the first to tell you he’s not an artsy NPPA type photographer. Ira’s value is his knowledge and his work ethic. Nobody worked harder, or shot more video on a story. I’m pretty sure Ira never missed a key shot in his life.
I’ll take that gristly newsman anytime.
This year, Ira Spradlin retires. The legislature honored him this week, and I’m sure Ira took it with a grain of salt. But I wish I’d been there. He deserved the applause.