The shallow end of the pool

I was all set to boldly urge a little jail time for the news director at WSB-TV.  The contention would have been that the TV station flagrantly violated a court order Friday March 29, the day the Fulton County grand jury indicted 35 people in connection with the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.

This was the violation:  WSB’s exclusive use of court-ordered pool video in its newscast without first distributing the video to the other Atlanta TV stations who were part of the pool.

The blurry images of WSB's pool photog, WAGA's Justin Gray, WXIA's Donna Lowry and WGCL's

The blurry images of WSB’s pool photog, WAGA’s Justin Gray, WXIA’s Donna Lowry, WGCL’s Sonia Moghe, WSB radio’s Pete Combs, and WXIA’s Blayne Alexander

The video was short but significant.  It showed a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy walking out the door of the district attorney’s office, carrying a hundred-or-so page indictment.  He then exited the DA’s lobby and headed to the courtroom of Superior Court judge T. Jackson Bedford, who was due to give the indictment his blessing before it would get certified by the court clerk.  The video — and a news conference a few minutes later — culminated a three-day stakeout of the grand jury.

Per an order issued by Judge Bedford under Rule 22 of the Electronic and Photographic News Coverage of Judicial Proceedings in the Uniform Superior Court Rules, WSB was named as the pool camera in the stakeout.  This meant the video belonged to all the TV stations present at the stakeout.

I’ll again note the absurdity of using Rule 22 to cover a stakeout in an office lobby; Rule 22 covers “official court proceedings,” but the Fulton County sheriff and courts have broadened it so that a Rule 22 form, signed by a judge, is required almost anytime a commercial TV camera enters the Fulton County Courthouse.   Since I’m not calling for the jailing of WSB’s news director for violating Rule 22, I’ll gently avoid demanding an adjoining cell for Sheriff Ted Jackson for abusing the rule.

Back to the video of the deputy carrying the indictment:

Reps from all three of WSB’s TV competitors watched WSB’s pool photographer shoot it.  I shot a perfectly lousy Iphone photo of it at 4:57pm.

The only station that matters

The only station that matters, apparently

WSB aired the video at 5:31, perhaps even earlier.

A few minutes later, a WXIA producer asked me about the video she’d seen on WSB.  “You don’t already have it?” I asked her.

Oopsie!  Golly, did we forget to distribute the video to the TV stations who don’t call themselves “the number one news team in America”?

Actually, WSB didn’t overlook it.  WXIA’s desk made repeated calls to WSB to distribute the video.  WSB’s desk apparently questioned whether the video was pool video, then dragged its feet getting the right  answer.  The station finally distributed the video well after 7pm, when most early evening newscasts were done.

Rule 22 states that “approval … shall be granted without partiality or preference to any person, news agency, or type of electronic or photographic coverage…”  In this instance, WSB clearly exercised “partiality” to itself by failing to distribute the pool video before airing it.

WSB's exclusive pool video

WSB’s exclusive pool video

Rule 22 does not set out how pool video will be distributed.  “Photographers, electronic reporters and technicians shall be expected to arrange among themselves pooled coverage…”  TV stations don’t “arrange” pool coverage on a case-by-case basis.  Instead, they rely on a sensible and time-honored arrangement:  Until the pool station distributes its video, the station that shoots it can’t broadcast it.

It presumes that TV stations can behave honorably and not like children.  This isn’t as hilarious as it sounds.  Every pool photographer I’ve worked with at WXIA and WAGA honored the principle that pool video could not air on the pool camera’s station until after every station received it.  WSB photogs also reliably honor that tradition.

Somehow, WSB decided to be dishonorable Friday, ignoring the “no partiality” clause in Rule 22.  And ignoring the what goes around, comes around concept that really drives the rules behind pool video.  All for a 15 second shot.

Superior Court Judge Jackson Bedford

Superior Court Judge Jackson Bedford

It would make perfect sense for Judge Bedford to hold a hearing and demand an explanation from WSB’s news director.   Bedford is a tough guy, especially with the news media.  He can be a bit scary when he’s angry.  A hearing would likely deter such behavior going forward.

However, Fulton County’s courts are pretty clogged with serious criminal cases.  And another Superior Court judge tells me that jail time — even a few hours in a holding cell, like the one that held Beverly Hall — is unlikely in a civil contempt case.  So, I wouldn’t ask Bedford to spend his valuable time on this.

Which leaves us with the concept of honor.  Or the lack thereof at WSB.

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This entry was posted in WAGA, WGCL, WSB, 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.

19 thoughts on “The shallow end of the pool

  1. juanita driggs

    No need for jail time. But a contempt citation with a stiff fine would work nicely. Maybe Judge Bedford would make Channel 2 cover the contempt hearing with the understanding that 2 be required to share it with the pool.

    Reply
  2. Richard Crabbe

    The sad thing about this incident is that the other three stations are completely gutless when it comes to dealing with such behavior. This soon will be forgotten until the next time it happens, then there will be more hand-wringing for a time, and the cycle will repeat. HERE”S some news: these are competing business entities which scramble daily for a shrinking viewer base, so they will do anything to hold on to their audiences. If it means screwing the competition in a pool situation, well, what’s anyone going to do about it? Really!

    Reply
  3. Gordon Shenkle

    You know, this confirms the impression I have of WSB. They’re arrogant on all their air, no matter what the band. I’d just expect this kind of dishonorable behavior in pool coverage and this confirms that low impression that I have. They blow their own horn MUCH too loudly, and need a serious dosage of humility.

    It sickens me each time I watch their early evening news. From 4PM until the end they’re always showing only PART of the story, going on and on about how much “more details” will be available in the next newscast. Even when it’s on an event that happened and was done much before noon and was closed out. The story should have been in the can hours before the first broadcast, yet we have to hear over and over again that we need to watch the next hour for more, and then we really only get a minor rehash, followed by a promotion for the next newscast.

    And don’t even get me started on Glenn Burns. He has all of us getting in the shelter and expecting a pummeling from every piss-ant minor thundershower that occurs anywhere in Georgia! He is unwatchable. Yes, let us know if something is really out there, but proclaiming that the sky is falling for every bolt of lighting is some serious overkill…

    I’ve gone on much longer than I meant to…

    Reply
  4. MrsProwler

    Yep … I’ve been the victim of WSB’s failure to honor the “pool video” code of honor on several occasions. The statute of limitations has run out on most, but your post brought it all back. And there was a more recent occasion in the past few months. Same “oh you don’t have it?” Alfred E. Newmanesque obfuscating. I hope your post stirs up some well-deserved excrement for them.

    Reply
  5. John B

    This pool video controversy aside, I think WSB and Glenn Burns & Crew do a great job on breaking weather. I am speaking as a viewer only. These serious storms turn on a dime and all they can do is let us know what’s going on – and when it is potentially very severe I appreciate all the info I can get as they get it.

    Reply
  6. pig

    Screw WSB — they have some talented people, but COX believes they can’t do wrong. Their newscast is unwatchable — an endless parade of shootings, housefires, and cats stuck in trees. They are TMZ for Atlanta.

    Reply
  7. BH672@ymail.com

    Mr laf,

    I’m very concerned about the issues you note.

    Please call me to discuss at 1-800-279-2229 [1-800-CRY-BABY].

    Reply
  8. GV

    Unfortunately Richard is right, the managers at the other stations will bitch and moan but do little about it. Just like they are afraid of using their lawyers to fight the Sheriff’s interpretation of the Rule 22.

    Reply
  9. Ebert Lite

    Oh for pete’s sake, call for his head complete with jail time. WSB is guilty here and also guilty of dumping “breaking News” on us too – the likes of which is another murder, another fire, another car wreck, a brush fire or the mayor or some other government talking head staging another news conference that pretends to be important.

    Reply
  10. jeff dore

    So glad most of the people who so boldly blasted WSB hid behind fake handles, unlike Doug who has the integrity to post with his own name. Shall we get into all the times the other stations blatantly ignore their turns to be the pool camera in court, knowing WSB will shoot it and then they can just show up at the last minute and take the video? It’s supposed to be a rotation, by all-station agreement, and the other stations just don’t do it…and then whine when WSB doesn’t stop everything it’s doing in a breaking news situation for their benefit.
    Jeff Dore, WSB-TV

    Reply
    1. live apt fire Post author

      Jeff Dore can call me a whiner all day, and my boundless affection for Jeff Dore will prevent any argument whatsoever. Even when his point, however factual, is flawed and mostly irrelevant.

      Reply
  11. arky

    Give me a break, Jeff. If another station isn’t holding up its end of a pool rotation, then you deny them the video FOR THAT STORY. You don’t ignore the infraction and then later screw everybody on a big story “because of that thing you did eight weeks ago” or whatever. You’re a grown-ass news operation, not a temperamental girlfriend.

    Reply
  12. The Huffster

    Well done, LAF! I was at a panel of assign eds speaking to PR people a year ago, and it was discussed that WAGA and WXIA do share coverage between themselves (apart from the Pool, for budgetary reasons). The Assign Ed from WSB said, “We don’t share.” Sounds like their attitude on pool coverage, as well. 2nd point: if a pool station “doesn’t bother” to shoot footage that day, why does WSB get to go shoot it themselves, if they weren’t the assigned station?

    Reply
    1. live apt fire Post author

      WSB probably shoots more video in courtrooms than any other station in town. That’s for a couple of reasons. 1) Their content is very crime-driven. To their credit, they tend to follow-up crimes they’ve covered by covering the court appearances of bad guys. 2) They have the largest reporting staff in town, and the biggest evening news hole to fill — three hours. So when they think there’s news in a courtroom, they don’t hesitate as much as the other stations.

      Jeff is right when he talks about the presumption of a pool rotation among stations. Sometimes, all the stations will file Rule 22 forms for an upcoming court event. But sometimes, the station named as the pool will back out because other news is more pressing. This frequently leaves WSB as the default “pool” camera because they’ve got the staff to cover it. The courts usually don’t blink when this happens.

      It’s commonplace for a pool camera to shoot a court event, then have a competing station show up before the event is over, hat in hand, requesting the pool video. Those requests are, in my experience, always granted — even when the station requesting the video has missed most of the courtroom action first-hand. I suspect Jeff is right when he says that WSB is the provider in those circumstances more often than not.

      But not always. All the Atlanta stations are givers and takers in pool situations. And they nearly always behave honorably– which is why Friday’s flagrant aberration by WSB is so noteworthy.

      Reply
      1. MrsProwler

        Bill and/or Jeff … happy to meet either or both of you in a dark alley if you need to know who I am (not Mark Felt) … my fake name is to protect my employer who doesn’t need additional grief in future dealings with your video-hoarding bosses.

        Reply
  13. Sam

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight but…phony names or whatever you want to call them sometimes frees up the discussion at hand without worries of harming relationships or creating backlash, let’s get real on that at least.

    Reply
  14. Brian Darby

    So is there an opportunity there for some free lance person to become the default pool reporter at all events at a courthouse and then provide the video to all the stations? Have the stations pay a subscription fee?

    Reply

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