Monthly Archives: June 2013

Playing lawyer

Oh, lovely.  Here we go.

“News organizations have submitted a Rule 22 for cameras in the courtroom.  Because there’s an objection, we’re going to have a hearing.”

The judge was speaking from the bench in Clayton County Superior Court.

Friday, the objection came from Victor Hill, Sheriff of Clayton County.  He faces a corruption trial in August.  Hill himself has skipped pretrial hearings.  But a judge ordered his presence at a pretrial hearing Friday.  Hill’s team legal objected to the TV and newspaper cameras that had requested access.

Time to play lawyer.  It was a thought both exhilarating and frightening.

Victor Hill, Sheriff / Defendant

Victor Hill, Sheriff / Defendant

News organizations don’t routinely bring attorneys to courtrooms when they’ve requested camera access.  In and around the big city of Atlanta, judges are pretty sophisticated about it and routinely overrule objections to cameras.  Hearings are rare.

But hearings can be wild cards.  Judges will always ask the two sides — the prosecution and defense, say — to state their positions on the presence of a camera.  Typically the defense will argue that a camera somehow hinders the defendant’s right to a fair trial.  Prosecutors usually don’t care about the camera.

Then sometimes the judge will ask to hear from the news organization requesting the camera.  The few times I’ve done it, it’s gone kinda like this:

Hapless TV goon:  Your honor, I’m Doug and I’m with —

Judge:  Are you an attorney?

HTVG: No sir.  We don’t have an attorney here.

Judge:  (Eyes roll.) OK.

HTVG:  My station filed the Rule 22.  It’s my understanding that courts have held that a pool TV camera doesn’t infringe on a defendant’s right to a fair trial.  The parties have shown no extraordinary circumstances here.  Unless they can do that, my understanding is that you are obliged to allow the camera.  We would ask you to deny the motion.

And then the HTVG sits, hoping for no questions.  As he sits, the parties sneer at the rube who clearly lacks legal training.

Fortunately, Judge Albert Collier never asked to hear from the news media in this instance.  He denied the motion after hearing from the state and from Hill’s attorney.

But the anticipation, the uncertainty and the knowledge that your remarks, no matter how well-presented, will inevitably bring muffled snorts from attorneys — all that can make the heart race a bit. Maybe the TV audience has much the same reaction to my material.  If so, I don’t know about it unless and until I read the muted feedback on our website.

I’ll take a cold, glassy-eyed TV camera lens over a heartless live audience anytime.

My mad tweets

A tweet gets sent from court!

A hot tweet gets sent from court!

“Tweet aggressively!”

A TV news competitor told me that was the marching order from management prior to covering a routine — and it turned out, rather dull — court hearing.

This would surprise nobody who actually has to suffer through the Twitter feeds of local news folk, who grind out 140 word bits of minutiae at a remarkable rate.  Occasionally, some of these feeds will actually school the reader.  Sometimes, they break actual news.

Mostly, they deaden the senses — especially in instances like the lamentable court hearing, where reporters are expected to tweet just for the sake of tweeting.

At this point, I have to admit to a limited understanding of social media as it applies to the news business.

I realize that social media is a promotional tool that can be used to put eyeballs on your web site– and maybe even your old-fashioned Technicolor TV news broadcast in high definition. 

Social media can also build your credibility.  If @richardsdoug can consistently tell you something you didn’t know before, maybe there’s a chance you’ll follow that guy all the way into the commercial break following the A-block of the 6pm newscast– and even stay tuned through sports.

My Twitter feed is an erratic thing, however.  I try to limit my use of it to items of real interest.  If it’s real breaking news of course, I’ll try to suspend my coverage of such news long enough to tap out a tweet.  If there’s a genuinely interesting detail that surfaces about an ongoing story, I’ll tweet it.  If my TV story du jour actually stands out, I’ll promote it on the Twitter with a push to our newscast.

Follow me!  Please?

Please re-tweet!

Mostly, I save the Twitter feed for stuff that I think is just weird, or humorous.  If I can conjure up something witty, I’m on it.  A quick scan of my feed in recent months shows mostly a dearth of material.

This means that a lot of the work I do, and the stuff I learn, never makes the Twitter feed.  I don’t promote every single blessed story I spend all day producing, mostly out of respect to the people who have found my feed and clicked “follow.”

There are reasons to clog the feed with crapola, though.  There’s a thing called Klout, which measures your “influence” on the internet.  More tweets / retweets bumps the score.  Lots of “likes” on Facebook and Instagram and whatnot help.  Having a blog helps.

And there’s the whole issue of bragging rights.  If you have more “followers” than me, then you’re a winner in life’s ongoing popularity contest.  Throw more muddy tweets against a wall, and maybe more followers will stick.

There’s no doubt I’m failing to use Twitter properly. I ought to promote this site more on Twitter.  I ought to figure out how to properly use hashtags.

Yet when I view Twitter, I see other TV newsflolk tapping out material I have zero interest in reading.   They can be that guy.  I’m not interested.

Either that, or I’m just too lazy or too distracted to do it with the singlemindedness that’s necessary to do today’s multimedia multitasking, multiplying the merriment of minutiae.

Hey, I kinda like that.  I think I’ll tweet it.

Follow Doug on Twitter here!

Like Doug on Facebook here!

Or on the Instagrams here!

Out of the shadows

I made Watson and Pearl pose for this photo.

I made Watson and Pearl pose for this photo.

The cool kids in the workplace are blogging.  You should consider reading their work.  Start with the recently launched blogs of WXIA reporters Jaye Watson and Matt Pearl.

Jaye Watson, WXIA

Jaye Watson, WXIA

The beauty of Watson’s blog is its whimsy combined with her extraordinary writing.  (Saturday, she won her umpteenth Emmy as the southeast’s best TV news writer.)   Her TV stories are lovely and somewhat minimalist.  She has a light touch that frequently delivers what appears to be an effortless emotional punch.

Off-camera, she can be bawdy and acidic, yet she clings tenaciously to what appears to be a genuine belief in the human spirit.  Her first post is an essay lauding flawed women.  It raises our hopes nicely.

  • The yoga-gear outfitted woman at the grocery store in full hair and make up,  insisting she just rolled out of bed, stuffing kale juice and kale greens and mounds of kale everything into her cart, while I try to hide my whipped cream and cookies under my purse. These people are my kryptonite. I can feel my life force fleeing my body as they speak.

Watson also links to a handful of stories she’s produced.  Unlike this guy, her backstage commentary is both enlightening and brief.

120306103401_pearl bioPearl is a one-man-band who specializes in featuring reporting, in a career personally nurtured by our bosslady.  In the last few years, Pearl has won a bunch of awards.  This year, he spent weeks on the road visiting Gannett properties, where he cheerfully schooled newspaper folk on shooting, editing and TV storytelling.

The young man knows his craft.  His blog is an ambitious ongoing treatise about storytelling, mostly — what he likes among his colleagues and competitors, behind-the-scenes pieces about his own newsgathering efforts, and a series of podcasts with folks whose work he admires.

He wrote a magazine-length piece about his trip across Texas to tell the story of Braves rookie Evan Gattis.  It was eye-opening and well-written.  It was also, as a fellow blogger, exhausting.  As he gets the hang of blogging — and realizes how time-consuming it can be, if you let it —  I suspect he’ll scale back his output.

On the other hand, his lengthy review of a book has all-but convinced me to pick up a copy and read it my ownself.

Pearl is a storytelling analyst, and he takes it seriously.  His blog is more scholarly, less whimsical.  Maybe it’ll become a fixture in the syllabuses of college newswriting instructors.

On the move: Julie Wolfe, WXIA

On the move: Julie Wolfe, WXIA

WXIA reporter Julie Wolfe started writing her Atlanta Running Reporter blog in September, and her audience is runners and the people who love them.  Wolfe’s posts are mostly short, snappy and almost always amusing.  She has a self-deprecating quality that is charming and antithetical to her standing as an on-camera TV news diva chick person.

Her post showing some wretched near-the-finish-line shapshots of herself was fun.  She also derides post-race t-shirt and medal giveaways.

My favorite is probably the one she wrote in the voice of her dog, Yogi.

If you’re a runner — or a fan of Julie Wolfe, which you should be — her blog is essential.

All three blogs are worth a click, and a return visit.  They’re all in the blogroll to the right under “Atlanta TV blogs.”

Worst press conference ever

It would be hard to find a more wretched “press availability” than the one in Atlanta Friday, which featured Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed.

Once a lengthy and quite dreary dog-and-pony show at an Atlanta  elementary school concluded,  one of the event’s handlers herded the press corps onto a stage in the school auditorium.  There, we found ourselves facing Duncan et al backed up to a curtain.  A microphone on a stand stood between us.

Duncan, Reed, Deal, Blank et al

Mic stand in the middle: Duncan, Reed, Deal, Blank et al

The microphone was connected to a mult box that didn’t work, and to a PA system that played audio into the auditorium.  So the people lingering in the auditorium kept hearing moderator Stephanie Blank’s helpful “testing one two three” reps, but photographers recording the event only heard ambient audio.

Most of us were there to talk to Reed or Deal about news that had nothing to do with education.  But the Atlanta press corps can be curiously genteel.  We wanted Duncan and anybody else to say their piece and take questions about education first.

Likewise, nobody wanted to bum-rush the participants by extending our arms toward their mouths with our logofied microphones.  It would have looked very sloppy– especially with the tantalizing presence of a mic stand and a mult box to potentially prevent it.

The “availability” stalled for nearly ten minutes while everybody looked at everybody else to solve the audio problem.  Then Sonji Jacobs Dade, Reed’s spokeswoman, broke the logjam:  Figure it out, people.  The secretary and the governor and the mayor need to move on.

Stephanie Blank handles the audio

Stephanie Blank handles the audio

The next move was a stroke of genius by WGCL’s Craig Bell.  He somehow got Mrs. Blank, the estranged wife of billionaire Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, to hold his microphone while standing next to Secretary Duncan.

That move gave the appearance of problem solved.  The participants began speaking into the stand mic, amplified into the auditorium.  True, none of the other cameras was able to get clean audio.  But this futile exercise beat the alternative — which was dragging out this standoff even longer.

As Mrs. Blank gamely held WGCL’s mic, the rest of us just kind of waited for somebody to say something worth recording.  When Duncan talked blandly about the APS scandal,  I leaned in with my logo mic, as did another TV guy.  Bell sat on the floor to avoid obstructing the view of cameras.  Unlike the audio, their shots were clean.

Little news was made, and mercifully, it ended within minutes.

As everybody departed, Deal and Reed stuck around for questions on unrelated topics.  Reed talked at length about crime in front of a semi-circle of cameras, recorded by Atlanta TV types with extended hands holding gaudy microphones.  By the time he finished, Duncan was long gone.

The event was a multi-layered cluster of bigshots from the federal, state and local governments.  Maybe it was Duncan’s event.  Maybe it was an Atlanta Public Schools event.

It seemed to be quite well organized, yet concluded as a clusterf@#k.  I blame the press corps.  We need to quit being so damned genteel.