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.
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.
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.