Monthly Archives: July 2013

Confessions of a red-headed reporter

Update:  They fired her.  Dammit.

Early in Ronald Reagan’s first term, Huntsville Alabama TV station WAAY offered me a job.  They wanted me to become the station’s bureau guy in Muscle Shoals, and offered me an annual salary of $15,000 to do so.

The station, a UHF channel located on a mountaintop in one of Alabama’s few genuinely appealing urban areas, seemed lovely.  The money represented a 40 percent raise over the poverty-level wages I was making in Tupelo, Mississippi.  The market was competitive.  But the bureau gave me pause.  Despite Muscle Shoals’ legendary music history, the area seemed even more isolated than Tupelo.  It seemed like a lateral move.  I declined.

Shea Allen, WAAY

Shea Allen, WAAY

I write this by way of introducing my new favorite blog, sporadically written by Shea Allen, a WAAY reporter.  After doing an internship at WSB-TV, and working as an associate producer at WAGA, Allen appears to be getting her feet wet as a local news field reporter, in all its abundant glory.

Much of what she has written is about what inspires her in the world and in her job.  She likes to quote Emerson.

But it’s her brutal honesty, showing up in more recent posts, that makes it worthwhile reading.  This post is a list of ten confessions of a red-headed reporter.  The first one involves her occasional absence of undergarments.  Even if you’re not an internet perv, it’s OK to go ahead and click.  It’s good stuff.

She’s downright subversive (and on the adorable side) in this video she shot while en route to a live shot “about nothing,” while “getting paid less than most McDonald’s managers.”

Any reporter or photographer in our industry has shared this experience.  Live shots “about nothing” are much more commonplace than it sounds.  Frequently, live shots “about nothing” are stories that TV has ballyhooed in advance, only to have the circumstances — or our information — change in the hours leading up to it.  I’ve done more than my share of live shots “about nothing.”  It’s a very empty feeling.

On the other hand, her confession that she’s “stolen mail and then put it back (maybe)” is a place I’ve never gone.  I’ve seen reporters rummage around in mailboxes, usually to get the name of a resident.  Not me.

Allen’s Confessions post apparently has already gotten some attention in Huntsville, causing Allen to temporarily lose her nerve.  She took down the original post, but then re-posted it within a day (verbatim, near as I can tell) with an explainer:  I’ve vowed to always fight for the right of free expression… I make no apologies for the following re-post. It’s funny, satirical and will likely offend some of the more conservative folks. But it isn’t fake and its a genuine look into my slightly twisted psyche.

This is my voice. Hope it makes you laugh.

Check her out.  Make some comments.  She needs encouragement.  Maybe it’ll ramp up the frequency of her outbursts of honesty.


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Gov. v. Gov

Doug steals Brad Carver's schtick.

Doug steals Brad Carver’s schtick.

This month, I have a renewed appreciation for the governor of Georgia, the Honorable Nathan Deal.

Put aside his politics. Put aside his cronies or his ethics or his handlers. Face to face, Deal is my kind of guy.

Gov. Bill Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam, Republican of Tennessee

Especially after my encounter with Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee.

I had spent weeks tracking Haslam, hoping to catch him in Chattanooga, the Tennessee town most within reach of Atlanta. His press secretary told me to keep an eye on his website, where his public schedule is posted.

Finally, there was a Chattanooga visit: Thursday July 11 at 12:15pm at a community college. I emailed the press secretary, verified the time, and told him my subject matter:  The little border dispute between Georgia and Tennessee, rooted in Georgia’s desire to access the Tennessee River. “See you then,” wrote back press guy Dave Smith.

A Tennessee blogger's weird but somewhat accurate map of my route

A Tennessee blogger’s weird but somewhat accurate map of my route

We drove up to the community college at noon. The parking lot was eerily empty. Inside, I heard this: “The governor’s been here and gone.  He left an hour ago.”

I checked the online schedule, which showed another stop at 2:45, about an hour toward Knoxville. By this time, my 6pm deadline was shot to hell.

Photog Mike Zakel drove us up I-75 to Decatur, Tennessee — a town with a Piggly Wiggly store, a Mexican restaurant, an abundance of American flags on Main St. and not a whole lot else. Haslam showed up — on time — at the electrical cooperative. He presented an oversized check for sewage plant repairs, gripped and grinned, then exited toward Zakel’s camera.

“We like (the border) the way it is,” Haslam said, unremarkably. He is affable and likeable, a nice man, with an easy manner.

But his manner was too easy for my liking, especially after the day I’d had trying to get an interview with him.

A surveyor’s error mislaid the border in 1818, I remind him. Does Georgia’s position — that the border is several hundred yards too far south — have any legitimacy at all?

“I don’t spend too much time thinking about it.”

I asked and re-asked variations of the same question.  His answer remained casual and a bit too shallow.  Desperate, I suggested he could extend an olive branch to Georgia, “like Nixon going to China.”  Haslam’s response:

“Well, we offered to trade ’em for the Braves or Stone Mountain. But they didn’t.” He laughed uncomfortably.   “I’m teasing,” he added, by way of clarification.

He made a funny!  He might ought to get some hilarity tips from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia).

Gov. Nathan Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal, Republican of GA

Tennessee is in the driver’s seat on this issue, so Haslam’s nonchalance is somewhat understandable.  Georgia has squawked about the border for more than a century.  But it’s never made a serious run at the issue, either politically or in the courts.

Maybe Gov. Deal would have given the same what-me-worry type answer. But typically, Deal gives very thoughtful and nuanced answers to questions that are spontaneously fired at him during press scrums.  I’m constantly impressed by Deal’s machine-like ability to speak in complete and often complex sentences, with few of the “uhm” and “ehr”s you hear in normal conversation. Deal turns 71 in August.  Haslam is 54.

My subject matter with Haslam had a measure of complexity– mixing science, history and “riparian water rights,” a term I avoided in my story.

I certainly didn’t expect Haslam to concede anything.  But I had a naive hope that I’d get at least one thoughtful answer.

Especially after the runaround I’d gotten — for which Mr. Smith profusely apologized.

Say what you will about Deal’s staff, but they’re pretty buttoned down.  I don’t think they would have botched a schedule entry on the internet or disregarded details in an email confirmation. If they’d wanted to shake me off, they would have been much more cunning.

And Deal would have given me at least one thoughtful and articulate answer.  Like I say: My kind of guy.

Our story turned out OK; I’d give it a B minus.  (The link includes the unedited interview).  A blogger with The Nashville Tennesseean picked it up, made fun of it (again, with a series of dumb jokes poking fun at Georgia’s silly claim to Tennessee turf) and for good measure, identified me as a reporter with “Atlanta station ACTION 11.”  Other bloggers in Tennessee picked it up; one even concocted the quirky map-like graphic above.  One guy who was in the room with us uploaded cell phone video of my entire interview with Haslam, which lasted less than three minutes before Smith shooshed him along to his next stop.

The story included a piece of schtick that I flat-out stole from Brad Carver.  He’s a public policy lawyer who helped guide the resolution though the legislature that threatens to challenge the border in court.  Carver told me he put a golf ball on a tee at the state line, and hit the ball into Nickajack Lake — to demonstrate the scant distance between the current state line, and the water source Georgia craves, located in the disputed territory.  Carver did it for a documentary (I haven’t seen it).  I stole it, and successfully duplicated it in spite of my poor golf skills.  Many thanks to Mr. Carver. 

The tree and I

In our business, there are consequences for failure. This was mine: I got to do a live report on a tree.

True, the tree had dislodged from its rootwork on a hillside in DeKalb County. It had the good fortune, from the perspective of the news, of falling across a roadway during a thunderstorm.

But I was there because I’d spent the day failing.doug and a tree

That morning, I exited the morning editorial meeting assigned to a story that produced a series of unanswered phone calls and emails.  It was Friday, after all.

Midday, I was sitting at my desk, high and dry.  A home invasion robbery / person shot story called my name.

Dan Reilly and I drove to Stone Mountain in a live truck. The details emerged.  It was garden-variety mayhem, of the sort we thankfully avoid at 11 Alive News.

But I’d failed again. I couldn’t / wouldn’t try to “sell” the story. Maybe if I’d done so, I wouldn’t have ended up in front of a tree.

A couple hours passed. 5pm brought storms. Somebody in the weather department got a little excited, which had a contagious effect among certain decision makers.

The manager who caught my eye had a hint of evil in his smile.  “There’s some bad lightning in Gwinnett County. Try to get there for six.”

Traffic was a bitch. It was not only Friday rush hour, but there was bad weather. We spent thirty minutes traveling eight miles.

We exited Chamblee Tucker Rd. At 5:45 we started to look for a place to alight. There was rain, but the storms had passed.

Dan had WSB radio tuned in. “There’s a tree down on Presidential Drive near Chamblee Tucker and 285.” The voice was Doug Turnbull’s. I knew Turnbull when he was in high school.  He and my kids were pals.

The road was two blocks from us. There we went.

There I stood, talking about a tree.

“It’s an oak tree,” I began. I had a tree, but very little other material.

My live shot ended quickly, and we wrapped our “coverage.”

It gave my punishment, on a Friday evening, a measure of mercy.  Nonetheless, it was a reminder of why failure is a very poor option in my line of work.

Crime of fashion

A series of bad decisions led a 20 year old named Elijah Freeman to this:  Handcuffed, seated in the back of a Clayton County police car, wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts.  Police had told us that the alleged carjacker was about to get walked into police headquarters.

I had arrived at Clayton County police headquarters to talk to the PIO about another story.  Moments before we arrived, Mr. Freeman  had crashed the car he’d allegedly carjacked into the front lawn of police headquarters.  Tom Jones of WSB was also there for the same reason.

Elijah Freeman wears cuffs but no pants.

Elijah Freeman wears cuffs but no pants.

I saw Freeman in the patrol car.  Occasionally, the cops let him out of the car as they talked, and as crime scene techs snapped photos.  I was struck by Freeman’s absence of pants, and quickly deduced the reason:  Freeman was a devotee of a style of fashion derisively known as pants on the ground.

At one point, a crime scene photographer bent over a pair of pants crumpled on the ground nearby, documenting the evidence.

“The suspect ran out of his pants,” a police major confirmed in an interview, efforting a straight face.  As in:  The pants fell off as the bad guy tried to run, slowing him in his losing foot race with pursuing cops.

An arguably poor fashion decision was a crimestopper on this day.  That, and the force of gravity.

I am pretty broadminded about fashion and music and culture, but I completely do not get pants on the ground.  I find it odd that young men, most of them African American, appear to believe that it’s attractive to have the waist band of their pants lingering midway or below the gluteus maximus, such that they must struggle to walk by using a free hand to prevent the pants from falling to their ankles.

You’re just old and white, Doug.  Maybe that’s it.

Yet if you’re running from the cops, this fashion choice can complicate things considerably.

The patrol car drove up to an entrance.  Freeman was in the back.  Jones and I waited.  (Watch the perp walk here.)

Did you carjack that woman?  Jones got the first question.  I respect the fact that Jones “owns” Clayton County, news-wise.  He does great work there.

My turn:  Any regrets about today, Elijah?  My question was more open-ended, but Freeman wasn’t talking.

What happened to your pants, Elijah?!  Jones went straight to the top-of-mind question, knowing a response wasn’t likely.

The perp walk lasted all of twenty seconds.  As Freeman approached the door, I moved in front of him for one last, futile question:  Do you wish you had worn better-fitting pants today?

Silence.  Then Freeman disappeared into the cop shop.

Considering that this man was accused of carjacking a woman at gunpoint, the questions about his pants may have seemed superfluous.  On the other hand, he’d clearly showed a disinclination to answer questions about the crime.

It’s too bad he didn’t answer the pants-on-the-ground questions.  It might have helped clear up something that continues to mystify this old guy.

LAF FAQ 2013

Why are you still writing your blog?

Sheer stubbornness, best I can tell.  I get about 200 clicks per day these days, down considerably from LAF’s head-cracking heyday of about 600-800 clicks per day.  Back then, I tended to write daily posts.  Now I only post weekly.  Added up, I figure each post gets about a thousand eyeballs.  That, and I get just enough positive feedback on the street — from people who recognize me as a blogger primarily, and only secondarily as a TV reporter — that I feel some loyalty to those folks who have hung in there with LAF.  And by the way, thank you.

Why so few comments on your posts?

Cheers!

Cheers!

This distresses me a bit.  In 2013, I’ve written a few posts that ought to have buzzed with reader commentary, but got almost nothing.  I attribute it to comment exhaustion.  Specifically, I blame Facebook, a wildly popular site in which “friends” comment on each other’s witticisms 24/7.  Readers who ought to be commenting on LAF are all commented-out.

Which is too bad.  I’ve had some damn good commenters on this site.   On the occasions I stray into controversial territory, some commenters will pipe back up.  But that’s only because I’ve given them something to talk about that they aren’t seeing on Facebook.

Why isn’t your blog more interesting?

I have a strong self-preservation instinct.  The math is easy here:  Job > blog.

What happened to your blogroll?

The blogroll is the list of blogs on the right side of this page.  Under “Atlanta TV Blogs,” I had a big ol’ list of blogs written by Atlanta TV folk.  A few weeks ago, I actually clicked on those sites, and most of them went to a “404” page, meaning the site no longer existed. Oddly enough, one of the most interesting sites is a leftover from an Atlanta reporter who has left town.

Writing a blog eats up valuable time.  Even this guy has stopped posting stuff daily, which I hope means he’s writing a book.

On the other hand, newbies emerge periodically.  They too will get fatigued, and question their devotion to writing for free on the internet.

Anything interesting in your blog analytics?

WordPress gives me a stat called “search terms,” in which words typed into a search engine result in clicks on my blog.  Over the last year, the most searched term (excluding “live apartment fire” and “liveapartmentfire”) is “warren savage” the former WSB morning anchor.  Go figure.

After that is “dolly hearn crime scene photos,” which is fucked up.  I wrote about her in a first amendment context.  I guess weirdos are searching in the same spirit.

After that is “wendy saltzman,” “joanne feldman,” “suchita vadlamani” and “bruce erion.”  Saltzman is probably getting a lot of traffic from her new fans in Philadelphia.  Feldman does fine work as a WAGA meteorologist.  Vadlamani is a former WAGA anchor described online now as an Atlanta “socialite.”  Erion, the former WXIA Skycam cowboy, is flying helicopter ambulances.

In other words, if you’re searching for bygone era info about Atlanta news, you’re searching the right site.

Why is that tiny unexplained photo on this post?

It’s my family, and it’s to lure you into reading Jaye Watson’s entertaining rant about silly white-shirt family photos taken at the beach.

And again, thanks for clicking on LAF.