Monthly Archives: September 2013

Hate mail

Nick Johns with Jaye Watson

Nick Johns with Jaye Watson

I have a perverse affection for hate mail. I wish I got more of it. Conversely, hate mail seems to gnaw at the soul of Jaye Watson, the reporter whose WXIA desk adjoins mine.

Watson writes a wildly popular blog, mostly about her family life. But this week, she writes about the hate mail she’s getting from viewers (and I suspect non-viewers who “heard” about the story) after she produced a balanced piece about a local Catholic church, which fired its organist because he’s gay.

Read the post here. I’ll give you but one line.

In case you didn’t know it, I’m hell bound, a liberal slime, a bad journalist, everything that’s wrong with the mainstream media, and a faggot lover (that was one of the nicer ways it was put to me).

Praiseworthy

The southeastern region of NATAS did something remarkable last week:  It recognized three humble, hardworking Atlanta news grunts.

Donna Lowry, WXIA

Donna Lowry, WXIA

Donna Lowry and I were both new hires at competing stations when she arrived in Atlanta in 1986.  We both did general assignment reporting, and wore the shell-shocked look that comes with a reporter’s first brushes with big-city news.   Lowry went on to become WXIA’s education reporter — an assignment that seemed destined to fade in the face of changing news directors and audience research.  Instead, the ageless Lowry (and her photog, the ageless Kathy Bourn) has turned it into a calling.

Paul Crawley, WXIA

Paul Crawley, WXIA

Paul Crawley began working at WXIA in 1978.  Crawley (and yeah, Mark Winne) are the Atlanta reporters who most seem to come straight out of the Damon Runyon school of journalism — news-breaking, trench-coated, and tirelessly devoted to getting it right.  Crawley adds a sharp sense of humor, and the adaptability of a guy who became a one-man-band late in life.  Every day, Crawley is among the first to arrive and the last to leave his desk.

Jon Shirek, WXIA

Jon Shirek, WXIA

My man-crush on Jon Shirek has been somewhat well documented on this site.  Shirek’s personal style is understated and thoughtful.  He writes and delivers stories with uncommon elegance and clarity.  And he’s done it at WXIA since 1980.  Like Crawley, Shirek agreed to become a one-man-band in the last decade.

Russ Spencer, WAGA

Russ Spencer, WAGA

As a postscript, I’ve got to include Russ Spencer in my list of accolades.  With Monica Pearson finally out to pasture, the readers of Creative Loafing recognized the WAGA anchor in the weekly’s “best of” issue.  They probably don’t realize what an outstanding choice they made.  Spencer is frequently the smartest guy in the room, but won’t jump up and down to out-shout the folks who think they’re the smartest guys in the room.  Watch his chatter with reporters following stories; Spencer is a news anchor who pays close attention to the stories that fly by on the broadcast, and grasps the story’s essence.

Plus, he looks great in a set of fake teeth.

 

Fluid break

Jon Shirek got the worst assignment of the day Wednesday:  Go cover a water main break at Clairmont Rd. and I-85.

He was brilliant.

Jon Shirek, WXIA

Jon Shirek, WXIA

Nobody wants to cover water main breaks.  They rank right up there with suspicious packages, gas leaks and knuckleheads holding themselves hostage.  Generally, such stories eat up a reporter’s valuable time which could be spent covering real news.

“Oh, and you’re live at 6,” Shirek was told.  His live shot preceded mine, so I heard his report in my earpiece as I was waiting to do mine.

“This is a fluid situation,” Shirek intoned, spicing his usual low-burn intensity with a hint of mischief.  The “fluid situation” is a phrase uttered in all manner of stories covered live on local and cable news.  But Shirek had actual fluid gushing behind him.

And he knew exactly what he was doing.  Nobody uses language or disdains TV cliches more reliably than Shirek.

Shirek then said “literally and figuratively.”  Just as I might cringe a little whenever I hear “fluid situation,” I likewise cringe at “literally.”  It’s possibly the most misused / overused word in TV.  During the papal conclave, I heard an Atlanta TV reporter tell viewers that “Catholics were literally glued to their TVs.”

But the added phrase showed the Shirek knew exactly what he was saying.  He might have even backhandedly schooled the audience (and maybe some other TV reporters) about the misuse of “literally.”

Fluid ripples

Fluid ripples

Shirek gets an A+ for having a bit of rhetorical fun with an otherwise lousy story.  But he wasn’t done.  He went on to report, with another hint of mischief, that the broken water main would “have a ripple effect” on traffic throughout the region.  Behind him, water rippled.

When I heard this in my earpiece, I doubled over.  I had to work to regain my composure; my report immediately followed Shirek’s.

The story itself was a throwaway.  But if you can cover a story like that while punishing some of the most tiresome phrases in the TV news playbook, you’ve uplifted your little corner of mankind.

I’d wished I’d done it — even if it meant covering a water main break.

Why WSB makes me puke

What follows is petty, childish and very likely, unfair.  It reflects chatter I’ve overheard in the last few years among colleagues and competitors — the ones who don’t work at WSB, of course.  It fails to fully reflect my respect and affection for many of the hard-working men and women who work at WSB  — including the individual whose Twitter bio is described below.

cox-wirelessI root for media companies that produce local newspapers, host local television stations and pay people to produce quality journalism.

Cox Enterprises does all those things.  But Cox disgusts me.  In particular, its Atlanta properties make me want to puke.

I write this as a competitor and as a consumer of its product.  I have sunk many of my American dollars into its coffers.  I have subscribed non-stop to the Cox-owned Atlanta newspaper since 1986 and still fetch a copy of the AJC from my driveway seven days a week.  (I still prefer “Covers Dixie Like the Dew” to “Credible. Compelling. Complete.”  Barf.)

So I’ve been a small-scale stakeholder in the many rises and falls of the AJC.  When the economy (and Craigslist) sent it into the crapper in 2008, I grieved.  I rooted for the newspaper to stay relevant and profitable.  I don’t know how profitable it is, but I like what I read many mornings.  It does more with less, yet it has re-emerged as the best government watchdog in town.

So why the nausea?wsb013

Very simply, it’s the chest-beating.  Every single time the newspaper produces a story about the Atlanta Public Schools scandal, it includes a box that informs the reader that the AJC broke the story and has followed the story at every step.  Every word is true.  The AJC did great work sizing up the test scores and bringing the scandal to light.

And I’m OK with some chest-beating.  All news organizations do it.  But the AJC never passes up an opportunity to do it on countless stories.  Its putrid feedback loop of endless self-congratulation and self-promotion makes me want to hurl.  Lord knows how bad it would be if the AJC had won the Pulitzer it undoubtedly craved for APS story.

This is in stark comparison to the pre-2008 AJC that carefully and almost painfully separated its marketing from its editorial content.  We’ll let local TV sully itself with that, you could almost hear them saying on Marietta St.  How things have changed.  Even its Sunday editorial page column by Kevin Riley or whomever, wherein the boss purports to bring transparency to the newsgathering process, ends up being a predictable exercise in chest-beating.  Barf.

Maybe WSB-TV is as self-congratulatory as its “partner” in Cox crime, the AJC.  However, self-promotion has been part of the TV news game since forever.  TV is competitive.  The AJC is the only game in town, newspaper-wise.  So TV chest-beating is more defensible than the AJC’s.

But has there ever been a TV news promo more putrid than this one?

When a gunman burst into a local school, he forced an administrator to call our newsroom! “He said he wants me to give a message to channel two.”  Channel two Action News heard his demands — and the gunshots.  We broke the news!

First of all, let SpaceyG shed a little light on this:  The gunman “told me to call one of the news stations. But I asked him which one, it was so many. And he said, ‘I don’t care. Just call one!’” according to WSB’s own interview with the administrator, Antoinette Tuff, who indicated WSB’s number popped up on a Google search of Atlanta TV stations.

But aside from that, here’s WSB’s message:  Hostage-holding, school-invading gunmen love them some channel two action news!  And so should you.

All together now:  Barf.

WSB’s putridness is frequently personified nowadays by its crews in the field.

The only station that matters

The only station that matters

Used to be, WSB’s field hands shat stinky shit like the rest of us.  For many years, they toiled in a flawed, thankless business like everybody else grinding out local TV news, working small miracles on ridiculous deadlines.  I’m sure they still do that.  They have a 4pm deadline, for crissakes.

But many of their crews are now believing their own press, the one that begins with a banner in their newsroom that says “#1 News Team in America.”  Too many of them bring an air of laughable pomposity to the field, like the best athlete at a crappy college who forgets he’s not playing in the NFL.  Hey WSB:  You’re still covering traffic wrecks and apartment fires for the local friggin news.

One need look no further than everybody’s favorite WSB reporter, Mark Winne.  Go to his Twitter page, and he describes himself, in part:  “…TV reporter at #1 major market station in America. Priorities: God, Family, Truth for our viewers…”  Barf.

Even their interns make me puke.  Who was that heavily made-up blonde driving a baby-blue Hummer to assignments this summer?  Barf.

Humbler times:  Ray Moore, WSB

Humbler times: Ray Moore, WSB

One evening at a local watering hole, I made unexpected smalltalk with a WSB manager.  I casually remarked about “worrying about ratings.”  The retort:  “We don’t worry about ratings anymore,” the manager sniffed. “Except by comparison with other stations across the country.  Nowadays, we consider WPVI (a wildly popular Philadelphia station) our competitor.”  But not the Atlanta stations.

Barf.

Every word was true, I’m sure.  WSB’s ratings are titanic.  And I will admit:  They do a good job of blanketing metro Atlanta.  They have more crews in the field than the rest of us. Their field hands work hard.  They doggedly uncover fresh elements to ongoing stories.  They’re enterprising and they’re tough.

Except for WGCL, all the Atlanta TV stations started in the same place.  WSB has covered news well and marketed themselves well.  They have ascended to the top of the Atlanta market through hard work and skill and a bit of help from ABC. I admire that about them.

I remain a huge fan of many of the individuals I see working at WSB.  Fortunately, there remains a strong contingent of their staff who take the station’s success with an appropriate measure of humility.

I would even admit to a bit of envy when I see their ability to deploy resources and technology that I may lack when trying to cover the same story.cow-face

But you’re still covering the same story as me.  And your shit smells no better now than it did twenty years ago.

WSB’s stock in trade is still covering meatball news, the grinding metro mayhem that makes local news unwatchable except as spectacle.  (Whenever the AJC needs a mayhem quote, the newspaper nearly always references its source as “channel 2 action news.”)   And they process it with little storytelling nuance, laced with much grab-the-audience-by-the-throat hype.

WSB has the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  Yet it’s that blunt force that makes them who they are.

And like a cow gobbling up her placenta after birthing a calf, the TV audience eats it up.   So yeah — it’s y’all’s damn fault.

Barf.