Category Archives: bachman john

Low-hanging fruit

"You're a deadbeat!  Any comment?"  John Bachman, WSB with Hal Ross of Auto Loan Finders

'You're a deadbeat! Any comment?' John Bachman, WSB with Hal Ross of Auto Loan Finders

Some investigation.

WSB goes to a state web site listing delinquent taxpayers.  WSB cherry-picks a few names.  It sends John Bachman to a few addresses.  Bachman and a camera-rolling photog demand to know why the taxpayer is delinquent.  The taxpayer stammers on camera.  The Revenue commissioner clucks on-camera that these folks ought to know better.

The reporter wraps it into a by-the-numbers TV package (culled from the Restaurant Report Card handbook of investigative journalism), then directs the viewer to the station website, and calls it a news story.

It must be a great idea, because Bachman tells the viewer that WSB has done this story before.  “Last year, we looked at individuals owing taxes.  This year, we’re taking on businesses,” Bachman says in his intro.  The list of delinquent taxpayers has 50,000 entries.  The story cries out for the “shooting fish in a barrel” cliche.

Meantime at WXIA, the website’s home page asks:  “Did your lawmaker pay taxes?  Click here to find out.”  It appears WXIA’s furlough-diminished news staff has spent many hours making phone calls to some 94 state representatives and state senators, simply asking:  Are your taxes paid up?  The vast majority of the lawmakers on the site answer “yes,” and WXIA is publishing the answers with no follow-up.  (The station appears to be waiting for additional lawmakers’ names to turn up on a state list of deadbeat taxpayers.  The idea seems to be:  If you’re lying, we’ll expose you eventually.)

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-None of your business

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-None of your damned business

One state senator refused to answer, citing the Georgia Code that keeps tax matters private. Sen. Valencia Seay wrote in a news release that WXIA libeled her by using her photo in a story about tax deadbeats.  Seay demanded a retraction.  (WXIA says it merely reported that Seay declined to answer.)

“Undaunted by their ignorance of the facts, 11 Alive News showed their willingness to take a refusal to disclose personal information as license to imply the worst. For the record, I have NO tax delinquencies – federal, state or local.  11 Alive should go back to doing what they do best – empty reporting on celebrity drug addiction and car crashes,” the freshman Democrat from Riverdale wrote.

“11 Alive is taking action for you,” the station writes, justifying its devotion to this story.  It’s staggering to imagine all the manpower being used to gather zero independent, verifiable  information.

The story does provide something tangible for WXIA’s website, always one of the best TV websites in town.  It gives the site an ongoing “story” to which the TV version can repeatedly refer.  As the web supplants traditional media, the strategy is understandable.  It’s regrettable the story is so hollow.

“We here at 11Alive feel that you have a right to know which lawmakers are breaking the law…. We’re taking them at their word for now,” the station writes on its web site, with no apparent irony.

At least WXIA isn’t calling it an “investigation.”  That’s an admirable show of restraint.

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We dislike Ike

Rebekka Schramm, WGCL

Here’s a topic for your next journalism class:  How do you handle the gasoline shortage story?

The question is worth asking because the news media contributes to the mindset that causes panic, hence shortages.  Is there any way to avoid that?  The story has been out there since Friday, when Hurricane Ike hit Texas.  Gas stations started hiking prices and motorists flocked to pumps to top off.

Since then, TV has done numerous live shots at the tank farm in Doraville, and at metro gas stations.

Darryl Carver, WAGA

Darryl Carver, WAGA

On Monday, WAGA all-but ignored the gasoline shortage story.  Darryl Carver’s pieces at 5 and 6 dwelt on wildly fluctuating prices.  The shots of dry pumps were cursory.  WXIA’s Duffie Dixon produced a piece at 11 that explained QuickTrip’s strategy of spreading gasoline inventories among geographic areas.  Dixon’s piece indicated a method behind the madness of closed-down gas stations. At 4pm on WGCL, Rebekka Schramm reported on why stations reliant on the spot market pay higher wholesale prices for fuel.  WGCL handled the shortage with an anchor vo/sot.

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Ross Cavitt, WSB

But on Monday, WSB was all about the gasoline shortage.  It led its 6pm news with the story, putting Lori Geary live at the tank farm.  Geary interviewed a jobber who explained that shortages are manageable as long as the public doesn’t panic.  WSB followed with John Bachman, live at a gas station, with more on shortages and high prices.

At 5pm, Ross Cavitt was live at a gas station, reporting entirely on shortages.

WSB’s stories were level-headed and responsible.  But here’s the question, class:  Does the mere fact that WSB (or any other station) trumpets the gasoline shortage contribute to the panic that causes the shortage?  If so, does the station have a responsibility to rein in its coverage?  In the age of the internet, does journalistic restraint matter anymore?

Yes, WSB is covering news.  It’s not creating news.  The shortages are legit, as is motorist anger over prices.

But TV has been covering the story since Friday.  Monday, it appeared that somebody at WAGA decided:  Let’s give the shortage story a rest today.  It appeared WGCL made somewhat the same decision.  We say, good call.

Dumpster Diving

John Bachman couldn’t have been happy about his assignment Thursday. Seems WSB’s news desk got a phone call from a construction worker at the West Paces Shopping Center in NW Atlanta. The construction worker told the desk about a dumpster on the property. Inside the dumpster were boxes of paper. The paper appeared to have been discarded from a law firm and contained “sensitive information.”

The desk sent Bachman to investigate the dumpster. We wonder if there wasn’t just the smallest whiff of schadenfreude amongst the WSB desk jockeys as they sent their young, square-jawed weekend anchor to explore a pile of trash. We wonder if Bachman did any career soul-searching during the drive.

At 5:06pm, Bachman found himself doing a live shot next to the dumpster. The camera peered in, where the paper was visible. Bachman’s thankfully-brief package identified a tax form, legal documents containing social security numbers and other stuff that clearly belonged in a shredder, not intact in a dumpster.

If Bachman actually reached (or climbed) into the dumpster to retrieve paper, he had the good sense to not show himself on camera doing so.  Likewise, he declined to interview passers-by about how they felt about the dumpster and its contents.

But he did get hold of some of the paper. His photog shot a closeup of some letterhead, identifying the law firm that apparently discarded the paper. We saw Bachman standing next to the dumpster, on a cell phone, trying to reach the law firm.

Bachman reached an attorney.  Bachman told viewers the attorney admitted he was “embarrassed.” Bet the attorney wasn’t the only one.

Yes, there’s a serious issue here about identity theft. And maybe a generous soul could give WSB credit for doing a (thankfully brief) expose on a law firm’s sloppy disposal of some sensitive paper. But we’re not feeling generous here. We’re feeling a little sad for John Bachman, who had to do a live shot next to a dumpster. Thursday will not be noted as one of his career highlights.