Category Archives: blogs

Thumbs up

You still want a live shot on a “missing” woman who actually had left home for a day-long joyride and was found safe hours ago?  You got it!

That could have been my contribution last week to “The Thumbs Up Photog,” a new and probably short-lived blog (so many of the good ones are) that captures some of the essential absurdity of local TV news.

tumblr_n1nm2ppOft1tuvcvzo1_500

It does so with a collection of memes featuring a guy on a phone wearing an Auburn skully.  I don’t know who he is, but I like his style.  Update: Damon Young outs himself in the LAF comments.  He lives in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  He’s a monster on Twitter, with more than 13,000 tweets.  And he’s wearing an Alabama hat, not an Auburn hat. My bad.

His site is pretty new.  If you haven’t already done so, give it a look-see.  I’ll deign to explain a few of the more obscure references.

What’s that? What little info we have on this BS shooting, you put in the anchor intro?  Sounds great!

You’ve seen this live shot.  The producer packs all the available info (which is next to none) into the anchor’s remarks.  The anchor tosses to the reporter live at the shooting.  The reporter repeats what the anchor said, possibly adding “it’s a fluid situation here” or “we have more questions that answers” for some stale flavor in lieu of solid information.

Is that your fifth plate of free newsroom pizza? Sounds great!  This refers to the widespread practice of purchasing meals for in-house staff during extended shifts, while those in the field have to fend for themselves or skip meals.  Frankly, I got tired of hearing this gripe a long time ago.  I’d still rather be in the field fending for myself.

I I think think I I dialed dialed into into the the wrong wrong IFB IFB line line is what’s going one when you watch a live shot, and the reporter immediately yanks the earpiece from his / her ear.  It means the IFB (“interruptable feed back”) line in the earpiece is feeding back the reporter’s own voice on a delay.  It can can completely completely kill kill your concentration when delivering your live remarks.  The “right” IFB line will only feed back studio audio and the soothing voice of a producer in the control room.

Between the lines

More often than not, this blog isn’t about what I’m actually writing.  It’s about what I’m not writing.  I have a wealth of material I’m withholding.  Mostly, it’s to preserve my relationships– in particular, with my boss and with folks out in the world with whom I must retain a level of rapport.

Here’s what I’m not writing about these days.

Here's a photo I'm not writing about

Here’s a photo I’m not writing about

The (friendly, I thought) politician who told me he thinks my coverage of him sucks.   The politician called my boss to “spin” a story before it aired.  When I texted him to object, he texted back with the surprise critique.  A post might be instructive, but risky.

The latest wrinkle in a volatile relationship with a difficult yet (I admit grudgingly) effective PIO.  The story has the makings of a hilarious post, which I’ll probably never write.

The ridiculous offer by an agency to grant me a long-sought “exclusive” — except for the caveat that I couldn’t record any TV images.  I probably will write this one at some point, but I haven’t completely given up on the story (which wouldn’t be that big an “exclusive” anyway).

The arguably mismanaged launch of a political candidacy.  I say “arguably” because it probably wasn’t.  But it sure did inconvenience journalists!  And that’s what matters, right?

The ups and downs of advocacy journalism.  Perhaps soon.  But not today.

The out-of-work pol who threatened me bodily this spring.  A post would have been a tired repetition of a familiar theme.

The weird new political tilt of a once-noble local news organization.  This would violate my self-imposed moratorium on talking shit about my competitors.

The most laughably worthless waste-of-skin publicist in metro Atlanta.  Actually, this would be an amusing online competition.  Unfortunately, I still call and email my useless nominee, so this post would be ill-advised.

Great local PIOs.  There are some who stand out.  But if I name them, I fear they will face reprisal from their small-minded bosses.

 

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).

Trending on Twitter

For centuries, the news business largely made editorial decisions based on the instincts of the professionals who ran news organizations.  This wasn’t as difficult as it sounds.  Stories that were topical and / or interesting and / or impactful made it into the newspaper or on TV.  The instinct was:  If it smells like news, run it.

Often, we barely knew which stories actually touched people.  We just kinda had to guess.

Fig. 1: Broccoli

Fig. 1: Broccoli

We don’t have to do that anymore.  Each hour, we can analyze the internet for topics that are “trending.”   We can analyze our web sites — and those of our competitors, I suppose, though I don’t know if anyone actually does that — for stories that are “most viewed” or “most popular.”  We can read comments on web sites and try to use them to gauge how deeply the stories touch viewers.

It’s a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing, I suppose, for sites like Buzzfeed.  It panders to the audience / gives the readers what they want with an endless menu of lists and coverage of Nicki Minaj, whose name seems to constantly appear whenever I hear somebody describe what words or phrases are “trending” on the web.

TV stations are also highly inclined to give viewers what they want, especially given the erosion of viewership over the last decade.

Fig. 2: Minaj

Fig. 2: Minaj

The question is whether viewers want their TV stations to pander to them by juicing up coverage of sugary stories that get the most clicks — or whether viewers want their news diet to include broccoli and spinach and other non-sweets.  Traditionally, the answer — based on instinct and no small amount of audience research — is both.  Audiences will tell researchers they want to tune in to see the broad spectrum of news items.  But a prime-time tease — the ten-second spot run during “The Voice” or “American Idol” promoting the upcoming newscast — will likely select a topic more sugar-based and less broccoli-based, to keep viewers from clicking elsewhere.

I’m an old guy who has grown accustomed to these web-based sources of instant feedback.  If a story I’ve done is on the “most popular” list on our site, I will find a dark place in the newsroom and contort myself to deliver ample pats on mine own back.  Conversely, if my story doesn’t make the list — which is far more frequently the case — I will take comfort in knowing that I’m not pandering to the viewers.

Meanwhile — here’s an experiment.  On the day I posted “Tell it to the Judge” a week ago, this site got a modest 367 hits.  As I post this Monday morning, the counter to the right (scroll to the bottom where it says “blog stats”) says this blog has had 769,780 hits since its 2008 inception.

Now that the phrase “nicki minaj” appears in this post (twice!), let’s see how that number spikes today.

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.


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. 

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.

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.”

Local news queen

I don’t know the identity of the blogger who calls herself Local News Queen, nor do I want to know.  If you or I find out, I’m afraid she’ll stop writing.  She needs to keep writing, anonymously and frequently.

I don't know her ID, either

LNQ writes what I can’t write — the kind of dead-honest insider stuff that hilariously describes the not-so-glamorous minutiae of the overworked and underpaid local TV reporter.  I don’t know which market she works in.  I’m not even completely convinced she’s a “she” in the strictly anatomical sense (versus, say, the Bowie-esque sense).  It doesn’t matter.  She is everyman / woman.

She can write stuff like “The town we were in had one stoplight and apparently no dentists.”  I can’t write stuff like that about the Rockwellian small towns of Georgia, even when it’s true.

She can describe her station’s fleet of news vehicles thusly:  “That’s how we roll, bitches!… Each news car smells the same. It’s as if an obese man ate a basket of garlic toast and died in the backseat.”  I wouldn’t dare  describe WXIA’s pristine, lilac-scented vehicles with anything approaching such language.  Even if it was true, which it isn’t.

Here she writes about a reporter having to work a second job in an amusement park to make ends meet.

Here she writes about her secret loathing of stories about Haiti fundraisers.

Here she writes about having an embarrassing “emergency” in an out-of-order public restroom, only to have a viewer spot her as she emerged.

She only started writing it this month.  She appears to be writing new material most days.  She needs all the encouragement she can get.  Feel free to sidestep LAF for a few days and click on Local News Queen instead.  And please don’t try to rat her out, especially you investigative hotshots.  Back off.  Let the Queen do her work.

Local News Queen is now in the blogroll to the right under “Media Sites.”