Category Archives: bruner portia

Sweeping performance

“Your mind is totally controlled.  It has been stuffed into my mold.  And you will do as you are told, until the rights to you are sold.” Frank Zappa, “I’m the Slime”

There are three reasons to watch local TV news.  One:  The content.  Two:  Your friend or family member is on TV.  Three:  The spectacle.  Let’s address the spectacle at one Atlanta TV station.

On the move: Portia Bruner, WAGA

The spectacle is especially rich during the sweeps months of February, May and November.  During these months, WAGA treats its viewers to special reports.  It takes the I-Team out of hiding during sweeps.  But just as importantly — the reporters and photographers are beseeched to perform.

Woe to the WAGA reporter or photographer who delivers a live shot merely framing a nicely-lit reporter with a static backdrop.  A casual look at WAGA this month indicates the issuance and re-issuance of orders heard regularly during my tenure at this TV station:  Don’t just stand there.  Do something.  Show us something.  Move someplace.  “Produce” the live shot.

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Here Morse Diggs and his photog execute the simple zoom-in.  The mise-en-scene behind him was a bit of a stretch — his story was about take-home vehicles driven by city employees; he delivered the live shot in front of gas pumps.

But the tag afterward is exemplary:  Diggs waves paper, but intentionally blocks it with his hand because he can’t show it on TV. This is solid evidence that Diggs got the message, repeated by supervisors during his work day:  Make that live shot sing, even if it’s a bit off-key.

Below, Patty Pan’s photog zooms into the school building behind her.  Since the story is about the school all-but closing, it makes a measure of sense to see the building.  Pan delivered on the mandate ably, albeit minimally.

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Within our random sampling of video from WAGA’s web site, Portia Bruner wins the LAF “produce the live shot!” prize.  She’s standing in front of a government building (as were Pan and Diggs).  She’s static at the start, which worries us.  But then she produces a piece of paper, which lends excitement.  And then — she walks toward the door, mimicking the steps of the subject of her story.

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Because we were so spellbound by the performance, we didn’t absorb the content of her remarks.  But that’s OK — if the audience is spellbound, it’s not switching channels or leaving the room to fix supper.  Bruner’s supervisors viewed it with approval.  Her job is safe for another day.

Of course, there’s all that other stuff:  Reporting the story accurately, writing it clearly, developing new information from sources, shooting  and editing video that meaningfully tells the story.  These aren’t afterthoughts.  But that’s not what WAGA’s reporters are hearing about when they walk out the door during sweeps.

Produce the live shot.”

Who wins?  Perhaps the puzzled viewer, who wonders why these TV folks are being all hyper on th’ TV.  Certainly WAGA’s reporters and photogs, who have learned to handle sweeps edicts the way H.R. Haldeman endured the psychotic rants of Nixon.

But the biggest winner is that damned lawyer who sponsors WAGA’s embedded video.  By the way, did you notice how that guy moved?

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Saturday night WAGA

Chris Shaw, WAGA

Chris Shaw, WAGA

Here’s what the DVR turned up while watching WAGA’s 10pm news Saturday.

Embattled sergeant. Chris Shaw produced a story about the homecoming of a soldier who lost three limbs in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq.  Interesting enough.  But Shaw’s purpose was to tell a detailed story about a controversy surrounding two homes, funded by charitable outfits, to accommodate Sgt. David Battle.  One home was in Maryland, another in Fayetteville.  Turns out, one charity accused Battle’s wife of fraudulently applying for and receiving one of the homes.

The story became a bit convoluted.  It would have been easier to understand with clearer material about the accusation. Shaw used the best video at the top of the piece — but it only muddled the story about the charity controversy.  At the end of the piece, the anchors completely overlooked the controversy, and talked about how swell it was that Battle got such a nice homecoming.

Producing the story on the day Battle returned home also seemed a bit — rude?  Ahh, what do we know?  Grade:  B (grade changed upon further review– see comments).

Shootings and a killin’. Back-to-back anchor v/o’s of crime scenes involving garden variety shootings.  Great crime scene tape footage.  The cliche never gets old.

Traffic jam / no traffic jam. This was a v/o about traffic stacked up on I-85 due to an accident.  Yet a close examination of the live DOT camera showed traffic moving normally.  They either got the story wrong or showed the wrong camera.  No explanation was offered.

Darrell Carver, WAGA

Darrell Carver, WAGA

Georgia Theatre fire. Darrell Carver produced a serviceable piece about the aftermath of the landmark Athens fire.  Can’t say we learned much we didn’t already know.  It included the puzzling line that the “fire gutted the theater for most of Friday.”  The photographer inexplicably decided to keep Carver’s face out of focus during a standup.  Grade:  C

Iran Protests. WAGA decided to wait until 10:07pm to show the story that was the talk of the world Saturday.  The technique was good enough:  Get Julia Harding to fold the crazy internet video from Tehran into a local package showing protests at CNN center.  Although the local protests were lame, the Iran story should have been the lead.  Grade:  D for misjudging the importance of the Iran story.

Fugitive Cop. Portia Bruner’s piece on the whereabouts of a wanted-for-murder DeKalb cop was the most interesting local story in the show.   She showed surveillance video that appeared to show Derrick Yancey boarding a Greyhound bus after skipping bond in DeKalb.  She also talked with Yancey’s attorney.  The story was well-enough told but poorly edited, probably because it was very last-minute.  Grade:  B

Peachtree Road Race. Sports anchor Karen Graham delivered a fun-to-watch piece on folks training for the July 4 race.  It was light, breezy and well-done.  Grade:  B

Portia Bruner, WAGA

Portia Bruner, WAGA

America’s Most Wanted offered its star correspondent, ex-WAGA reporter Angeline Hartmann, for a live shot from AMW’s phone bank.  AMW had done a piece on Yancey.  We’ll forgive Hartmann for saying “phones were ringing off the hook, literally” just because she’s a) so adorable and b) because she appeared to instantly realize she’d committed the gaffe (unlike most of her audience).  One can imagine phones falling from their hooks as Hartmann vigorously smacked herself in the forehead after the shot ended.

DUI Checkpoint. Julia Harding pulled the unenviable double-duty of producing the Iran protest story, then running out to Union City to do a by-the-numbers DUI checkpoint piece.  The highlight was her live shot tag, when she reported the arrest of a woman who had displaced her child from a car seat in order to make room for the product of a beer run.   Grade:  B-

Overall: The local crime-scene stuff was minimal but played too highly.  The Iran miscue was very, very puzzling. The station should have kept Harding on the day’s most important story and skipped the  empty and predictable police / media crackdown in Union City.

The show was well paced and easy enough to watch, as local newscasts go. Graham and meteorologist Joanne Feldman are two significant reasons for that.   Grade:  B-


Prospects

Watching Atlanta TV news on weekends is a little like watching minor league baseball. It lacks the big names and the big audience. (It also lacks the whip-cracking management, which often makes the weekend shifts easier on the nerves and psyche.) There are rookie mistakes. But the game is still played with gusto, and there are gems to discover.

Saturday at 6, WSB had an interesting C-block story by Darryn Moore about thieves who dismantle gas pumps in order to swipe fuel. Gasoline stories are rapidly becoming rather tiresome fixtures in the news these days, but Moore’s photog / editor ramped up the piece with some clever shooting and cool editing. Moore’s live tease was slightly botched with an earpiece feedback problem, but Moore removed his earpiece in mid-tease and kept talking. Ashley Hayes had a similar problem with her lead story from Newton Co., but recovered to produce a solid piece on a TB patient / inmate at the Newton Co. jail.

WAGA’s 10 o’clock news Saturday lacked the technical glitches, and surpassed its competitor content-wise. Julia Harding had some eye-popping surveillance tape shot by an East Atlanta homeowner, showing three young men breaking into her home and running off with a TV set. Harding’s exclusive was also well-shot and well-told. The thieves have struck numerous times. The story could have been hot with emotion and fear, but the production (and interviews with homeowners) gave the story a refreshing cool texture.

Portia Bruner’s coverage of a protest on behalf of death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis was also solid and even-handed. Bruner folded in a previous interview with the widow of the police officer Davis was convicted of killing. However, Bruner’s editor mistakenly used video of the Georgia Supreme Court while Bruner spoke about the US Supreme Court. It was a small, minor-league error on a news day otherwise full of prospect.