Category Archives: carnes jerry

Moment of grief

WXIA reporter Jerry Carnes was invited by the family of a missing Gwinnett County woman to cover a ground search Saturday. Carnes and photographer Stephen Boissy had covered this sort of thing before; rarely are TV crews on hand when such a search actually yields the discovery of a body.

It happened Saturday.  Carnes writes about it here.

An excerpt:

Amy Elk, sister of missing woman

Photographer Stephen Boissy and I were with Nique Leili’s mother when we heard sirens. Two Gwinnett County police officers peeled off toward the commotion. Then mom got a phone call.  

“They found a body,” she screamed out to me. 

Nique Leili’s family had grown so accustomed to our presence by then, they even reached out to us with expressions of confusion and mourning. 

Never once did they wave us away. Instead, after just a few heartbreaking minutes, Stephen and I realized it was time to point the camera elsewhere. Much of what we observed would never make it to a television set.

Carnes’ post explores the complexities of reporters covering news while retaining empathy and discretion.  The latter, especially, is a lost art in an industry that thrives on hype and exclusivity.  Carnes has been around long enough to know to gather what’s necessary and avoid the intrusive.

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Flurries of truth

It’s a shame this site no longer abuses local TV.  Otherwise, I’d name the parties  below.

Wednesday, Twitter delivered some material from local TV stations about this afternoon’s upcoming “weather event.”  This tweet came from a local TV guy at 3pm:

“I like to get wx report straight from source. @[weatherguy] told me while i was heating lunch he does not expect us to get much snow in atl”

Two minutes later, Twitter and Facebook sent this out from the reporter’s employer:

“Everyone ready for some snow? Forecast models call for 1-2 inches for parts of Central and North GA, but what do you think will really happen? [Our weather guy] will have the latest…”

They seem contradictory, yet both tweets were accurate.  The reporter was giving accurate information straight from the source.  The TV station was trying to be relevant to viewers.

Giving the people what they want

At a time when folks are turning away from local TV altogether, “weather events” remain a time when viewers are geeked up enough to actually view local TV in real time.  TV stations measure which stories are hits on their web sites; the local weather stories are always at the top.

So TV stations will give you weather.  Blame yourselves, viewers of TV news.  Those of us earning paychecks in the industry would like to thank you.

This afternoon’s snow flurries will give reporters an opportunity to shift away from the cold weather stories they’ve had to produce over the last week.  At WXIA, Jerry Carnes has been our stalwart cold weather go-to.  Yesterday, I did a piece about folks who can’t afford to pay their gas bills and heat their homes.  As usual, my goal was to tell the story without ever uttering the word “cold.”

Meantime, consider this:  Ten years ago this month, Atlanta was socked with a terrible ice storm.  It knocked out power in my neighborhood for nearly a week, longer in many others.  It closed schools (of course, so that children could spend quality time in their unheated homes).  It also killed Atlanta’s chance to ever host another Super Bowl.

I had scheduled my son, Bill, to work as a page in the legislature that week.  He was all about it, because it would take him out of school for a day.  But when school closed, he was less enthused.

“What are we gonna do — sit in the unheated house instead?” I reasoned.  We went to the Capitol instead.  Bill executed his duties in casual clothing.  His family read books in the House gallery and stayed warm.  He got his picture taken with two Georgia legends.

Now, that was a weather event.

PS – Red and Black editorial cartoonist Bill Richards has posted his favorite cartoons from ’09.  They’re worth checking out.  And wish the boy a happy birthday today.

"You don't know where that gavel's been!" Bill with Rep. Doug Teper and Speaker Tom Murphy

Immunity

More to offer than a hankie:  Jerry Carnes, WXIA

More to offer than a hankie: Jerry Carnes, WXIA

Jerry Carnes is a clever, talented and mostly healthy TV reporter.  He’s one of the best storytellers in town.  But this isn’t about Carnes’s strengths as a journalist.  This is about how the finger of fate can point, then keep pointing.

First, Carnes beat prostate cancer.  He’s been cancer free for quite some time.

Then, this summer, Carnes was bitten by a spider.  A brown recluse, apparently.  It was a pain in his butt, as only a spider bite victim can attest.

Last month, as the news media began getting geeked up (again) about H1N1 / Swine flu, Jerry Carnes got the bug.  That is to say, Carnes caught the damned H1N1 flu.  It jacked up his body temperature, gave him the sweats, flash-fried his cranium, churned his innards and kept him away from work.  Carnes had been stricken well in advance of cases now being reported around various Georgia college campuses and elsewhere.

So Carnes became something of a curiosity.  News folk typically speak in the abstract about the phenomena they cover.  Carnes was an actual test subject.

At one point, I overheard the following during an editorial meeting at WXIA:  Let’s put Jerry on Skype so he can do a live shot from his home about his flu.  Around the  conference table, there were muttered affirmations.

I don’t think the sick-bed live shot actually happened, though Carnes is a trooper and probably would have done it.  When he returned to work, he produced a first-person story about his illness.  To view it, click here.

His health restored, Carnes became the go-to reporter on the H1N1 story.  At first, it was because Carnes was interested in the story.  Such first-hand experience tends to stoke a reporter’s interest.

Jerry's kids:  Emory's H1N1 dorm.

Jerry's kids: Emory's H1N1 dorm.

But Carnes had an even greater advantage:  Because he’d already gotten it, Jerry Carnes is immune to H1N1.  So when Emory created an entire dormitory for flu-stricken students, Carnes had little to fear by entering the building, breathing deeply and chatting up-close with college kids battling the flu.

“Been there, kid.  That’s quite a fever you’re running.  I feel your pain.  Oh, did you just sneeze on me while I was fitting you with a mic?  No problem.  Care for a Kleenex?”

Meantime, the rest of us have to wait for H1N1 vaccines, which (last I heard) are still weeks away from distribution.

WXIA has a reporter called the Commuter Dude.  He’s on in the mornings.  He’ll probably never run out of material.

Jerry Carnes now calls himself the Swine Dude.  He too has abundant material.  He has plenty of empathy.  And he has immunity, earned the hard way.

Bigmouth strikes again

No city car for the mayor?  Wendy Saltzman with Shirley Franklin

Love your scarf: Wendy Saltzman with Shirley Franklin

Wendy Saltzman has been a busy woman.   Like most reporters in understaffed shops, she’s probably overworked.  And she solely bears the on-air burden of giving WGCL badly needed credibility in classic, research-based investigative reporting (as distinguished from, say, consumer reporting or bare-hands-on-food-in-restaurants exposés).

Sometime over the winter, it appears Saltzman began work on a story about Atlanta Water Department employees driving city cars to their homes each night.  She found they lived as far away as Macon.  She researched city policy, which showed only the biggest of city bigshots and “first responders” should take home cars.  She bum-rushed Mayor Shirley Franklin, who dodged Saltzman’s question about the cost.  Both women wore winter-wear during the encounter.

And then Saltzman apparently sat on the story.  In the interim, she produced additional unrelated kick-ass material — including an expose of an auto dealer that sold used cars which were previously crashed and listed as “totaled” by insurance.

But while Saltzman waited, the tipsters within City Hall who knew about the practice probably grew antsy.   They kept talking.

WXIA’s Jerry Carnes got wind of the story.  Carnes learned that one of the employees drove his car home to Cedartown — a few hops shy of the Alabama border.  One morning, Carnes watched the city car make the trip and got video documenting it.  That set Carnes down the same path Saltzman had already visited weeks earlier.  But Carnes got it on TV first.

Of course, very few people in TV land actually notice these scorekeeping details, nor particularly care who did what “first” or “exclusively.”  But bragging rights are important in TV newsrooms, and management cares desperately about such stuff.  And Wendy Saltzman probably cares more than a little bit, an overworked reporter managing numerous high-profile stories.  She produced a story the following day that proved she’d had the goods, minus the damning video of the Cedartown-based city employee.  Carnes’s story was excellent.  So was Saltzman’s.

A day later, Saltzman had moved on to another unrelated investigation.  Meantime, Carnes was doing solid follow-ups to the city car story.  Both deserve credit for good work.  One of them was just a day late.

Future cancer survivors

On WXIA’s news Friday, Ted Hall told viewers that reporter Jerry Carnes is now fighting prostate cancer.  Carnes has been with WXIA since 1988.  He’s a swell guy and one of Atlanta’s best TV storytellers.

He’s still on the job.  Hall’s announcement followed a moving piece Carnes produced Friday night about a fallen US soldier, and a dedication made in his memory at Shiloh High School’s football game.

Carnes is blogging about his fight against cancer.  In the spirit of sharing his optimism, we’ve taken the liberty of swiping the headline from his first post.  Best wishes, amigo.

Meantime, the AJC reports that reporter / anchor JaQuitta Williams is leaving WSB.  Williams tells Rodney Ho that her recent fight against breast cancer caused her to change perspective on her TV news career.  She also relates a couple of amusing “signs” that signaled her it was time to move on.  Williams joined WSB in 2004.

Williams tells Ho that she’s now cancer-free.

Best wishes to Williams as she presumably changes careers, a course of action we strongly endorse for TV newsies who value their sanity.  (Stage whisper to JaQuitta:  Write me.  You’d be a great guest blogger on LAF.)

Re-education camp

Earlier this month, WXIA sent one of its most experienced reporters to backpack journalism school and scheduled classes for another. The reporters, Paul Crawley and Jon Shirek, began work in TV news during the film era. Crawley (left) joined WXIA in 1978, Shirek in 1980.

“Backpack journalism” is a 21st century term for a brutal concept typically reserved for the smallest TV markets: One-man-band TV coverage. The reporter also shoots and edits. And drives. And makes phone calls. “Backpack” refers to the lighter, less durable, less versatile cameras assigned to these souls.

WXIA already has three full-time backpackers. Jerry Carnes was a one-man-band at the station’s now-defunct Athens bureau when he started twenty years ago. He “volunteered” to do it again. Youngsters Julie Wolfe and Catherine Kim were hired as guinea pigs for the labor-saving experiment.

Apparently, WXIA is now asking reporters seeking contract renewal a question: Wanna go to backpack school? There’s only one correct answer, by the way.

Shirek spent three days in Asbury Park NJ with instructors produced by Gannett. The instructors were there to familiarize the reporter with the gear and the routine of the backpack journalist. He would learn focus and color balance. He would learn tape ingestion and non-linear editing.

WXIA has some of the best TV photographers in the Southeast, some nationally recognized. The seminar gives Shirek and Crawley three days to learn to do what their camera-toting colleagues have done for decades.

WXIA is no doubt emboldened by the success of Julie Wolfe, who has quickly begun to stand out on WXIA’s staff. The UGA grad has a keen eye behind the viewfinder and routinely shoots artful video that stands up well with the veteran photogs at WXIA. Wolfe is also a sharp storyteller. Her vocal delivery isn’t crisp enough yet. But when the assignment desk sends Wolfe out, alone, to produce a story, they’ll almost always get something solid in return. And they’ll certainly get their money’s worth.

Wolfe also produces with one hand figuratively tied behind her back. The information that yields a top-grade TV story typically doesn’t come easily. TV reporters at Atlanta stations are constantly making and fielding phone calls while their photographers are driving and navigating. Wolfe is driving and dialing.

This isn’t just about the obvious danger of compelling a reporter to look up phone numbers, dial and receive calls while changing lanes on I-285. Reporters make phone calls that go beyond that day’s newsgathering effort. They stay in touch with sources. They sound out stories for later in the week. They do it while en route to locations. They also do it while their photographers are shooting and editing. Wolfe, as driver, shooter and editor, is hamstrung as a reporter.

TV reporting isn’t rocket science. It’s not a science at all. There are many shades of grey, and they appear in different forms in story after story. Reporters have to make judgments quickly. Photographers help with those judgments, especially when the reporter is young and inexperienced. If Wolfe wants to bounce an idea off somebody, she has to make another phone call to WXIA’s newsroom.

Crawley and Shirek are certainly experienced enough to handle the rigors of backpack journalism and the challenges of solo newsgathering.

But WXIA is cheating itself, and its viewers. Its competitors are getting better information, by definition. By persisting in this sad experiment, WXIA sends a message its audience:

Expect less.

This corrects an earlier version which mistakenly reported that Crawley attended the school this month. 

WXIA’s backpack journalists

About a year ago, WXIA launched a somewhat revolutionary concept in the Atlanta market. It began using what it calls “backpack journalists,” reporters who tote and shoot their own cameras, as well as write and produce their own stories. It’s revolutionary, all right. Kinda like 1979 Iranian revolution. It’s disturbing, destabilizing, and nobody wins except the mullahs in the bean-counting divisions of media companies like Gannett.

Most TV reporters begin their careers as one-man-band reporter/photographers in tiny markets. LAF began in Tupelo Miss., just a few weeks after the American hostages were seized in Teheran. The TV station was owned by some dude who had enough revenue to fund a 10-person newsroom and produce a half hour at noon, six and ten each day. Those of us in such work environments were highly motivated to escape to the big-time, where news was more plentiful and where a professional photog would actually shoot our stories.

Fast forward to the 21st century. At WXIA, three reporters are now designated as backpack journalists. Catherine Kim and Julie Wolfe are youngsters, fresh from markets like Buffalo and Chattanooga.  They went on the WXIA payroll knowing their fate.   Jerry Carnes has been with WXIA since 1988. He volunteered to revert to his one-man-band roots. No doubt, Carnes would admit to a slightly masochistic streak.

This trend began in San Francisco at KRON, a station desperately on the ropes in 2006. The station’s experiment with backpack journalism was deliciously chronicled by the SF Weekly in an article called “KRON’s Last Gasp.” But WXIA isn’t gasping. Though consistently third in the ratings, it’s got strong personnel and presents a quality product, as local TV news broadcasts go.

WXIA’s motivation is pretty simple: Make one person do the work of two. It’s a concept dating back to the steel barons of the late 1800s. But there’s no question, it puts WXIA’s backpack journalists at a disadvantage. It means they have to navigate, make phone calls, load, unload and operate equipment while their competitors are focusing solely on story development. It means they can’t collaborate with photographers, who know news as well as (and may know the story better than) the reporter does. Unless the backpack journalist is doing a story that’s off the beaten path, away from a competitive environment, it means WXIA’s viewers get cheated.

Wolfe and Kim are talented young reporters. They’re not bad shooters. Carnes is one of WXIA’s best. But when you see their work, keep in mind that they’re working with one hand tied behind their backs. And by the time their stuff airs at 6pm or 7pm, the mullahs in Finance are already on their commute home.