Category Archives: cavitt

One gem, three oddities

Four stories jumped out at us from WGCL’s website.  All had an odd quality to them. (None was the “Restaurant Report Card,” which we’re unofficially ignoring these days…)

Mike Moore, WGCL

Mike Moore, WGCL

Mike Moore delivered a piece the site calls “bad news takes stressful toll on Atlantans.”  Predictably, WGCL took no credit for any of that “bad news.”  Moore did man-on-the-street interviews with three men who were losing jobs or afraid of losing jobs.  It led us to expect some sort of unemployment-malaise-mindset think piece.  But the three vignettes developed into no real storyline.  The most interesting thing about it was Moore’s stylish striped overcoat, which caused an audible buzz in his intro.

(Why would a striped coat cause a buzz?  Andy Funk explains:  “Sharp, vertical transitions between white and black — such as from striped clothing — lead to the greatest amount of high-frequencies in a video signal. Due to the way live shots are sent back to the station (microwave signal with the video FM-modulated and the audio as a subcarrier, often at 4.83 MHz), video with a lot of high-frequency content can encroach upon the audio subcarrier and be heard as an objectionable buzz.”  Thanks for that, Andy.)

An engineer at WGCL got the word to Moore, who shed the coat by the time he delivered his live tag, eliminating the buzz.  Grade:  C

Tom Waits

Tom Waits

The peculiarly-titled “Missing Couple Talks to CBS 46” was the work of Harry Samler. WGCL gave it the “we ask the tough questions” treatment, but Samler correctly treated the elderly couple with kid gloves.  “Just tell us what happened,” Samler said in the only moment approaching a tough question.  “You tell me,” answered the no-longer-missing Sam Hewatt good-naturedly.  He and his wife left a Waffle House in Loganville and ended up in Hoover Alabama.  “Next time, someone else will be driving” said Samler in his live shot.   No other station talked to the couple, probably because they recognized it as an odd personal embarrassment rather than a news story.  Still, Samler’s Grade is B-.

Sarah Parker, WGCL

Sarah Parker, WGCL

WGCL now re-broadcasts vignettes from Sarah Parker’s live shots from the station’s “Better Mornings” program.  Good thing, a) since Better Mornings frequently shows up as an asterisk in the ratings, Parker’s work gets some actual eyeballs and b) her squirrelly antics, shown later, may open some of those eyeballs for the 5 – 7am show.  In this vignette, Parker dons Tom Waits-style eyewear and a bikini top over a t-shirt, then does a cannonball into a pool, nearly clobbering some training Navy Seals.  Since Better Mornings professes not to be a newscast, we have to evaluate Parker’s performance and style, with a resounding grade of B+.

Harry Samler, WGCL

Harry Samler, WGCL

Saving the best for last, here’s Samler again.  We wish we’d seen this story before we declared the death of whimsy.  This is borderline brilliant, almost Corvinesque but without the darkness.  Samler produced a breezy, funny yet informative story about Decatur’s new parking meters.  The writing is cute and chatty.  The nat sound hits are splendid (especially the meter cops laughing about the fines).  Samler’s standup enhances the tone and bridges the storyline.   And the piece concludes with an amusing two-line punchline, a nice example of giving the viewer something unexpected at the end of the piece.  Great success. Check it out.  Grade:  A-

Gassy McGee

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Pushing the story: Ross Cavitt, WSB

Gasoline shortage / price stories often have a tediously one-note quality to them.   Over and over, the video and storylines repeat.  And it’s somewhat unavoidable.

So give Ross Cavitt credit for pumping some life into his story on WSB at 6 Wednesday.  Cavitt’s coverage from a Cobb Co. gas station had some surprising elements.

  • An actual on-camera shouting match between a customer and a station manager.  The customer accused the manager of hoarding gas for his friends.
  • A motorist who admitted he’d stalked a tanker truck to see which gas station was getting a fresh supply.
  • A picture of Cavitt and two other men pushing an out-of-gas car.  Cavitt didn’t call attention to it, to his credit.  But it was unmistakably him– his stick mic was clipped to his belt as he pushed.  It was a nice bit of hands-on “reporter involvement.”  It also helped him show the desperate straits of some of the motorists he encountered.
  • An interesting closing anecdote about a tanker truck driver.  Cavitt told viewers he asked the tanker truck driver if motorists “flash you the thumbs up or do they give you another digit…?”  Cavitt said the driver responded that it was “about fifty fifty.”

Atlanta’s TV stations seem to want desperately to engage viewers over gasoline shortages.  The problem is that the situation changes rapidly from gas station to gas station.  They all tout their web sites as sources of up to date information.  But good luck trying to actually use the sites, as the writer at Mostly Media did.  Here’s part of what she writes about WXIA’s site:

Besides, when you do click on a green arrow for a particular station, you see that it/the info was, in some cases, last updated 20 hours ago! Or was presented/updated to show NO gas about 2-hours ago, yet the arrow remains green in color. (For “Go” presumably.) But hey, bad information is better than NO information? In this particular case, I think not.

We suspect that it’s simply impossible to maintain comprehensive, updated, accurate information on a gazillion metro Atlanta gas stations.  She asks the right question.  But the answer appears to be “take our information with a grain of salt.  And don’t burn all your gas driving to that station with the green arrow.”

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.

A mighty wind

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Ross Cavitt, WSB

No two guys in Atlanta TV news love hurricanes more than Tony Thomas and Ross Cavitt.  Both men went to Louisiana to cover Gustav.  Ultimately, the story was one of a storm that bore little resemblance to Katrina, despite endless comparisons during the media build-up.

WSB’s Cavitt is also a meteorologist.  He gives his weather coverage a whiff of the scientific, without devolving into pocket-protector nerdiness.  Cavitt always plays up the human element, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the truth.  On Monday, he found a guy named Todd Browning who told WSB viewers “this really wasn’t a hurricane.”  This report shows Cavitt in full wind-blown glory.

Tony Thomas, WAGA

Tony Thomas, WAGA

WAGA’s Thomas isn’t a meteorologist.  He’s more of a human cannonball.  Thomas won three Emmys this year, two for weather coverage.  He’s the kind of guy who will lead his crew from hurricane to hurricane, stoically working double shifts for the sheer joy of being a TV guy.  It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Like Cavitt, Thomas’s quest is for the spectacular video and the human story.  It’s the best reason to want to be in the middle of a hurricane.  Otherwise, it’s all about police roadblocks (that don’t always yield for media trucks), accommodations on the fly in power-less locales, and meals of QuickTrip taquitoes.  Plus, the wet clothes and body odor.  In other words, sheer misery.

(First hand, here are my top three overnight hurricane coverage accommodations:  Once, in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of Miami; once in the back of an ambulance in a fire station in Niceville FL; once on a cot outdoors at an Army Air station in New Orleans; the latter two with this guy.)

CNN’s Jeanne Moos produced an amusing story spoofing the gusty antics of TV folks covering Gustav.  It’s worth watching for her treatment of Geraldo Rivera.

Here’s the downer:  WXIA sent no reporter to Gustav.  Yet their feed story Monday from an NBC guy had more diverse elements and was more completely told than either Cavitt’s or Thomas’s stories.  The reason:  Cavitt and Thomas are lone wolves.  They have too many deadlines and too many logistical hurdles (and no field producer working with them) to get copies of video from other sources.

The NBC guy also declined to use the phrase “we’re not out of the woods yet.”  We realize this cliche is like an old friend during hurricanes.  We’d like to hear it re-phrased.

If tropical storm Hanna continues its path for Tybee Island, don’t be surprised if Cavitt and Thomas show up there too.

Cat and Mouse

Six Flags Over Georgia should have allowed Atlanta’s TV stations onto its property for a limited, one-time-only photo opportunity for their coverage of the accidental death of a teenager last weekend. But the amusement park apparently played hardball, banishing news cameras from the property. This left the stations to their own devices. Some played the game of cat and mouse better than others.

Six Flags’ stance should instantly raise a question among TV reporters: Any shorts-and-a-t-shirt wearing patron can buy a ticket and carry a camera onto the property. Shouldn’t a newsman be able to carry a camera anyplace the public is allowed to do so?

WAGA apparently stayed off the property, as instructed. Darryl Carver’s 6pm coverage Monday had telephoto shots of the property and file tape of the Batman roller coaster, which struck and killed the teen who climbed into a restricted area surrounding the ride.

But WSB found a way around the rules. Ross Cavitt’s 6pm piece had a nice walk-shot of the iron fence the teen apparently climbed. It showed the “restricted area” sign on the fence. It also showed a second chain-link fence the teen traversed. And Cavitt’s piece showed the Batman ride, empty, getting tested by park officials Monday. (Cavitt’s 5pm piece doesn’t show the chain-link fence.)

How did Cavitt pull it off? One easy way: Pay the parking fee and drive onto the Six Flags lot with an unmarked vehicle. Then spend ten minutes shooting video with a betacam. And in the process, get lucky by seeing the testing of the Batman ride. If security stops you, Cavitt steps in and makes apologies while the photog gets a few final shots.

Another possibility: Remove the TV necktie and WSB ID badge and walk onto the parking lot with a camcorder. The camcorder video is likely shot in a format that’s different from your standard TV video. That shouldn’t be a problem. Just go to the live truck, link up some cables and convert it.

In all likelihood, Carver would have had difficulty performing either of the cloak-and-dagger acts described above. WAGA fiercely insists that its general assignment crews roll in unmistakably marked trucks that exclaim: Here comes the media! And its trucks are notoriously ill-equipped to convert video from formats other than betacam. Apparently, it’s a money thing. (In the last couple of years, WAGA started putting inexpensive DVD players in its live trucks. That wouldn’t have helped in this instance.)

Cavitt was justified in making the effort to get the better video. It better depicted the efforts made by this teenage victim to breach security, resulting in a vivid cautionary tale at a place visited by a gazillion people every summer. Likewise, Cavitt matter-of-factly used the term “decapitated” to describe the victim’s death, a term avoided by Carver. It’s a sensational fact. It’s also an essential detail that described how quickly a walk in the amusement park can become fatally tragic.

“And the number one threat to America…”

The graphic leading into Ross Cavitt’s live shot on WSB Thursday at six said “Bear on the Loose.” The story was about a black bear, documented with a cell phone camera, trotting through an East Cobb parking lot. Cavitt ended his live shot by advising viewers: “If you see this bear… go the other way.” Cavitt’s photog apparently declined to take the advice, however. The photog got close-up pictures of the bear “lounging behind an office park,” as Cavitt said. Thankfully, a chain link fence separated the bear from the photog.

It was a pretty good “get” for WSB. The DNR tried all afternoon to get as close to the bear as WSB’s photog got. Even after shooting the bear with a tranquilizer dart, the animal eluded its pursuers.

By 10pm, WAGA’s Julia Harding was on the same story. She got the same cell phone video, but her photog didn’t get the prized bear video. “Julia– what’s that behind you?” Russ Spencer playfully asked Harding at the end of her live shot, implying that the bear was in the background. Harding deadpanned that a strip mall was behind her, the joke eluding her (and perhaps much of the audience).

Interestingly, the graphic leading into Harding’s piece said “Bear on the Run.” One hour later, WSB’s 11pm follow-up also led with a graphic that said “Bear on the Run,” rather than “Bear on the Loose.” Coincidence?  Was “bear on the run” so doggone clever that WSB copied WAGA’s graphic?  Conspiracy theorists need not look on the web. Neither station has posted its bear coverage.

The Colbert nation would have been proud.

The rest of WSB at 6

Do normal people actually watch an entire hour of local TV news? After the shock of watching 2’s lead story, we were too stunned to leave our seat. Maybe that’s what they intended. Observations:

Rachel Kim had a forgettable story about a killing that won’t be news for much longer. The family declined to talk on TV. Neighbors were somewhat helpful. Kim is good at developing stories, but not on this particular evening.

Ross Cavitt had a nice enterprise story about WhiteWater’s plan to dig wells to supplement its water supply. The story gained nuance when Cavitt revealed that it ain’t likely the wells will help much.

Jovita Moore– substituting for the thankfully absent Monica Pearson– had the best scoop of the show: An exclusive interview with the new, and much-criticized CEO of Grady, Pam Stephenson. It was a nice lick for Moore, who frequently spends her days in the trenches covering news prior to her nightly anchor appearances at 5.

Lori Geary had a rare emotional story from the Capitol about school bullying. She deftly removed her earpiece during her live lead-in because a technical glitch created a distracting echo. Geary didn’t miss a beat.

Ashley Hayes had what could have been the show’s most interesting story: Cops in Hilton Head talked at length about the disappearance of an Atlanta couple, and the suicide of the main suspect. But the story lacked immediacy because it was obvious Hayes was relying on material fed from other TV stations based in SC.

WSB ran an anchor reader on a captured fugitive. They must have grit their teeth as they gave a photo courtesy to America’s Most Wanted, a show on their arch-competitor WAGA.

And then there was weather with Glenn Burns:

Afterward– live in the dreaded 6:30 slot– Tom Regan produced possibly the most watchable story of the day: A trade show that opened at the storm-battered World Congress Center. Apparently, the GWCC is in better shape than most expected.

Ryan Young had the gratuitous live shot of the night: “Live in midtown” with a story about a robbery in DeKalb Co. “Live in midtown?” That’s WSB telling the world that they’re making one of their reporters stand on the lawn of the TV station on Peachtree. Why? Who knows.

Sports had the best surprise: Bill Hartman reported on new seats at Turner Field, built in front of the previous front row. The story showed rows of seats that drift absurdly close to home plate– the closest spectator view in all of MLB, according to Hartman. Local TV sports no longer exists in many markets– yielding to the hegemony of ESPN. Atlanta retains a lively and competitive local sports presence. It’s often worth watching.

Perhaps we’ll slog through the 6 o’clock show of another station next time.

Barbie Bandits

Everybody covered the sentencing of the “barbie bandits” yesterday. All four stations have the stories on their web sites. The story sells. Every station had the same video– mug shots, courtroom, file tape. The difference was in the style of the storytellers.

The best was Ross Cavitt on WSB. Cavitt grasped what made the story different and ran with it: The fact that the suspects were former “exotic dancers,” as he put it. The fact that it was an inside job. The fact that various co-defendants ratted each other out. He laid it out efficiently and with just enough snark in his delivery to signal the audience that he was letting them in on a story that was ridiculous from beginning to end.

On WGCL, Rebekka Schramm was almost as good as Cavitt. She had the same tone as Cavitt and covered the same highlights. She overreached a bit, though, by opening her package with an awkward line about the defendants “looking more like Barbie dolls.” A subtler touch would have been better. But Schramm and Cavitt both had the right idea: Show the viewers why this garden-variety bank robbery sentencing was worth your time, and theirs.

WXIA’s Jennifer Leslie and WAGA’s Darryl Carver had solid facts and pictures, but both told the story without much style. At 10pm, Carver never mentioned that the defendants were former strippers. Maybe the fact seemed sensational. But hey– that’s the whole reason TV covered this story to begin with. Might as well have fun with it.

Downtown tornado

  • TV stations love to overreact to weather, treating every fallen tree limb as if it’s armageddon.  Last night, they got it right.  Some got it more right than others.  
  • Through 8am, it appeared WSB’s coverage was tops.  2 had interior footage of the CNN Center and Dome (as did WXIA).  Jim Strickland’s overnight package on the Fulton Mill Lofts damage was terrific.  And of all the TV reporters who were on scene at dawn, you know that Ross Cavitt was the first (and perhaps only) one to actually volunteer to be there.
  • If WAGA had the interiors that WSB had, I didn’t see them.  Tony Thomas stayed up all night downtown (and also may have volunteered) and did nice live shots, but his pictures and interviews were a bit middling– possibly because he was rarely untethered from his live camera.  It was fun to watch WAGA call in Dana Fowle, Cheryl White and Ken Cook to co-anchor the little-watched Saturday morning news.  And they called in Randy Travis to play catch-up to Strickland’s coverage in Cabbagetown.  Yet by noon, it appeared WAGA was still out to lunch on the story at the Fulton Mill Lofts, which was chock-full of residents when the tornado hit.
  • WXIA’s Jennifer Leslie, holding up a hand during a live shot to stop traffic on Butler St. while she crossed, had the Edgewood Ave. damage to herself.  Kudos to the motorist who let Jennifer and her photog cross.
  • WGCL showed cartoons in the morning.  And at noon, it showed a basketball game.