Category Archives: crawley paul

Two-man band

Paul Crawley, WXIA

Paul Crawley, WXIA

Paul Crawley is older than I am, which makes him (and me) older than dirt.  Like me, Crawley started in TV news with a film camera.  As young reporters in (separate) smaller markets, Crawley and I shot our own stories on clunky 3/4″ videotape gear.  Upon graduating to larger-market local news, Crawley and I had the good fortune to work in shops that employed professional TV photographers.  They concentrated solely on video, while we reporters concentrated solely on producing the story.

Times have changed.  Crawley is now what WXIA calls a “multi-media journalist.” This means Crawley shoots his own stories, on a video camera that’s the size of a pint glass.  He props the camera onto an absurdly lightweight tripod.  He shoots, uploads, then edits the piece himself.   When I look at him, I see what’s in store for me.   WXIA hired me as a multi-media journalist too.

I will admit that I’m nervous about this.  While my command of the English language and the conventions of story production are decent, I have a somewhat tortured relationship with technology.  Especially cameras.  The photo below is a prime example.

IMG00194

Jay Leno showed up at WXIA last month.  I approached him, mumbled something about my in-laws being huge fans.  I stuffed a piece of paper into his mitts which said “Hi Ana / Hi Kees / xo Jay.”  I snapped the photo with my blackberry.  Obviously, I failed to wipe the goop and pocket lint from the lens first.  It was a one-time-only shot, and I botched it.  I’d give myself an B+ for inspiration, and an F+ for execution.

As as the co-owner of TomorrowVision Media for the last two years, I’ve shot lots and lots of video.  Some of it has been quite good.  Almost all of it was in focus, was adequately exposed, and has clear audio.

When my business partner Mike Daly is slinging the camera, I’m a serviceable second photog.  But last month, Daly was unavailable for a TVM shoot.  I shot it myself.  I’m ingesting the video as I write, and I’m cringing a lot.  The camera’s aperture and focus settings were on manual; no self-respecting professional would use auto-settings.

The piece will look OK.  But maybe I need to respect myself a little less.

At least there’s no goop on the lens.

So far, WXIA hasn’t asked me to shoot any stories, recognizing that I’d need a transitional period into the new workplace.    I’m quite OK with that.  WXIA is somewhat covered up with plaques, showing its photography staff getting various NPPA honors.  Those folks are gifted.   On a good day, I’m a decent editor and an adequate photographer.  That’s assuming that I can master Avid editing.

The Sony HVR-Z1U

Larger than a pint glass: The Sony HVR-Z1U

But the day is coming.  This week, chief photog Steve Flood assigned me a Sony HVR-Z1U camera.  Once the station assigns me a laptop editor (and trains me on Avid), then I expect to start shooting my own stories.  I’m probably better equipped than most reporters my age to revert to the old-school style one-man-band.  I’ve had ample practice, early in the career and over the last two years.

I will probably also take Crawley’s advice.  When I asked him to what extent he uses auto-settings when shooting news stories, he cheerfully answered:  Frequently.

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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. 

Special… how?

Back in the day, legendary Georgia defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook used to cross examine GBI special agents by asking them about their title: What’s the difference between an agent and a “special” agent? The dumbfounded witnesses would typically answer: None. Cook would conclude by saying: So, there’s really nothing “special” about you, is there?

Cook might ask the same question about some of the “special” reports that air on local TV during the May sweeps. Today we’ll pick on WGCL.

Monday, Wendy Salzman delivered a story called “Who’s googling you?” Salzman’s story is well produced and interesting enough. And it’s nicely shot and edited. This is important, given that the subject matter is computers and the internet– not exactly killer visual material. But the story isn’t particularly in-depth. And it’s deceptively introduced by anchor Bill Gaines, who tells the audience Salzman will reveal “how to track who’s searching for you.”

Salzman reports that there are a couple of sites in cyberspace (a painfully overused word with too few synonyms, unfortunately) that will tell you how often certain phrases are googled. The sites will even e-mail you immediately, revealing the geographic location and search engine used. But then, Salzman delivers a key fact: The sites won’t tell you “who’s googling you,” leaving the central question in the story unanswered. The fact that the story runs only 1:37 is further evidence of its lack of “special” heft.

Nothing wrong with Salzman’s reporting. But WGCL couldn’t manage to honestly promote and introduce it. Typically, TV stations that value honesty will promote such stuff as an open-ended question eg. “Can you tell who’s googling you?” But WGCL’s undelivered promise misled the audience. Maybe that’s what makes this report “special.”

With “special” thanks to Paul Crawley, who told that story about Bobby Lee Cook in the media room every time a GBI agent testified at a trial.