Category Archives: diggs morse

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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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?

Surviving Disaster

If you’re a true sports fan, you don’t watch hockey for the fights. Likewise, we reckon that true fans of NASCAR don’t watch races for the wrecks. They watch for the competition. They watch to revel in the graceful and the less-than-graceful play of true professionals.

So it is with our viewing of local news. Frequently, what we see is slick and solid. Occasionally, it’s raw and unpolished. Too often, it’s plain silly. And every now and then, there’s a disaster. Or at least, a mini-disaster. It’s part of the game.

Monday, WAGA’s Mo Diggs produced a story about budget cuts at city hall, routine stuff for this umpteen-years-on-the-city-hall-beat reporter. It was even an exclusive, though it was arcane enough to be ignored by the other stations. 99 times out of a hundred, Diggs pulls it off without a hitch.

Diggs smoothly delivered his live material. He uttered his roll cue, the words the control room waits to hear before rolling his package. Then disaster struck. OK, disaster may be an overstatement. But it wasn’t pretty.  And the audience– like the race fans at Talladega– had to be a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’.

Instead of rolling Diggs’ package, the control room rolled a piece of tape showing a guy cleaning a toilet. The tape played for perhaps five seconds.

Lacking a better alternative, the control room cut away from the commode. Up popped Diggs, who most assuredly did not want to be on TV at that particular moment.

Diggs: “Wrong package. OK. (Hopefully, now: ) Let’s go to that package if we’ve got it. Um, if we have to, come back to that package.” Long pause. Diggs is on camera. He owns the license to the TV station, figuratively. In his earpiece, Diggs is hearing the most dreaded word in broadcasting: “stretch.”

The voice in his earpiece is probably cool and detached. The situation is so not cool. The director in the control room has uttered one or more profanities, transmitted through the headsets of the production crew, as the feedbay guy scrambles to load the correct tape.

Diggs’ expression changes as he realizes there’s no bailout coming. You can see him gathering his thoughts, and quickly. Thankfully, he knows the story. He’s been working on it all day. He resumes talking: “As we said– as we said, leading into this package. The Mayor, uh– was told by the council she would have to cut two and a half percent. Now, she says, everything’s being considered. It may be three percent, perhaps as much as five percent.” In his earpiece, Diggs now hears the long-overdue words: “We’ve got it. Go to the package.”

Diggs: “We’ve got that tape now. Let’s see what those numbers look like.”

The package rolls. Blessed relief. By now, the news director has likely popped from his office like a cork, bobbing into the newsroom, awaiting an explanation.

90 seconds later, Diggs returns for an on-camera tag, which he executes perfectly. He also concludes it with an uncharacteristic smile, a slight one, knowing that he’s ably survived the TV news version of a train wreck.

It’s on WAGA’s web site. However, the web folk mercifully excluded the live intro.  It’ll be in this year’s Gorilla Ball if you want to see it.

“Bureaucratic gap”

Morse Diggs’ 6pm lead story Monday on WAGA focused on what he called a “bureaucratic gap” in Fulton County government. Under some circumstances, the phrase might signal the viewer to change channels– or for the producers of the newscast to drop the story into the “witness protection block”– 6:30 or later.

But Diggs’ story was lead-worthy and remarkable. It was a new development in an ongoing saga about Fulton County government failing to pay its vendors. One of those vendors, owed more than $100,000, operates the ankle bracelets on low-grade criminals and suspects under house arrest. And the company said “enough.” It told the Sheriff’s Department it would stop monitoring the ankle bracelets.

Diggs and a photographer were in the room when a probation officer told a man he’d have to go back to jail because he couldn’t wear the ankle bracelet any longer. When the man tearfully asked why, the officer told him it was because Fulton Co. failed to pay its bill. Officials explained that the probationers had faithfully followed the terms of their house arrest. Their re-jailing, one official said, was “morally indefensible.”

Diggs later explained that it would cost the county $65 per day to jail the man. The ankle bracelet program costs $14 per day.

Diggs has made a twenty-plus year career of knocking on the doors of bureaucrats at City Hall and Fulton County. In a medium that thrives on the sensational and the visual, Diggs improbably thrives. And he beats the other guys, including the AJC, with remarkable consistency.

No Comparison

LAF is not necessarily a timely blog. By mistake, we just dialed up and watched WAGA’s version of the Wednesday 6pm show. That’s the show we found so underwhelming on WSB. What a difference, at least on this particular day.

While WSB was lamely leading with the Tom Jones men’s-room “exclusive,” WAGA’s Morse Diggs broke news by revealing the DUI arrest of longtime Municipal Court Judge Andrew Mickel. Diggs had all the goods, though no interview with the judge. Mickel was always very media friendly. LAF enjoyed a beverage with him at Manuel’s on Super Tuesday. The Hon. Mr. Mickel’s mug shot is unfortunate.

WAGA then went to live chopper coverage of a shooting, and arrests therefrom, near McNair HS in DeKalb. Didn’t see that on 2 either.

After that, WAGA’s Doug Evans had an exclusive piece about another grow-house marijuana bust in Hall Co. Evans was steeped in the story, so to speak, with ample perspective from previous busts. At this point, WSB was talking about digging wells at WhiteWater.

Then Patty Pan capped WAGA’s a-block with an exclusive bit about thieves breaking into classrooms at Gwinnett schools. Pan is one of the best young TV reporters in town. Hopefully her career can flourish, probably elsewhere.

In other words, 5 packed more news into its a-block than viewers saw on 2 the entire 6pm hour.

WAGA and WSB are the two biggest local news players in town. WAGA will get its tail handed to it another day. But on this day, there was no comparison. Viewers of 5 won.