Category Archives: LAF

View from inside

The blogger returns to the TV news business Monday.  Here’s a look at what LAF could become after returning to (what others have referred to as) the Dark Side.

Great success!

Great success!

Nothing stirs the blood of a journalist like a good Morning Editorial Meeting!!!  And ours are just the best.  The daybook is packed with lots of cool, newsworthy events.  The assignment editors track the police blotter and tips (why, you should hear the racket back there LOL!!!).  And our reporters walk in with amazing insights into ongoing stories or brand new stuff that nobody had ever known.  It’s so awesome!!! =:)

As a reporter, I love getting out in the community.  Atlanta is just the best!!!  Even the parts of town that are not-so-nice, the people are genuine and down-to-earth (that is, the ones that aren’t selling drugs or hurting each other LOL!!!).  Atlanta is so great.  There’s so much history here — living legends like Joe Lowery and Andy Young and Jeff Foxworthy.  And I’ve been photographed with all of them!!!  OMG!!! I love hangin’ with the celebs.  Sometimes, I can get backstage at concerts or behind-the-scenes at Braves games.  It’s just one of the perks of this job I love so much LOL !!!

The work is great.  I love being on the front lines of important events.  I love being able to bark tough questions at wrongdoers.  I love tying it all together in a TV story — 60 or 90 seconds of “the first draft of history.”  It’s such a huge responsibility!!!

And here’s what’s so amazing:  I work so hard.  The expenditure of energy is constant.  The deadline pressure is well, kind of crushing, really!!! And at the end of the day, I have to put my mug on TV!!!  Can you imagine?  Busting your hump all day, then having to look all pretty for the camera?  I don’t know how I do it!!!  LOL!!!  =:)

Well, thanks for letting me give you a little insight into my busy, hectic life.  It’s non-stop — but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!!!

Gotta go now — that’s my Blackberry!  The old adage:  The phone rings, a story begins!!! ROTFLMAO!!!

Have a blessed day!!!


Camp Kudzu

There’s a reason there were fewer posts last week.  Once I left the TV news business, I realized that I had an opportunity to be more productive with my free time.  Last year, I debuted at a counselor at Camp Kudzu, a week-long camp for Georgia kids with diabetes.  This past week, I did it again.

Last year, I produced a promotional piece for Camp Kudzu (with photography help from Helen Lester).  This year, I left the camcorder at home.

Camp Kudzu is great.  Feel free to make a donation.  My daughter, Leigh, has been attending variations of it since age 7.  She’s now a counselor, showing her old man the ropes.

This has been a public service announcement from LAF Enterprises and TomorrowVision Media.

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A somewhat bright future

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Last month, the national Society of Professional Journalists announced its Mark of Excellence Awards for collegiate journalists.  Based at (but not affiliated with) the University of Georgia, the Red and Black won awards for General News Reporting and Editorial Cartoonist.  What follows is a Q&A with the cartoonist, Bill Richards.  Richards has a family tie to this blog.  Don’t hold it against him.

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1.  Best college editorial cartoonist in America.  Way to go.

Stick around long enough and your number will get called.

2.  A bunch of folks from the Red & Black won first-place awards.  Are they going into the newspaper business?

Some are. A few are working at the Gainesville Times. Another is in Florence, Alabama. Another is interning at an English-language paper in Chile. Insert joke about “willingness to relocate” here.

3.  Are you going into the newspaper business?

Yes, as soon as I sell off my Detroit real estate. I have been told by more than one editorial cartoonist that aspiring to get such a gig is like wanting to play in the Major Leagues. And only for the Yankees.  And only shortstop. Plus I heard somewhere that newspapers are dying. But I heard the Ulan Bataar Picayune-Intelligencer is hiring. Have you heard anything?

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4.  What’s the backup plan?

I am going back to school to get a BFA in graphic design. It’s a good program because they teach art as business. And if I’m going to have any success drawing pictures for a living I have to be able to showcase my soon-to-be-expanded repertoire.

6.  Your family kinda thought you should have won this award a long time  ago.  What happened?

The Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths.

7.  You decided not to go to journalism school.  Why?

Generally I walk and ride the bus. The burn victims would already be comatose before I could get to the scene for a quote.

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Cheapskate chic

"If I'm gonna pay ten bucks for a suit, then I'm going to show it off!"

A blogger's moment of reflection: "If I'm gonna pay ten bucks for a suit, then I'm gonna to show it off!"

By Trevor Pettiford

A news director once told me, “In news, we give people what they want and occasionally, we give them what they need”. That axiom seemed to be in play Wednesday night during  WXIA-TV’s 11:00  newscast.  After the obligatory murder, crash and “you’re gonna die” stories of the night, the folks at 11Alive  turned their attentions and 20 minutes of semi-commercial free time over to “Ways to Save”, a special how-to series of reports and interviews to help us all make the most with less.

I have to say though, I had to chuckle at the special’s opening shot of 11Alive’s anchorless HD desk, hearing Brenda Wood and Ted Hall exclaim it was empty because there was “work to be done”.  (Hmm… what’s being done when they are sitting at that desk?) But regardless of where they sat, stood or aimlessly walked, I have to tip my press hat to their work in putting together 20 minutes of true news you could use.  From  making your bills lower to  being a smarter shopper,  there were so many tips and ideas, Clark Howard  had to be taking a few notes.

Valerie Hoff, a.k.a. “The Coupon Queen” should’ve been carrying a pair of scissors instead of a mic with the way she was cutting through the details of being a coupon clipper.  Bill Liss  offered up some bargain vacation ideas and Sports Director Fred Kalil had a few “stay-cation” tips (vacations you take at home) for cheaper tickets to local sporting events.  And while we’re on the subject of new econo-phrases, Doug Richards coined a new one… Chic-skate.  Cheap is the new chic, he explained in his story about how you can raid the Last Chance Thrift Store for designer clothes for the price of a latte. (note to Doug: reporter involvement is great, but you don’t have to actually wear clothes on-air that you purchased from those places) 😉

In all, if you were keeping score… and I was… there were 51 tips and 27 websites offered up  to viewers in 20 minutes.  I didn’t  included among those sites the 15 times “11alive.com” was mentioned or plastered in Hi Def on my screen… shameless, but expected.

So much important and useful information, in such a short period of time,  didn’t newscasts used to be like that? If news gave people more of what they need, maybe they would no longer want what they’ve been getting.

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Tastes like fruit

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This post has been updated, correcting the date of the broadcast.

You know how some smart-ass Ivy League liberal went “undercover” and enrolled at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University?  Great idea.  He wrote a book about it.  Wish one of my kids had thought of it.

Anyway.  We’re not above stealing a good idea.  So when an opportunity arose to infiltrate a commercial Atlanta TV newsroom, we decided to jump.  On Monday, we’ll pull a shift at WXIA.  The idea is to produce a piece that will air Wednesday at 11.  We’ll see about that.

Let’s hope it has at least a fraction of Dr. Steve Brule’s style and panache.

Keep it on the down-low.

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Thanks for nothin’, Comcast

You write the caption!

You write the caption!

The cable company known as Comcast is taking its sweet time restoring service to LAF World HQ, located in the 30033 area code.  Sadly, LAF’s internet service is dependent on this company.   So this blog will be on hiaitus until Comcast gets around plugging us back in.

Feel free to advise us to switch our internet service to another provider.  You won’t be the first.

It’s all about me vol. 4

The life of a general assignment TV reporter can rewarding.  It can also be nasty, brutish and unpredictable.  There are several ways to avoid its perils.  You can become an anchor.  You can take a pay cut and find a smaller market.  You can find another line of work.  Or you can get a gig.  The gig, or franchise, gives the reporter a specialty:  Health reporter, investigative reporter, political reporter.  Those gigs all have their own perils and pressures, but they take the assignment desk somewhat out of the equation.  That’s always a good thing.

For five years, I had the best job in the world.  Feature reporters are rare cats.  News directors are loathe to devote resources to features when research shows that audiences want hard news. But for awhile, my boss overlooked his loathing and let it happen anyway.   With photographers Rodney Hall and Mike Daly, and editor / producer Andi Larner, I got to dredge up and produce whatever features I could find.  The whackier, the better.

One day I walked into the news director’s office and was told that the feature gig was toast; report back to the assignment desk.  It was ugly.  I never regained my footing, though I dragged out my career as a TV reporter for another seven years.

At WXIA, Marc Pickard has gone through something similar.  He no longer exclusively does “Earthwatch” stories.  He now also answers to the desk as a very capable, very skilled general assignment reporter.  If the transition has pained him, it hasn’t shown on the air.   Meantime, backpack reporter Julie Wolfe has begun a feature gig of sorts for WXIA’s morning shows.  Her stories aren’t whacky.  She’s more into poignance.  It puts her on a high-wire, though.  Don’t get too used to it, kid.

This post has been updated to correct information about Marc Pickard’s Earthwatch franchise.

It’s all about me, vol. 3

St. Patrick's Day 1992

Lawsuit free: St. Patrick's Day 1992

Five weird career moments as a TV newsman, 1980 – 1994.

1.  The only time I tried to do weather, 1981, WTVA Tupelo Mississippi.  I had a weather map with magnetic pieces stuck to it, indicating weather images I’d made up based on AP copy.  I was absurdly nervous.  I used a pointer, and dislodged magnets when I nervously whacked the weather map.  It got worse when the studio camera operator, who liked to smoke the weed prior to newscasts, began laughing uncontrollably as I tried to retain control of my spiel.  FAIL.  Regrettably, it wasn’t recorded.

2.  My hiring at WAGA, April 1986.  News director Jack Frazier invited me to the newsroom at 9am, then ignored me the rest of the day.  I stood around awkwardly while newsroom personnel tried not to stare.  I found a sympathetic editor, Joanne Malis, and sweet-talked my way into her booth so I could hide.  At lunch, the assistant news director took me to Atkins Park, and I broke a bottle of ketchup.  That night, Frazier took me to a bar called PJ Haley’s.  He consumed three beers in twenty minutes, and offered me a three-year contract starting at $45,000 per year.

3.  In 1991, WAGA was sued three times because of stories I’d done.  One alleged I’d libeled a dead person, which was immediately dismissed.  Another claimed I’d libeled a schizophrenic.  The young man filed the suit himself and acted as his own attorney.  The judge allowed him to question me under oath in a deposition before dismissing the suit.  If you haven’t been cross-examined by a schizophrenic, you haven’t been cross-examined.  The third alleged that I’d failed to conceal the identity of folks whose identity I’d promised to conceal.  Word to the wise:  If your interviewee’s friends and neighbors can identify the “anonymous” interviewee, he’s not anonymous.

4.  Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992.    Photog Helen Lester and I got to Miami just as the storm was coming ashore, and slept in the lobby of the Miami Federal Reserve Bank.  The CBS station from which we worked had generator power only and no A/C.  The nearest hotel room was in Ft. Pierce.  Our cell phone was the size of a shoe box and worked intermittently.  We stayed a week.  I learned to edit under fire that week, as Helen left to do one-man-band coverage for our 11pm news while I edited for six.

5.  In 1994, I pitched a story on professional baseball in Japan. The pitch was a hail-mary, a joke.  But WAGA bought it.  They sent me and Steve Zumwalt to Tokyo and Kobe to follow a team called the Orix Blue Wave, which employed former Atlanta Brave  Francisco Cabrera.  The Blue Wave’s leadoff hitter was a rookie named Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .390 that year. I had to take a week of vacation in advance of the trip in order to do the legwork to make the trip happen.  The series aired shortly before Major League Baseball went on strike that year, cancelling the World Series.

(post is updated to correct the date of Hurricane Andrew.)

It’s all about me, vol 2

"A day in the life of an embedded," April 18, 2003

"A day in the life of an embedded," April 18, 2003

This week, we indulge the writer of this blog as he marks his one-year anniversary of his first LAF post.

No doubt, the craziest story I ever covered was the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.  Embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, the coverage was a combination of weird intensity and a comedy of errors.  My best souvenir is the newspaper to the right.  The photo misidentified (in French) photog Eddie Cortes and me as soldiers.  The man in the middle is Yves Eudes, whom we’d befriended and writer of the piece (but not the caption).  Six vignettes from that adventure:

1. Prior to departure, Eddie and I got our anthrax and smallpox shots at Ft. Gordon GA and shot a story on it.   Afterward, as Eddie drove back to Atlanta, I viewed the video via laptop on a newfangled program that did something called “non-linear editing.”  When I looked up 90 minutes later, I saw road signs that said “Columbia, next four exits.”  Eddie had driven the wrong way on I-20.

2. While in Kuwait, a day or two before the invasion, I caught a bug and lost my voice.  On its worst day, I wrote a nat sound package and scripted material for Eddie so he could handle live phoners. The Army medics quaintly gave me penecillin, the only antibiotic they had.  Ten tablets constituted a dose.  They didn’t help.  I subsequently did most of the phoners in a faint rasp and sounded pitiful.

3. Eddie edited our pieces on I-movie.  We sent them to Atlanta as e-mail files.  It often took our satellite phone equipment an hour or longer to send the files.  If a glitch broke the connection, as often happened, we’d have to start over from scratch.  We spent many hours watching a green light blinking, indicating our connection was good, and dreading the red light that appeared when it wasn’t.

4. At Ft. Stewart, the Army issued us chemical suits and gas masks.  They said we’d get Kevlar in Kuwait.  When we got to Kuwait, there was no Kevlar for us.  We couldn’t find any at the Army surplus stores in Kuwait City.  We rode “over the berm” in a Humvee with cloth doors, and were clearly less protected than the soldiers.  For that reason, we departed about a week after the invasion began.   When we did so, it was aboard a Chinook helicopter with a gunner seated on the open back loading door.  We sat on the floor.  Some of our fellow travelers were detainees suspected of spying.  They had seats.  The two-hour ride was so cold and windy, Eddie and I spooned to stay warm.  Neither of us had showered in a week.

5. When the Chinook dropped us at Camp Udairi in Kuwait at midnight, MPs took away the suspected spies.  We were left standing at the airstrip.  A Newsweek guy and I wandered the base looking for somebody in charge.  After finding him, that Colonel told me that he couldn’t provide a ride back to Kuwait City.  He suggested we hitchhike.  The next morning, we dragged our gear to the gate and did exactly that.  An American contractor obliged us with a lift in his SUV.

Missile attack live shot, March 28 2003

Sleep deprived: Missile attack live shot, March 28 2003

6.  After arriving at the Kuwait City Sheraton, we cleaned up and went to bed early.  An hour after I crashed — my first sleep in a real bed in nearly a month — a WAGA manager called me to tell me that my hotel was under attack.  “Turn on Fox News,” she said, and I did.  Sure enough, Fox News was reporting that a missile had exploded “near the Sheraton” in Kuwait City.  It had actually impacted at a mall a mile away, causing moderate damage and no serious injuries.  But Eddie and I stayed up the rest of the night, doing phoners and a live shot at the Kuwait city Fox studio for the 10pm news / 6am Kuwait time.  We caught a plane home at 10am.

I lost ten pounds during that story.  I re-gained my voice almost the moment I landed on US soil.  WAGA insisted I take a week off, a rare humane gesture which I still appreciate.  Eddie Cortes now works at CNN Español.  Our wives think it’s funny that we spooned in a helicopter in Iraq.

It’s all about me, vol. 1

Couldn’t help but notice that WAGA anchor Tom Haynes produced a story Monday about the burglary of his own home.  The on-camera premise, uttered during a tease,  seemed honorable enough:  We ask you to tell your stories of woe on TV, Haynes told viewers.  Now, I’m gonna tell you mine.

And then Haynes told his story, with improv’d standups / self-interviews as he gloomily looked at the damage.  Aside from an interview with a neighbor who’d suffered the same fate the same day, there wasn’t much else.  From a storytelling standpoint, that was unfortunate.  Haynes would probably agree that, while jarring to his family, his was a routine burglary.   If it hadn’t happened to a WAGA talent, it never would have gotten on TV.

Haynes’s supervisors probably strongly urged him to do the story.  The pattern would be familiar; they strongly urged self-coverage of another burglary at the home of a WAGA reporter in December 2005.  In that instance, however, the burglary-spree story had been ongoing.  The burglary of the reporter’s house yielded some arrests a few hours later.  And there was the madcap tale of the priest who called 911.

This story delivered another unexpected surprise:  A follow-up two days later, on Christmas. That fact alone indicates how hard-up TV is for news on Christmas Day. I actually like Mark Hyman’s “poor Richards” version better, mostly because he gave me a rare opportunity to make fun of WAGA’s management:

All this leads to the title of this post:  This blog will mark the one-year anniversary of its first post this week.  I’ve tried to avoid too many self-referencing comparisons, the “back in my day, we got screwed over by management this waytype of stuff that would get awfully tiresome awfully fast.  This week, we may self-indulge.  Feel free to return for more later in the week, or wait for less self-absorbed posts next week.