Timing is everything, the cliche goes. This cliche has a measure of truth, at least regarding the story of DeKalb police chief Terrell Bolton. Unlikely to survive his current contretemps with his new boss, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, Bolton may be inclined to blame WAGA’s Dale Russell for digging up information leading to his demise. If so, he’d be overlooking (as we’ve done, until now) the reporter who (it appears) actually broke this story more than a year ago: Joanna Massee at WGCL.
Massee’s piece posted on WGCL’s web site on February 4, 2008. Russell’s I-Team investigation, which contained mostly the same material, posted on November 24, 2008. But Russell’s work aired shortly after Burrell Ellis was elected CEO. Ellis was already suspicious of Bolton, whose appointment was force-fed by Ellis’s predecessor, Vernon Jones. Russell’s story gave Ellis a fresh reason for a hard look at the chief. Ellis’s investigation gave Russell’s story legs that Massee’s story lacked.
Massee’s story is worth viewing because it shows her effort to pin down Jones on the comp time story. On-camera, Jones tells Massee he’ll be happy to talk to her later about Bolton’s comp time. Not surprisingly, the always-slippery Jones never did so.
Unfortunately for Massee, Russell’s story also had greater clout because WAGA has more clout than WGCL. And Russell’s I-team had the resources to devote three nights to the Bolton story, plus numerous follow-ups. Jones probably blew off Massee’s interview request because he figured nobody would notice. WGCL deserves more respect. It’ll earn it when it gets more viewers.
H/T to DeKalb Officers Speak
Joanna Massee, WGCL
There were a couple of good things about Joanna Massee’s lead story on WGCL Tuesday at 11. The story, billed as a “CBS-46 investigation,” was a worthwhile bit of enterprise: Check the records of complaints against Atlanta’s 911 center, and see if the center has badly botched any calls. It’s newsworthy in light of the recent firing of a Fulton Co. 911 operator whose dispatch miscue resulted in a woman’s death.
The problem was, Massee’s case-in-point was pretty weak. She found a woman who’d called 911 from I-285, hysterical because she thought the driver of a tanker truck was stalking her. Ultimately, both vehicles pulled over (why’d the victim pull over on the interstate?) and the tanker truck driver drove off. The operator, who repeatedly said she couldn’t understand the caller, never dispatched a cop to the scene. The woman filed a complaint and griped on camera to Massee. Massee reported the operator was “disciplined.”
In other words, it was pretty thin gruel. If this was the worst case Massee could find, one could conclude that Atlanta’s 911 center is doing a pretty good job.
But there was good stuff here. The best part of Massee’s piece came during her closing live shot. She showed the records on camera, and told viewers that it took the City of Atlanta one month to produce the documents she’d requested under the Open Records Act. That kind of foot-dragging is borderline illegal, though Massee didn’t say it. It’s the reaction of a government agency that’s trying to hide something. The public ought to be outraged.
But the news media has done an excellent job of making itself completely unsympathetic in the eyes of the public. As a result, the public gets cynical when reporters demand answers and records from public agencies. That’s unfortunate, and it plays into the hands of those who drag their feet (or cover up) when the press seeks to uncover wrongdoing.
All four Atlanta TV stations covered an official bus tour of the city’s tornado damaged areas. They focused on Vine City, whose residents are less protected by insurance. What we saw:
Richard Elliott on WSB provided a very by-the-numbers look at the tour, with nothing especially memorable. He identified tourgoer Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, as an afterthought.
Clarence Reynolds on WXIA inexplicably focused on the city council members who toured the affected neighborhoods, giving them time to grandstand on camera. The audience learned little from his report.
Joanna Massee on WGCL, by far, told the best story. With lots of “oh my gosh”-type natural sound, crisp editing and nice writing– she gave a much needed human touch to a story that was stilted and uninteresting elsewhere. But WGCL needs to be slapped, too: What’s the point of having Massee do a live shot after midnight (late because of basketball) in a dark neighborhood, many hours after the tour ended? Same with Jennifer Mayerle, who was live in East Atlanta at 12:15am, fronting a story that had been shot in daylight. Is it just me, or do most viewers cringe a little when they see such stuff?
When the anchor guy started off with “only on CBS 46 news,” the viewer might have expected to see something he’d never seen before. But what followed was a story as old as the hills– a story WAGA’s I-team has revisited numerous times over a ten or fifteen year period. It’s not illegal to sell crack pipes in convenience stores; they’re sold as glass pipes that hold water for a single fresh rose. The fact that some stores package the pipes together with lighters and pieces of steel wool to facilitate their use for crack cocaine use seems a little too convenient. And yes, it’s a bit of an outrage. WGCL reporter Joanna Massee did a decent job with it, the indignation in her voice rising as she confronted a convenience store owner feigning cluelessness. But new? It’s a story so tired that Ms. Massee couldn’t find a law enforcement agency willing to talk about it. “Only on CBS 46”? Maybe 46 was the only station putting that old story out there on this particular evening.