Category Archives: mcclellan don

Karma

In most professions,  your competition is a pain in your neck.  That’s certainly true in the business of TV news.  But today I’m here to praise my competition.  I might even say I’m thankful for them.  But that’s just the tryptophan talking.

The tryptophan reminds me of the time when, following the verdict in the Gold Club trial, we TV news goons were covering the exits at the Federal Courthouse, hunting jurors.

The organized crime trial had lasted for months.  The jurors had heard mind-numbing quantities of disjointed evidence.  When it was over, many jurors were eager to vent.  As they emerged one-by-one, cameras surrounded them and reporters asked them about the evidence.  The jurors mostly stood and answered.

And my photog’s camera died.

Died, as in:  Stopped working.  Wouldn’t record video and audio.  Wouldn’t roll when he hit the “REC” button.  Thus, all this one-time-only material went uncaptured by WAGA-TV, which had covered the trial from start to finish.

That’s when a competitor stepped in.  Jon Shirek of WXIA-TV and I had listened to much of the Gold Club trial testimony together.  We’d killed countless lunch hours together in the courthouse cafeteria.  We’d compared quotes from testimony because the damned US Supreme Court won’t allow recording devices in Federal courtrooms.

Shirek saw what was happening to us.  He and photog Mike Zakel offered to dub and share their juror video.  With no other options, I gratefully accepted.  Funny thing is this:  If Shirek hadn’t offered, I’m pretty sure Jeff Dore and / or Lyn Harasin at WSB would have made the same offer.

This sharing-of-video isn’t exactly commonplace.  But in a situation where exclusivity isn’t an issue — and where the competitor is facing an “it could happen to anybody” technical issue — such sharing is a back-alley secret that usually takes place with management never finding out.  The payoff is Karma.  I can’t remember the specifics, but I’ve slipped video to a few competitors in my day.  They, too, were grateful.

UPI photo

This unlikely competitive behavior apparently dates back to the early days of TV news.  Don McClellan touchingly outlines a similar incident in his blog.  The story was the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As McClellan writes, he was at the Atlanta airport covering the return of King’s remains for WSB.  McClellan was the voice behind a hard-wired live shot as the passengers and cargo emerged.

We were the only live shot when the plane landed.    Our pictures and my voice were the only ones on all three networks:  NBC, CBS and ABC.  There were no others in 1968.   I was trying to describe what was happening from a distance without being able to see things clearly across the tarmac.  Engineers had not had time to set up a monitor.    Suddenly beside and beneath me was Jim Axel [of WAGA] with this tiny battery powered monitor.   Though we were  competitors, Jim held the monitor directly in front of me so I could identify the members of the entourage accompanying Dr. King’s body.

Taking a dive: Don McClellan, WSB

McClellan has been writing some retrospective posts of late, looking back at his long career in Atlanta TV news.  Though he also writes about his medical issues, his marathon running and his skydiving exploits, his recent historical posts are worth reading.

He wrote this about his correspondence with King’s assassin, James Earl Ray.

Here’s a piece about Mayor Ivan Allen hitching a ride with McClellan following a visit to Atlanta by Lyndon Johnson.

Here are two pieces about racially-charged events he covered, one by the Black Panthers and the other by the Ku Klux Klan.

Scroll through his blog back to August 2009 and beyond, and another succession of memories-from-TV flows in his posts.  Don McClellan’s blog is now linked under “Atlanta TV blogs” to the right.

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It’s a question that will probably never get an adequate answer:  How did a WSB live truck operator / photographer overlook the fact that he hadn’t retracted the mast of his live truck prior to driving away from the Fulton County Jail last Wednesday?  As we now know, the crew’s extended mast hit some overhead electrical transmission lines, causing an explosion and destroying the truck.  The two-man crew inside somehow survived with only minor injuries.  The vehicle’s alarms, which would normally sound and flash when a live truck lurches into “drive,” had been previously disabled.

Don McClellan (center), Dan Casey (right) and former WSB news director Ray Moore (left)

The answer probably lies somewhere in the word “distraction.”  It’s happened before.   Occasional WSB reporter Don McClellan outlines a similar incident in his blog. McClellan gives no date for it; the photographer was the legendary Dan Casey.

Here’s a glimpse; go here to read the entire post.

We were at a spot in Cobb county from which we’d sent a micro-wave signal many times before. Dan was editing. I was manipulating the mast controls. But for some unexplained reason, the shot wasn’t getting in that day. We were only about 20 minutes from the station, so I told Dan to keep editing… that I would drive us to WSB. I was so focused on getting the story in on time that I drove out of the parking lot on to Cumberland Boulevard near Cumberland Mall. The next thing I remember is a crash and a horn honking. The mast had hit a tree limb that came down on the fender of a car behind us. I quickly stopped, realized what had happened and lowered the mast.

Reading between the lines, a couple of points emerge.  One is this:  When McClellan put the vehicle into “drive,”  apparently no alarms sounded to warn the crew that the mast was up.  This indicates how pervasive  disabled alarms may be, dating back a number of years.

If there’s a problem with an alarm, the protocol would be to report the problem to management.  Management would be responsible for fixing the problem.  But if the problem is intermittent, then the alarm may be difficult to fix; an alarm that fails to work properly in the field may work fine when the truck gets to the shop (or, to the on-staff technician who sees the same problem over and over and repeatedly applies the same fix).

The proper care of live trucks can be problematic, as hilariously outlined in this post (written by somebody who needs to submit more material to LAF, please…).

Not a passenger seat: Another blogger in the back of a live truck

The other safety issue raised in McClellan’s post highlights another commonplace safety-compromising shortcut:  The operation of a live truck while a photog (or reporter) is sitting in the back editing.  It’s not supposed to happen; the rear cabin is a work area, not a passenger area.  But as McClellan shows us, the looming deadline occasionally forces TV crews to be resourceful.  Odds are, he and Casey would have missed slot if Casey hadn’t agreed to keep editing while the reporter rolled the truck.

Been there, done that.  Many, many times.  (Most harrowingly, while covering a hurricane in Charleston; the photog drove and clumsily navigated a microwave truck while I edited in back.  There a was a bit of a breeze, shall we say.  This added to the excitement…)

It’s also worth nothing that Don Mac was actually “manipulating the mast controls,” which means that he was setting the live shot.  This is something most TV reporters have never even tried to do.  It ain’t rocket science.  But it shows that McClellan was always a nimble, multitalented guy in the field.

McClellan’s blog has been fun to explore.  I’ll guide you through some highlights in a day or two.  If you don’t want to wait, visit it now.   It’s linked on “Atlanta TV blogs” in the blogroll to the right.

Don Mac

Ageless wonder:  Don McClellan, WSB

Ageless wonder: Don McClellan, WSB

Don McClellan’s piece on WSB about the ING Marathon wasn’t particularly memorable, except for the fact that the ageless McClellan actually showed up to do it.

McClellan retired from WSB as a full-time reporter many years ago.  But he still turns up periodically on the air, typically covering low-impact stories.  His  bio describes him as “the senior reporter for WSB-TV/Channel 2, and he’s believed to be the ‘dean’ of Atlanta’s active television journalists.”  It doesn’t give his age, but it says he’s been in the news business for forty-plus years and was “in the middle of the civil rights struggle (and) the war in Vietnam.”

A search of WSB’s site for McClellan’s stories turns up some oddities, like the 2006 piece he produced on a guy who stole his own dogs from a clinic.  His bio says he now focuses on “human interest stories.”

As a competitor, McClellan was a remarkable guy.  Though his storytelling was very by-the-book, his attitude was always upbeat.  For those of us a decade or two younger than him, it was rather inspiring that a guy with his years could stay so positive about such a flawed industry.  It was almost as amazing as his haircut.

McClellan sounds a little raspy in this week’s piece.  But he’s as sharp and apparently as upbeat as ever.  Ten years from now, we hope he’s still “the ‘dean’ of Atlanta’s active television journalists.”