Category Archives: pan patty


“We’re not interested.”  The speaker was a plus-sized 40-ish woman wearing a baseball cap.  She was with a group of her relatives, standing alongside a road that had been closed by fire personnel in rural Gilmer County.  Three hours earlier, a house had a exploded, taking the life of one of their relatives.

The woman hadn’t heard my pitch, only my introduction.  As soon as I identified myself, she sent the message:  We’re not interested in talking to you or any other news folk about the 75-year old man who perished in the explosion.

A half-dozen other folks were with her.  While the spokeswoman firmly told me to take a hike, the others stood and watched impassively.  I sensed that they didn’t necessarily share her disdain.  But I wasn’t about to ask them.  Challenging the cap-wearing woman’s authority as family spokeswoman would have only provoked hostility.  Under such circumstances, emotions are already running high.  Too often, news folk become targets.  Thus far, I’d avoided such treatment.

I retreated back to the scene of the explosion.  After talking with the fire chief and gathering video of the smoldering ruins of the house, there wasn’t much left to do.  I cast my eye back up the road to the cluster of relatives.

“If that woman leaves, those folks might talk to us,” I mused to photog Dan Reilly.  The group was about 1/10th of a mile up the road.  The spokeswoman was easy to spot.  She was wearing a royal blue t-shirt, size XXXL.

“What, you want to stand here and wait for her to leave?”  Reilly asked.

“It’s past lunchtime.  She might.”

Within five minutes of that exchange, we saw the woman walk toward a car and disappear.  The car drove off.  She was no longer in sight.  “Let’s go,” I said. Dan and I hoofed it up the road with a camera.

I tell journalism classes that reporters gather news three ways:  They ask questions, they research, and they observe.  Part of the “observe” part includes observing other reporters. We all do it.

Halfway up the road, I noticed a WAGA crew tailing us.   With the spokeswoman gone, the cluster of relatives began to open up and agreed to chat with cameras rolling. A sister-in-law named Elvira was especially helpful.

We asked for a photo of the deceased, but nobody had one.  “Not on a cell phone, even?” asked Patty Pan of WAGA.  “Crystal might have one,” somebody said.  You could wait til she comes back, they suggested.

“Is Crystal the woman…?” I began.  Yeah, she’s the plus-sized woman wearing the baseball cap.

I wanted to be gone by the time she returned, and told Patty about my previous encounter with her.  Having gotten some usable interview material from Elvira, Reilly and I began to leave.

But Patty was tenacious.  As we left, I turned and saw Patty walking behind us with Elvira.  She had agreed to walk to her house to look for a photo of the deceased.  This time, I chugged in the wake of my competitor, and got the photo for our story.

By the time we left, Reilly and WAGA photog Anthony Coppins were directing each other as they tried to un-wedge their live trucks from the dirt road leading to the wooded hollow where Elvira lived, a short distance from the explosion that took her brother-in-law’s life.

Patty Pan’s story was remarkably similar to mine. It’s unlikely anybody else noticed.

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.

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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?

Cameras in our heads

Patty Pan, WAGA

Patty Pan, WAGA

Fighting off exhaust fumes, one can just imagine the sardonic chuckling emanating from a WAGA live truck as Patty Pan’s photographer edited her piece last week from the scene of a police crackdown / media event that spanned metro Atlanta.

It was Pan’s misfortune to cover a coordinated sweep of somewhat bad guys in the somewhat crime-ridden suburbs of Gwinnett.  She and a photog rode along in a patrol car during the “sweep,” which appeared to consist of cops mostly setting aside fourth-amendment probable-cause standards and cuffing folks for TV (“round up the usual suspects!”), knowing full well that a judge would probably let them go within hours.

Because Pan and other media were in cahoots with the law — tipped off, as they were, in advance of the sweep — Pan overlooked the denial-of-suspect-rights story.

Thank goodness!  From WGCL

Thank goodness! From WGCL

(WGCL covered a similar story in Fulton County around the same time, using the banner “keeping your family safe.”  Not only is that a catchier banner than “cops run roughshod over the Bill of Rights,” but TV is loathe to question such technicalities unless it results in something awful, like the Kathryn Johnston killing on Neal St. NW in late 2006.)

Back to our heroine, Ms. Pan, an enterprising and resourceful reporter.  She clearly lacked much of a story.

The big tipoff was her repeated first-person references to her presence on-scene.  Normally, this is kind of a given.  When you don’t have much material, it’s a safe haven for by-the-numbers news writing.

The first reference was merely “we are out here” at the command post.  That was during her live intro.

The second, during the same intro, was “my photographer and I rode along with Lawrenceville police” as the fun began.

The third, in her package, was “we were there” as stuff kind of started to happen.  At this point, Pan showed some generic video of cops interacting with folks in bad neighborhoods, occasionally restraining them with the casual use of handcuffs.

The fourth time, Pan signaled to the audience that she really had nothing to say.  “Our cameras were rolling as….” well, nothing much happened.  No drama.  No takedowns.  Nothing that one might normally expect to see when hearing such a line.

How many “cameras” did WAGA send to this sweep?  It’s possible they sent an extra photog.  But this staged event demanded only the minimum resources from any staff-strapped TV station:  One photog, one reporter.  Other stations apparently deemed that kind of manpower too much for this police / media circle-jerk.

Pan isn’t alone using this bit of TV boilerplate.  The “our cameras” line is an increasingly tiresome mainstay, driven by news managers who want to “sell” stories with jargon that generates heat but sheds no light.  That, and it’s an easy line to use when there’s nothing else to say.

Thank goodness Pan’s photog had the good sense to hit the “REC” button, thus “rolling” images onto a video card.  If he hadn’t, Pan would have lacked video and a line that usefully consumed precious seconds in her package.

The time-killing line reminds us of a line from a similar Mark Winne package that has stuck in our heads for years:  “There were handcuffs.  Lots of handcuffs.”

Wait a minute.  “Our” heads?  How many heads do we think we have?  How many of “us” are there, exactly, writing this dumb blog?

Never mind.

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.