Category Archives: parker sarah

Parker’s plate

You might think getting fired from your on-air job in local TV news would be a career low point.  If so, then you haven’t talked to Parker Wallace.

Wallace is now thriving as an on-camera presence on WGCL’s “Better Mornings,” where she also advances her budding career as a chef.  But her years “between jobs” were more than a bit harrowing.

Sarah Parker, WGCL

2008 screen grab of Parker Wallace / Sarah Parker, WGCL

From 2006 to 2009, she worked at WGCL.  She had started as a general assignment reporter and had moved into feature reporting for “Better Mornings.”  She’d been a solid news presence and a reliably offbeat feature reporter.

But when her contact was up, the station told her it was moving in a “different direction” and fired her.  Then life got weird.

She wanted to transition out of the news business and into the food business.   But in 2009, the “great recession” was in full flower.  She and her boyfriend had moved into an old farmhouse, which they’d intended to renovate.  Both found themselves out of work.  Wallace launched a business as a personal chef — from a house with no running water in the kitchen.  “I had to wash dishes and get running water from the bathtub,” she wrote me in response to some questions.  She quickly lost her enthusiasm for it and the business tanked.

She took a job waiting tables at the Atlanta Fish Market.  She was working a shift when she ran into a familiar customer:  Steve Schwaid, the news director who’d fired her.  “Mortifiying” is the word she uses to describe that moment — though she emphasizes she has no hard feelings toward him now.

Atlanta Magazine photo of Johnny's Hideaway

Atlanta Magazine photo of Johnny’s Hideaway

But she says the real low point was this:  Getting fired from her job as a cocktail waitress at Johnny’s Hideaway, Buckhead’s famously oily singles bar for the middle-aged.  She says she was told she “wasn’t picking it up fast enough,” whatever that means.

“It was hard core and brutal for a long time during the recession,” Wallace writes.  “And once you leave TV, people stop calling you, and stop returning your calls. It’s like losing your relevance and your credibility all at once.”

But she didn’t completely lose her recognizability.  When she applied for food stamps, she says the bureaucrat at the counter asked her if she was there to do a TV story.

By the summer of 2012, she had legally changed her name.  During her first incarnation at WGCL, she’d been Sarah Parker.  She’d grown tired of the countless “you mean like Sarah Jessica Parker?” questions.  She says she’d never been a fan of her first name and had always asked her friends to call her “Parker.”  The new surname has family roots.

Comeback Kid: Parker Wallace, WGCL

Comeback Kid: Parker Wallace, WGCL

She’d also tiptoed back into the news business, working as a Georgia Public Broadcasting radio reporter.  She quietly returned to TV news freelancing for WXIA during the 2012 summer Olympics.  One evening, at the conclusion of a shift, she and I met for a nightcap.  That’s where I first heard many of these stories.

By then, Schwaid had left WGCL.  In November 2012, she’d gotten an unlikely inquiry:  Want to come back to the TV station that fired you?

When does that ever happen?

“Frankly, going through all that drama not only humbled me, it made me a much better reporter- especially while doing radio,” she writes.  “So often, we TV reporters immerse ourselves in stories of struggle, doing some ‘active’ standup to make it appear we relate…but until you ARE that person on food stamps with the electricity getting turned off, you can never really empathize.”

For the last year, she has hosted “pay to play integrated marketing segments” on “Better Mornings.”  It means she’s not in the news biz per se.

When she pitched a segment touting “What’s on Parker’s Plate,” which showcases her culinary skills and pitches to her website and cookbook,  WGCL bought it.

Props to WGCL for making this happen. Props to Wallace for keeping her sense of humor, and keeping her dream alive, despite some setbacks.

Before spring, I’m gonna try her recipe for jambalaya.

Comedian wanted

Mark Hyman, WAGA

Mark Hyman, WAGA

Rodney Ho’s AJC blog reports WAGA is re-assigning its so-called Road Warrior.  Mark Hyman is returning to daytime general assignment reporting.  Ho says WAGA hasn’t decided how to replace him and is considering rotating reporters through the shift, a notion that probably chills the bones of some of the staff there now.

The Road Warrior is a worthwhile effort to take the hours-long Good Day Atlanta away from the tedium of the studio.  The problem is that it hasn’t worked well.  Hyman’s predecessor, Brett Martin, cultivated an image as an on-air fool.  It seemed to play well with the audience but made folks cringe at the TV station.  Hyman is a good reporter and is a genuinely funny guy.  But he isn’t a truly natural TV performer.

Sarah Parker, WGCL

Sarah Parker, WGCL

It isn’t just Hyman’s fault.  Too often, the segment finds itself at restaurants that have opened early just to accommodate WAGA. The Road Warrior needs a full-time producer to figure a way out of the restrictions that naturally occur at that hour.

Few have noticed, but WGCL has installed Sarah Parker as its version of the Road Warrior on Better Mornings Atlanta.  Parker may help that program expand its viewership beyond friends and family of the on-air talent.  She’s at ease, a bit wry and bubbly when necessary.  Like Hyman, she too often finds herself at restaurants.

Matt "Lucky" Yates

We'll have what he's drinking: Matt "Lucky" Yates

The problem with both Hyman and Parker is that they’re TV reporters.  WAGA needs to realize that this isn’t a reporter gig.  They need to hire a comedian. somebody who is smart and knows Atlanta and has some varied experiences as a performer.  A quick wit is essential.  A slightly subversive streak would be a plus.

WAGA would be lucky to get this guy.

Immigrant Song

Fifteen to twenty people are abducted, tied up, robbed and abandoned in a vacant house. The robbers gain control of the victims by claiming to be federal agents. Sounds like news, no?

If the victims are Hispanic, the answer is “yes, but….” No denying that it’s news. The question is whether it’ll get on TV or in the newspaper.

Local TV news craves the “get.” Get the victim. Get the next-of-kin. Get them to talk on camera about how horrified / sorrowful they are. News managers all but carry a scorecard, recording which station has the better “get.” (The pursuit of the “get” is also one of the many factors that drive audiences away from local TV news.)

But when the victims are Hispanic, the “get” is less likely. There’s the language barrier. There’s the distrust of English-speaking TV, and whether its presence is a precursor to a raid by immigration agents.

So give WGCL credit for pursuing the above story Friday night. Sarah Parker gave the story as much life as she could. Since it happened in Doraville, it benefited from the on-camera presence of John King, arguably metro Atlanta’s most engaging police chief. And it benefited from Parker’s knowledge of Spanish. She  translated the remarks of a Spanish-speaking woman who admitted on-camera that Hispanics are less inclined to seek law enforcement help when they’re victims of crime.

Parker’s story also proved why TV doesn’t rush to embrace such stories. The 15 to 20 victims were nowhere to be found.

Monday night, WAGA’s George Franco somewhat successfully told another story that benefited from Franco’s Spanish-speaking skills. Franco’s story raised questions about the killing of a day laborer by a DeKalb sheriff’s deputy. (The story mimicked a similar story by WSB’s Tom Jones Friday.) But unlike Jones, Franco’s story leaned on Spanish speaking folk to tell it, with Franco skillfully translating on the fly.

Both stories—Parker’s and Franco’s—were worthwhile pursuits. There are many more that we never hear about.