Category Archives: salzman wendy

Let her investigate

The next news director at WGCL will probably get plenty of friendly advice. We lead the charge with this bit of wisdom: Let your investigative reporters investigate. Let your general assignment staff cover the news du jour.

This mini-rant comes after watching Wendy Saltzman, identified on-air and on WGCL’s web site as an investigative reporter, covering a routine day-of story Wednesday. Saltzman was live in Cherokee County at 6pm, tossing to a package about a piece of surveillance tape showing men in an act of thievery. In other words, it was nothing special. Certainly nothing “investigative,” except for the fact that this was a story about a police investigation. It wasn’t even exclusive. WSB had the same story, buried in its 5pm news.

We’ve seen Saltzman’s investigative work. It ain’t half bad. The stories are slickly produced. The problem: There are too many of them. Genuine investigative reporting takes time.

WGCL has to allow its investigative reporters to fail once in a while. Sometimes, something that appears to be a story actually isn’t. That’s what requires investigation. There’s no guarantee. The upside is that the payoff is truly special— an original revelation, uncovered and vetted by the muscle of a major market TV station. It’s one of the reasons people actually watch TV news, and one of the few reasons people with half a brain watch.

But the station has to leave them alone and let them investigate.

If the new news director at WGCL uses the station’s investigative reporters correctly, they would appear on TV a few dozen times per year at most. He would protect Saltzman from his middle-level managers in the newsroom, who see Saltzman at her desk, rub their hands in glee and see her as just another resource.

If there’s a triple murder at the courthouse or a tornado downtown, then yes: Dislodge your investigative reporter and put her on the genuinely big story. But not on nickel-and-dime crapola like a garden-variety surveillance tape story.

Special… how?

Back in the day, legendary Georgia defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook used to cross examine GBI special agents by asking them about their title: What’s the difference between an agent and a “special” agent? The dumbfounded witnesses would typically answer: None. Cook would conclude by saying: So, there’s really nothing “special” about you, is there?

Cook might ask the same question about some of the “special” reports that air on local TV during the May sweeps. Today we’ll pick on WGCL.

Monday, Wendy Salzman delivered a story called “Who’s googling you?” Salzman’s story is well produced and interesting enough. And it’s nicely shot and edited. This is important, given that the subject matter is computers and the internet– not exactly killer visual material. But the story isn’t particularly in-depth. And it’s deceptively introduced by anchor Bill Gaines, who tells the audience Salzman will reveal “how to track who’s searching for you.”

Salzman reports that there are a couple of sites in cyberspace (a painfully overused word with too few synonyms, unfortunately) that will tell you how often certain phrases are googled. The sites will even e-mail you immediately, revealing the geographic location and search engine used. But then, Salzman delivers a key fact: The sites won’t tell you “who’s googling you,” leaving the central question in the story unanswered. The fact that the story runs only 1:37 is further evidence of its lack of “special” heft.

Nothing wrong with Salzman’s reporting. But WGCL couldn’t manage to honestly promote and introduce it. Typically, TV stations that value honesty will promote such stuff as an open-ended question eg. “Can you tell who’s googling you?” But WGCL’s undelivered promise misled the audience. Maybe that’s what makes this report “special.”

With “special” thanks to Paul Crawley, who told that story about Bobby Lee Cook in the media room every time a GBI agent testified at a trial.