Category Archives: schramm

We dislike Ike

Rebekka Schramm, WGCL

Here’s a topic for your next journalism class:  How do you handle the gasoline shortage story?

The question is worth asking because the news media contributes to the mindset that causes panic, hence shortages.  Is there any way to avoid that?  The story has been out there since Friday, when Hurricane Ike hit Texas.  Gas stations started hiking prices and motorists flocked to pumps to top off.

Since then, TV has done numerous live shots at the tank farm in Doraville, and at metro gas stations.

Darryl Carver, WAGA

Darryl Carver, WAGA

On Monday, WAGA all-but ignored the gasoline shortage story.  Darryl Carver’s pieces at 5 and 6 dwelt on wildly fluctuating prices.  The shots of dry pumps were cursory.  WXIA’s Duffie Dixon produced a piece at 11 that explained QuickTrip’s strategy of spreading gasoline inventories among geographic areas.  Dixon’s piece indicated a method behind the madness of closed-down gas stations. At 4pm on WGCL, Rebekka Schramm reported on why stations reliant on the spot market pay higher wholesale prices for fuel.  WGCL handled the shortage with an anchor vo/sot.

Ross Cavitt, WSB

Ross Cavitt, WSB

But on Monday, WSB was all about the gasoline shortage.  It led its 6pm news with the story, putting Lori Geary live at the tank farm.  Geary interviewed a jobber who explained that shortages are manageable as long as the public doesn’t panic.  WSB followed with John Bachman, live at a gas station, with more on shortages and high prices.

At 5pm, Ross Cavitt was live at a gas station, reporting entirely on shortages.

WSB’s stories were level-headed and responsible.  But here’s the question, class:  Does the mere fact that WSB (or any other station) trumpets the gasoline shortage contribute to the panic that causes the shortage?  If so, does the station have a responsibility to rein in its coverage?  In the age of the internet, does journalistic restraint matter anymore?

Yes, WSB is covering news.  It’s not creating news.  The shortages are legit, as is motorist anger over prices.

But TV has been covering the story since Friday.  Monday, it appeared that somebody at WAGA decided:  Let’s give the shortage story a rest today.  It appeared WGCL made somewhat the same decision.  We say, good call.

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The Neal St. Trial

The four Atlanta TV stations have sent some of their most competent and experienced reporters to cover the trial of Arthur Tesler. He’s the only Atlanta cop to contest criminal charges against him as a result of the wrongful killing-by-police of 88/92-year old Kathryn Johnston on Neal St. NW. Opening statements were Monday. Some observations:

WAGA’s Aungelique Proctor made the best use of the audio played in court of 39 gunshots, the number of shots fired at Johnston. Her photog edited the courtroom audio under file video of the October 2006 scene, making a video edit with (nearly) each “pow!” It was a powerful way to tell the prosecutor’s story. Two other stations simply played the audio under wallpaper video from the courtroom.

WSB’s Diana Davis was apparently the only reporter to incorporate Markel Hutchins into the story. Hutchins became the Johnston family spokesman, and he made himself conspicuously available in the media area across from the Fulton Co. Courthouse Monday. We came to respect Hutchins, who kept his rhetoric surprisingly cool as the incendiary Neal St. story heated. But Hutchins has the whiff of a grandstander– exacerbated by the fact that he’s now running for Congress. We’re surprised Davis used his predictable news conference material in her otherwise solid coverage.

WGCL also used Hutchins. But 46 used his material in a separate anchor reader following Rebekka Schramm’s package. That made sense.  (Someday soon, we’ll figure out how to correctly spell Ms. Schramm’s first name.)

WXIA’s Kevin Rowson chose not to use Hutchins or the gunshot audio at all. Yet he still had the most interesting piece. In a story that can get bogged down with detail, Rowson’s presentation and graphics were clean, and he clearly outlined the players and the stakes in the case. Rowson also smartly led off his 7pm piece with Tesler’s defense. The prosecution’s case against the rogue cops has been made ad nauseum in the media; the details of the defense were probably the only real news to come out of the first day of the trial.

“I wish I were smarter.”

Each Atlanta TV station posts short biographies of its news personnel on their web sites. The bios are usually filled with data about awards and college degrees. Some offer the occasionally-surprising nugget. We learn that WGCL’s Rebekkah Schramm has been a broadcaster since age 15. We learn that WSB’s Anissa Centers was a bone marrow donor. We learn that WSB’s Jeff Dore took out the trash at his first TV station and is the author of an unpublished novel.

Most bios are mind-numbingly similar. They tout the humble beginnings and family values of their subjects. They list resume highlights, awards and volunteer work. There are 42 of them on WSB’s site alone. We’ve perused a fraction of them.

Without question, the best bio we’ve seen is on Dana Fowle’s WAGA blog. Fowle writes “I’m generally disheveled and have a messy car… I also love red wine, rare steak, dark chocolate and strong coffee. I’m Type A, so of course, I wish I were smarter.” This is especially funny, given that Fowle is one of those scary-smart people.

The bio is the best part of Fowle’s blog. She hasn’t updated it in more than a month.

Dale Russell’s blog bio is a close second to that of Fowle, his I-team colleague: “My desk is a mess. I don’t smoke. I do drink. I have a politically incorrect sense of humor and a little problem with authority. (I’m working on that) And, I never get my expense reports in on time.”

Our least favorite bio belongs to WAGA’s Tom Haynes, which starts thusly: “Credibility, experience and a bit of an edge; that pretty much sums up Tom Haynes…” This is especially icky because it’s obvious Haynes wrote it himself. He goes on to tout his “journalistic expertise” and his position “front and center in FOX 5’s new, innovative and interactive newscast.” His bombast is almost Burgundyesque.

The journalistically-expert Haynes could learn a thing or two about humility from some of his colleagues.

Barbie Bandits

Everybody covered the sentencing of the “barbie bandits” yesterday. All four stations have the stories on their web sites. The story sells. Every station had the same video– mug shots, courtroom, file tape. The difference was in the style of the storytellers.

The best was Ross Cavitt on WSB. Cavitt grasped what made the story different and ran with it: The fact that the suspects were former “exotic dancers,” as he put it. The fact that it was an inside job. The fact that various co-defendants ratted each other out. He laid it out efficiently and with just enough snark in his delivery to signal the audience that he was letting them in on a story that was ridiculous from beginning to end.

On WGCL, Rebekka Schramm was almost as good as Cavitt. She had the same tone as Cavitt and covered the same highlights. She overreached a bit, though, by opening her package with an awkward line about the defendants “looking more like Barbie dolls.” A subtler touch would have been better. But Schramm and Cavitt both had the right idea: Show the viewers why this garden-variety bank robbery sentencing was worth your time, and theirs.

WXIA’s Jennifer Leslie and WAGA’s Darryl Carver had solid facts and pictures, but both told the story without much style. At 10pm, Carver never mentioned that the defendants were former strippers. Maybe the fact seemed sensational. But hey– that’s the whole reason TV covered this story to begin with. Might as well have fun with it.