Category Archives: schwaid steve

Hecklers

Last week, a crowd heckled me at a press event.  It was a crowd of 40-50 people, in tow with Michelle Nunn.  The Democrat was at the state Capitol, filing to make her run for US Senate official.

Michelle Nunn

Michelle Nunn

Nunn is a political newcomer who has rarely appeared at press events around Atlanta.  She also appears to be very disciplined with her rhetoric, sticking to the talking points that drive her message.

I approached the story about her appearance at the Capitol last week with a series of questions that I thought anybody might want asked of a candidate who presumes to step from relative obscurity to one of America’s most prestigious political offices.  The questions were mostly about her experience.  They were challenging.  They were also quite predictable.  (I asked many of the same questions of Jason Carter during his first sit-down with us after announcing his run for Governor.)

But the wild card was the crowd.  They were there to cheer their candidate, not hear some blow-dried dimwit with a microphone.

When I prefaced a question with the supposition that she hadn’t “paid (her) dues” as a politician, some voices piped up in the background challenging the question.  It was an uncomfortable moment.  It was also, in many ways, a fabulous free-speech moment.  Just as I was free to raise questions in public setting, they were just as free to weigh in.

But the crowd had no idea how close they were to breaking me.  A look at the video reveals an unmistakable moment (at about 1:14) where my poker face kind of unravels in light of the heckling.  I nearly didn’t get the question out.

Sen. Jason Carter

Sen. Jason Carter

To her credit, Nunn (like Carter) handled my predictable yet not-necessarily “friendly” questions with skill and mostly without evasion.

On this site, Steve Schwaid once observed that the Atlanta press corps is sometimes too “laid back” and “reserved.”  Schwaid, the former News Director at WGCL, is accustomed to the press in Philadelphia.  Like him, I’m kind of amazed at how deferential the press frequently is around Atlanta.  One notable exception was during some recent snow “events,” when the press asked pointed questions of Governor Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed.

After some of those pressers — which the TV stations typically carried live — I got a lot of positive feedback from viewers, expressing thanks for making them answer questions that the audience wanted answered.  One stranger notably stopped his car in the middle of a street in Grant Park, jumped out and made me shake his hand.

Meantime, last week one of the my coworkers greeted me with a you were mean to Michelle Nunn.

“Did you think the questions were unfair?”  I asked her.

Not at all, she answered.  She just cheerfully admitted that asking those questions, in that setting, would have scared her shitless.

And she said her husband, who watched the piece on TV with her, was cheering me on from the safety of their living room.

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Radio on the TV

logo.homeThis week, WGCL announced a partnership with WQXI / 790 “The Zone” to provide sports coverage for the television station.  WGCL news director Steve Schwaid answered some e-mailed questions about it below.  First, this excerpt from a WGCL news release:

“This is a successful partnership for Atlanta sports fans and WGCL-TV,” said Kirk Black, Senior Vice President and General Manager of WGCL-TV.   “The experience and personality of Atlanta’s premiere sports talk radio station will add valuable resources to CBS Atlanta News.”

“For the last 13 years, 790 The Zone has been the brand for sports in Atlanta and we could not be more excited about this partnership with CBS Atlanta and their core sports properties including the NFL, S.E.C Football, March Madness and the Masters. This dynamic alliance will only stengthen our ability to connect to the Atlanta sports fan”, said Andrew Saltzman, President of Sports Radio 790 The Zone.

“This new relationship will make CBS Atlanta and Sports Radio 790 “The Zone” Atlanta’s best source for sports information,” said Steve Schwaid, News Director of WGCL-TV.  “It will allow CBS Atlanta to answer our viewers’ Tough Questions and deliver on our promise of providing the very latest news and information every night.”

-1In an e-mail to LAF, Schwaid adds the following:

We have NOT gotten rid of our sports department. We still have people who will shoot sports and we still have our sports producer who produces our specials, weekly shows and sports programming.

I started looking at this option months ago. It’s an issue of resources. If I can give  viewers a strong sports source, take the resources I put into sports and repurpose them for our news gathering then it’s truly a win-win.  Personally this was hard because I really like working with Mark [Harmon] and Gil [Tyree] and have great respect for them. But we’ve seen a decreased appetite for local sports. In fact, [that’s] the reason stations place sports where they do in their newscasts, [which] is after the click.

13501366_240X180Much like ABC got rid of their sports department and now buys services from ESPN, this allows us to take a sports organization that reports on sports 24/7/365 and now have them as a resource for us. In effect we now have more folks working on sports than any TV station in the market.

And this realignment of resources means we’re adding jobs:  two reporters, two photogs, one producer, one assignment editor.

Unlike stations that have to cut people or furlough people, Meredith has given us the ok to shift the resources so we can focus on our mission: Tonight’s Top Stories, Tomorrow Morning’s Forecast in the First 5 minutes and pursuing the Tough Questions.

Speaking of questions:

LAF: How many WGCL sports employees were released?  Any thoughts about their departure?

Steve Schwaid: Mark and Gil will be leaving us. Personally this was a tough decision because I have enjoyed working with them and truly respect them.14217500_240X180

LAF: Does WGCL lose any significant identity by parting with them?

SS: Sorry to say no. Unfortunately TV stations are really not defined by their sports folks, no matter what we like to think. Every bit of research shows that local sports coverage is NOT a high priority to local viewers. ESPN, Fox Sports, the web and mobile have radically changed how people get their sports info. The majority of weekday newscasts are nothing more than locker-room sound bites or highlights – the same stuff you will see on ESPN, but with much more context and analysis.

LAF: Does this signal a diminished commitment to sports on the part of WGCL?

SS: I think this shows actually a larger commitment. We have the resources of the entire Sports Zone, 790 Team. The station lives and breathes sports. And they have been part of our Saturday Sports Line shows for years and also part of our Friday SEC show.

LAF: Does this market (or local news generally) demand local sports like it once did?

SS: Unfortunately not. There are so many places for sports fans to get their info in real time. Why wait till 11 pm for the scores when I can get it right now on the web, on sports channels and my iPhone.

LAF: Is there anything counterintuitive about using radio guys to produce TV sports?

SS: I would say it’s innovative, especially since they program for sports 24/7/365.

LAF: How will this “dynamic alliance” work on a day-to-day basis?  If you get a sports scoop, do you simply call those guys and tell them to cover it for you?  Or do they tell you what’s getting covered?

SS: We’ve worked with 790 for years. Nick has done stories for us, he appears weekly in our sports line and dawg shows and he has also filled in for Mark and Gil during vacations. I think it will be seamless to the viewer.

Honestly, I will lay odds that the sports radio guys break more stories than any of the TV sports guys in the market. They’re at more games, more events, more stories and have more contacts – they talk sports on the radio for hours and hours a day instead of the two or three minutes TV stations do on a daily basis.

LAF: Is there another major market TV station in America that’s using a sports radio station to handle its TV sports?

SS: I believe Kansas City. But more importantly there are more and more stations dropping or cutting back sports.

Clarification / Zombiefication

Oops.

The women of Brenau University beseech the blogger to "get it right."

Gainesville GA, May 2009. The women of Brenau University beseech the blogger to "get it right."

While covering the Jimmy Carter museum event September 30, I somehow overlooked the on-scene presence of veteran TV photog Everett Bevelle.  Bevelle is (pretty sure) the only remaining newsman at WGCL who dates back to its founding newscast, back in the WGNX / “News at 10” days of the early 90s.

This means that I was mistaken when I wrote that WGCL was absent at the event.  Not only did I see Bevelle, but we shook hands and spoke.  Before he started at WGNX / WGCL, Bevelle and I worked together at WAGA.

So that was a major brain fart.  I regret the error, and apologize to Everett.  I’ve corrected the post and noted the error there.

WGCL news director Steve Schwaid reminded me of the encounter in an e-mail.  It’s worth noting that Schwaid made a comment in that post suggesting WGCL was able to interview the Carters that day on any subject, without the “museum only” restrictions that caused me so much hand-wringing.  At my request, Schwaid sent me the clips from WGCL’s coverage (they aren’t online).  They show the former President speaking only about the museum.

Schwaid was very helpful, and I appreciate his cooperation.

Of perhaps greater importance, below is the Zombieland commercial that I was unable to do.  I saw this movie Friday.  I’m not a fan of horror movies, but Zombieland is hilarious.  The only downside is sitting through the trailers beforehand, which are geared toward horror / fantasy movies that I avoid.

The celebrated Mr. Armstrong

The celebrated Mr. Armstrong

It’s worth noting that ex-WAGA production guy / Netherworld founder Ben Armstrong was a “zombie consultant” in this Georgia-made movie, as documented by the AJC and WXIA.   Anybody familiar with the downtown areas of Atlanta and Newnan will dig them in post-apocalyptic zombiefication.  Well done, Ben.

Inside the tent…

See update below.

Monday night, WGCL gave video cameras to a handful of Atlanta bloggers.  For WGCL, the idea is to channel some of the buzz from the blogosphere to the station’s web site.  The idea is evil genius.  The bloggers knew better, but many couldn’t resist accepting the free loaner cameras.  WGCL’s caveat was that the bloggers had to provide video snippets twice a week that are relevant to their blogs and their world.  The blogger would decide the content.  The pay would be zip.

This appears to be the first example of their effort, from Spacey G.

Spacey G was just playin’, of course.  Bloggers tend to do that.  But they also create the kind of word-on-the-street chatter that makes marketing folks salivate.

During Monday’s meeting, news director Steve Schwaid pitched a WGCL site called “blog stew” (hilarious misspelled as “blow” stew at one point during a powerpoint presentation).  The site would be a table-of-contents for sites that WGCL considers to be the region’s best blogs.  Some of those blogs  would produce video that WGCL would put on its “stew” site and use in its newscasts if newsworthy.  LAF declined the camera.

Schwaid handled the group knowledgeably and agreeably.  This was no easy task.  Many of them are suspicious of the “mainstream media.”  A techno-geek at heart, Schwaid was comfortable with the terminology and the technology, and ably disarmed the crankiest of the bloggers.  The effort earned him mostly praise from Spacey G, Buzz Brockway and the A-man, who’ve also posted detailed accounts of the meeting.  A-man also has a snippet of video from the meeting.

Having bloggers inside the tent is a shrewd step.  Unless WGCL manages to piss ’em all off, this can only help its quest to build an audience.  The effort earns a grade of A.

Update: As one might expect, some bloggers who attended are having some strong disagreements about the meeting.  Some are playing out within the same blog!  Below are mere excerpts; click the links for the full-scale rants.

  • Here’s one:  “Alas, a new idea couldn’t be found within 50 miles of Studio B last night, unless something was brewing on the Georgia Tech campus three blocks South. It was difficult to decipher the exact goal of the meeting, but it seems to have been a solicitation to provide free content to the station’s website — either passively or aggressively.”
  • Here’s another:  “So don’t give me any shit about how CBS’ idea is fatally flawed or that I have somehow sold out until 1. You can think outside of the box and see how to use it for our advantage and 2. Until it’s been tested and proven a failure. The problem with so many “new media” folks is that they automatically place on their “new media” tinfoil hat and look for conspiracies at every angle.”

Doesn’t play well with others

Courtesy Amanda Emily via Lenslinger

Courtesy Amanda Emily via Lenslinger

A common myth got shattered last week when the entity known as the Local News Service lost one of its three subscribing Atlanta TV stations.  The myth is this:  That the “news media” is a conspiratorial, monolithic entity that works in lockstep to feed garbage and liberalism to the masses.  The truth is much, much messier.

In Atlanta, there is very little about the news media that is in lockstep.  Sure, they show up at the same stories.  They often make similar judgments, the sort that deliver stories like the Cobb County cheerleader thief as the lead for newscasts from Atlanta to Timbuktu.  But they are also independent and competitive.

Their independence is what keeps WSB from participating in newly-formed pool arrangements like LNS and the helicopter sharing arrangement between WAGA and WXIA.  And surprisingly dissimilar news judgment forced WGCL from the LNS last week.

LNS was formed as a cost-effective way to cover stories considered no-brainers:  Press conferences, low-priority but essential ceremonies and events, the occasional meeting and such.  One photographer covered this stuff and sent it to all three LNS member stations.

Now there are only two:  WAGA and WXIA.

WGCL got out after a series of questionable LNS assignments:  It shot press conferences WGCL didn’t want to use.  It shot a promotional event for a grocery store.  It shot AFLAC night at a Braves game.  And LNS is apparently slow to respond to breaking news, probably because the TV stations are playing chicken with one another to see who knows about what breaking news, and how soon.

News directors are the most competitive individuals among the hundreds of people employed by Atlanta’s four TV newsrooms.  The news directors at WAGA, WXIA and WGCL agreed to LNS as an experiment.  WGCL’s news director, a driven Philly guy named Steve Schwaid, was apparently unwilling to experiment for very long.

WGCL also declined to participate in the helicopter-sharing arrangement with WAGA and WXIA.  Economic pressures will probably compel a re-examination of that position.  The question will be:  Will WSB consider teaming up with WGCL, or will WGCL join the WAGA/WXIA alliance?  It’s a question for another day.

As we’ve said before:  LNS makes sense given contracting TV revenues.  So does the helicopter-sharing agreement.  But it’s kinda comforting to see that it isn’t too easy.  Wouldn’t want anybody to think that “the media” is anything other than a collection of independent entities making independent judgments, all in the pursuit of better stories and a bigger audience.

Street cred

Steve Schwaid, WGCL

Refreshingly curious: Steve Schwaid, WGCL

Steve Schwaid is the news director at WGCL.  After an LAF commenter mentioned that he helped cover the fatal Atlanta Botanical Garden construction accident, we wanted his impressions.  He agreed to answer some e-mailed questions:

–Word is that you actually showed up at the Botanical Garden accident and helped out / observed. Care to answer some on-the-record questions?

At every station I’ve worked I’ve always tried to go out in the field. First, it helps me get a little more sense of the market, an understanding of the gear and challenges our folks are dealing with. Plus, I get to hear how we manage our crews via the radio and such.

In Philly during my last year there I went out a few times and worked actual shifts pulling cables, etc. It helps me understand the dynamics of the field and reminds me of the pressures our folks are under.

I’ll always remember a situation in Tampa where the desk once said “on the map it’s only an inch away.” Yeah, and there’s a body of water called Tampa Bay covering most of that inch.

– what compelled you to go?

Our early reporter was up north. It was a few more minutes before the next reporter was due in.  It sounded big and I hadn’t done a breaker in Atlanta so it just seemed to make sense. If it was a big story I figured I could help gather info as the crews set up for video and live. Honestly, it was just gut and instinct when the desk shouted at 9:06 there was a bridge collapse with at least 12 injured.

Plus, I love news. It was a chance to get out in the field on a breaker.

– did anything surprise you?

Nothing really. The professionalism among all of the market’s crews in the field was note worthy. I did think that the way the police corralled everyone into a “bull pen” but allowed the public to wander in other areas seemed a little strange. The local media seemed a touch laid back for a breaker – I’m used to NY and Philly folks who are pressing hard for new info during breaking news.

I thought the folks at the initial PIO presser were a little reserved. I felt the PIO had more info and wasn’t forthcoming.

– did you solve any problems that might have arisen?

I don’t know if I solved any problems. I helped position the live truck as one of our photogs was shooting video, It did open my eyes to ways we need to handle breaking news internally. I think that was a good thing and will make us a stronger operation.

– do you think your presence intimidated your staff?

I doubt it. I don’t think I acted as a manager. I carried the sticks, asked questions, did interviews, moved the truck, etc. The one thing I’ve learned in my career is never tell a good photog what to do on the scene. They know their stuff and they know how to do three things at once and kick butt. I watched Renee [Starzyk] and Jeff Thorn in action as well as Everett [Bevelle] and Mark Melvin, I don’t think I intimidated them but I did try to stay out of their way and be there when they needed help.

what was your impression of the level of competition versus camaraderie among stations?
Keep in mind we were in a bull pen area so it impacted the competition for the best shot. I’m always impressed how well shooters work with each other. Part of that is because managers, producers and reporters come and go. But photogs become the fabric of the station and the market. I’ve told my team that if a photog raises a question about a story or challenges some info then stop the process and do a recheck of the facts. Photogs are rarely wrong.

– did you see any miracles? And that’s a serious question.

Miracles? I don’t think so, at least not for the time I was out there.

I know this sounds corny, but I am always amazed at how we make TV. Think about it.  I can say I want something on the air and it can happen in minutes or seconds. I can call the control room and have the anchors say something or go to a certain live shot and see it happen it in seconds. Where else does that happen?

– I never once saw the news director at my Atlanta station at a field assignment. Do you recommend it? Why?

I absolutely recommend it. I think it helps ground us as NDs about what happens outside the bubble of the newsroom. Why shouldn’t an ND go out in the field? I love TV news – it’s the best job in the world.  A key part of our job is managing a very complex work force – any opportunity to understand what our folks do only helps.

I think with the pressures we’re under for budgets and the changing technologies it’s really critical to go into the field, especially during breaking news. I think it gives us street cred. Plus, during budget times or the heart to heart with the GM we can cite facts and situations to talk about staffing issues.

I was also reminded of the web out there. Our Web ME called me in the midst of it all and said to send him a cell phone pic. Honestly, it wasn’t top of mind. It is now and in fact we’ve set up a process to make it easier for all of our folks to send in web pics following this.

What does surprise me is how as an industry I think we’re behind the technology curve. We all have to be able to respond faster to use the new tools and toys to make TV.

Meet the new boss

That didn’t take long.

We have unconfirmed reports WGCL hired an old-school news hound named Steve Schwaid to run its sputtering newsroom. Schwaid has been with NBC since 2001. Bloggers at TV Spy describe him as a guy with a heavy hand and little patience.

This guy is a rare, smart, savvy, and damn good exec. You should consider yourself lucky if you’re at 46. He’ll make you, the station, and even the other newsrooms better just trying to keep up. It’s the best thing Meredith [WGCL’s Des Moines-based owner] has ever done.

And more:

Type A personality. All the general whiners from CBS46 may want to polish up their resumes as I do not belive this guy will put up with it. You will be out the door.

Ten years ago, Schwaid was hired in Philadelphia, at a time when the TV market churned and upstart stations upended old favorites. Schwaid led one of the upstarts. From a March 2003 article in Philadelphia Magazine:

Before landing in Philadelphia, Schwaid… had built a reputation for sweeping through newsrooms from Tampa to Hartford with the destructive force of the storms he loves to hype, and getting results in the process. Though he looked bookish in his suspenders and glasses, Schwaid made it clear that things were going to be done his way, with an emphasis on splashy graphics, breaking news, and weather.

Most news directors fall into one of two categories: people persons who are sensitive to personnel issues and can carry on a conversation; and field generals who set aside the common courtesies most humans extend to each other and focus on nothing but the news and the numbers. Even his fans, [WCAU GM Dennis] Bianchi included, know which category Schwaid falls into. “Does Steve have some ‘development areas,’ as we like to say in human resources? Absolutely,” says Bianchi. “But we all do.”

When news broke… reporters had three minutes to be at their posts or face his wrath. “It was like we were under attack,” says a former employee. In a staff meeting, Schwaid announced, “If I had an Uzi right now, I’d take all of you out with no remorse.” On another occasion, he walked into the newsroom and asked, “Who are the writers here?” When arms went up, Schwaid bellowed: “Our writing sucks!”

We’ll see if age has mellowed the Schwaid of a decade ago. If it hasn’t, then it may mean that WGCL will try to out-shout WSB and WAGA in breaking news and hyping weather. Atlanta needs a smarter newscast.