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The shootist

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Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

An Army Major identified by police as Nidal Malik Hasan goes on a killing rampage in Ft. Hood Texas, and the media calls him a “shooter.”  A student at Virginia Tech massacres his fellow students, and the press calls him the “Virginia Tech shooter.”  Brian Nichols murders a judge and a court reporter in cold blood, then kills two more people as he escapes the Fulton County Courthouse and flees to Gwinnett County.  Nichols becomes “the Fulton County Courthouse Shooter.”

How did mass murderers become “shooters”?  How did guys who left behind more carnage than the likes of Ted Bundy, Richard Speck and Charlie Starkweather get saddled with “shooter,” a handle that is easily confused with a shot of liquor during happy hour?

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Charlie Starkweather

It’s sloppy, lazy, inexact and limp to call a guy like Nichols a “shooter.”  A “shooter” can be a guy in the back yard with a .22 rifle, shooting cans off  a fence post.  Nichols is a “killer.”  He’s a “gunman.”  He’s a “murderer.”  He’s even a “mass murderer,” a term no longer used because it’s so chilling, and would describe too many homicidal hotheads in the late 20th / early 21st century.

It’s reasonable to take “mass murderer” off the table, then, if only to avoid the possible cheapening of the term, the same way “brutal” and “bizarre” are cheapened by overuse on TV.

Big Al

Big Al

But to replace it with “shooter” is to whitewash the meaning from an act that shouldn’t be sugarcoated.   Alexander Hamilton was a “shooter,” maybe — a guy pointing his gun semi-upward during a competitive blood sport.  Aaron Burr was the gunman who declined to point his weapon upward.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed twelve people and injured 31 in a rampage at Ft. Hood.  Police say he’s a killer.  If a jury convicts him, he’s a murderer.

If you can use a term that more accurately describes the lethal nature of the crime eg. “killer,” why would anybody call Hasan, Nichols et al a “shooter”?

(And it has nothing to do with legal hairsplitting; “police say the gunman walked from room to room” works just as easily as when substituting the less descriptive word.)

Pet peeve?  Yes.

It’s time to bury “shooter.”  Unless it’s happy hour.

Why “I don’t watch”

LAF w/ Mrs. LAF, 10.24.09

LAF w/ Mrs. LAF, 10.24.09

At a party last weekend, I met a young lawyer who works as a public defender in metro Atlanta.  Politely, she asked if I had an occupation.  I gave her the shorthand:  “Local TV news guy.”  (She was dressed as a zombie; I was dressed as the Ghost of Americana.  You kinda had to be there…)

“Oh, like you’re on TV or something?”   Yeah, something like that.

“I don’t think I’ve ever watched the local news in Atlanta.”

I’m gonna stick my neck out — again — and say with certainty that everybody working in Atlanta TV news has had this conversation with numbing regularity.  In my case, the “I don’t watch TV news” conversations far exceed the frequency of the opposite “omigosh I watch Brenda / Monica / Amanda / Stephany every night!” conversations.

The “I don’t watch local news” conversations typically include a short critique of what they see as a nightly drumbeat of murder and mayhem.  There’s a bit of an elitist quality to the critiques.  The conversant is frequently educated and somewhat sophisticated.  Like the lawyer at the party, these folks are well-informed.  But they sidestep the local stories that aren’t relevant to them, and ignore the broadcasts that traffic in them.

Stories, such as — oh, say — the coverage of the guy who caused the grisly traffic accident on the Stone Mountain Freeway, who turned himself in and uttered an apology at the jail.  In a post on this site last week, I suggested that it would be reasonable for local TV to find something else to cover instead of that story.

This caused a bit of an uproar in my little corner of the blogosphere, particularly among people who apparently work in local TV news.

Based on the numerous comments that were very critical of that post, I would conclude that local TV news has almost zero chance of convincing that lawyer that their product is worth sampling.

The sad thing is this:  Atlanta TV news actually produces plenty of quality material.  But because local newscasts devote so many resources — and so much A-block time — to the mayhem (and the follow-ups to mayhem), many desirable viewers choose not to wade through that stuff in the hope that something worthwhile will follow.

The audience for local TV news is shrinking.  Do we try to expand it?  Do we try to find a niche that goes outside the murder-and-mayhem formula?  Or do we assume that the remaining audience watches for the tried-and-true formula, and climb all over each other to fight for the bleary eyeballs who haven’t abandoned us yet?

Thankfully, I lack the smarts, talent and chutzpah it takes to run a major market TV newsroom.  Because if I did, I think I’d be contorting myself to try to produce a product that would get the young zombie lawyer to watch — and re-thinking the stuff that has driven her away.  And apparently my tradition-minded troops would be very, very annoyed.

Thanks to “longgone” for asking the essential question in a “sport of TV news” comment.

Thanks to all the other commenters for the abuse.

Thanks to the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkins just for being who he was.

Mentally handicapped

Poor parking in Douglasville, GA 09.23.09

2pm, Douglasville GA.  9.23.09.

When it’s insufficient to merely park illegally in a handicapped spot, do it sideways.

While I was on foot covering flooding, this asshat nearly hit me.  He was racing through a parking lot toward this spot.

We will resume our regular programming shortly.

Update: Now you’ve hit the bigtime, dipwad!

The gorilla ball

The Legend:  Willie B.

The Legend: Willie B.

The Gorilla Ball is Saturday.  The event is a competition among Atlanta TV stations to see which can produce the most entertaining blooper reel.  The reels are always worthy viewing.  CNN typically enlivens the event by providing a blooper reel, though CNN is ineligible for the Otto Focus Award, the plastic trophy handed over to the station judged to have the winning reel.

There are a few somewhat interesting facets to this year’s Gorilla Ball.  The first:  It appears WGCL is declining to participate, despite its production of excellent blooper reels in past years.  The reason is unclear.  (If I’m wrong, please feel free to correct me.)

Second:  Because there was no Gorilla Ball in 2008, this year’s reels should be better-than-average because of the backlog of material.

Third:  The Atlanta Press Club was apparently desperate enough for an emcee that it asked yours truly to co-host.  I accepted.  The good news is that I’m co-hosting with Tom Regan.  I’ve golfed and had adult beverages with Regan.  I’ve also gotten my ass kicked on stories by Regan, an excellent reporter at WSB.  We know each other well.

I’ve also praised and abused Regan on this site.   I now look forward to doing so in person.

Started by individuals employed by Atlanta TV stations in the early 1980s — when such folk drank and abused substances with reckless abandon — the Gorilla Ball began as a raucous, off-the-record party (the first one I attended was at the Limelight).  It got some stability when the Atlanta Press Club began sponsoring it.   It also became tamer.  As an old guy, I’m quite OK with that.

WAGA has been on a roll, winning the last several Otto Focus awards.  Editor Larry Winokur isn’t obsessive about gathering material for it, but he misses very little — especially when Good Day Atlanta erupts into something unexpected.  GDA typically dominates the WAGA reel.  The CNN reel is always entertaining because it includes off-air audio from the control room.  (“Camera two!  Why are you doing a 360 when you’re supposed to be on a closeup?  Holy f@#!”)

The Gorilla Ball is at Zoo Atlanta at 6:30pm Saturday.  You can join the APC and pay ten bucks for admission (but you have to do so by noon today.  It’s $15 at the door).  Non-members pay more.  Buy advance tickets here.

Sustenance

1pm Tuesday

1pm Tuesday

Thank goodness there are so many caring people who love TV.  Without them, the denizens of newsrooms across America would surely wither and die.

4pm Tuesday

4pm Tuesday

Tuesday was an excellent example.  As newsroom staff at WXIA were beginning to collapse from starvation — deprived, as they were, of nutrition due to their extraordinary hard work and their inability to spend even a moment away from their desks — salvation came in the form of a cake.

Actually, it was two cakes.  One of them, the carrot cake, provided nutritious vegetable fiber and Vitamins A and C.  The C vitamin was an especially timely addition to the newsroom diet, as a scurvy outbreak appeared imminent.

Likewise, the chocolate-on-chocolate cake delivered vitamins A and E, and minerals like potassium, zinc and paramecium.  More importantly, cocoa has phenylethylamine, which is a natural anti-depressant.  The staff at WXIA are extraordinarily well-adjusted and lack the suicidal tendencies often found in other newsrooms.  This may be attributable to the regular appearances of chocolate cakes, cookies and candies on the table adjacent to the assignment desk.

6pm Tuesday

6pm Tuesday

Sadly, the field crews tend to have only scattershot access to these life-sustaining newsroom deliveries.  However, their exposure to regular sunlight enhances their vitamin D intake, and wards off depressive bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder.   And their mental toughness is enhanced by regular exposure to crime scenes and slippery public information officers.

We heard that a place called the Marietta Diner provided these two nutritious confections.  Perhaps the bakers there believed they were merely providing a sweet gratuity for folks who may or may not deliver a bit of media buzz for their business.

They provided much more.

Overheard in the newsroom

OK, Florida actually has two different time zones, but whatever....

OK, Florida actually has two time zones, but whatever-- I need the IT guy to change my ribbon!

News professionals who are still unsure about using Facebook — and they are surprisingly numerous — may reconsider when they learn that they can “become a fan of” an entity called “overheard in the newsroom.”

By so doing, the daily Facebook feed will provide you with a regular litany of newsroom howlers.  Here are a few samples from September:

#1718: Assignment editor to Producer: “I have to run outside for a second. If anyone asks, I quit and walked out.”

#1724: Reporter 1: “There’s cake in the break room.” Reporter 2: “Did someone leave?”

#1731: Producer on the phone: “I’m not trying to be bitchy; it’s just coming out naturally right now.”

#1766: Page designer to editor: “I can’t make a shit sandwich until you give me some shit!”

#1770: Producer: “Is it sunny outside? I’m trying to tease weather, but I can’t because I’m in a window-less hell hole.”

#1717: IT guy: “So what’s the problem?” Multimedia editor: “See this little computer here? It’s a piece of shit.”

#1778: City editor to reporter: “You know, a company picnic would cost a lot less these days. Because there’s a lot less of us.”

With each “overheard” vignette, there are typically dozens of comments.

So you don’t miss out:  1) Join Facebook and 2) search “overheard in the newsroom.”  When its page comes up, click “become a fan.”

Priorities

By Mike Daly

On Tuesday, August 18th, I was the videographer for a crew shooting a story near Blairsville, GA. I was contracting for a national television show. I drove a car which had no logo on it.

The story follows the search for Kristi Cornwell, who disappeared one week earlier. She went for an evening walk along a road and was on the cell phone with her boyfriend when she was apparently abducted.

On the 18th, there was still plenty of media coverage. Several law enforcement agencies were helping with the search and manpower hadn’t scaled down yet.  They established roadblocks to ask motorists if they saw anything suspicious in the area a week earlier.  The FBI also offered resources that day.

Charles Brackett

Charles Brackett

We interviewed Charles Brackett, the grandfather of Cornwell’s only son. He owns a local convenience store.  His son had been married to Cornwell but they divorced 13 years ago. Brackett and his wife are still involved in their grandson’s life and say they love Kristi Cornwell dearly. The grandfather said he would do anything he could to help bring her back.

Our interview took place after a local Atlanta TV news crew had interviewed him. I know the local reporter and she did her usual excellent job. But there was a producer nearby, hired by one of the networks. After the local interview with the grandfather, this producer asked the grandfather not to do interviews with other Atlanta television media outlets. She said they were the competition.

News folks are competitive. I understand that.  But, from time to time we make ourselves look bad. In this case, the family members, who are becoming fairly media savvy, are looking for as much exposure as they can get. Media involvement in this case will begin to subside very soon. Law enforcement won’t stop working the case, but they’re scaling back their search efforts.

The family wants to talk to as many media outlets as possible.  To ask them to limit who they talk to is, to me, pretty darn selfish. Maximum exposure will help the family more.

Fortunately, the grandfather knows his right to freedom of speech and will decide to whom he talks and when. He will not let this producer, whom I believe was from out of town, limit his desire to give the story exposure.  Granted, it’s her right to ask, which is what she did. She was even polite about it. But, what’s more important here folks? Getting an exclusive interview with granddad or finding Kristi Cornwell? My conscience tells me it’s finding Ms. Cornwell. Maybe that’s why I’m not such a good news guy.

Missing in Blairsville:  Kristi Cornwell

Missing in Blairsville: Kristi Cornwell

Earlier that afternoon, I was attempting to shoot video of one of the roadblocks. GBI reps told us where one was located. On the way to it, I saw the roadblock from across a large field. I was in a right-turn lane and came to a stop. I then backed up a ways to get a clear shot. It was a pretty shot with the large green field in the foreground and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the back and the roadblock off in the distance.

Shortly after I began shooting, a black SUV pulled up behind me with blue lights flashing. Two men approached me. Their vests said they were with “Corrections.”

They asked who I was, what I was doing and which outlet I was shooting for.

I answered their questions. They asked for ID to show that I was working for the TV show that I said I was. I had no credentials from the TV show, but they accepted my business card. One of them told me they were looking out for people who were “shooting video to sell to the media.”

I realized I wasn’t credentialed. I was driving an unmarked car. But, I didn’t know it was illegal to sell video to the media. In a sense, that was what I was doing anyway. I was contracted for a program and they would pay me to come up with their product. Part of me wanted to grill this guy about whether he really gets to decide who can and cannot shoot video at a search.  I kept my mouth shut.

I eventually reached the roadblock, but had to go through it before I could shoot. Since I wasn’t from the area, they took my name, license plate number and telephone number. The officer even asked me what color my eyes were.

I just hope that they find Ms. Cornwell healthy and safe. She has a kind family and after all these years of shooting crime and destruction, it’s still really tough to watch a family go through this.

Mike Daly is a DP / producer / maestro at the Southeast’s finest boutique video production company, TomorrowVision Media.