Category Archives: watson jaye

News cycle, recycled

The Cronut

The Cronut

We think we’re so smart.  Here we are, finger-poppin,’ pixel-packin’ 21st century multiplatform news media delivery entities, all fresh and hot like a doughnut-shaped croissant.

And yet — try as we might to innovate, to update our technology and our storytelling conventions, one truth emerges:  TV news is wedded to images, interviews, sound and narration.

Lonnie Holley 2014

Lonnie Holley 2014

Last year, WXIA’s Jaye Watson produced a story about Lonnie Holley, an eccentric folk artist who has an eye-catching art habitat southwest of Turner Field.  Watson’s story told Holley’s story, showed his turf and did so with a dazzling array of sound and video that brought life to the art and the befuddling artist.  The piece won photog / editor Nick Moròn a first-place NPPA mention in its third quarter clip contest.

Lonnie Holley 1998-ish

Lonnie Holley 1998-ish

Now rewind 15 years, or so.  Yours truly visited the same artist at his previous habitat in Birmingham, AL.  The stories are remarkably similar, except Moròn and Watson used shorter and more frequent nat sound pops.  Watson’s writing is a bit crisper and cleverer. Mine had the editorial benefit of a conflict between Holley and the neighboring airport.  Mine was ably shot by Rodney Hall and edited by Andi Larner.  We let Holley’s rambling descriptions of his art play out in slightly longer bursts. We didn’t win diddly squat.  I don’t remember entering it in any contests.

How much of a difference does 17 years make?  Not much, it turns out.  In 1998, Hall and Larner and I produced a piece looking at the 50th anniversary of a killing in Coweta County that became the subject of a book and movie.

I wrote a kind-of throwaway line at the end of the piece, speculating about whether the road named after the killer was “the only road in America named for a man executed for murder.”  That line became the premise of a story Steve Flood and I produced this month, which also looked back at the killing and the why folks on John Wallace’s home turf still cling to the legend of the executed killer.

I hadn’t re-watched the 1998 piece prior to shooting the 2015 piece with Flood.  Instead, we independently had the stroke of genius to shoot a jittery / grainy re-enactment sequence of the 1948 highway chase that led to the killing.

Exactly like the 1998 piece, it turned out.  Innovative?  OK, not really.  But watchable?  Arguably, yes.  It used sound and pictures and interviews and narration, our familiar tools.

The biggest difference:  The reporter’s mom jeans, conspicuous in the late 90s Holley piece, had thankfully disappeared by 2015.

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Hate mail

Nick Johns with Jaye Watson

Nick Johns with Jaye Watson

I have a perverse affection for hate mail. I wish I got more of it. Conversely, hate mail seems to gnaw at the soul of Jaye Watson, the reporter whose WXIA desk adjoins mine.

Watson writes a wildly popular blog, mostly about her family life. But this week, she writes about the hate mail she’s getting from viewers (and I suspect non-viewers who “heard” about the story) after she produced a balanced piece about a local Catholic church, which fired its organist because he’s gay.

Read the post here. I’ll give you but one line.

In case you didn’t know it, I’m hell bound, a liberal slime, a bad journalist, everything that’s wrong with the mainstream media, and a faggot lover (that was one of the nicer ways it was put to me).

Stalking Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen with WXIA's Jaye Watson, 4.21.11

Charlie Sheen was in town.  It got Big Deal treatment from WXIA and competing Atlanta TV stations.

Prior to his stage show at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, Jaye Watson and photog David Brooks found Sheen at Georgia Tech’s ballpark, where Sheen was taking BP with Tech’s baseball players.  It turned out to be the scoop of the day.

I didn’t actually see Watson roll her eyes when she got assigned to Sheenwatch Thursday dayside.  The show was a nightside story.  We knew Sheen was in town.  He’d done a radio interview.  Watson figured out that a local strip club was doing some kind of Sheen lookalike contest.  She pondered interviewing a stripper.  It was thin gruel.

Our laughably young and arguably brilliant Manager of Content, Ben Mayer, began noodling around the internet.  He searched Sheen’s name, plus “Atlanta” on Twitter.  A post emerged that said:  At a secret location right now. Watching Charlie Sheen play baseball.  It was written by a WGST radio talk show host named Rusty Humphries.

From Humphries' tweet

Mayer continued to noodle, and found that Humphries had included a geotagging component in his posts.  The geotag didn’t emerge until Mayer clicked the Tweet, which showed a map, plus longitude and latitude.  It put the post at I-75/85 and roughly 7th Street.  Mayer looked at the map, and saw Russ Chandler Stadium about two blocks to the southwest.  He called Watson.

She and Brooks showed up at  the stadium and heard the sounds of batting practice.  They walked toward the dugout.  A Georgia Tech Sports Information PIO intercepted them and told them they had to leave.  He escorted them to the gate, and locked them out.

Watson asked him if Charlie Sheen was there.  He said he wasn’t.

But the behavior was sketchy.  If Sheen’s not here, why can’t we watch batting practice?  The PIO began belittling the crew for showing up there based on a Tweet.

Sheen's fan base

Once outside the gate, a Tech security guard showed up.  The guard confirmed what the PIO wouldn’t:  He was there to keep the Sheen BP orderly.  Watson and Brooks waited with the guard for an hour.  Thanks to Twitter and text messages, the crowd outside the gate grew.  It included a gaggle of female admirers who wanted to invite Sheen to their sorority party that night.

Sheen came to the gate, and Watson’s interview with him was very casual, yet newsy and appropriate to the occasion.  If she was tempted to lapse into Sheen-speak, questioning him about tiger blood and such, she completely resisted.  She let the Sheen weirdness emerge naturally.  To my knowledge, it was his only Atlanta TV interview that day.  The raw interview is embedded below.

As Watson and Brooks departed Russ Chandler Stadium, the obfuscatory Tech PIO said:  Well, it all worked out in the end, didn’t it?

No thanks to you, pal.   Georgia Tech Assistant Director of Athletics for Media Relations Dean Buchan, who gave a first-hand account of Sheen’s BP heroics to the AJC, did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Users of Twitter may wish to check their preferences and see if they’re geotagging, especially when tweeting about “secret” locations.  The rest of us can ponder why any PIO would feel compelled to dissemble in order to provide cover for a man who clearly craves media attention.

The good news:  WGST is apparently paying local talk show hosts again.  And Watson, who’s much better known for her thoughtful writing and storytelling skills, is a hell of a tabloid reporter.  Especially with Mayer’s help.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Charlie Sheen with Jaye Watson, WXIA, posted with vodpod

Goofus and Gallant

"Joltin'" Marc Pickard, Retiree

Marc Pickard retired from WXIA in September.  It was bittersweet for all of us.  Pickard is a gifted storyteller, and a guy who probably never had an undignified moment in his entire career.  Even when he covered breaking news, Pickard was at his best.

His retirement process paralleled my own departure from WAGA in 2007, kind of like the end of the Pittsburgh Pirates season parallels that of the New York Yankees.  Both of us left voluntarily after two decades.  The similarities end there.

Pickard was an elegant DiMaggio, a graceful hall of famer.  I am more Ted Simmons, an affable but clunky backstop with an erratic bat and no speed.

Pickard got a champion’s sendoff, the equivalent of a parade downtown.  I got the exit of a guy who spent his last seasons growing tomatoes in the bullpen at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.  In hindsight, it makes perfect sense.

Pickard: A staff meeting is called during late Spring, and his retirement is announced.  Pickard is halfway-seriously told he will be able to select “any story he wants” during his final workdays.

Richards: I post a handwritten, one-line letter of resignation on my desk.  Passersby may or may not notice it.

Pickard spends his final two days working with Mike Zakel, a photographer with whom he had traveled the world and developed a close relationship.

Richards is assigned to work his final shift with a photographer he’d never shot a story with previously.

Pickard’s final story is a classy retrospective of his career at WXIA.

Richards’ final story was a stakeout at a home where a murder-suicide had taken place nearly a week earlier.

Pickard completed  on-air delivery of his final story, upon which the studio filled with coworkers and applauded Marc on-air.

Richards delivered a forgettable 5:30 live shot, then was told to “swing by” downtown Fayetteville and back up another reporter on another story before returning to Atlanta.

Pickard’s departure was capped with an in-house party, where a tribute piece was shown.  Former colleagues were invited.

Richards’ departure was acknowledged with miniature Publix muffins and orange juice during the morning editorial meeting, a two-fer with Mike Daly, who departed the same day.

Pickard’s departure party had a large spread of food and drink, paid for by WXIA.

Richards and Daly got stuck with a $400 + bar tab at a Manuel’s Tavern sendoff that night.

The producer

Pickard was the object of an in-house tribute movie short.   It was filled with ridiculous cameo appearances by current and former colleagues.  The short led into a fifteen minute “this is your life” -style piece about Pickard’s career and such.

Richards became a blogger.

The tribute short below was produced by Jennifer “Jaye” Watson, shot by Kenny Hamilton and Richard Crabbe and edited by Crabbe. It’s full of insider references, including but not limited to

– the “trade” decades ago that sent Mark Winne from WXIA to WSB and Pickard from WSB to WXIA

– mix-minus audio, the absence of which creates an aggravating echo in a reporter’s earpiece

– the addled producer (WXIA EP Ben Mayer), whose show is teetering out of control, time-wise

– writing clichés easily embraced by our industry and loathed by Pickard.

The cast, in order of appearance, are Jeff Dore, Jill Becker, Watson, Richards, Jeff Hullinger, Mayer, Bill Liss, Mark Winne and — a surprise cameo.  Wait for it.

Hey- that’s not my name…

There were a few surprises during our top-secret day-long visit to WXIA Monday.  Two of them stood out.

The first was the climate.  It was odd hearing day-laboring reporters and photographers speak of their mutual respect with management, a quality sadly lacking in much of my previous Atlanta TV experience.  It was as if I’d departed Burma, went into suspended animation briefly, then landed in Holland.

jaye watson wxiaThe second was a story told by Kenny Hamilton, the respected photog with whom I spent the day.  Hamilton is married to the reporter known as Jaye Watson.  Many have heard this story, but somehow I hadn’t:

A few days after Jennifer Watson joined the ranks at WXIA, she was called into the office by its famously erratic then-news director, Dave Roberts.  It seemed Roberts was troubled with the fact that he now had two blonde women reporters with the first name of Jennifer.

Because Jennifer Leslie had seniority, Roberts told Jennifer Watson to change her first name.  Watson resisted, then stalled.   The name has meaning, and she comes from a family that shuns nicknames.

Roberts pressed.  Irritated but uneasy, Watson finally said (something like):  “If you think the viewers are that confused, why don’t you just call me J. Watson?”  The standoff in the ND’s office ended when Watson was called to cover something at the airport.

Hours later, Watson hooks up to an earpiece to do a live shot.  From the control room, a producer remarks:  That’s an unusual spelling.

Of what?  Watson asks.

Your new first name, the producer replies.  J-A-Y-E.

The reporter is unamused.   Her face is rapidly changing colors.  The voice shakes with anger.  Hooked to a microphone, she struggles to keep her language G-rated.

Then the anchor tosses to Watson’s live shot.   Watson delivers her story, and tags with her new sig out:  Jaye Watson, Eleven Alive News.  That was in 1999.

Today, Jaye Watson answers to both names.  In the newsroom and among friends, it’s Jennifer.  On the street, she answers to a name made up by a squirrelly news director whose shelf life was much shorter than the name he created for Jennifer Watson.

Addition by subtraction

On Friday, there was a shooting and kidnapping in SE Atlanta.  Two stations managed to get cameras to the scene, WGCL and WXIA.  Their approaches to the story were completely different, and quite instructive.  Both stations appeared to get the facts right.  One of them produced a broilerplate, garden variety package.  The other produced a rare thing of beauty.

Here’s WGCL’s Ryan Deal, Friday at 4pm.

Deal gives the story standard-issue treatment:  A fusillade of too-many facts in too short a period of time.  Soundbites that add urgency to the shooting part of the story while downplaying the most compelling part of it:  The fact that a father watched in horror as his toddler was kidnapped.  Deal’s piece discusses bullet holes, the consciousness of the victim, the fact that a dog was attacked, the whereabouts of the “shooter.”  In so doing, he fails to convey to the audience why this story is worth watching.

Contrast that with Jaye Watson at WXIA, who produced this piece Friday at 7pm:

Jaye Watson, WXIA

The wrath of the math: Jaye Watson, WXIA

Watson’s story focuses on the woman who ended the kidnapping, an element completely overlooked in Deal’s coverage.  Watson bypasses the on-camera interviews gathered about the shooting that started it all.  Instead, she stays with the kidnapping and its conclusion.  She matches pictures and words with elegance and simplicity.   She never mentions the “shooter.”  And her audience watches with a full understanding of what happened and why it was worth putting on TV.

The photogs at both stations did a fine job of shooting the story, though WXIA aired better video.  WXIA’s photog may very well have identified the child’s rescuer and alerted Watson to her importance in the story.  In fact, we suspect Watson wasn’t on scene while much of the drama played out, and viewed the key video elements later.  In the real world of breaking news, that’s not unusual.

Deal is a sympathetic figure here.  He worked hard to gather the material and to completely understand the head-spinning crime scene he was covering.  He doubtless felt compelled to give his audience coverage that was as “complete” as he could muster.  Most TV reporters would have done much the same.

But Watson skillfully saw this story as a case of addition by subtraction, weeding out the extraneous elements that clouded Deal’s story.  True, her story lacked the soundbites and natural sound hits that typically dress up local news packages.  She never named or interviewed the rescuer.  It didn’t matter.

Local TV news rarely yields pleasure, especially when covering crime scenes.  It was a pleasure to watch Jaye Watson’s coverage of this story.

Cry for me pt 2

In a previous post about interviews done with a woman who was an on-camera wreck over the vehicle accident deaths of her loved ones, we asked: And this benefits the audience… how?

WXIA’s Jaye Watson posts some compelling answers on her blog:

“Here’s a theory I have about why people don’t like to see the Suliannas of the world crumpling on television. It scares them. I know it scares me. It reminds us terrible things can happen to any of us, without any apparent reason.

“And maybe some of us think if we don’t watch it, if we don’t see it, it can’t happen. I don’t blame you if you change the channel. I may be in news but I’m not a sadist. There are times when I’ve had enough, and long for a light romantic comedy to take me away from all of the world’s suffering.

“But there is also a part of me that believes my life has been enriched by listening to Sulianna. I see her horrific reality as a cautionary tale for me.”

Watson is a smart reporter and a thoughtful blogger. Her entire posts are here and here.