Category Archives: WGCL

The shallow end of the pool

I was all set to boldly urge a little jail time for the news director at WSB-TV.  The contention would have been that the TV station flagrantly violated a court order Friday March 29, the day the Fulton County grand jury indicted 35 people in connection with the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.

This was the violation:  WSB’s exclusive use of court-ordered pool video in its newscast without first distributing the video to the other Atlanta TV stations who were part of the pool.

The blurry images of WSB's pool photog, WAGA's Justin Gray, WXIA's Donna Lowry and WGCL's

The blurry images of WSB’s pool photog, WAGA’s Justin Gray, WXIA’s Donna Lowry, WGCL’s Sonia Moghe, WSB radio’s Pete Combs, and WXIA’s Blayne Alexander

The video was short but significant.  It showed a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy walking out the door of the district attorney’s office, carrying a hundred-or-so page indictment.  He then exited the DA’s lobby and headed to the courtroom of Superior Court judge T. Jackson Bedford, who was due to give the indictment his blessing before it would get certified by the court clerk.  The video — and a news conference a few minutes later — culminated a three-day stakeout of the grand jury.

Per an order issued by Judge Bedford under Rule 22 of the Electronic and Photographic News Coverage of Judicial Proceedings in the Uniform Superior Court Rules, WSB was named as the pool camera in the stakeout.  This meant the video belonged to all the TV stations present at the stakeout.

I’ll again note the absurdity of using Rule 22 to cover a stakeout in an office lobby; Rule 22 covers “official court proceedings,” but the Fulton County sheriff and courts have broadened it so that a Rule 22 form, signed by a judge, is required almost anytime a commercial TV camera enters the Fulton County Courthouse.   Since I’m not calling for the jailing of WSB’s news director for violating Rule 22, I’ll gently avoid demanding an adjoining cell for Sheriff Ted Jackson for abusing the rule.

Back to the video of the deputy carrying the indictment:

Reps from all three of WSB’s TV competitors watched WSB’s pool photographer shoot it.  I shot a perfectly lousy Iphone photo of it at 4:57pm.

The only station that matters

The only station that matters, apparently

WSB aired the video at 5:31, perhaps even earlier.

A few minutes later, a WXIA producer asked me about the video she’d seen on WSB.  “You don’t already have it?” I asked her.

Oopsie!  Golly, did we forget to distribute the video to the TV stations who don’t call themselves “the number one news team in America”?

Actually, WSB didn’t overlook it.  WXIA’s desk made repeated calls to WSB to distribute the video.  WSB’s desk apparently questioned whether the video was pool video, then dragged its feet getting the right  answer.  The station finally distributed the video well after 7pm, when most early evening newscasts were done.

Rule 22 states that “approval … shall be granted without partiality or preference to any person, news agency, or type of electronic or photographic coverage…”  In this instance, WSB clearly exercised “partiality” to itself by failing to distribute the pool video before airing it.

WSB's exclusive pool video

WSB’s exclusive pool video

Rule 22 does not set out how pool video will be distributed.  “Photographers, electronic reporters and technicians shall be expected to arrange among themselves pooled coverage…”  TV stations don’t “arrange” pool coverage on a case-by-case basis.  Instead, they rely on a sensible and time-honored arrangement:  Until the pool station distributes its video, the station that shoots it can’t broadcast it.

It presumes that TV stations can behave honorably and not like children.  This isn’t as hilarious as it sounds.  Every pool photographer I’ve worked with at WXIA and WAGA honored the principle that pool video could not air on the pool camera’s station until after every station received it.  WSB photogs also reliably honor that tradition.

Somehow, WSB decided to be dishonorable Friday, ignoring the “no partiality” clause in Rule 22.  And ignoring the what goes around, comes around concept that really drives the rules behind pool video.  All for a 15 second shot.

Superior Court Judge Jackson Bedford

Superior Court Judge Jackson Bedford

It would make perfect sense for Judge Bedford to hold a hearing and demand an explanation from WSB’s news director.   Bedford is a tough guy, especially with the news media.  He can be a bit scary when he’s angry.  A hearing would likely deter such behavior going forward.

However, Fulton County’s courts are pretty clogged with serious criminal cases.  And another Superior Court judge tells me that jail time — even a few hours in a holding cell, like the one that held Beverly Hall — is unlikely in a civil contempt case.  So, I wouldn’t ask Bedford to spend his valuable time on this.

Which leaves us with the concept of honor.  Or the lack thereof at WSB.

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Ten questions

Why do TV stations design news vehicles– live trucks, “storm trackers,” satellite trucks — without first consulting the personnel who will actually have to use them?

Why do some apparently-reasonable public officials hire sneering, useless or sometimes just insane public information officers?314778_10151352680768820_1929651730_n

Why are separate credentials required to cover the Georgia House and the Georgia Senate?

When people outside the state Capitol ask to see a “press credential,” do they have any idea what they’re actually looking for?

Why can’t news channels discontinue the constant “ticker” at the bottom of the screen, which began with 9/11 and never went away?

Why must local news stations put up an ever-present lower-third graphic describing the story the viewer is presumably watching?

Why does the Georgia Senate have a press office?

As TV news technology has improved, why is using it so much more complicated?

How long can local TV continue to cry wolf over “dangerous” weather before viewers finally catch on and tune us out?

Would somebody please inform WSB’s viewers that Monica is gone?  They can watch the other stations now.

The swag store

Drink up

Drink up

You’re the proud owner / general manager of a TV station.  You want to buy stuff emblazoned with your logo.  Two words from a guy who’s been collecting that crapola for decades:  Coffee cups.

TV stations like to produce t-shirts, polo shirts, sweat shirts, raincoats, wristbands, mousepads, lapel pins, pens, jump drives and motor vehicles emblazoned with their logos.  On those rare occasions when I’ve acquired a solid piece of swag, I’ve relished the addition, then mostly stuck it in a drawer or closet and forgot about it.

These are shirts

These are shirts

Most of the stuff in my house comes from WAGA, which employed me the longest.  Most of the items are shirts.  The best were t-shirts, made of heavy cotton with embroidered logos.  They were perfect for hurricane coverage, when a polo shirt is arguably too dressy.  There are also long-sleeved t-shirts, polo shirts and a couple of stray Fox5 News jackets.

I still wear the t-shirts sometimes, but only before dawn, under cover of darkness, while running for exercise.  I don’t need to exacerbate ongoing “what station you at?” confusion among the populace.

WAGA also issued a noteworthy limited-edition beige-on-beige “Fox5 News” long sleeved polo that I liked for its subtlety, a rare thing in logo gear.  They gave the shirts to Eddie Cortes and me prior to our coverage of the invasion of Iraq.  Though it’s a lovely shirt, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn it.

Aside from its 11Alive News red polos and jackets, WXIA has issued Wizometer t-shirt and wristbands.  But the station distributed them sparingly, mostly to viewers and clients.  I spotted a Wizometer shirt in the building and sweet-talked a coworker out of it.  Given the audacity of the “Wizometer” (a curiously-named gauge by which our meteorologists in the Weather Information Zone, or WIZ, render judgment on the upcoming forecast on a one-to-eleven scale), I cherish the items and actually use the wristbands while playing baseball or running.  11Alive needs to issue some subtle, high-quality t-shirts.

Trade ya a mic flag...

Trade ya a mic flag…

I have other stray items of logo swag, including

  • cheaper-than-cheap pens and disposable flashlights from WGCL, given out during a meeting with bloggers;
  • a too-large jacket from KMTV, the Omaha station that employed me 1982-85;
  • a custom-made 11Alive running shirt which I only wear for the Peachtree Road Race.  Red, of course;
  • a handmade wood “Closer Look” somesuch given to me by a fan of my late 90s feature franchise at WAGA;
  • mic flags from the 90s and 00s;
  • a lovely “wheelchair” logo WAGA-TV motorcycle helmet painted by my ex-wife, a thoughtful, handmade and humorous gift given to me following a challenging newsgathering incident in 1992 in which a crash helmet might have been useful.  If WAGA had a museum space, I’d donate it.

closer lookUnlike coffee cups, none of that stuff is useful.

WXIA’s most recent coffee cups are bright red and oversized.  It’s a go-to in my house, as has been the faded WAGA /5 Atlanta / TV cup with the “wheelchair” logo produced in the early 90s.  Not a drop of coffee has ever leaked from either one.

So, yes.  Coffee cups are the way to go.  Or better still:  A Wizometer pint glass, though I won’t hold my breath.

But it’d be a keeper.

You choose the lead

Just when you thought the news media was a monolithic entity working in lockstep to exploit advertisers of geriatric medical supplies and to destroy America, there comes this refreshing nugget from the local news in Atlanta GA:

From the AJC

From the AJC

Andrea Sneiderman, the accused master criminal / seductress who, prosecutors say, manipulated one would-be paramour to kill her husband so she could get with another paramour, filed a legal brief last week.  It wasn’t a huge story, but it was significant enough to warrant coverage in the ongoing Sneiderman saga. And varying news organizations chose to stress various aspects of the brief.

It helped that her attorney used an abundance of colorful language to debunk what he called the prosecution’s “fantastical” theory behind Mrs. Sneiderman’s alleged crime.  There was a lot from which to choose.

“Civil attorneys spar over Sneiderman’s love life” was the headline on the AJC’s web site.  Christian Boone wrote the piece, whose first quote was that the accusations against Mrs. Sneiderman were “rife with false allegations.”

Newspaper reporters used to always disclaim the headlines of stories that appeared in print.  Newspaper headlines were, and presumably still are, written by specialists who combined typeface options and sizes to fit the available space above the story.  Some of them are damned clever.  “Ford to City:  Drop Dead” and “Headless Woman in Topless Bar” were much more memorable than the stories that followed.

Joseph Dell with Andrea Sneiderman.  From 11Alive.com

Joseph Dell with Andrea Sneiderman. From 11Alive.com

When I put a story on 11alive.com, I always write the headline.  Though we have a whole pod full of web specialists, the web lacks the space-and-size restrictions that old-school newspaper headline writers deal with.  So reporters write online headlines.  Mine are usually too wordy.

I don’t know if Boone wrote the Sneiderman headline, which was nonetheless catchy and accurate.

On WSB-TV’s site, Mike Petchenik’s piece appears under the headline “Sneiderman denies claims involving 3rd man.”

At WGCL, Renee Starzyk’s headline was an eye-grabber:  “New motions reveal details in Andrea Sneiderman love affair.”  She declined to quote from the brief, however, and instead quoted extensively (as did Petchenik) from an interview with attorney Ken Hodges.  This is the first time I’ve heard of Mrs. Sneiderman’s relationship with Joseph Dell referred to as a “love affair,” a characterization I have thus far avoided.

My story on 11alive.com dipped into the back pages of the brief for a headline:  “Sneiderman: Prosecutors want to enrage Neuman into testifying.”  In this part of the brief, Mrs. Sneiderman’s attorneys contended that prosecutors cooked up the love quadrangle story in order to taunt the jailed Neuman into spitefully appearing on the witness stand to incriminate Mrs. Sneiderman in the murder of her husband.

I stuck to the brief and skipped the outside expertise of Mr. Hodges.  My headline was catchy.  I’ll even go out on a limb and say it was a bit sensational.  I’m OK with that, because it accurately described new information contained in the story.  And my job, among other things, is to draw eyeballs to my TV station’s material.

The news business is often unscientific and, in terms of its decision-making, even a bit sloppy.  Yet the end results frequently make us appear to work in lockstep.

Except for when we don’t.

Sneidermania

It took Andrea Sneiderman about 45 hours to post bond and walk out of the DeKalb County jail.  Because she is the Atlanta news media’s favorite murder suspect, the four TV stations devoted, at minimum, some 180+ man-hours to staking out its main entrance from the time a judge granted bond to the moment she left jail.

When payoff time came, each station got about 25 seconds of video.  That’s the length of time it took her to walk from the jail’s main entrance to a waiting minivan.

Jail departures can be a bit awkward, especially when a corps of bored yet fully-caffeinated reporters and photographers is waiting to capture an image of the released inmate.  The only thing certain is the location of the exit.  What happens next is guesswork.

At the DeKalb County jail, most folks exiting the front door use one of two sidewalks that go east toward a public parking lot.  The parking lot was the logical place for Mrs. Sneiderman’s ride to await her release.

Erego, the cadre of photographers and reporters mostly guessed Mrs. Sneiderman would head toward the parking lot.  The question seemed to be:  Which of the two sidewalks would she use?  The photogs mostly waited between the front door and the parking lot, with a direct view of the jail entrance.

Turned out, the bodyguards she hired were pretty clever.  One of them went inside to get her.  A second one idled a minivan along a curb on Camp Road, away from the parking lot.  The strategy flanked the media gauntlet, and shortened Mrs. Sneiderman’s public exposure between the door and the waiting car.

From WGCL

I didn’t notice the parked minivan.   An elevated berm obscured my view of Camp Rd.  And I wasn’t really looking in that direction anyway.  Camp Road is fairly busy, carrying traffic to various DeKalb Co. government facilities behind the jail.  Parking isn’t really an option on Camp Road– unless someone is waiting in an idling vehicle.

A third sidewalk leads directly from the jail entrance to Camp Rd.   When Mrs. Sneiderman exited the jail, she hung an immediate left — due north on the map —  away from the two parking lot sidewalks.   When that happened, reporters and photographers scrambled north toward the third sidewalk.  Some got there more quickly than others.  A photog from WGCL got the best shot of Mrs. Sneiderman, who appeared to struggle to keep a straight face in light of the greeting she was getting from her friends in the press.

As she exited, she was peppered with questions.  Most of us have never been close enough to her, outside of a courtroom setting, to actually question her.

Not that it mattered.  She didn’t utter a peep, which is consistent with her tight-lipped behavior around news folk.  And it was certainly awkward.  As Mrs. Sneiderman walked forward, the mob of news folk backpedaled.  There was a concrete staircase, but there were no spills.   Nor were there angry words.  She and her bodyguard — and perhaps even the news mob — deserve credit for a somewhat civilized 25 seconds.

“Murder suspect Andrea Sneiderman was released from jail today on bond.  She declined comment.”  There wasn’t much else new to say.  But all that effort gave that short line on the news a memorable bit of visual theater.

Valuable prizes at popular prices

Awards aren’t important.  Or at least, they aren’t important enough to justify the cost.  That’s the clear message sent by WAGA, which has stopped spending money on the Southeast Regional Emmy awards.

Doug’s trophy room

This year, WAGA had fewer Emmy nominations than any other station.  Employees at the station coughed up cash from their own pockets to earn ten nominations.  By comparison, WGCL had 13, WSB had 35 and WXIA had 47.  (You can count ’em up yourself here.  If you do, you’ll probably get the same headache I got.  You may also get different numbers, due to my flawed ability to count.)

Traditionally, TV stations select a limited number of entries worthy of submission and pay the entry fees, roughly $90 a pop.  Individuals within those stations may choose to fork out their own cash to pay for entries they believe the station has overlooked.

Do the math, and the costs add up quickly.  Figure that for every nomination, two or three additional entries didn’t get nominated.  Add the expenses paid for Emmy statues (first one’s free, the rest have to be purchased.  So when five names are on the winning entry, four trophies get purchased at $260 or more each).  Add the cost of banquet tickets, another hundred bucks a pop.  Add spouses and other guests.

If your station is WSB, a station that — I’ll stick my neck out here — is rolling in dough, a few tens of thousands of dollars for Emmys is chump change.

But if your station is fighting to survive in the changing world of TV news, you ask yourself the question WAGA has asked:  Should I devote tens of thousands of dollars for awards?  Or do I use that money for a salary or new equipment or repairs on existing gear– the stuff that actually helps a station gather news?

Awards serve several purposes:  They make the recipients feel good about themselves.  They send a message that their employers value the extraordinary work they do.  And they give the station something to brag about, promotion-wise.  If you’re trying to draw viewers to your station, you want to have tangible evidence that your station is actually worth watching.  Awards can help do that.

If you draw more viewers to your station, your ratings go up.  You get more advertising money.  Then you can hire another assignment editor or photographer.  At least, that’s the theory.

But they’re not buying it at WAGA.  To its credit, WAGA has resisted the temptation to thin its I-team, or to make reporters shoot their own stories.  Those things cost money — money they aren’t spending on Emmys.

Funny thing, though.  Plenty of folks filled the void left by WAGA.  Among many noteworthy awards (here’s the list), category 43 “news excellence” resulted in a tie between WXIA and Noticias 34 Atlanta, the Spanish-speaking Univision station. Both stations somehow beat the aforementioned rolling-in-dough station.

I’m guessing the folks at Noticias 34 Atlanta considered the expense a worthwhile one.

Congratulations to everybody who won Emmys in 2012, including Monica Pearson! Justin Gray! Chris Clark! Aaron Diamant! John Kirtley! Russ Bowen! Michael Codgill! Tom Corvin!?! 

And pretty much every single one of my coworkers at WXIA!

Who’s out of line?! Round two

Who’s out of line?! is the wildly unpopular game started in this space earlier this week!  In it, we examine actual moments of confrontation between competing Atlanta news crews, based on this blogger’s second-hand knowledge.  If you missed the first round of Who’s Out of Line?!, you overlooked an exciting judgment made in this space that, based on the subsequent comments of a participant, may very well have been flawed.  You can find Round One here.

Because these events are poorly researched and the blogger doesn’t know what he’s really talking about anyway, the names and TV stations have been omitted!  Unless the principals decide to out themselves in the comments section!

Let’s press on with round two!

DeKalb DA Robert James announces police indictments

The situation:  Atlanta TV stations are at the DeKalb County courthouse, covering a news conference announcing the indictment of three police officers.  TV crews are parked directly in front of the courthouse, accessing the main entrance of the building to cover the story.

The scenario:  Following the news conference, a reporter at Station B conducts an interview on a sidewalk outside the courthouse.  The interviewee had nothing to do with the news conference.  Observing this, a reporter from Station L walks within earshot of the interview to listen in, presumably to discern whether he too should interview this particular individual.

The confrontation:  The reporter from Station B, who had apparently arranged the interview with the unknown individual, accuses the reporter from Station L of “stalking” her, and sternly invites the Station L reporter to take a hike.

The call:  Like the reporter at Station B, I might have resented the intrusion of the reporter from Station L.  Had the Station L reporter interrupted my interview, I would have barked.  However, Station B‘s reporter should have chosen another location to conduct a “secret” or “exclusive” interview, when she knew that her competitors were on the property covering the same event.

DeKalb County Courthouse

Station L‘s reporter walked on public property to overhear a conversation taking place in full view of the public and assembled news media.  Had I been the Station L reporter, I likely would have done the exact same thing.

Perhaps Station B‘s reporter knew she was being silly by accusing her competitor of “stalking” her– figuring it wouldn’t hurt to try to chase him away.  But “stalking” is a loaded allegation.  And given the fact that “stalking” is kind of part of the job description of TV reporters, the characterization was pretty laughable.  Given the location, she should have kept it to herself.

Who’s out of line?  The reporter at Station B blew up for no valid reason.  Next time, don’t do a “secret” interview within eyeshot of your competition.

Thanks for playing!