Category Archives: WXIA

Watson and Wood

Some dear friends, a couple who live near me, regularly watch 11Alive News. Best I can tell, it’s mostly because they admire the work of Jaye Watson.

Jennifer "Jaye" Watson, plus an admirer / friend

Jennifer “Jaye” Watson, plus an admirer / friend

Jennifer “Jaye” Watson is a seventeen year reporter at 11Alive.  In her earliest days there, a news director ordered her to assume the on-air name of “Jaye.” As the years passed, she evolved into a backup anchor. Under news director Ellen Crooke, she deservedly became a storytelling specialist.  As such, she won a trove of writing and storytelling awards.

Her “moments” on TV typically involved wrenching stories of adversity / triumph of the human spirit, elegantly written and produced collaboratively with 11Alive’s best photographers.

She leaves WXIA Friday January 13th for a job at Emory University.

Our industry loses good people every day.  It’s so commonplace that I have trouble even acknowledging them, much less writing about them.

The losses this coming month are glaring. Watson will blaze a trail for the exit, followed closely by Brenda Wood, Atlanta’s best news anchor. Brenda leaves February 7.

As good and as credible as Brenda is on-air, she is, like Watson, a force majeur when writing and producing stories.  It’s a talent folks rarely get to see in Brenda.  Major market news anchors are more consumed than you might think simply anchoring the news.  Reporting and producing stories becomes secondary.

brendaIt shone when Brenda covered the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.  She also produced top-notch segments in various documentaries, including the retrospective we made last year about the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

And while I’ve known Brenda since she first landed in 1989 at WAGA, Watson has been my day-to-day cubicle buddy — and family friend —  for the last seven years.

Although she’s brilliant and gifted, Watson is also endearingly abrupt and unpredictable, a well-coiffed, walking non-sequitor in sensible shoes. She’s almost laughably warmhearted, passionate about politics, and has a lovely twisted streak. We are dissimilar enough to make the friendship very interesting.

Watson accepts a national Murrow award for TV writing in 2014.

Watson accepts a national Murrow award for TV writing in 2014.

She’s also extraordinarily humble. She has zero awards displayed at her house, though she and her husband Kenny Hamilton, WXIA’s former chief photographer, have probably won fifty Emmys between them, maybe more. When she wins an Emmy, she often gives the statue to the subject of the story.

Weirdly, some of my proudest professional moments have been when Watson has erupted in her cubicle, agitated and searching for a word or phrase in a story she’s writing, and insists upon my help.  On a handful of occasions, she’s sent me a script she didn’t quite like, and asked me to fix it.  Whenever it happened, and I could actually help, I found myself endlessly flattered.  But to be clear: She very rarely needed my help.

Before I got to know her, during my 2008 TV news hiatus, I wrote a piece in this blog about Watson’s writing skills, putting side-by-side her coverage of some garden-variety mayhem against the earnest yet underwhelming coverage of a former WGCL reporter.  The comparison showed there was no comparison.

I probably won’t see her this week.  I’ll be ensconced at the Capitol. She will be, undoubtedly, receiving well-deserved accolades at work — just as Brenda will as February 7 nears. Although Watson is expected to retain an occasional on-air storytelling presence at WXIA, they will be irregular at best.

I could write a whole ‘nother post about how on-air women navigating middle age justifiably fear for their futures in TV news, regardless of their talent.  As a greybeard TV news male, I’m keenly aware of a double standard. The recent abrupt exits of talented, veteran female anchors at a competing local station are all the evidence you need. To its credit, WXIA tried to keep Watson and Wood.

Lea-Anne Jackson conquers eyeware

Lea-Anne Jackson conquers eyeware

January 13 will be a rough day.  Watson leaves, and so does promotions chica Lea-Anne Jackson, whom I’ve known since she was an 80s-era intern at WAGA. She is one of the most quick-witted people in the building; she memorably and adorably photobombed a live shot I did on St. Patrick’s Day a generation ago. One of my greatest pleasures in alighting at WXIA in 2009 was unexpectedly seeing Lea-Anne in a hallway and resuming our friendship.  She is also pals with Watson; their hushed tete-a-tetes at Watson’s adjacent cube frequently led to imagined conspiracies against me.

There may be a public sendoff.  Perhaps I’ll tip off my friends in the neighborhood.

To see Jennifer Watson’s take on her departure, click here.

I hate Fridays

I love Fridays.

Friday sucks you in, a temporal destination, a goalpost, an illusory finish line of the workweek. I hate Fridays.

Friday is a destroyer, the marker by which we cheerfully advance our daily and weekly lives while wondering where the time went.

April 1987, in which your boy chalks up one more Friday

April 1987, in which your boy chalks up one more Friday

On June 1, 1986 I began work in TV news in Atlanta.  Over those nearly 30 years, I’ve celebrated 1552 Fridays.

Most of them were sweet, blessed benchmarks of a workweek successfully concluded. Even the Fridays that led to Saturday workdays and more still had that “Friday” taste.

(One standout exception was Friday March 12, 1993.  A day shift routinely vectored toward quitting time — and then I learned I had to spend Friday night in north Georgia because “snow” was expected.  I vividly remember my annoyance while riding to Pickens County.  The snow turned into an epic weekend-long blizzard, and a remarkable experience.)

Accumulate enough Fridays, and next thing you know they’ll call you “veteran reporter.”  It’ll happen in what seems like the wink of an eye.


Thirty years ago at WAGA, I was assigned a desk, a typewriter and one of those telephones with a bunch of buttons that lit up.  If I’d asked, they would have also assigned me an ashtray.

My first workday, a Monday, I covered a truck accident on I-285 at ML King Jr. Drive.  The photog versed me in the vernacular; 285 was “the perimeter.”  One could shorten the other street to “MLK.”

The live truck operator climbed onto the roof of the vehicle and manually pointed a parabolic dish toward a microwave receiving tower.  We fed raw video, shot on 3/4″ tape that rolled through a Bible-sized cassette, through the microwave link.

That Monday, I felt very unsteady learning the circuitry of my new big-market job. But that inaugural Friday undoubtedly came with a sense of triumph.

In the ensuing years, I observed the arrival and departure of hundreds of coworkers and competitors.  I have to suppress a snort whenever I meet a newcomer; instead, I try to empathize by remembering the vertigo that accompanies a new TV news job in a new town.  I move through town now with confidence and experience, though experience can also lead to inertia.  Bossfolk are always on the lookout for that.

Newcomers can do some amazing things.  Three years into his stint at WXIA, Jeremy Campbell (with Matt Livingston, Erin Gutierrez and Lauren Rudeseal) has produced a very watchable, episodic and eye-opening web-only series about heroin abuse in Atlanta’s upper-income suburbs.

I wish I’d done it.  It never occurred to me to even try.

The workweeks fly by in a series of checklists:

  • Get up early, brew coffee
  • Run four / five miles
  • Sort out story ideas while running
  • Solve life’s problems while running
  • Shower and such
  • Fight traffic
  • Attend an editorial meeting
  • Make phone calls / contacts / appointments to gather material
  • Be fair. Keep perspective. Yet make the story sing
  • Meet social media obligations
  • Eyeball the deadline and arrange logistics accordingly
  • Log video, write for TV
  • Make homemade / web-based graphics for TV
  • Read into a microphoneuntitled-1
  • (Edit, if you’re a one-man-band, which I’m not. But I do edit occasionally)
  • Write material in the TV rundown
  • Make the deadline
  • Write material on the web template (and respect the fact that this should be higher on the checklist whenever possible)
  • Get the story right
  • Make contacts for upcoming stories / try to learn stuff nobody else knows
  • Deliver a clean, compelling live shot
  • Shut down computer and go home

Somewhere on the checklist should be “come up with that amazing episodic webcast.”  Even without that, it’s no surprise the Fridays come in rapid succession.

In recent years, I’ve begun to address my conflicts about Friday.  Cheery coworkers would say “thank God it’s Friday.” I would cheerily respond: “Yes. Another week closer to death.”  I got some strange looks.  I mostly don’t say that anymore.

One can update skills and contacts; buy a new wardrobe; stay well-groomed; stay reasonably current on news and culture. But time ruthlessly claims us all, disdaining our weekly triumphs embodied in our short-term celebration of Friday.  Before you know it, thirty years have come and gone.


I hate Fridays.

The teammate

For weeks, I’d been asking to interview Brian Kemp.  He’s Georgia’s Secretary of State, the guy who has accepted responsibility — in statements released by his press office — for the leak of the personal data of six million Georgia voters.

The answer — when I’d get an answer at all — was always “no.”

I asked again.  The SOS was about to release an internal investigative report on the leak.  This time, the answer was a modification of no:  We’re already scheduled to talk to one of your colleagues.

Grey haired guys with purple ties

Grey haired guys with purple ties. The guy in the back is winning.

Jon Shirek?  I asked.


Shirek!  The visual could be my contorted face gazing upward, fist shaking.  Shirek! Once again, I’d been bested by a superior reporter.

Instead, I responded with:  “Great!  Thanks.”  Click.

Brian Kemp had already talked to Shirek a week previously — while disregarding my concurrent interview requests.  On Monday November 30, his chief of staff told me Kemp “is not doing any interviews” on the data leak issue.  I urged him to reconsider, darkly suggesting that somebody — not me, necessarily, but an ambitious TV news goon of some stripe — would likely ambush Kemp in a hallway when he least expected it.  A sit-down would be more civilized, I reasoned.

Have fun with that, came the answer.  He didn’t actually say that, but that was what he communicated, loud and clear.

Kemp talks, Shirek wins

Kemp talks, Shirek wins

Two days later, Kemp scheduled an interview with Shirek.  To my knowledge, Shirek’s interviews with Kemp are the only TV chats Kemp has granted on this topic.

And really — who could blame Kemp?

Shirek is perhaps the most admired reporter in our building.  He’s timely, enterprising, legendarily thorough, and one of the two best writers in our shop.  (Fortunately, the other one tends not to request the same interviews I do.)

He’s also much nicer than I am.  In fact, there is no more personable TV reporter in town.  When I competed against Shirek, his was the competitive company I wanted to keep.

Same now.  He actually watches TV.  He stays reasonably aware of what his coworkers are doing.  He heaps praise on them, and me occasionally, when he finds our efforts laudable.

If I was a public official going through a rough patch, I’d call Shirek too.  Especially if yours truly was my other best option.  My MO is awkward politeness, with carefully and respectfully phrased questions that can be a bit uncomfortable.  “You are the world’s worst!” Gov. Nathan Deal once said to me, in an unguarded moment aboard a campaign plane, when talking about reporters trying to get newsmakers to say things they don’t want to say.  He was smiling when he said it. I took it as a compliment.

Shirek is Julio Jones to my Roddy White.  During this year’s NFL season, as Jones eclipsed White, White made believable-yet-not-believable comments to the press about how he didn’t care who catches footballs.  He cared only about the team winning.


So here’s yet another tiresome post praising Jon Shirek.  He’s not exactly kicking my ass, inasmuch as we play for the same team.  But he’s taking care of business that I seem to be unable to handle my ownself.  I only care about the team winning.  I really do.



The rolodex

I lost Killer Mike’s phone number.

It wasn’t the only one. I actually lost my entire rolodex.  But Killer Mike’s number could have come in very handy last week, as the rapper and Run the Jewels artist became the official Atlanta escort of presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders.

Killer Mike’s intro of Sanders at the Fox Theater went kinda viral.  Killer Mike had become — at least, in our local newsroom — a somewhat hot commodity.  I’m pretty sure I was the only guy in the building with his cell.  But it was gone.

My iPhone had become clogged with digital gunk.  I had offloaded all my photos and videos, yet the phone complained it had no storage space.  I resolved to solve the problem.

As iPhone owners know, you back up your iPhone.  You can back it up to iTunes on your computer. You can back it up to “the cloud.”  But you gotta back that thing up.

I had backed it up to my Mac.  It’s the hifalutin Mac Pro tower I bought during my days as an aspiring  businessman.  It’s got, like, four processors and tons of space.  When I bought it in 2008 — a tax deductible business expense — it was top drawer.  Even though Final Cut Pro and other programs on it have become outdated — and even though it lacks the mobility of a laptop  —  it’s still top drawer in my book.

So I backed up my iPhone to the Mac Pro.  Compatible Apple products.  Seemed like a no-brainer.  I did not back it up to the cloud.  It seemed wrong to send Mayor Kasim Reed or Rep. John Lewis’s cell phone numbers to such a place when I am reluctant to share such confidential info with my trusted and beloved coworkers.

Besides, I backed up my iPhone regularly to my awesome Mac Pro.  In the event my phone fell into a lake or got run over by a bus, I thought I was covered.

About my contacts:  They include lots of cell numbers of members of the legislature, several members of Congress, and lots of routine contacts, friends and family and coworkers, and a few outliers.  (Aside from Killer Mike, I’ve got a cell phone number that I’ve never used for Patti Smith. I’m not convinced it’s actually hers. Plus, what would I say to Patti Smith?  “Hi Patti. I’m Doug. I cried like a child at your concert in Kansas City in ’78…”)

Without my contacts, I am nothing.  So I meticulously backed them up.

I backed it up again at 6am Saturday November 21, then proceeded to restore the iPhone.  It essentially wipes the phone, reverting to factory settings.  It’s an option on iTunes — and a good way to eliminate digital gunk.  Once wiped, there’s an option to use your backup to restore your contacts and apps.Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 10.32.16 AM

So I did that.  Minutes passed. Timeline bars went from zero to 100.  And then came the prompt that said my backup was “corrupt.” Failure.

This happened a half-dozen times.  My contacts never backed up.

Elaine Boyer clutches her iPhone en route to federal prison. AJC photo

Elaine Boyer probably backed up her iPhone before she headed to federal prison. AJC photo

(I knew some of my contacts were corrupt.  There’s the county commissioner who is now serving time in federal prison; the city councilman caught spending tax money on personal business; the sheriff who beat racketeering charges but now faces another criminal charge. Without a little corruption, I’m out of business.)

So I showed up at work with a phone lacking contacts.  It felt like part of my brain was gone — in addition to the parts that already are.

Coworkers would text me. Their numbers would appear, but not their names.  I’d have to guess who was texting based on writing style or what they wrote.  Some of them, aware of my plight, courteously ID’d themselves.  When I went to call my mother on Thanksgiving, I had to pull the number from a handwritten listing.

Without the contacts in my iPhone, I am merely a guy pushing quarters into a pay phone, dialing 411 — or calling the desk on the old two-way radio, requesting the assignment editor to make a phone call on my behalf.  This used to actually happen during the first 20 years of my illustrious career as a TV news goon.

Since Saturday, I’ve done live text chats with Apple service techs.  I’ve had the case bumped up to a senior service tech.  I’ve had a half dozen conversations with him, where I’ve screen-shared my computer and taken direction from him.  Each typically lasts an hour.  Each has ended in failure.  Between each conversation, he has collaborated with backstage engineers at Apple who have hatched new schemes based on files I’ve sent.

I should add that the Sacramento-based Apple guy assigned to my case, a man named Matt Krekorian, has been great.  He seems to have taken a certain amount of ownership of my issue.  He corresponds faithfully.  He is encouraging and upbeat.  Despite an absence of results so far, he gives me confidence that I’ll get most or all of my contacts back — eventually.

During our last conversation, I suggested simply sending Matt my entire corrupted backup, a 5GB file.  That happened the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one week after the crash.

But eight days have passed.  My phone is still in its virginal state, without apps, email, contacts.  Zip.

It’s been a dreadful waste of time.  Arguably, so has this post.  Please accept my apologies.   Here’s the takeaway:

Back up your phone to more than one computer.  Back it up to “the cloud.”  Back that thing up.

Nine holes

I learned something about Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in June:  He’s a very gracious golfer.  He also has a keen sense of his opponents’ weaknesses, and isn’t shy about attacking them.

Last month I played golf with  Reed.  I produced a story about the game, intended as a snapshot character study of a guy we rarely see in a relaxed setting.

Mayor Kasim Reed with a lousy golfer and a terrible person

Mayor Kasim Reed with a lousy golfer and a terrible person

In the spring of 2014.  I’d heard about Reed’s annual golf tournament.  I asked his then-spokesman, Carlos Campos, if Reed would consider doing nine holes with yours truly for a story.  Campos was wary.

Campos had seen Reed explode at me a time or three on various occasions.  (Reed’s explosions are very measured, not incendiary in the classic sense.  But they are unmistakable and the stuff of legend among Atlanta news folk.)  “I’m not gonna pitch that to him.  You have to do it yourself next time you see him,” Campos said.

I saw Reed in an agreeable setting a few weeks later.  He was dedicating a rec center, surrounded by adoring constituents.  I approached him with a photog about an unrelated issue and he handled the questions cleanly.  Afterward, I pitched the golf shoot, and he immediately said yes.  “We’ll do it before the end of summer,” I recall him saying.  I was surprised and pumped.

Four days before our scheduled match in September, I broke my wrist and had to cancel. Earlier this year, I pitched the story again.  He agreed again.

My secret desire was to see the mayor overcoming adversity.  Like myself, I’d heard Reed was not a particularly good golfer.  I figured he’d spend lots of time in the weeds, the rough, the sand, the trees.  That’s how I roll, golf-wise.  I was pumped to watch him handle that stuff and to potentially heckle, and be heckled by him.  I’m a fan of quality heckling.

Reed wanted to play at Brown’s Bridge, a course off Cleveland Ave. SE.  I brought a ringer, Ayanna Habeel, a fifteen year old girl whose golf stroke had drawn the attention of the course manager, who recommended her when I asked for a young participant.

Reed unexpectedly brought two guys.  He also showed up some 40 minutes late, and of course had a midday appointment he needed to keep.

I went over ground rules.  Mulligans?  Yeah, we each get two.  Strict scoring?  Check.  I pitched a mercy rule:  After nine strokes on one hole, we bail.  He suggested eight.

We teed off.  Reed’s first tee shot was great.  Mine was decent.  The other players hit nice shots too.  We boarded golf carts, then Reed announced:  We’re playing best ball, the same rule used in his tournament.

Best ball means each golfer shoots from the position of the ball that lands closest to the tee by whichever player.  It means that one good golfer can keep guys like Reed and me out of the weeds, the sand, the trees and the rough.  It means that if I hit a shot into an adjacent fairway, it magically disappears and I play a ball that somebody else skillfully hit on target.

It wrung all the adversity out of the match.  Reed and I probably hit equal numbers of crappy shots, but we never had to dig them out of pine straw, briar patches, woodpiles and / or creek beds for subsequent shots.  I have much experience in such stuff, golfwise.  The practice hasn’t helped.

At one point, after I hit a lousy shot, I invited Reed to heckle me.  He declined.  Our tough-guy mayor is a real gent on the golf course when playing a best-ball match in front of TV cameras.  My own semi-rehearsed heckles (“wow, you hooked that shot like a fire chief with an anti-gay book”) never left my mouth.

He did heckle me, but it had nothing to do with golf.  I was chatting with Anne Torres, Reed’s communications director.  In a moment of weakness, I guessed her age and botched it.  Anne is a lovely young woman who brushed off my gaffe.  Reed, on the other hand, spent the better part of two holes cackling about my absence of tact as a reporter and human being.

It was quality abuse, and I deserved every word of it.  I was embarrassed and a bit unnerved.

I would have used the material in the piece, but it would have required too much setup.  Because the piece ran at 6pm, a half-hour newscast, I had 1:45 to distill nearly two hours of material shot by two talented WXIA photographers, Stephen Boissy and Luke Carter.

So it turned out the character study was less about Reed than it was about me.  Conclusion:  I’m a terrible person, not to mention, a shitty golfer.

But I already knew that.


Rest in peace, Dan Keever.  You were a smart, gentle soul– and a great, steadying presence in a rough business.  You’re gone too soon.

Is this where y’all film the news?

When I worked, as a poodle-headed youth, at my first TV news job in Mississippi, I’d hear that question.  It would come from folks touring WTVA-TV.  They would ask it upon entering the station’s airy studio, a familiar sight for viewers of Tupelo’s only TV station.

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Photo by Bill Birdsong, official photographer for Gov. Lester Maddox

Why, of course we don’t “film” the news here, I would nonverbally retort while verbally saying “yes, ma’am, and thank you for watching.”  By 1980, TV news technology had mostly discarded film as a newsgathering medium, replacing it with reusable videotape.  Tape was cheaper, lasted longer, required less guesswork / science and could be “turned” instantly — bypassing the soupy processing film required to get the nitrate images onto the film emulsion that gave us motion pictures.

Film was a terrific newsgathering medium for those skilled in its use.  Dan Keever, pictured left,  was.  I was not.

I used film while at KOMU-TV Columbia MO in 1979.  My fellow University of Missouri students and I shot my final pre-graduation project on film.  I did such a poor job of hot-splice editing it that Mackie Morris authorized me to transfer the raw material over to videotape.  That project taught me how to edit tape-to-tape.  I never attempted to edit film again.

Despite the shift in technology, “film” never went away, at least as a verb to describe what one does with a mobile TV camera.   People would see us reloading videotape into our “minicams” (or, back in the early 80s, the clunky tape decks that attached by cable to minicams), and still talk about us filming the news.

Even today, I talk to young adults who grew up shooting video on Iphones — and they still use the word “film” to describe what they’re doing.

I think they may be onto something.

For most of my adult life, I would painstakingly make the distinction:  No, we are not “filming.”  But we are “videotaping,” which is the same thing minus the film canisters, the film processing and the quaint hot-splice editing.

But we no longer use videotape.  We use chips, or “cards,” which encode video into what is essentially a portable hard drive.  What’s the right verb / gerund for that?

“Shooting” is accurate, but it has other meanings and fails to convey that there’s a recording process underway.

“Videoing” is a gnarly word I can’t bring myself to use.  “Encoding” is a word that would require an explanation.

“Documenting” is cute, but has other meanings and sounds a bit pretentious, especially for a guy or gal standing at a string of crime scene tape.  You might-could use that word if you do it with an ironic smirk.

I could continue to say “videotaping,” but that would make us sound anachronistic.  That’s not a good thing at a time when local TV news is struggling to stay relevant to young people.

So aside from the absence of film, “filming” works.  It doesn’t require an explanation.  It’s universally understood and, despite the disappearance of film, remains widely used.  Plus, it’s part of the kids’ jargon.  So it’s a thing.

So yeah.  I’m now part of a film crew.

Y’all filming the news?  Why, yes ma’am.  And we’re damn glad you still know what “the news” is.


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.

The awkward chase

Believe it or not, I actually like some Georgia politicians.  My favorites, of course, are the ones who return my calls / texts and readily agree to interviews on short notice.  Atlanta city councilman Michael Julian Bond is one of them.

Michael Julian Bond dodges Catie Beck

Michael Julian Bond dodges Catie Beck

So yeah, I cringed a bit when I found out that my new-ish coworker, WXIA investigative reporter Catie Beck, was producing a story about Bond’s use of his city council expense account to pay for personal stuff.  The evidence was convincing.  Catie had the story cold.

Then came the follow up — after the original story — when Bond took a plane trip to Boston and Catie and photog Shawn Hoder followed him there.  He’d gotten the city to pay for his travel to a conference that he never attended.  Catie not only had the story cold, but Bond had been nailed a second time for the same offense.

It was not an attractive moment for a guy I liked and respected.

Catie Beck, WXIA

Catie Beck, WXIA

(By the way, Catie and Shawn and another new-to-Atlanta investigative reporter, Brendan Keefe, are three excellent reasons why you people — and I’m pointing and wagging my finger here — ought to be glued to the news programming of WXIA-TV!)

Councilman Bond had many fans at WXIA.  We could call him day, night or weekends and if he could help us do our jobs, he would.

Tuesday, Common Cause Georgia planned to appear at the Atlanta city council meeting to call for Bond’s resignation.  Catie and Shawn had a double-secret investigative shoot planned for that day, so I got to cover it.

I called Bond.  He answered the phone.  “It’s Doug from your favorite TV station…” I started, a weak effort to lighten the overture.  I heard silence.  I stammered on, requesting an interview.

Not gonna do it, Bond answered.  He said he felt like he hadn’t gotten a fair shake from my TV station.  In particular, he didn’t like the station ballyhooing the investigative story in promotional spots.

The complaints sounded nitpicky, but perhaps understandable coming from a proud guy who, a few days earlier, had essentially admitted to the central facts of Catie’s story to the city ethics agency.

“Your organization has treated me shabbily,” he concluded.  The phone conversation ended cordially.  Bond wasn’t blaming me personally, but was disinclined to play ball with the news organization that had exposed his behavior.

At the city council meeting, I saw Bond exit his seat and head toward the door to the foyer.  Mike Zakel and I bolted from the press room and spotted him in a public hallway.  I stood there with a mic.  Yes, Bond had already told me “no” to an interview.  I had to ask him again with Zakel’s camera recording it.

Councilman Bond declines to chat

Councilman Bond declines to chat

It was an awkward moment.  “I know you’re recording me,” he said.  “Yes sir, we are,” I answered.  I asked a question.  He stopped and calmly reminded me that he had declined my earlier request for an interview.  “I wanted to give you another chance,” I said.  Bond demurred again.

At that point, I might have started firing specific questions at him, knowing he wouldn’t answer and knowing he would probably walk away.  Instead, I backed off and let him return to the council chamber.  I had what I needed.

“Good to see you, Doug,” Bond said as we parted company, a moment of civility that Bond could have easily skipped.

Elaine Boyer. AJC photo

Elaine Boyer. AJC photo

When DeKalb County commissioner Elaine Boyer appeared in federal court last year following a guilty plea, it set up another awkward moment.  Boyer was another politician I liked.  She was especially helpful providing interviews about the misbehavior of other politicians.

Boyer was about to enter a guilty plea to a charge of misusing county funds, an allegation first exposed by the AJC.

When I entered the courtroom, I walked up to the defense table and said hi.  Boyer smiled and greeted me, as she always had.  And then she looked at me and said: “I’m sorry.”

I was too.



Two years ago, the Little Five Points Halloween parade included a very amusing “Murder Kroger” float.  Staffed by people carrying toy weapons and dressed as bloody murder victims, the float paid comic homage to a grocery store on Ponce de Leon Ave. whose nickname has been, for years, a dark civic punchline.BnyxKqL

That punchline drove a story I produced on a slow Friday in November. I’d spotted a blog that said that the renovated “Murder Kroger” was scheduling a grand re-opening under a new name, the “Beltline Kroger.”

My story started with one line acknowledging a 1991 killing that begat the nickname.  It used a music video by a local band that had done a song called “Murder Kroger,” adding evidence to the name’s presence in the culture.  It was capped with an amusing moment while interviewing a longtime shopper, who both acknowledged the enduring nickname, while touting the store’s low prices and manager’s specials.

“Bargains to die for” I rejoined, and he chuckled in agreement.

Ha ha.

A few days later, a woman contacted DeMarco Morgan, one of 11Alive’s news anchors.  Without rancor, she quietly identified herself as the sister of the victim in the 1991 murder case.  DeMarco passed the info to reporter Jeremy Campbell.  Jeremy had actually produced a “Murder Kroger” story nearly a year earlier, which noted that the store had begun a renovation with an eye on upgrading its reputation.

Jeremy talked to the woman by phone.  She sent him her sister’s funeral brochure.  She also sent him a VHS cassette with TV coverage of the original case.

Jeremy hunted down a VHS machine and popped in the tape.  He saw a fuzzy-headed youngster named Doug Richards doing a live shot outside the Kroger store one evening, tossing to a piece that showed police at the crime scene.  It also had some sound with Danny Agan, the homicide detective who often spoke to news folk outside the old “homicide task force” building on Somerset Dr., just a couple blocks east of the Masquerade off North Ave.

Cynthia Prioleau

Cynthia Prioleau

25 year old Cynthia Prioleau was attacked as she tried to walk into the Kroger store to buy some groceries on April 1, 1991.  Jeremy  reported that the murder is still unsolved.

In the 1991 live shot, that youthful TV news goon had memorized a detailed narrative of the confrontation leading to Prioleau’s death.  There was a lateral 90 degree walk that more-or-less showed the dark parking lot, revealing the lighted facade of the grocery store.  There was an abundance of gestures, occasionally revealing a handful of cables that attached the reporter’s earpiece to the phone line delivering the broadcast audio and control room cues.  There was ample sincerity and dark curly hair.

The story, in hindsight, was clearly told — conveying the horror of the crime without stepping into sensationalistic turf.  Yet there was also a bit of mangled syntax, some misplaced words that mistakenly told the audience that the confrontation happened “as she was walking through the grocery store” after I’d already established that the crime took place in the parking lot.  My train of thought has always been an unsteady, derailment-prone vehicle.

Needless to say, latter-day Doug had completely forgotten that he had covered this particular bit of violence 23 years earlier.

The VHS tape also had coverage from WSB and WXIA, their anchors narrating similar video.  WAGA’s coverage, however, including two more packages — one dayside followup by Morse Diggs, and another nightside folo by yours truly.  My second story included a silhouette interview with the victim’s grieving sister– the same woman who contacted DeMarco Morgan more than two decades later–  and a parking lot standup where I’m holding a canister of pepper spray.  So the evidence shows I covered the “murder Kroger” story on two consecutive days.

How could I forget?

Richard Hyde - Fulton Daily Report photo

Richard Hyde – Fulton Daily Report photo

In 1991, working nightside, crime was a staple of my work at WAGA.  It seemed to be what the viewers wanted.  My bossfolk wanted it.  Our nightside assignment editor, Richard Hyde, was an ex-cop who reveled in catching police scanner tidbits and gleefully sending me out into the fray.  Because he was good at it, it made me look good as a breaking news guy.  I was a big fan of Hyde and embraced the role we played together.  (Hyde was also an outstanding contact for disgruntled cops who wanted to sic the news media on APD’s management, run at that time by the colorful Chief Eldrin Bell.)

Hyde is still stirring the pot, getting judges fired for misconduct in his role with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.  He also lent the investigative chops to the crew appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to investigate the APS cheating scandal.  I’m still his biggest fan.

Point being:  I covered a lot of crime.  Lots of yellow tape.  Lots of morgue hearses.  Lots of soundbites with Sgt / Lt. Agan on Somerset Dr.

So that horrifying moment in the grocery store parking lot became part of the blur of random violence delivered to an audience both enthralled and numbed by the nightly parade of yellow tape, produced by a kid who believed he was giving the people what they wanted.  And then forgot about it as quickly as possible.

My bud Jeremy Campbell has a TV news blog too!  Start your 2015 by giving it a click here!


I’ll admit it.  I was a bit nervous after the grand jury in St. Louis County declined to indict the Ferguson MO police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.  That night, violence had erupted in Ferguson.  Protestors in Atlanta had already planned events for the following day.

As the grand jury report was unveiled, somebody named Thomas Gibbons sent me an unsettling tweet.  It had a humorous touch, but the sender’s profile pic also showed a young man pointing a pistol.  I retweeted it, just because I was impressed that he was familiar enough with my bio to reference events 22 years previous.

retweetI was a bit sullen during the morning editorial meeting the following day.  My colleagues pitched a lot of pretty great ideas that related the Ferguson story to the Atlanta market.  I was not so clever.  At the end of the meeting, the managing editor asked what people thought might happen that day.  I ended up blurting out what, in hindsight, was a rather alarmist speech.

I’m expecting the worst. I  hope I’m wrong.  But we should all expect to be targets. It only takes a few hotheads to make it turn ugly.

Whatever happens today won’t just be about Ferguson.  It’ll be about a lifetime of frustration, experienced by people in metro Atlanta who genuinely believe they — or their friends or family or neighbors —  have been mistreated by police and by the justice system.  Most of us at this table don’t understand that frustration first-hand.  Today will provide an opportunity for such folks to gather and make an emphatic statement..

This will be a target-poor environment .  Government buildings will be well protected.  Police will be armed.   News crews will be unprotected.  Like it or not, people with cameras and microphones will represent “the man” in the eyes of folks looking to lash out.  We need to be very careful.

The editorial meeting ended with a bit of a chill.  I found myself shaking as I retreated to my desk.

Fortunately, the protests were much more like Occupy Atlanta than they were like Rodney King.  Police gave the protestors a pretty wide berth, up until the point that they decided to march on the I-75/85 Downtown Connector.

Who knew that, at that point, a few hotheads in law enforcement would become the problem.

(Oh, wait — that was kind of the whole point of the protest…)

When the protestors ventured down the ramp to the interstate highway, news crews followed.  The protestors blocked traffic.  Police who’d followed told photogs to stay on the shoulder.

In custody: 11Alive photog Tyson Paul

In custody: WXIA photog Tyson Paul

11Alive photog Tyson Paul was among them.  There came a moment when he watched some cops physically remove some protestors from a lane of traffic and put them in a paddy wagon.  Tyson turned to shoot it.  Then he felt a cop grab his wrist.  His camera lurched to the left.  His voice is heard on the video saying “I’m with channel eleven.”  The cop orders him to put his camera down.  He was taken to Turner Field, where he was processed into the city jail along with a couple dozen arrested protestors.

It’s unclear why the cops singled out Tyson — and Creative Loafing freelancer John Ruch.  Ruch was arrested on a sidewalk outside APD’s Zone 5 precinct on Spring St.  Here’s the last photo he took before the cops cuffed him.  (If Ruch has published a first-hand account of his experience, I can’t find it.)

Photo by John Ruch, Creative Loafing

Photo by John Ruch, Creative Loafing

I have always heard that it’s illegal to just take a stroll on an interstate highway — even in the emergency lane.  Obviously, if your car is disabled, that’s one thing; but many interstate highways have signs that say “no pedestrians.”  It’s quite likely that by following the protestors onto the highway, the news crews broke a law.

But Tyson is a pretty fearless photog.  He followed his instinct to follow the story.

When they got onto the highway, Tyson says cops actually advised him to confine himself to the shoulder in order to avoid running afoul of law enforcement. The young Atlanta cop who cuffed him apparently wasn’t part of that conversation.

He spent the night in jail.  The next morning, a municipal court judge dropped the charge against Tyson.  When Tyson went to court, he had his first face-to-face encounter with Jennifer Rigby, 11Alive’s new news director.  She started work last week, and made a point of attending the early morning court hearing.

Thankfully, I was wrong about the protests.  The police, however, surprised me.  As somebody said– it only takes a few hotheads to make it turn ugly.

Friday, the Atlanta Police public affairs unit is hosting one of its regular “get to know us” sessions for the news media.  This one may be worth attending.