They say all good things must come to an end. With that, I'm leaving WDBJ and the news business. I've accepted a position as the community relations coordinator for Roanoke City Schools. There are several reasons why I'm switching careers. I'd like to share some with you.
At 36, I need to try something new. I haven't really been challenged for awhile. I guess you could say I'm going through a mini mid-life crisis. I'm told that is normal for people in their mid-30's. From sometime, I've been asking myself do I want to do this for the rest of my life? I've looked in my imaginary crystal ball and discovered the answer is no. My friends and colleagues are surprised by this. One of my old bosses e-mailed me and said "say it ain't so." Since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be my journalist. Some of my friends have told me you will always be one. They think I will be bored doing public relations. They may be right. I just don't know.
Sure, I'm not going to miss working holidays or reporting live outside in a snowstorm. But one of the main reasons I'm leaving TV news is because I can't stomach it as much. A few years ago, we had this talented photographer leave the business. I asked her why. She was so good at what she did. She told me "I'm tired of being there on the worst day of people's lives." What she said really struck me. My moment came after the shootings at Virginia Tech. I had never seen so much misery in my life. Frankly, I don't want to ever see that again. Last winter when a police officer was shot and killed on the Virginia Tech campus, I was covering a story in Staunton. When I heard the news, all the memories from April 16th, 2007 came rushing back. Honestly, I was relieved I wasn't close enough to cover another tragic event on campus.
Of course, there are other reasons. People just seem to have so much hatred and distrust of journalists these days. It is partly our fault. We don't do a good enough job of explaining why we do the things we do. But in the last few years, the hatred has reached another level. I blame the popularity of web comments and social media sites like facebook. Some of the comments just blow me away. Granted, I'm not always a nice person. I've said plenty of things that are hurtful but what many are writing these days is just unbelievable.
TV news has changed a lot since I started 15 years ago. That is to be expected. Every industry changes over time. But there are some changes I just don't agree with. I hate that the news media has become so partisan. If you are a conservative, you watch FOX News. If you are a liberal, you watch MSNBC. Unfortunately, the public is now more suspicious of all journalists. People overanalyze every word we write. We get criticized from the left, we get criticized from the right. There are days I just want to tell people to calm down. There is no conspiracy. I have said this before and I will say it again, I've never had anyone tell me to slant a story a certain way.
A lot of Americans believe journalists are a bunch of liberals. I haven't really weighed in on that topic before because I don't think it is an argument I could win. I wish my colleagues, especially in the national news media, would take a step back and ask themselves "do they have a point? Are journalists too liberal? Are they unfair to conservatives? Stop debating and denying. Since the news business has changed so much, can't we all just admit our biases and move on? All journalists are biased in some ways. I think some are better controlling it than others. I took my responsibility to be fair and balanced very seriously. I wasn't perfect. I wish more journalists would be less defensive and more open to asking why do people have a negative perception of us.
But let me be clear, I don't regret my years in TV news. I met some great people, covered many great stories, and got to go places many don't ever get to see. There will be times I will miss TV news. I am not leaving the area. I'm looking forward to my new role with Roanoke City Schools. It will be different and it will be scary but I think this is a good move for me. Thanks for putting up with me over the years. I've screwed up plenty, put on and lost weight countless times, and have tried to do everything I could to control that awful cowlick I have in the front of my hair. Take care and God Bless.
Media Firestorm If you are a frequent reader of my blog, then you know I don't shy away from controversial topics. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that I would eventually write about the media firestorm involving me! It had to do with my story about an ex-porn star named Harmony Rose. She is now a volunteer EMT with the Cave Spring Rescue Squad.
Reaction to the piece was swift and overwhelming. A lot of people weren't happy that we did the story. They felt it wasn't news. The reason we did the story is because county leaders had concerns. The fire chief even asked the county attorney for a legal opinion on the matter.
Some felt we defamed Harmony Rose. I don't buy that argument. There was nothing factually wrong with the story. People also believed because I did the story that somehow I was passing judgment on her. That argument has me scratching my head. A few weeks ago, I covered Mitt Romney's speech in Salem. Does that automatically make me a supporter of Mitt Romney? No. So just because I do a story about an ex-porn star doesn't mean I think she shouldn't be a volunteer.
We had more than 500 comments posted on the station's Facebook page. Most of it was negative towards me and the station. Judging by the comments, I don't think a lot of people actually watched the story. If you did, you would have seen we interviewed a lot of people who defended Ms. Rose. Several people wrote that if you were dying, would you really care whether the person saving your life was an ex-porn star. We had a person at the end of the piece saying that exact thing!!!!!
We received a lot of criticism from other news media. A media blogger wrote that WDBJ linked her porn on our website. We NEVER did that. Other news media re-printed the wrong information without checking the facts. Sad. Several news media organizations that criticized us actually posted a photo gallery with several suggestive photos of Ms. Rose. So it's ok to post pictures but not video? Again, we never had a link on our website to her porn.
What bothered me the most were the comments written about me. They were extremely hateful. People called me a disgrace, a jerk, and told me I should be ashamed. Some compared me to Jerry Springer. One guy even said I was like an unpaid, untrained janitor. Several people wondered if I did the story after catching one of her videos online. A woman posted that I must have a personal vendetta against Ms. Rose because she rejected me. For the record, I've never met Harmony Rose.
My friends and colleagues told me to ignore all the negative comments about me. That is hard to do. I've been with WDBJ for nearly 13 years. I do one story that you don't like and all of sudden I'm one of the worst human beings on earth? One of my Facebook friends, who just a few weeks ago wished me a Happy Birthday, turned around and told me I was a disgrace. It shows people will turn on you in a heartbeat. The funny thing is I didn't have one person come up to me in public to complain about the story.
If I had to do the story all over again, I would re-write one line in the piece. It said "just Google her name and you'll find hundreds of pornographic videos of her." People took that to mean I was telling them how to find her porn. That was never my intent. However, I can see why people took it that way. For that reason, I am truly sorry.
But let me be clear, I'm not apologizing for doing the story. I still believe it was newsworthy and was a good piece of journalism. I realize a lot of people won't agree with me but sometimes we have to do stories that are unpopular. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do them.
A viewer was upset at WDBJ 7 for covering the annual Jehovah's Witnesses convention at the Roanoke Civic Center.
Here's what she e-mailed to us:
May THE ONLY TRUE GOD bless beyond any shadow of a doubt WDBJ's
Management, Owners, Producers, and all other responsible staff for
promoting and advancing the cause of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the
WatchTower Society ---- IF AND ONLY IF the JWs actually are the "Only
True Religion" on this planet as they claim to be, ---- and IF AND ONLY
IF the "Gospel" of the WatchTower Society is the True Gospel of Jesus
However, if the Jehovah's Witnesses and the WatchTower Society are
actually a satanic, pseudo-christian CULT, which preaches a false gospel
that misleads people away from true worship of mankind's Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Heavenly Father, then may THE ONLY TRUE
GOD properly CURSE these same individuals, as well as the affiliates of
this media conglomerate, who have all effectively joined the Jehovah's
Witnesses as co-conspirators in their international "anti-christ
Her argument seems a little ridiculous to me. I guess by covering the convention, somehow we are endorsing that religion? We are part of some conspiracy? The reason we did a story on it is because the convention attracts a lot of people to Roanoke every year. When you drive by the Roanoke Civic Center, you can't help but notice all the cars in the parking lot. Haven't you wondered what is going on over there? That is news to me.
I am not a Jehovah's Witness. I don't share their beliefs. But who am I to judge? Who is she to judge? Here in the U.S., we have freedom of religion. I think it is absurd to expect the news media only to cover the religions that it agrees with. Silliness.
Anatomy of a story
Last week, we reported the Roanoke Times was pulling most of its funding for the July 4th celebration in Roanoke, Music for Americans. The story aired on Friday. It prompted a debate in our newsroom and at least one question from a viewer. As a result, I wanted to explain how and why we did the story.
We debated whether to mention the Roanoke Times sponsored the event. They are a competitor and we didn't want it to seem like we were picking on them. In the end, we decided to report the name of the sponsor. The reason? The newspaper had sponsored the event for 35 years and the event was called the "Roanoke Times Music for Americans."
I also received an e-mail asking how we found out about the story. If you saw the report, we mentioned WDBJ-TV, along with Kroger and the Roanoke Times, are paying for the July 4th fireworks. This viewer wondered if the managers at WDBJ tipped us off about it. Not true. We actually found out WDBJ 7's involvement by accident. Here's what happened. I got a tip. A woman called me and said she was hearing rumors the event was in danger of being canceled. She asked me to look into it. I then got in touch with the show's producer. He confirmed the information to me. The next day in our editorial meeting, I pitched the July 4th story. At least one person chuckled "wouldn't it be great if WDBJ stepped in to save the day?" My boss went up the hall to the front office to tell them that idea. That is when the higher ups informed us WDBJ was helping to pay for the fireworks. I know it is hard to believe but sometimes there really is a simple explanation.
The issue of public prayer is making headlines again. This time, it is in Franklin County. The Board of Supervisors usually opens their meetings with a prayer. It has prompted both praise and protest. The issue also has people fired up in Pittsylvania County. It's even led to a lawsuit. In both cases, Christians have showed up in large numbers to support public prayer.
I am not here to speak for or against public prayer. You will never win an argument when it comes to religion. However, I think this is another example of much abo about nothing. As a reporter, I've covered countless City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings over the years. They are usually boring affairs, but that's for another time. The reality is only a handful of people typically show up for these meetings. They are not well attended. Because of that, I wonder does public prayer really impact anyone? I would ask protesters and supporters of public prayer, when is the last time you attended a City Council or Board of Supervisors meeting in the past year? I'd be willing to put money on the table it isn't many. Can we put this nonsense to bed and move on to other things?
I complain too much in my blog. Today, I'm going for something a little more upbeat. This week, I was sitting in an ice cream shop (hey, it feels like summer already) when I looked over and saw this little girl with a cup of ice cream. She was probably no more than four years old. You should have seen the big smile on her face. Her eyes were wide open as she dug her spoon into the ice cream. I couldn't help but smile. It brought back so many memories.
Hard to believe but I was a kid at one time. My brother, sister, and me were always asking, more like pleading with our parents, to take us to get ice cream. We loved this place called Peaceful Meadows. It is located in Whitman, Massachusetts. It was only about 15 minutes away but it always felt like an eternity to get there. This was the happening place when I was a kid. You would drive up and there would be long lines at all hours of the day.
My favorite flavors were black raspberry and peppermint patty. This was a different kind of peppermint patty. There weren't any chunks of the popular candy. It was multi-colored, almost like a rainbow. I think that was part of the attraction, but of course also the flavor. YUM. I usually ended up wearing most of the ice cream on my face than actually eating it. Yeah, I guess I was a cute kid. When I was young, my blond hair was more white. My parents say people used to come up to me at the ice cream shop and touch my head because they were wowed. Today, I am more of a dark blond. I'm holding out hope I will always be blond. We shall see.
Like most kids, we had a nickname for Peaceful Meadows. We called it the farm. That's because it is surrounded by a farm. There were cows outside in a pasture as well inside a nearby barn. The smell was terrible but we always got our ice cream and then headed inside to pat the cows. We got a kick out of teasing the cows to make them mooo. Boy, they were loud. I cried countless times when I leaned over to pat the cows and one of them ate my ice cream. We didn't realize it then but it is kinda sick the cow is essentially eating itself....but I digress.
Today, getting ice cream is different. It is all about getting your ice cream mixed up on a cold slab of stone. What this adds to the flavor I'm not sure. Speaking of flavors, there are sooooo many. That's not necessarily a good thing. I recently tried cinnabon ice cream. I wasn't impressed. I guess I am more of an old fashioned ice cream kinda guy. Also, why the need for so many condiments? Ice cream tastes fine without them. Ok, I promised not to complain too much so I am going to quit while I am ahead. Take care and be sure to have a scoop!
Concerns and Complaints
Our viewers are very vocal. We encourage your feedback. You will be happy to know we read every e-mail that is sent to us. I want to share with you a few recent concerns and complaints and then my thoughts. Hopefully, it will clear up some confusion or give you a better idea why we do the things we do.
1. This woman wrote to us complaining about a commercial. Here it is: "I have watched your news for years, but now, every time the news is on there is an ignorant commercial blaming the president for the price of gas (when it is a world market and lack of regulation on speculators that causes prices) I change the channel. I refuse to watch a program that offends me with political lies and nonsense."
Here is my response. The news department has no say or influence on what commercials are shown during our newscasts. That is handled by our sales department. They are two separate departments. The sales folks are located on the other side of our building. We don't have much interaction with each other. It's not that we don't like the sales people. We limit our interaction because we don't want either department trying to influence the other. The bottom line is no one at News 7 had a say on whether this particular commercial airs in our newscasts. It helps keep us impartial. I'm sorry she feels the need to switch the channel. That is her right of course but something tells me this commercial is probably airing on the other stations too.
This is also a good time to remind people we rarely limit political advertising. The management here at WDBJ 7 doesn't take sides. For example, let's assume the General Manager of WDBJ is a Republican. He wouldn't decide to air more pro-Republican ads just because he is a Republican. The same goes if he were a Democrat. In my twelve years at WDBJ, I can only recall a few instances when management refused to air a political ad. In those cases, the ad was too graphic or completely untrue.
2. This woman wrote to us complaining we show too much file video from the mass shootings at Virginia Tech. Here is what she wrote: "I know it is your job to report the news, but when reporting or updating the viewers on any story relating to the April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech (i.e., the lawsuits of two families suing the Commonwealth of Virginia), does WDBJ7 always have to show video footage of the police cars racing towards Norris Hall with the officers getting out of their cars? That same clip has been shown almost every time your station has a story related to it. I am only one of several staff/faculty members of Virginia Tech who live in the viewing area and was intimately involved on that horrendous day. Seeing the footage is a constant reminder of what we went through and it is certainly a reminder that we do not need."
Here is my response. She's right. We show the video too often. We sometimes forget that day was so dramatic for so many people and showing that video over and over just brings up too many bad memories. I'm not saying we should never air the video again but I think we can do a better job of showing it only when it's appropriate. I'm glad she brought this to our attention.
3. This guy wrote to us after the verdict in the Virginia Tech civil trial. You may remember the jury ruled in favor of the two families who sued the university over the April 16, 2007 shootings. Here is what he wrote: "It was so nice to see that the jury ruled for the familys in this case and did not let the local medias onair bias for Virginia Tech have any impact on there decision.There is still some true justice left in the world after all.Virginia Tech and The Commonwealth deserved this ruling if not more."
Here is my response. I don't know where to begin. This guy obviously has watched too many X-Files episodes. Virginia Tech doesn't dictate if and what the news media covers regarding the university. I am sure there are stories Virginia Tech doesn't want us to cover but that doesn't stop us. Just for the record, no one at Tech has ever said to me "Justin, you can't cover a particular story." This viewer also accused us of being biased towards Virginia Tech. I've never heard anyone in our news department say let's cover something a certain way because we favor Virginia Tech. We've done plenty of positive and negative stories about Virginia Tech. That is balanced coverage.
Those are my responses. If you have complaints or concerns in the future, please let me know. I'm always willing to listen but keep in mind I won't always agree with you.
It's time for a good ole fashioned rant. I haven't done one in awhile. My beef has been building for years. It has to do with education. I cover a lot of the education stories for News 7. It has long been a passion of mine. Over the years, I've heard the same complaint. People say we only cover negative news at the schools. Typically I let it roll off my back because I know it isn't true but the latest complaint really irked me.
The woman wrote "I am wondering why your news station does not support William Fleming Highschool Girls Basketball, These girls have been playing really hard and are on there way to play for state. The Roanoke Times is there every game. Our own news station in Roanoke, VA does not support our youth. But, if there is a crime in the school that has been commented you guys are there. Why cant you show positive things more. These girls are playing basketball instead of being on the streets. These girls are playing basketball instead of being pregnant. These girls have worked real hard through this tough Basketball season to make it as far as they have. This is a cinderella story and because it is not negative I guess your not interested. You guys need to support your hometown alot more that what you do. The sad thing is your news station is right behind William Fleming. It is being recognized by alot of viewers of yours on how much you do not support William Fleming Highschool.I need you guys to do better."
The notion that we only cover negative stuff at William Fleming is absurd. In just the past month, I covered an appearance by one of the Norfolk 17 and a workshop conducted by Opera Roanoke. My colleague Susan Bahorich covered a story at Fleming about a program that helps girls get more involved in math and science. These were all positive stories. This week, WDBJ 7 featured Patrick Henry High School's orchestra. They've been selected to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. That too was a positive story. The list goes on and on. It is obvious to me, this viewer isn't watching our news.
She also mentioned that our station is located near Fleming. It is unreasonable to expect us to cover every event at the school just because it is down the street. WDBJ 7 covers 26 counties. There are probably hundreds of schools in our viewing area. The reality is, we don't have enough time or people to visit every single school.
The complainer took us to task for not covering the accomplishment of the girl's basketball team. Did you ever think maybe we didn't know about it? How about an e-mail telling us about the story rather than one that trashes us? You certainly have the right to complain but you have a better chance of getting coverage if you ask nicely.
What the girl's basketball team has accomplished is pretty amazing. The players deserve a pat on the back. But I don't understand this notion that someone's accomplishment isn't validated until they are featured on the news.
Finally, do we cover plenty of negative news in schools? Yes. I don't make any apologizes. News is news. Our job is to report the good, the bad, and the ugly. But do we cover nothing but negative news? No. I think if you watch our news over one week's time, you will find plenty of positive education stories. I just think folks tend to remember the negative ones rather than the positive. Let me leave you with this thought. If something cool or interesting is going on at your school, let us know about it. Don't assume we already know.
Are runaways news?
We've received several recent e-mails and phone calls from people angry at us over the issue of runaways. They feel it is our responsibility to report and help find these people, even though they don't want to be found.
First of all, we rely on police to tell us whether someone is a runaway or is actually missing. Media organizations, WDBJ 7 included, typically don't report on runaways. There is a good reason for it. People runaway everyday. If we were to run stories on them, they would become such a common occurrence people wouldn't take them seriously. We try to save our air-time for the most serious cases, when someone is missing or kidnapped. The amber alert system works in a similar way. Authorities only issue an amber alert when a child is missing or has been kidnapped. They don't issue an alert for a runaway.
I think we are seeing more pressure to cover runaways because of social media. Family members post pleas and pictures on sites like facebook and they expect us to follow suit. We check out every case that is brought to our attention. Again, we rely on police to tell us whether someone is missing or is a runaway. Not everyone likes our explanation. People have sent us e-mails saying we don't care. That is untrue and quite frankly silly. Of course we want to see everyone return home safely.
However, an argument could be made if our viewers want us to cover runaways, shouldn't we? It's something we may have to reconsider in the future, especially if enough viewers demand it. But I am not totally convinced. What's next? Should we report on missing pets just because you want us to? Don't laugh. We get calls all the time asking us to do just that. While you may not like my explanation about runaways, I hope you appreciate the honest response.
Oscar Predictions 2012
Since I was a kid, I've been watching the Oscars. My friend and I would place bets on who would win every year. More often than not, I came out on top. Since I couldn't stay up late, my dad would write down the winners and slide them under my door. They would be waiting for me when I got up in the morning. The last few years I've made a point to watch all the nominees in the major categories. It is a hobby of mine. It isn't easy. I read blogs and the trades to see who has Oscar buzz. Thankfully, the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke plays a lot of these movies making my job a lot easier. I must say this year wasn't the greatest year for movies. But without further adieu, here are my annual picks!
Best Actor: This seems to be a race between George Clooney and French Actor Jean Dujardin.
George Clooney for The Descendants- I wasn't in love with this performance. I thought Clooney was much better two years ago for Up in the Air. He was nominated then.
Demian Bichir for A Better Life- Great performance, great story but have you seen it? No chance of winning.
Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy- Oldman is a great actor but this role isn't Best Actor material in my book.
Brad Pitt for Moneyball- I am not a huge Pitt fan but I really liked this performance. I actually believed he was Billy Beane.
Jean Dujardin for the Artist- A moving performance and he doesn't even say a word.
Will Win: Clooney.
Should Win: Dujardin
Was Robbed: Michael Fassbender for Shame should be here. That was the best performance of the year.
Best Actress: This seems to be a race between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep.
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady- What can you say? Another great performance by Streep. Unfortunately, the movie was terrible and I think that will hurt her chances of winning.
Viola Davis for The Help- Great performance by a great actress.
Rooney Mara for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo- I wasn't in love with this performance. She wouldn't get my vote.
Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs- I realize Close has been nominated several times and has never won but this character was so weird I couldn't vote for it. She's good in this movie. She plays a woman pretending to be a man. But I've never bought her as a man.
Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn- A great actress who will one day win an Oscar. This year isn't the one.
Will Win: Davis
Should Win: Davis. However, I won't be upset if Streep wins.
Was Robbed: Don't think anyone was overlooked
Best Supporting Actor: This seems to be a shoo in for Christopher Plummer.
Christopher Plummer for Beginners- Great performance
Kenneth Branagh for My Week With Marilyn- Great performance. Too bad he is up against Plummer.
Nick Nolte for Warrior- Great performance but did you see it? No chance of winning
Jonah Hall for Moneyball- Good performance. Not sure it is Oscar worthy.
Max Von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close- Great performance. Too bad he is up against Plummer.
Will Win: Plummer
Should Win: Branagh
Was Robbed: Patton Oswalt for Young Adult
Best Supporting Actress: This seems to be a shoo in for Octavia Spencer
Octavia Spencer for The Help- Wow, she practically stole the show. Bravo!
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids- Good to see the Academy honor a comedic performance. She was very funny. Too bad she is up against Spencer
Jessica Chastain for The Help- Great performance but how can you ignore her co-star Spencer?
Berenice Bejo for The Artist- Love this performance. She was cute and playful. Too bad she is up against Spencer.
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs- Great performance. Like Glenn Close, she also plays a woman pretending to be a man. Unlike Close, I actually bought her as a man.
Will Win: Spencer
Should Win: Spencer
The Artist- A silent movie that was actually entertaining. How can you beat that?
The Help- A great movie but it seemed too polished for me. The fact the director isn't nominated hurts its chances
Hugo- This movie bored me to tears. Wouldn't get my vote
The Descendants- Good movie, not the best of the year
Midnight in Paris- It is a Woody Allen film. Not a huge fan of his movies. Wouldn't get my vote.
Moneyball- Great story with great performances.
The Tree of Life- Hated this movie. Can you tell me what it is about?
War Horse- Good movie, not great. Steven Spielberg has made better movies.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close- Have mixed emotions about this movie. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. Wouldn't get my vote.
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: The Artist
Was Robbed: Contagion. This was a better movie than it got credited for.
Lee Jackson Day vs. MLK Jr. Day
News 7 received a few complaints from viewers regarding our coverage of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They felt we covered too many MLK events, basically that it was overkill. They also felt we didn't cover enough Lee Jackson Day celebrations. The implication is News 7 favors MLK Jr. Day over Lee Jackson Day.
Lee Jackson Day continues to be a controversial holiday. Some feel those who celebrate it are racist. News 7 hasn't taken a stance, nor would we. No one at News 7 has ever said we can't or won't cover Lee Jackson Day celebrations. In fact, we reported on Lee Jackson events Friday and Saturday in Lexington and then another event in Roanoke several days later. Overall, it is true we covered more MLK Jr. Day events than Lee Jackson. Why? Simply put, I think it's because more communities hold MLK Jr. events than Lee Jackson events. There is no conspiracy on the news media's part.
I also received a few complaints about my coverage about the Confederate flag controversy in Lexington. Last Friday, Sons of Confederate veterans lined the streets of Lexington to protest the city's new flag ordinance. We interviewed several Sons of Confederate veterans as well as a shop owner who defended their right to fly the Confederate flag in Lexington. I also interviewed a Lexington resident who basically called the Sons of Confederate veterans racist. Needless to say, some Sons of Confederate veterans weren't happy I aired that interview. The reality is Americans are still debating the cause of the Civil War 150 years later. Some feel it was about state rights, others feel it was about slavery. My job as a journalist is not to take sides. My job is to present all sides. I make no apologizes for interviewing the man who called the Sons of Confederate veterans racist. I think if you watched the piece as whole, it was pretty balanced.
I end with this thought. Can't we put an end to this Confederate flag controversy? The Civil War happened 150 years ago. It is time to move on. What's the solution? I'm not sure but I am tired of hearing about it.
There's been a lot of debate lately about Tim Tebow's religious displays during football games. Last weekend, he painted John 3:16 across his face. Some love it, others hate it. Honestly, it doesn't bother me. If he is religious and wants to show it, so be it. If athletes can sign million dollar endorsement deals to wear Nike, why can't Tebow wear his religion on his sleeve? If the cheerleaders can wear scantily clothed outfits on the sidelines, who am I to say Tebow can't display his religion? What's next? Athletes can't wear crosses around their necks?
There are downsides to Tebow's public displays of faith. If he ever gets into trouble, say a DUI or caught on camera swearing, he will face more scrutiny and news media coverage than other athletes. We as a society love to see famous people fall. It reminds us we are all human. If you wear your religion on your sleeve and then do something wrong, you come off as a hypocrite. Is it fair? No but you open yourself up to that criticism.
I have a big problem when Tebow supporters say God is obviously on his side. They argue that's why he is doing so well on the football field. I don't buy this logic. If something bad happens to you, does that mean God doesn't like you or doesn't like what you are doing? Let's face it, bad things happen to good people. If a christian gets cancer, I guess that means God isn't on their side? You can't have it both ways.
I wish Tim Tebow the best of luck...to a point. Since I grew up not far from Foxboro Massachusetts, I will be rooting for the Patriots this weekend. But I won't hate Tebow just because he loves his faith.
I am well rested after more than a week off from work. I spent some of the time visiting family near Boston. During my break, I saw a lot of movies. Some I saw here, others in Boston because it will take awhile for them to get to this area. Here's my take.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I never read the book but saw the Swedish movie version. David Fincher's American version is much more detailed. That can be a good thing. For example, Lisbeth's character is more developed in this version. Rooney Mara is fine in the role but I liked Noomi Rapace better in the Swedish film. My biggest complaint about this movie is that it is way too long. David Fincher's movies often are. I think he could have cut 20 minutes from this movie without hurting it. It is more than 2 hours and 30 minutes. Yikes. I give this movie a B.
War Horse - This is about a horse during World War I. It is a Steven Spielberg film. It is beautifully shot and it is amazing how Spielberg gets these horses to act. Also loved the music. John Williams has come up with another memorable score. With a lot of Spielberg movies, you have to take a leap of faith. Think Jurassic Park or E.T. With War Horse, it is harder to take a leap of faith when there's such a serious subject matter like war. What this horse went through in this movie is unrealistic and unbelievable. Take the scene where the horse gets tangled in barbed wire. Both sides put down their weapons and walk out on the battlefield to help the horse. Really? C'mon, I don't ever see this happening in real life. War is ugly, not sentimental. I give this movie a B+.
Shame - This is theNC-17 movie about a sex addict. This was the first NC-17 movie I've seen. It was kinda weird. In the theater, it seemed people were sitting away from one another like we were about to see a porno. Yes, there is a lot of sex and nudity in this film but I never felt the nudity was too much or got in the way of the story. Believe it or not, it actually had a purpose. The movie stars Michael Fassenber. He is excellent in the film and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for Best Actor. He deserves it. I doubt he will win because of the subject matter. However, he gives a great performance. I really liked this movie. I give it an A-
The Artist - This is a French romance film taking place during the silent movie era. Guess what? It is silent. There is no dialogue in this movie. Surprisingly, the movie is actually very entertaining. The character's facial expressions tell you how they feel. I especially liked Berenice Bejo. She is a beautiful and talented actress. The Artist is definitely a crowd pleaser. People actually clapped at the end of the movie. This is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for Best Picture. It is considered the front runner. I am not sure it is the Best Picture of the year but it is still very good. I give it an A-.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - This is a British spy movie in the height of the cold war. It stars Gary Oldman. I never knew a spy movie could be so boring. This movie is tough to watch. I give it a B-.
We Bought a Zoo - This movie is based on a true story. Matt Damon is a single dad who decides to buy a zoo to have a fresh start. This movie is touching and well told. However, it is too long, and Director Cameron Crowe couldn't seem to end the movie. It just went on and on. Even though this movie is based on a true story, I just didn't buy it could happen in real life. Sorry. Call me a grump. I give this movie a B.
The town of Floyd recently held its annual Christmas parade. In a tease, News 7 referred to it as a holiday parade. Plenty of people wrote and called to complain. Some feel we were purposely trying to avoid the word Christmas. One woman wrote, "Shame on News 7." I don't have an exact explanation why we called it a holiday parade rather than a Christmas parade. I don't think there was any intent to offend people. But I think it is a good time to remind folks that there is no conspiracy, at least at WDBJ, to not say Christmas. I've been with WDBJ for more than a decade and no one has ever told me I can't say the word Christmas on the air. Never.
The Christmas controversy pops up everytime this year. The governor of Rhode Island indicated this week he wants to call the state's tree a holiday tree. This has caused an uproar. To me, it has and always will be a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. I think we've been saying Christmas since the beginning of time. Why change now? You wouldn't say Happy Holidays to a person who celebrates Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.
Some believe saying Christmas offends people. While that maybe true, I don't think you can make everyone happy. I also question whether people are really hurt when they hear the word Christmas. I feel strongly that most Americans prefer using the word Christmas over holiday. I can't be sure. So I have an idea, that will put this controversy to bed once and for all. Let's conduct a nationwide poll. We hire an independent company. No trick questions. Just make it simple. Do you prefer to call it Christmas or the holidays? The news media does polls all the time, especially for political candidates. It can't be that hard. We do a poll and let the majority win. It is that simple. What do you think?
Worst Job Ever
If you are a frequent reader of my blog then you know I love movies. I go almost every weekend. So you may be surprised to hear one of my worst jobs was working at a movie theater. It happened when I was in college in Boston. Sure, I got free movie tickets, but when you are in college, you don't have time to go often.
It was a terrible job for many reasons. The company was obsessed with upselling. Managers would hang sheets in the breakroom listing who sold the most large combos. I was usually on the bottom of the list. I just couldn't understand why we needed to convince people to buy a medium, rather than a small drink when you got free refills. Managers would also count the cups before you started your shift because they didn't want you stealing or giving them away free. Total silliness.
I learned early on, the popcorn isn't fresh. It is usually days old. We popped and bagged it for use later in the week. One day I was put in charge of making the popcorn. Big mistake. At one point, the popcorn machine ran out of oil. I added some, but unfortunately I hooked it back up the wrong way. I went to press the button releasing the oil and it started gushing out all over the floor. I couldn't stop it. It was a mess to clean up.
Tuesday afternoons were typically slow. I worked the concession stand by myself. One day, this woman comes storming out of a theater and yells, "I demand to see a manager." I said "ma'am what's the matter?" She screamed back- there are two homeless men doing inappropriate things (sexual) in the theater. I got the managers. They were both women and refused to go in. Instead, they called the police. A couple of officers showed up 90 minutes later. By that time, the two homeless men knew something was up and left.
The job wasn't always bad. One afternoon I was working the ticket booth when Neil Patrick Harris walked up to buy a ticket. I knew immediately who he was. Keep in mind this was after Doogie Howser, but before he became popular again with "How I Met Your Mother." I didn't have the guts to say anything to him. Oh well, I missed my chance.
Needless to say, I lasted one semester. I went home for Christmas break and never returned. It is the only time I didn't actually quit a job. Looking back, it was rude, but I must say I don't miss working at the movie theater.
Child Sex Abuse
The Penn State sex abuse case has produced plenty of outrage, as it should. The magnitude of the outrage has baffled me a bit. I don't understand why there hasn't been a similar reaction to other cases.
Take the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church. Cardinal Bernard Law was the Archbishop of Boston. There is ample evidence he knew priests were molesting children and he covered it up. We are not talking about a few priests or a few children. For example, John Geoghan was accused of abusing at least seven young boys in 1984. What did Law do? He approved Geoghan's transfer to another parish. This is just one example. There are many more. Cardinal Law eventually resigned as Archbishop of Boston. He never went to jail. Instead, Law was reassigned to the Vatican where he remains today. What a slap in the face to all those victims. Joe Paterno is gone but now Law? This doesn't make any sense. Certainly, there was outrage when Law moved to Vatican but not on the same level as the Penn State situation. Why? I am not sure.
In an interview with Bob Costas this week, Former assistant Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky admitted to taking showers with young boys. Again, people are outraged. They should be. It is disgusting and inappropriate. What I don't get is that a few years ago Michael Jackson admitted in an interview that he allowed young boys to sleep in his bed. If you don't want to believe Jackson was a child molester fine but why is it ok for him to sleep with boys? He should have known better. Where was the outrage then?
While I am at it, I don't believe a child molester can be rehabilitated. Some believe they should be sent to counseling rather than jail. I strongly disagree. If you sexually abuse a child you should be punished. It is that simple. It is my opinion when you sexually abuse a child you are screwing up that kid for the rest of their life. I am not saying we should put a child molester away for the rest of their life but they deserve some jail time.
Election Day is Tuesday. I am looking forward to it. Why? By Wednesday, the political ads will be off the airwaves. I hate these ads. They are full of lies, half truths, and exaggerations. To prove my point, I thought we could have a little fun at my expense. Let's pretend I am a Virginia Delegate running for re-election. I'm going to address the charges made against me in these ads. Keep in mind this is satire. If you believe anything I say you should have your head examined. Deal?
I grew up in Massachusetts so I am automatically a liberal, right? I've lived in Virginia for more than 10 years but it doesn't matter, I don't know Virginia values. I am an outsider. I'm clearly not fit to hold office in Virginia.
My opponent's ads point out I'm not listed in the phone book. He calls it shameful. I plead guilty. I am not in the phone book. I am more of a texter than a talker. Sorry.
I admit I am close friends with President Obama. As a member of Virginia's House of Delegates, President Obama calls me once a week and orders me to vote for his job killing policies and his failed stimulus plan. You may not realize this but President Obama sponsors many bills that are voted on by Virginia's House. I only met Obama once during a campaign stop a few years ago but we are still very close.
You may have received a flier in the mail warning voters if they vote for me, their jobs won't be safe. It is true. I don't want you to have a job. In fact, I hope everyone in my district loses their job.
While I am at it, I might as well admit I am a liar and a tax cheat. I hope the IRS doesn't read this.
My opponent is criticizing me for voting to cut funding to education. He is right again. I am not a supporter of education. I don't think your kids should be educated. I support shutting down all the schools. However, I take issue with the charge that I cut funding to Virginia Tech. Not true. I am a huge fan of Virginia Tech football. How could I hurt my Hokies?
If you vote for me, your Social Security and Medicare could be in jeopardy. Granted these are federal programs but there is a chance Congress could fold and Virginia's House of Delegates will have to vote to continue these programs. There is a slim chance but it could happen.
Before being elected to Virginia's House, I was a prosecutor. My opponent says I let criminals go free. He is right. I want our streets to be unsafe. I want crime to go up. So I personally drove over to the jail, opened the cells, and let the criminals out.
I realize these political ads are a waste of time and money. I would stop but my opponent started it. I respectively ask for your vote on Tuesday. Time to go, President Obama keeps calling!
I am a self-proclaimed curmudgeon. I am especially irritable in the morning. Just ask my co-workers. I have plenty of pet peeves and I want to share some of mine. These are in no particular order. I hope they will make you think and maybe make you laugh.
1. Political Ads. Here we go again. I hate political ads. They are outrageous, misleading, and often just wrong. The latest are no exception. One candidate is criticizing his opponent for not being in the phone book Guess what? I am not in the phone book either. Does that make me a bad person? I also love the ones where they claim, if elected, they will get southside back to work. Southside has had high unemployment for more than a decade. What makes you think you alone will solve that problem? Some of these ads are actually from incumbents. Here's my question, so what did you do in your last term to get southside back to work? You haven't had much results so far. I am also annoyed by the ones that say if you elect this person he or she will raise your taxes. The truth is he or she only has one vote. They would have to convince their colleagues to vote to raise taxes before it can happen. I call this scare tactics. You are a fool if you believe any of these ads. Sound outrageous? Think about it.
2. Parking Spots. Why is it that our cars keep getting bigger but yet the size of the parking spots remains the same? Sometimes I have to squeeze out of my car! I've noticed the new Clearbrook Walmart has wider parking spots. Amen. Let's see more of them.
3. 3D movies. They are all the rage right now, not for me. I don't understand why you have to pay a surcharge, sometimes two or three bucks. They say it to pay for the 3D glasses. Please. Those things probably cost 50 cents to make. I get annoyed that they then ask for the glasses back at the end of the movie. I refuse. While I am at it, why is that I can see a HD movie at home but can't at the movies?
4. Halloween. Last week, I did a story about how Halloween sales were up. A viewer e-mailed us basically accusing us of being devil worshippers. Halloween is what it is. It is a fun holiday for kids. Are there people who take it to the extreme? Probably. But I think the vast majority of people just want to have fun. There is an impression that the news media hates covering religion, that we are all a bunch of atheists. That is untrue. Count how many stories we've done in the past two months at Liberty University and then tell me if we are devil worshippers!
5. ATM fees. There has been a lot of outcry recently because Bank of America has started charging a monthly fee to use your ATM card. Stop whining. If you don't like it, do something about it. Switch banks. It is that simple. The bank execs will get the message. Look at Netflix. It tried to make major changes. People rebelled and Netflix had to admit it was wrong. Power to the people!
6. Death of Newsweeklies. I used to get Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Not anymore. The magazines kept getting smaller and smaller. It is sad. I used to enjoy reading all three. I'm afraid one or two will soon be gone.
7. Stink Bugs. Can we please do something about these creatures? I HATE THEM. The other day I removed my jacket from the back of the chair. It had been there for months. There were seven stink bugs hiding in the sleeve. They are all now in stink bug heaven. If you can figure out a way to get rid of them, you will be my hero.
8. Remakes. Years ago, Madonna remade a classic called American Pie. You know the song. "Bye, bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the leeve." There was outrage. I couldn't understand. Now I do. I wasn't alive when the original version came out so I had no allegiance. Now they are starting to re-make movies from my childhood and I am mad. They include Footloose and Dirty Dancing. What is wrong with the originals? Let it be.
9. Passwords. Does everything need a password? I have one for my e-mail at home and work. I need a password to sign onto my computer at work. I need a password to sign onto the newsroom network. Not to mention the passwords for my online time card, the station's website, the station's credit card, and to make changes to my health plan. I need a password for my ATM card. The list goes on and on. Enough already. Can you remember all your passwords? I'm also annoyed when they make you change your password every six months. Grrrrr.
10. Celebrity Divorces. I could care less when a celebrity couple gets a divorce or is heading for a break-up. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are getting a lot of play right now in the media. I love when you watch these entertainment shows and they'll say "but they seemed so happy." How do you know? How does anyone know? Just because they pose for the cameras and smile they are automatically happy? Why do you even care?
I am not a big fan of live coverage of hurricanes. Sure, it makes for great TV but a lot of it is just plain silly. During Hurricane Irene, did you see the reporter covered in a strange foam on live tv? It turned out to be raw sewage!!!!!
I think live coverage of hurricanes is also too dangerous. Reporters stand out there in the elements telling people not to go outside because of the danger. So I guess that means it's ok for us to be out in it? A little hypocritical perhaps? I also don't like how TV news shows people walking around outside during a storm. They do it for a reason because they know we are going to put them on TV!!!!
During the Hurricane Irene coverage, I shook my head when an anchor told viewers a man died after walking outside his home and a tree limb fell on him. In the next breath, the anchor says "Do you want to be on TV? Take pictures or videos of the storm and send it to us. Wow, I guess the danger isn't real. He was basically saying some are dying but you will be ok.
What also annoys me about live coverage of hurricanes is you really can't get an idea of what is going on until after the storm. One reporter standing out in a small section of the coastline doesn't give you the big picture. Is it really that bad? You won't know until the storm has passed.
I also wish we didn't give hurricanes a category. Some are criticizing the news media and the government for over hyping Hurricane Irene. Earlier in the week, Irene was a category 3 or 4 hurricane. By the time the storm hit New York, it was only a category one. People took that to mean the storm wasn't that bad. A hurricane is a hurricane. It is dangerous no matter what the category is. Let's not forget 41 people have died so far from Hurricane Irene.
I will defend the news media in one regard. It is our job to warn people. We have no idea how bad a storm is going to be. What if we didn't warn people and the storm was really bad? Think of the outrage. I think it is one of those things you are damned if you do, damned if you don't. I'd rather be too cautious and than not cautious at all.
Roanoke's melting pot
It's often said that Roanoke is still very much a segregated city. I used to think that was true, not anymore. This past year, I started to run on the Roanoke River Greenway. I started out slowly, could barely do a mile. Now I am up to 7.5 miles, yay. Ok, back to my point. I am amazed how many people use the greenway, especially the kinds of people. You see younger and older, black and white, bicyclists, runners, walkers, and skaters. Over the last few months, I've seen more people of different nationalities. To me, the Roanoke River Greenway has become Roanoke's melting pot. It is a great to see and I hope it will help change people's perceptions of Roanoke.
I only have one regret. I wish there was a way for Roanoke's melting pot to interact more on the greenway. I try to wave to everyone (I miss a few) Most wave back, some don't. How can we get people to talk to one another on the greenway? I don't have the answer. Just wanted to get the conversation going. Next time you see me running on the greenway, be sure to wave. I won't be able to stop for long because I have miles to go!
If you are a frequent reader of my blogs, you know I am on a crusade to encourage people to be nice! Before I head on vacation, I want to share with another example of the inappropriateness I see all too often.
When I was in college, a group of us Journalism students spent the day with Sam Donaldson of ABC News. On his office door, he taped up some of his favorite hate mail. This week I got some hate mail. Boy was it hateful.
On Wednesday, I did the story about Earl Baker. He is a World War II vet who flew in the famed flying fortress. He flew 28 missions over Germany and France. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross.
We started the story with the following sentence: "At first glance, Earl Baker looks like your typical old man, but if you thought that, you'd be wrong. Because Earl Baker helped saved the world, nearly 70 years ago, and the Distinguished Flying Cross he's holding, is testament to that."
Someone took offense to the word "old." A viewer sent me the following e-mail: "Thank goodness for this great American who like many others, fought to protect and serve this country so big mouth jerks like you could disrespect him by calling him a typical looking old man instead of an elderly gentleman and hero. I know your not, but you should be ashamed and apologize to this fine gentleman and hero. I use to respect and enjoy your reports, but your total lack of respect against this great American soldier and hero just proved you are another big mouth media jerk who thinks he has the right to disrespect a great American because someone gave you a mike and put you on a TV screen. Do not respond as it will not be read. Show some respect and grow up, seriously!!!"
I don't have any issue with this viewer criticizing me. I am not perfect and looking back maybe I could have used another word. Certainly it wasn't my intent to disrespect Mr. Baker. He is a great American and I think our story clearly showed that. The purpose of the sentence was to grab your attention and make you aware this is a war hero.
My issue with this viewer is why did he have to resort to name calling? Also after 11 years at WDBJ, I do one story you disagree with and all of sudden I am the worst human being in the world? Ok, I am done. Off to vacation so I will be silent for at least a week.
Verizon workers are on strike. This always puts TV news in a bind. Our job is to cover both sides of the story but that is often difficult during strikes.
The striking workers are usually willing to do interviews with the news media. It certainly makes for great video when workers stand outside the company holding picket signs, shouting at passerby's.
Unfortunately, it is harder to tell the company's side of the story. The company typically doesn't make someone available for us to interview. In the Verizon situation, we've been able to interview a spokesperson but he is in Richmond so we have to do phone interviews. We also understand managers apparently are doing the work the striking workers normally do. We've asked the company to shoot some video of that but our request has been denied.
I've covered plenty of strikes over the years and I've noticed many unions expect us to cover stories a certain way. They get mad if you don't follow their script. During a strike a few years ago, I got some of the nastiest e-mails of my career because I covered a story in a way the union didn't like. Unions don't realize we don't work for them. We are supposed to be neutral.
I hope this provide some insight on how we cover strikes and why. We are not taking the side of the striking workers. It is just hard sometimes to tell the company's side of the story.
My latest blog entry is something I've talked about before but now I am officially on a crusade. People are too rude and too mean. Sure, I realize this has been a problem since the beginning of time but lately it's been out of control. We need to nip it in the bud. Will you join my crusade?
The problem is especially bad online. I can't believe what some will write on facebook, in an e-mail, or on the comment section of our website. Let me give you some recent examples. A News 7 viewer e-mailed us criticizing our news. Here at News 7 we don't mind criticism. We are not perfect and can always do better. But this e-mail was totally inappropriate.
This person wrote "what will happen once Robin (who is great) leaves? Who will replace him? The guy with the lisp, or the guy with cancer? I'm ignoring the guy (Brent) who seems like a tool." At this moment, I want you to pause and think about what this person just wrote.
This e-mail was rude, mean, and disgusting. You can add your own adjective. Here is the bottom line, why would anyone ever write something like this?
It doesn't stop there. On one of my colleague's facebook page, a gentleman posted that she looked like she had gained a few pounds lately. Again, very rude. She sent him an e-mail explaining her situation. He sent an e-mail back saying "good to know." Really dude?, you can't apologize. My colleague defriended him on facebook. He turned around and sent her a friend request.
What I don't think these people realize is your words hurt. Don't put in writing what you wouldn't say to someone's face. I can be a mean and blunt person at times so I don't want to sound like a hypocrite but this mean streak some people have is over the top. BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER!
I am kinda baffled by all the criticism of First Lady Michelle Obama and her recent big lunch. Mrs. Obama visited Shake Shack in Washington D.C. and ordered a hamburger, fries, a chocolate shake, and a diet coke. It is basically a meal with more than 1,500 calories. Some are criticizing Michelle Obama because she advocates the Let's Move! campaign to end childhood obesity. Critics are saying she is a hypocrite. Not so in my opinion.
Let me get this straight, the First Lady can never eat a hamburger and fries? I would be concerned if she was eating like this on a regular basis. This woman isn't fat and having a hamburger and fries one time isn't going to make her fat. Leave her alone.
While I'm at it, I am not a big fan of blaming McDonalds and other fast food restaurants for making kids fat. What ever happened to parental responsibility? Parents take their kids to McDonalds and they buy it. Why can't we share the blame? The best way to fight childhood obesity is for parents to stop taking their kids to the fast food joints. When I was a kid, McDonalds was a treat we got every few weeks, not several times a week.
Just for the record I try to limit my fast food intake to once a week. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. After reading and seeing all the criticism about Mrs. Obama, I am in the mood for a burger and fries!
Should all presidential press conferences be carried live?
We received a number of complaints for airing President Obama's press conference Wednesday morning. It lasted 67 minutes. Soap fans were especially mad because it pre-empted a little of Young and the Restless.
I can understand why they are angry. I don't think the president really said anything of national importance. President Obama essentially put Republicans on notice about the debate over deficit talks. You could argue the press conference was more political than anything else. As a result, I don't think broadcast networks should break into programming for every presidential news conference. Let's carry them live when there's an important reason. President announces troops are coming home? Carry it live. President announces Osama Bin Laden is dead? Carry it live. President tells us how his daughters get their homework done early and they don't wait til the last minute? No. President Obama was making the point Republicans need to get a deal done early on the deficit, don't wait til the last minute.
I also noticed the news media was making a big deal that this was President Obama's first press conference since March. Outside of the Washington beltway, does the average American really care how often the president gives a press conference? I don't think so. I think it is a way for reporters to send a message to the president that they want more news conferences. I realize press conferences are important to reporters but I don't think they are important enough to break into programming every time.
With that being said, I have a message for soap opera fans. You will be ok if you miss one episode. I've watched soaps on and off for years and you can stop watching and easily pick them back up months later. To those Young and the Restless fans who missed one episode, I can report Victor Newman is still evil!
Are Grand Openings News?
Chipotle has opened its doors in Roanoke. It was big news. Both the TV stations and the newspaper covered it extensively. News 7 even had a live shot the night before showing people camping out for the big opening. It made for great tv but these stories always leave me asking, is it really news?
On the one hand, you could argue it is not news. Essentially, we are doing a free commercial for Chipotle. The same could be said for the grand openings of Panera Bread, the Clearbrook Walmart, and the first stand alone Starbucks in Roanoke.
On the other hand, you could argue we cover these grand openings because there is a lot of interest. Chipotle's opening was the most viewed story on our website one day last week. That shows me our viewers want to know what's new in their community. As we've seen time after time, Roanokers are hungry to try a restaurant that is completely new to the Star City. Just look at the long lines at Chiptole or Cheddars at Valley View Mall, both opened in the last few months.
I am also bothered by what grand openings we choose to cover and which ones we don't. Did we cover Chiptole's opening? Yes. Cheddars? No. Will we cover the opening of Longhorn Steakhouse at Valley View this summer? Probably not. Every time an old building in downtown Roanoke is renovated and turned into apartments it seems we cover it. But if a new apartment complex opened on Route 460, I don't think we would cover it. Why? I don't have a real answer. There really is no rhyme or reason. Silly I know but at least it is a honest response.
I read something really interesting in the Roanoke Times over the weekend. It was about the rally to oust Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt. The article stated the managing editor of The Franklin News-Post interrupted the organizer's speech and peppered him with questions. Our reporter Justin Ward was there and confirmed the outburst. Apparently the guy who organized the rally, Joe Stanley, is a former Democratic strategist. The article says Kim Wagoner is a former Republican political campaigner. Wagoner reportedly said Stanley was using the event as a campaign tool. This outburst is troubling on so many levels.
I don't know Kim Wagoner, never met her. I will say her questions were legitimate. What are Stanley's motives? Are they more political in nature? However, Wagoner was wrong when she interrupted the rally shortly after it started and yelled questions at Stanley. Why the rush? Stanley hasn't been avoiding the news media. Something tells me he would have talked to her before or after the rally. It would have been one thing if he was refusing to talk to the news media. Instead, Wagoner made herself the story. She is compromised and should be removed from covering it.
This is a good time to remind everyone journalists shouldn't be involved in politics. I don't donate to political campaigns. I don't attend campaign rallies unless I am working. I am not going to lie, I have political beliefs but I rarely talk about them, only with close friends. But when I go into work, I leave my beliefs at the door.
I also believe people who once worked in politics shouldn't be journalists. George Stephanopoulos used to work for President Bill Clinton. He is now the anchor of Good Morning America. Tim Russert once worked for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan before becoming the moderator of Meet the Press. Russert passed away a few years ago. I am just using these two as examples. As much as they try/tried to be fair and balanced, I can't forget they once worked for politicians. George Stephanopoulos interviewed conservative pundit Ann Coulter on Good Morning America Tuesday. He asked her some tough questions. If you are a conservative, you may be asking yourself was Stephanopoulos being fair to Coulter? I am not saying Stephanopoulos was unfair, I'm just saying I can see why people thought he was because of his previous work in politics. It goes to show you sometimes politics and journalism don't mix.
There are times I really hate the internet and this week is one of them. Some people post outrageous and just plain wrong statements on our comment section. Part of me says I should just ignore it. I often do. But I am finding people are starting to believe what is said.
A good example of this was the shooting Memorial Day that left Jennifer Agee dead and State Police Sgt. Matt Brannock shot. Someone posted this on our comment section, "got told a few mins ago that trooper shot will be ok! Catch up News7."
We knew early on a State Police trooper had been shot and that he was ok. The problem is no one would confirm it on the record. We can't just go on the air and report whatever we hear. We have to wait until authorities are ready to release the information. I know this is frustrating. People want information right away but we have to wait, and there's a good reason for it. During a breaking news situation, a lot of the information in the beginning turns out to be wrong. For example, we first heard the trooper had been shot in the head. Turns out he was shot in the leg. What if we went on the air or and reported that or posted it on our website?? These same people would be criticizing us for not waiting until we had confirmation. We also heard the victim at the Sheetz worked for the Roanoke County Police Department. That too turned out not be true. We never reported any of this. We waited until we got the story right. Every news organization wants to get the story first. We are all competitive but it is important to first get it right!
People also need to realize during a breaking news situation authorities don't drop everything to come talk to us. They have a job to do. Would you expect a firefighter to put down a hose and come give me information while a house is burning? No. So I ask you to be patient. We are professionals. We know what we are doing. Trust us! Also, I think I've said this before but don't believe everything you read on facebook.
Some are also criticizing the news media for reporting on the possible motive in the shooting that killed Jennifer Agee. Some have said we are trying to smear a dead woman and we are just reporting gossip. We are not TMZ. We report facts. We got this information from search warrants. These are court documents, not a piece paper we found in a dumpster or information we heard in the line at the grocery store. Certainly our hearts go out to the Agee family but we have a job to do. What is the question many of you have asked since Monday's shooting? what prompted this? It is our job to try to answer those questions, even if it is painful information that some don't want to hear.
It amazes me sometimes how some people think they know me just from watching me on tv. A lot of my friends who think they know me, don't even really know me. So here's what you need to know!
I am a bicentennial baby. I was born with apnea and was on a monitor for the first two years of my life. I had a baby brother who died of the same condition. I've had arthritis since birth. I am a natural blond. My hair was white as a kid. I am mainly Scottish and Swedish. I am sarcastic. I don't sugar coat things. If I don't like you, you know it. I am blunt. I don't like to lie and I hate liars. I don't smile very often, it just ain't me. Some say I don't let people get close to me, they are probably right. I am kinda of a loner. I am not one of those people who needs to be the life of the party with tons of friends. I like to have a small group of close knit friends. I am shy. You put me in a room full of strangers, and I won't talk. I sometimes have low self-esteem. I've only been in love once in my life. I don't believe in love at first sight. I don't know how to flirt. I wasn't overly popular in high school. I am not innately smart, you should see my SAT scores! I am mildly dyslexic. I have a lot of trouble with phone numbers. I rarely show it but I easily cry. I get teary eyed at weddings and especially at homecomings for soldiers. I love baseball, the Red Sox, and watching movies. I have a weakness for ice-cream sandwiches. I don't really like chocolate. I have a cat but we don't particularly like each other. I don't like seafood and I am not a big fan of Chinese food. I prefer to go to the beach at night, rather than the day. Love the sound of the ocean while walking in the dark. I am not a morning person and finally I like my popcorn slightly burnt. Ok, enough about me!
I don't feel obligated
I had a lovely dinner with a couple of friends recently. The food was so so, the company was great. When the checks arrived, we started talking about tips. I mentioned that I tip before the tax. My friend replied she tips after the tax because she used to be a waitress and knows they don't make a lot of money. I replied back that I shouldn't feel obligated to give the waiter/waitress more just because they don't make a decent wage. Before you go spitting in my water the next time I'm dinning out, I typically tip 15% to 20% if the service is good.
I then mentioned it annoys me when you're at a store checking out and the clerk asks for your phone number. I always tell them I don't give out my personal information. That's when my other friend at dinner chimed in. She thinks I am being rude because the company makes them ask for phone numbers. I told her she should be mad at the company, not me. I don't feel obligated to give out my phone number. Some say I should give a fake number. That's beside the point. I want them to know I am not giving out my personal information.
While I am it, I find it increasingly annoying that a lot of stores now ask you to donate to some cause while you are checking out. Don't get me wrong, they are worthy causes but it seems I am being asked every time I go shopping. I used to feel guilty and just say yes. It is only a dollar after all. But now it's happening too often so I am not afraid to say no from time to time.
Am I becoming an old fart? Perhaps but I just don't feel obligated!
Complaints and Complainers
I received a complaint about my texting 911 story. One example mentioned was how texting 911 could be beneficial is if a man was trying to break into a woman's home she could text 911 from the closet rather than call and give up her location. A viewer wasn't happy with this example. She e-mailed to say it smacked of sexism. She believes "specifying a woman as helpless and vulnerable reinforces stereotypes better left in the dustbin of history." I don't think my example came off as sexist. I apologize if some took it that way. It wasn't my intent.
We received numerous complaints about our recent weather coverage. News 7 has had to break into regular programing a lot lately because of severe weather. People are usually upset because they can't see the rest of their show. I can understand the frustration to a degree but we are going to break into programming when people's lives could be in danger.
When I tell callers that, they usually respond "well it's not bad where I live." I usually fire back if a tornado was touching down at your home, you would want to know, right? Tell you what, the next time you call to complain about the interruptions, I will take your name and address and when a tornado touches down in your neighborhood we will ignore it. You are on your own. Good luck!
Some will also complain "well it never ends up being bad." Try telling that to the residents of Pulaski, Halifax County, and Washington County. They've all seen how destructive a tornado can be. You just never know. Sometimes tornadoes touch down, other times they don't. If you still feel this way, I guess this means your crystal ball works better than mine.
We often get the same people who call and complain to News 7. They call constantly. There is this one guy in particular. He calls several times a week. He is never nice. He never has a compliment. He just complains. He calls so often none of us take him seriously. My point is don't protest too much. Don't get me wrong, we welcome complaints here at News 7. We are not perfect. But don't complain about silly things like missing out on your favorite program for a tornado and finally keep the calls to a minimum. I am no Dr. Laura.
Is the end near?
You can't help but feel for the people impacted by the tornadoes that recently struck parts of the midwest, Raleigh, and here at home in Pulaski. I've heard some people say it is a sign that the world is about to end. While covering the aftermath in Pulaski, I interviewed a woman from a local church who believes the scriptures indicate the end is near. There are also billboards around the Roanoke Valley saying Judgment Day is coming May 21st.
I am not anti-religious. I strongly believe in freedom of religion. I don't agree with every religion but I think people should have the right to believe in anyone or anything they want. However, this 'end is near' talk really bothers me. Sure, the end will come one day. But how can anyone really predict it? How can anyone really say they know what God is thinking?
Since the beginning of time, people have been predicting the end of the world and guess what? They've been wrong! I think it really hurts your credibility when you predict the end of the world and then it doesn't happen. If you want to tell people to get ready for Judgment Day, fine but let's all stop predicting the actual date. See ya on the 21st.
Why so much hate?
As a child, when I was mad at my parents I used to scream "I hate you." Who hasn't done that? My father would respond by saying "hate is such a strong word." He is right. There seems to be so much hatred lately. Consider for a moment. UVa is investigating possible anti-semite incidents involving Jewish students. The right hate President Obama just as much as the left hated President George W. Bush. Some Virginia Tech fans can't bring themselves to cheer on VCU because the Hokies didn't make it into the NCAA men's basketball tournament. While we are it, many VT fans hate UVa, and many UVa fans hate VT. My colleague Jean Jadhon posted a picture on facebook of her with a Lady Gaga impersonator from a charitable event. Someone responded by calling the impersonator "it." There was also the UCLA student who recently mocked asians on youtube.
Then there is the murder/attempted suicide in Roanoke Monday. A war broke out on the comment section of our website. Someone wrote "damn blacks, this is Roanoke. Not South Central." You could argue this statement is racist. I am more concerned because the victim and the alleged shooter are both white! What did the person's comment have anything to do with this senseless crime?
Not to sound self-righteous but why so much hate? It just seems so sad and silly. Think about it!
I am stupid, now let's move on!
Last week, I made a boo boo on the air. I mispronounced the word nuclear. Why did I make the mistake? I don't know. Should I have caught it? Absolutely. Should I know better? Yes.
I received several e-mails and phone calls about my blunder. Most were just bringing it to my attention. I have no problem with that. Then I got a letter in the mail that made me laugh, mad, and had me scratching my head. The person didn't sign their name but you could tell it was written by a woman. She tells me how to correctly pronounce the word. She then goes onto say "you're not George Bush! Thank God. You're a reporter, enunciate correctly. That's your job?!" At the end of the letter, she writes "P.S. and I only went to high school." I guess she is implying I wasted my money on college.
Here is my response to the woman who sent me the letter who didn't sign her name. "I am sorry. When God made me in my mother's womb he didn't make me perfect like he did you."
What would possess someone to write such a mean spirited letter? I've been in the news business for 13 years and I make one blunder on the air, and all of sudden I am the stupidest person in the world? Really lady?
I don't mind people calling or e-mailing to complain. What I don't understand is why a lot of people have to be so rude about it. I see more of this everyday. People call up and just start yelling and screaming. If you are one of them, you really need to calm down. I will be more inclined to hear you or help you when you call if you are nice about it. Last week, I was suppose to stay at a hotel outside of Washington D.C. The hotel had me booked for the same dates last month. Unfortunately, they were now full. I didn't yell. I didn't scream. I complained but nicely. The hotel put me up in another hotel, free of charge. The clerk thanked me for being patient. I think most people yell and scream because they think they have to. In most cases, you will get the same result without having to lose your temper.
For one day last week, I was stupid. I admit it. I am not proud of it. Should I be branded a stupid person for the rest of my life or career? I don't think so. Now that we've established that, let's move on.
Facebook vs. traditional news media
A well known public relations (PR) person recently told one of my colleagues "we don't need you anymore, we have facebook." That certainly prompted a few chuckles in our newsroom. But there is certainly a belief that facebook will one day replace traditional news media, if not seriously erode our influence.
I fought the urge to join facebook for the longest time. I eventually caved. The fun part has been getting back in touch with people I haven't seen or heard from in nearly twenty years. It almost feels like a reunion. Facebook has also shown me why I didn't stay in touch with some of these people in the first place but that's for another time. Facebook has put us in touch with our viewers in ways like never before. People are comfortable on facebook. They are more inclined to send you a message on facebook about a possible story than to actually e-mail you. Dear I say, e-mail is becoming blase? People also seem to be enthralled with every little detail about our personal life. If you can't tell, I live a pretty boring life. That is just me.
The downside of facebook is that I think too many people believe what they see on it. I've read plenty of postings that were only half true or were completely wrong. That's why I think traditional news media is still relevant and desperately needed. We are trained professionals. We know what we are doing. (ok, maybe not all the time) We can investigate claims, cut through the spin, and just give you the facts. Consider this, police departments and local governments are posting a lot on facebook. They are only going to post what they want you to hear. You think they're going to post bad news? I don't think so. You still need people like us to ask the tough questions, get answers, and then pass it onto you so you can get the real story.
We are certainly not perfect. We could always do a better job. But I implore you don't believe everything you read on facebook.
UPDATE: I've now seen all the nominees in the major categories. I saw "Biutiful" Friday night at the Grandin. It's about a father dying of cancer. You think you've seen this story before? Well, think again. Bardem has a strong performance in an original story. Too bad at points, the movie is too long. Bardem deserves a best actor nomination, but he would be a stronger contender if he wasn't up against Colin Firth.
And the Oscar Goes to....
I love the Oscars. I've been predicting the winners since I was a kid. Some years I've done well, others not so much. For the last couple of years, I've made a point to watch all the nominees in the major categories. I've seen all the movies this year except one. Javier Bardem is nominated for Biutiful. Because it is a foreign language film, he hasn't been widely released. A quick note before I predict. I believe strongly the best person should win. I don't like when people say "it's his time" (awarding someone because they've been snubbed before) or "she will have another chance" (basically she is young and will be nominated in the future). Ok, here we go.
127 Hours- good movie, intense
The Fighter- great movie, well acted
Black Swan- weird movie but good
Inception- Excellent movie after you watch it three times
The Kids Are All Right- ok movie, didn't love it
The King's Speech- good story, well acted
The Social Network- great movie, good score
Toy Story 3- this movie made me cry. I love the Pixar movies
True Grit- good movie
Winter's Bone- haunting movie, well acted, great story
Frankly, I think Inception was the best movie of the year but it won't win. Most pundits say it's between The King's Speech and Social Network. I think most Oscar voters will go with The King's Speech. I liked the movie but thought the Social Network was better. They took a boring subject matter and made it extremely interesting and fun to watch.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Should Win: Social Network
Jeff Bridges, True Grit- good performance but not Oscar worthy
Javier Bardem, Biutiful- didn't see it
Jesse Eisenberg, Social Network- great performance
Colin Firth, The King's Speech- great performance
James Franco, 127 Hours- unbelievable performance.
All the pundits seem to agree Colin Firth will win. I think James Franco gave a better performance. He blew me away. Firth is a great actor but I think he gave a better performance last year in A Single Man. Jesse Eisenberg was also memorable as Mark Zuckerberg. I am ok with Firth winning but think Franco gave the best performance of the year.
Will Win: Colin Firth
Should Win: James Franco
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter- great performance
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone- haunting and memorable performance
Jeremy Renner, The Town- ok performance, wouldn't get my vote
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right- ok performance, wouldn't get my vote
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech- great performance, memorable
I am torn with this category. Most pundits say Christian Bale will win. He should. It was a great performance. But I thought Geoffrey Rush gave a really memorable performance. I think he stole the show. If he hadn't won an Oscar already, I think he would be more of a contender. Also, can't overlook John Hawkes' performance as a meth addict. One moment you hated him, the next you liked him.
Will Win: Christian Bale
Should Win: Geoffrey Rush
Annette Bening, The Kids are All Right- good performance
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole- great performance. Bravo!
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone- wow, great performance considering she is only 20
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine- heart wrenching performance. Will win an Oscar one day
Natalie Portman, Black Swan- great performance
Pundits say it's between Natalie Portman and Annette Bening. It's hard to believe Bening has been nominated four times and has never won but my vote is for Portman. Nicole Kidman was memorable in Rabbit Hole. I think she would be more of a contender if she hadn't won an Oscar already. Michelle Williams blew me away in Blue Valentine. She will win an Oscar one day. I hope to see more from Jennifer Lawrence in the future. She has a lot of potential.
Will Win: Natalie Portman
Should Win: Natalie Portman
Amy Adams, The Fighter- ok performance
Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech- ok performance
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom, haunting performance. This woman scared me
Melissa Leo, The Fighter- great and memorable performance
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit, hard to believe this girl is only 14
This seems to be the most unpredictable category. Melissa Leo won the Golden Globe and SAG. She gave a great performance. My vote is on her but won't be surprised if she loses. To me, Jacki Weaver gave the most memorable performance but I don't think she will win. Hailee Steinfeld could end up picking up the award. She was great in True Grit but wasn't that a lead role?
Will Win: Melissa Leo
Should Win: Jacki Weaver
An important piece of the puzzle was missing
My latest rant/criticism is directed at the major media outlets in the Roanoke area. It has to do with the coverage of Colin Goddard. He is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings. He was in Blacksburg this week showing his documentary called "Living for 32."
Part of the documentary shares his experiences of being shot four times and his road to recovery. The documentary also follows his crusade for stricter gun laws. Goddard used hidden cameras to show how easy it is to buy guns at a gun show without a background check.
Here's what was missing from all the coverage that I saw and read. We failed to point out that the Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho didn't actually buy his gun at a gun show. He bought it legally from a gun shop in Roanoke. When I brought this up in our editorial meeting, one of my colleagues questioned whether we need to say that everytime we do a story about gun control and the Virginia Tech shootings. He feels it sounds repetitive and thinks most people already know that Cho didnt buy a gun at the gun show. I disagree. Most of the students currently at Virginia Tech weren't there during the shootings and maybe unfamiliar with some of the details from that day.
The news media often receives criticism that we are a bunch of liberals who hate guns and want stricter gun control. I am not sure that is true and quite frankly I don't think I could change your mind if you feel that way. However, I can see why gun advocates/gun owners feel that we are unfair when we fail to mention that Cho didn't buy his gun at a gun show. I am not saying the reporters who worked on this story are gun control advocates and purposely left it out. I am just saying that piece of information needed to be in there and for that reason we made a mistake.
I sometimes read the comment section on our website. It allows users to offer their "two cents" to a particular story. I was reading the comments about Tony Anderson when one caught my eye. First, in case you missed it, Tony Anderson is the high profile Roanoke attorney who was charged with driving under the influence.
The posting said this "wow, what baffles me is how quick this story was pulled off of the air. Most stories are run into the ground not this one. Makes me wonder who could have the pull to take it off of the air." This was obviously written by someone who has watched too many X-Files episodes and believes they are being followed by black helicopters. By the way, I rode in one of those black helicopters recently and it was a great experience.
I checked our archives and we ran stories about Tony Anderson on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I am not sure why this person would think this story was pulled off the air. It was also on our website throughout the weekend. I am surprised when people think someone has so much power or influence they can call up and have a story killed. I am not saying it's never been done. I am sure it has. I am just saying it doesn't happen often and its never happened in my 12 year career.
Are people often upset with our coverage? Yes. Do they call and complain? Yes. But we don't take a story off the air just because they don't like what's being reported. Case in point? Recently, News 7 reported on the problems involving Salem Doctor Greg Alouf. He is a major advertiser with WDBJ-TV. But that didn't stop us from reporting it. I am not aware of him calling and complaining but I am sure he would have preferred News 7 stay away from this story.
I will concede one point to the viewer's criticism. We didn't devote a lot of time to the Tony Anderson story. The reason is simple. It happened over the weekend and sometimes it is hard to get in touch with the appropriate people on the weekend like the police officer who worked this case. There wasn't a lot of information to report until Monday. It stinks but that is how the cookie crumbles sometimes.
I hope this give you insight about how stories are covered. There is no conspiracy. Time for me to go. The black helicopters are coming to pick me up.
Much Abo About Nothing?
I've watched with great interest the recent Ten Commandments flap in Giles County. A quick recap. A copy of the ten commandments was on the walls of every Giles County school. The superintendent had them taken down in December after a letter was sent by The Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Foundation argued it is unconstitutional. The ten commandments were put back up after outcry from the community and a school board vote.
As a journalist I like to see all sides of an issue. In this case, it's no different. Part of me says what's the big deal? Are they really hurting anyone by hanging on the walls? If it's hurting anyone it is a parent, not a child. I think most of the school children probably didn't even know they were up until the controversy made headlines. I think if you polled most people in Giles County they support having the ten commandments displayed. Shouldn't what the community want matter? Doesn't majority rule?
On the other hand, I am not buying this whole historic document argument. Supporters say it was put up because it is a historic document like the Declaration of Independence. Basically, they argue it has nothing to do with religion. That is baloney. A local minister led the charge more than a decade to display the ten commandments. You can't tell me with a straight face that he doesn't have a religious agenda.
I also go back to my argument that the children probably don't even know they are on display. Are you telling me they are walking the hallways each day, stopping, and actually reading the ten commandments? Probably not. The commandments are more symbolic than anything else. Some will say it teaches values. I went to a christian school from 5th to 8th grade. We had a lot of pastor's kids in my school. You know what? A lot, not all, were the biggest trouble makers. Didn't they learn values?
Some will think I am anti-religion or that I don't understand that our country was founded largely on religion. Baloney. (boy I like this word) I am one of those people who believes a Christmas tree should be called a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. If a nativity scene has been on display in the town square for more than fifty years, why should it be taken down just because one or two people are offended?
At the end of the day, I don't think the hanging of the ten commandments was hurting anyone. I also don't think it's really helping. So my take? This is much abo about nothing.
Get it first or get it right?
I spent a lot of my weekend watching the coverage of the shootings in Tuscon Arizona. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman who was shot in the head, really is lucky to be alive. That's because several news organizations reported she was dead. She wasn't. They were wrong and that's a problem.
Breaking news situations like this one can be chaotic for tv news, especially in the first couple of hours. There is very little information and there is no script. Anchors have to fill time and often repeat themselves because there is nothing new to report. You could make the argument that they should just report what they know, and then come back later when they have new information. I agree with this point to a certain degree. As a viewer, I've often said during a breaking news situation I should turn back in a few hours or a day later to get the full story because often what is reported in the beginning is wrong. But as a practical matter, I don't believe a news organization can do this. The Tuscon shootings were such a big story that I think most viewers would have turned to another channel if say CNN only reported on the story when there was new information. It is kinda like watching hurricane coverage. A lot of it is silly and dangerous but you can't take your eyes off it.
But all reporters, including myself, need to be reminded during breaking news that it is important to get the story right. As a reporter, I am not perfect. I've made my mistakes. But one thing I wouldn't want to get wrong is whether someone is dead or alive. That is something I would check with several sources. If I only had one source, I would be very reluctant to report that. After reporting for more than a hour Rep. Giffords had died, one cable news network had to retract the story. Then to make matters worse, the anchors tried to make excuses!!!!
I've been in many breaking news situations throughout my career. It can be hectic but there's a huge adrenaline rush. It is hard to explain it if you are not a reporter. Unfortunately, sometimes we get caught up in the moment of trying to beat the competition. We want to be first. But let's not forget first and foremost we need to be right. I hope the Tuscon shootings remind us of that.
Controversial Classic Changes
The changes to Mark Twain's classic "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" created an intense debate in our newsroom. Not in the way you may think. Let me explain.
First of all. Some background. A Twain scholar is coming out with a new version to replace the N-word with "slave" in an effort to not to offender readers. We shot video of the N-word from the book. When we put it on the air, we showed the letter "n" and then blurred out the rest of the word.
Some of my colleagues felt we shouldn't have done that. One of my co-workers sent me a short reply saying "that's irony." Another wrote to me "that makes no sense at all, even in the age of advanced political correctness. Even if we can't say the word- -and I'll concede we ought not to speak it on the air ourselves- -the book is what it is. How do we justify obliterating the word from the original publication? Samuel Clemens is shocked, I am sure."
I appreciate the opinions of my colleagues. I can see why they feel that way. I don't necessarily disagree with them. But I wonder what kind of response we would have received by our viewers if we showed that word on the air without any editing? I am curious, what do you think? Should we have shown the word unedited or did we do the right thing by editing the word? Sometimes, there are no easy or crystal clear answers.
The higher ups at WDBJ decided early on when Brittany Smith and Jeffrey Easley were found, we would be going. We had a chartered plane on standby ready to take us anywhere on the east coast. No one ever thought it would be San Francisco.
On Friday December 17th, I had just went live at six o'clock. Brittany Smith hadn't been seen for a week and investigators were getting more concerned by the day. I got back to my desk and I had just filled out my time card when an urgent e-mail arrived. It said she and Easley had been located in San Francisco. Natasha Ryan literally ran to the anchor desk because we were less than a minute from ending the newscast. Natasha handed Keith and Jean a note and they read it on the air. I quickly got back into reporter mode and rushed over to the Roanoke County Police Department. I covered the live news conference at eight o'clock and then went live at News 7 at 10 and News 7 at 11.
While I was working, the bosses were making travel arrangements. The chartered plane was out. We would fly commercial. I got home around midnight. I had just enough time to throw stuff in a suitcase because I had to be up at 3 in the morning to catch a 6 A.M. flight out west. We arrived at the airport around four in the morning. We got there early because we had to ship a camera and a tripod and several computers. We were afraid we would have trouble getting through security. Within two minutes, a woman came up to me and said "you are going to San Francisco aren't you?" While waiting at the gate, the agent for Delta airlines came up to me and said thank you for going to San Francisco and she wished us safe travels. I was so tired but it was nice to hear those kind words before we boarded the plane.
We flew from Roanoke to Atlanta, from there to San Francisco. I couldn't sleep on the plane. I am 6'2 and barely fit in those cramped seats. We arrived in California around noon pacific time, three o'clock east coast time. Time wasn't on our side. We had less than three hours to feed something in for the six o'clock news. Keep in mind my photographer Lynn Eller and me didn't know how to get around the city at all.
We quickly learned GPS and McDonalds were our best friends. GPS helped us find the Safeway, the grocery store Brittany and Easley were found. Typically when News 7 heads out on a trip we bring a satellite truck with us. It allows us to feed pieces and go live anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, it would have taken our sat truck operator probably at least three days to get out to California. So we had to feed from the internet. That's not as easy as it sounds. The technology of sending broadcast quality video over the internet is still in its infancy. It typically takes a hour to feed a two minute piece. To make it a reality, we needed a wifi. That is where McDonalds comes in. We would edit our pieces in the rental car and then feed using the wifi at McDonalds. Basically our San Francisco bureau was at a hamburger joint.
People think when we go on trips it's lot of fun and games. Hardly. It was all work, very little play. In fact, Lynn and I didn't see Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge until the last day, and just our luck it was pouring down rain. We saw AT&T Park (where the Giants play) literally by accident. We drove by on our way to the CBS station in San Fran. Didn't even have time to stop. We were on deadline.
San Francisco is a beautiful city. I was struck how diverse the population is, something I think is lacking in Roanoke. Everyone was very nice. We didn't meet one rude person. When people found out we were from Virginia, they would welcome us. It is a very healthy city. Lots of joggers. It was also fairly warm out west. Temps were in the 50's everyday but also very foggy. If there is a bad side to the city, it's the homelessness. It is striking and disturbing. It's everywhere. I lived in Boston during my college years so I've seen homelessness but never on this scale. They literally had tent cities in Golden Gate Park. We would be in McDonalds and people were going through the trash looking for extra food. It was really sad.
We went to California really with no expectations. We had no idea if we would get anything or if we would hit a gold mine. I think we hit a gold mine. We were able to find the campsite Brittany and Easley were staying. We interviewed a Wells Fargo employee who saw Brittany panhandling outside the Safeway. The best interview we got was with Theresa Shanley. She is the woman who spotted Brittany outside the Safeway and called police. I've interviewed a lot of people over the years and I could tell this woman was genuine. She literally saved Brittany's life. Shanley was crying while being interviewed. They weren't fake tears. What you didn't see in our story were the people stopping in the parking lot to thank her for calling police. One guy even volunteered to buy her a round of beers. Shanley also wants Brittany to come back to San Francisco one day and stay with her. She feels Brittany probably has a bad impression of the city and she hopes to change that one day. What a classy woman.
The Brittany Smith case was big news in San Francisco. All the tv stations were following it for several days. On Tuesday, Jeff Easley made his first court appearance. Cameras in the court in San Fran are much different than cameras in the court in Virginia. We all set up in the back of the courtroom and waited for the judge to make a decision. The judge was a hour late because she was stuck in traffic. The judge ruled we could photograph the court proceedings but couldn't show Easley's face. We could only photograph him from the back of his head. I had never encountered that before. We had to fill out a request form to videotape the court proceedings. WDBJ sent a request the day before but for whatever reason the bailiff didn't have our request. He was ready to kick us out. He went back to the judge's chambers. When he came back, he told us the judge said the station from Virginia could stay. I was so relieved. I have no idea why the judge gave us a break but I am appreciative.
While out west, we were reminded how much of a small world we live in. While on the air tran at the San Francisco Airport, a woman saw our equipment and asked if we were from WDBJ-TV in Roanoke. She then proceeded to tell us how her father worked at WDBJ when it was a radio station. Wow. One night while in the elevator at the hotel, a woman asked where we were from. She then told us how her mother graduated from Randolph Macon. Speaking of our hotel, while we were eating breakfast Sunday morning we noticed a lot of security and quite a few 49ers fans. We finally asked the waitress and she told us the football team was in the next room eating breakfast. Too funny.
There are so many people to thank. I appreciate all the texts from my colleagues here at the station. I am not a huge fan of pats on the back but in this case it was the fuel I needed to keep going. Thanks also to the Roanoke County detectives who made the trip to San Fran. They were able to help us in many ways. Finally I want to thank Lynn Eller. He shot some great video, edited quickly under intense deadlines, and he put up with me!
This is my favorite time of year. No, it's not because of the holidays. I am a huge movie buff and this is Oscar season. I've been a huge fan since I was a teenager. A friend and I used to bet on who would win. I am actually pretty good at predicting the winners, not perfect. For the last few years, I've watched all the nominated films in the major categories. That isn't easy when you consider there are now ten nominees for Best Picture. The Grandin Theater in Roanoke and a trip home to Boston at Christmas makes it easy. Last year when I was home, I saw five movies during one week. Yeah, I know I need to get a life.
I strongly believe the best person should win the award. I am not big on campaigns or popularity contests. I hate when people say "it's their time" or "they're young, they'll win someday." We saw some of this last year. Jeff Bridges is a great actor but I am not sure his performance in Crazy Heart was Oscar worthy. But you kept hearing over and over the Academy wanted to award him for his work over the years. A few years ago Sean Penn won for Milk over Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler. Rourke isn't exactly mr. warm and fuzzy which I think turned off many Academy voters. In my opinion, he gave the best performance and deserved to win Best Actor.
Sometimes Oscar gets it right. Hardly anyone had seen Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose but she ended up winning Best Actress. Her performance blew me away. It is still one of the best performances I've seen in years. Which brings me to my next point. Some believe the Academy needs to nominate more Blockbuster type movies because ratings continue to fall for the Oscar telecast. I strongly disagree with this. It sounds to me like some want to dumb down the Oscars. Did anyone really think Avatar was a better movie than the Hurt Locker? May the best man, women, or movie win. See ya at the movies.
November 22, 2010
I grew up near Plymouth Massachusetts, the site of the first Thanksgiving feast. I will tell you Plymouth Rock is very overrated, a big disappointment actually. However, the town gets you in the spirit for Thanksgiving, a holiday I have fond memories. Watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is one of my favorites. Kermit is still my favorite balloon. Up north, we tend to play high school football games on Thanksgiving. I was in the marching band and one year we performed in a full blown snowstorm. Brrrr.
I don't have any recent Thanksgiving memories. It is hard to celebrate when you are in the news business. We don't have time to go home because many of us have to work the next day. I feel the bigger problem is the fact Thanksgiving seems to get lost in the shuffle. Christmas has overtaken Thanksgiving. Stores have already decorated, some people have already put up their trees, and don't get me started on the Christmas music format on the radio.
I say the solution is to move Thanksgiving. Maybe back a few weeks. I don't think it would hurt. According to some website, the first Thanksgiving happened someone in the fall so we wouldn't be insulting the Pilgrims by moving it. It never made sense to me that we have to see our inlaws on Thanksgiving and then again a few weeks later for Christmas. Also it sucks to be a college student. You have to buy a plane ticket home for just a few days (waste of money) and then have to fly home again a few weeks later for winter break. That is a lot of money. Ok, there are my arguments for moving Thanksgiving. Anyone agree?
November 17, 2010
There's a lot people don't understand about the news business. That is partly our fault. We don't do a good enough job of explaining what we do or why. So I've come up with a list of media myths. Hopefully this will clarify some of the things we do. These are in no particular order.
Media Myth #1-we can't say Merry Christmas on the air
Every year I have somebody ask me whether there is a rule at channel 7 that says we can't say Merry Christmas. I have the same response. I am not aware of any such rule. I've never had anyone here at WDBJ-TV tell me I can't say Merry Christmas on the air. Yes, our holiday promos tend to say Happy Holidays but on Christmas Day, we say Merry Christmas.
Media Myth #2-we hate the competition
I recently had two people say to me "I know you don't get along with the newspaper." They were referring to the Roanoke Times. My reaction both times was, "huh?" We are not at war with the Roanoke Times. For that matter, I don't hate the people over WSLS. Yes, they are competitors and it is always nice to scoop them but it's a business, it's not personal. At times, both do things that I don't agree with and I don't respect but I wouldn't say we hate each other. When we see reporters from our competition out in the field, we often say hello, sometimes even tell a few jokes--usually at my expense.
Media Myth #3-all we cover is bad news
This one annoys me the most. We hear it all the time, "you only cover bad or negative news." My response? Are you actually watching our news? We hear this especially when it comes to education. This one dumbfounds me because we cover plenty of good news at our area schools. I think people just choose to remember the bad ones. For every so called negative news story, I could find in our archives a positive story from that school or that school system. I realize educators have a tough and sometimes thankless job but our job is not to be cheerleaders for a particular school system. We are going to cover the good, bad, and the ugly. If a teacher or student gets into trouble, we are going to cover it. With that being said, could we do a better job of covering positive education stories? Absolutely. If you know of a good story at your school, let me know. Just keep in mind there has to be a hook. We are not going to cover the bake sale for the cheerleaders. I know the bake sale means a lot to the cheerleaders, but it is not news.
Media Myth #4-conservatives can't get hired in this business
I watch FOX News a lot. Their hosts often complain about the liberal news media. I think they are right to a degree, there are a lot of liberals in the news business. In my opinion, it is more prevalent on the national level than the local one. I've never had anyone tell me to cover or slant a story a certain way. Here's a simple solution. Encourage more conservatives to get into the news business. Wait, I know what you are going to say. They will never be hired. I am going to let you in on a secret. I've interviewed at several stations and I've never been asked about my political beliefs. There is no limitus test. I have friends who work at other stations in other parts of the country and they too have never been asked about their politics. So to say a conservative can't get hired is just ridiculous.
Media Myth #5-we favor Virginia Tech over UVA
This one is probably going to get me nowhere but I will try anyway. We get calls and e-mails all the time from people complaining that we favor Virginia Tech over UVA. This is so untrue (pause to let you roll your eyes). The reason we cover Virginia Tech more than UVA is because Virginia Tech is actually located in our viewing area. Charlottesville is a separate media market. Our news isn't even shown in Charlottesville. With that being said, we cover most, if not all of UVA's homegames. We don't have the money to cover all their away games. By the way, this is true of Virginia Tech's away games. We will cover some of them if they are within a day's drive. I didn't go to VT, or UVA. My college didn't even have a football team. I am a Virginian so I cheer when Virginia Tech wins and I cheer when UVA wins. I have no favorites. I realize this won't end the argument but I wanted to give you my two cents anyway.
November 8, 2010
A lot of people are talking about Keith Olbermann's suspension from MSNBC so I've decided to weigh in. Olbermann, the host of Countdown, was suspended for making political donations to three Democratic candidates without permission from the head of the news division.
My opinion is Olbermann broke the rules and should be punished. The left is complaining because Sean Hannity, a host for FOX News, has apparently donated thousands to Republican candidates and hasn't gotten into trouble. FOX News does not discourage such donations. MSNBC does and so it's clear Olbermann broke the rules. Even if he didn't violate any policy, Olbermann should have disclosed on the air that he made those donations, especially because he interviewed some of the recipients on his show. I feel Sean Hannity should also be made to disclose his contributions if he interviews his recipients on his show.
As journalists, it's a big no no to get involved in politics whatsoever. I don't donate to political campaigns. I don't go to political rally's, unless I am working. You will never find a political sign outside my home. You could make an argument that Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity are not journalists. They are talk show hosts/commentators. I don't think anyone is surprised that Olbermann is a liberal, or Hannity is a conservative. The problem is Olbermann has anchored MSNBC's election-night newscasts so it wouldn't surprise me if people confuse Olbermann as a journalist. To FOX's credit, the network does not allow commentators like Hannity or Bill O"Reilly anchor on election night. The lines are so blurred these days. That is why I think Olbermann's punishment was appropriate. He should have known better.
October 25, 2010
Juan Williams vs. NPR
I've watched with amusement the coverage of Juan Williams' firing from NPR. A little over a week until the election, and this is getting all the media's attention? Really? But it is getting a lot of play and a lot of people are talking about it so I am going to weigh in.
Williams is the commentator/journalist who was fired from NPR after he made some comments on FOX News. Williams said he gets worried when he boards an airplane and sees people dressed in Muslim garb. I see Williams' point to a degree. If I boarded an airplane, and saw someone wearing Muslim garb I think it would cross my mind. I am not saying it is right but it's how I and a lot of Americans feel. Williams was quick to point out it's not like he leaves the plane. While I agree with Williams somewhat, let me turn the tables on him for a moment. How would he feel if someone went on the air and said I cross the street when I see an African American walking my way because I am afraid they are going to rob me? Imagine the outrage.
Williams feels NPR fired him mainly because he works for FOX News. I agree with him. NPR says he didn't follow the rules. Williams was apparently a journalist covering hard news for NPR. He was a commentator/analyst for FOX News. The problem is the lines have blurred considerably over the last few years. A decade ago, a journalist would rarely give their opinion. Today, a lot of them blog. It's expected of them. Hey, look at me. What am I doing? I am blogging. FOX News also helped create this movement. Look at Bill O'Reilly. He does commentary/news. A lot of people consider him to be a traditional news anchor. So when NPR says it fired Williams because he didn't follow the rules I don't buy it. Something tells me a lot of people at NPR could be fired for giving their opinions.
This whole journalists giving their opinion thing has created a slippery slope. On the one hand, our business has encouraged journalists to give their two cents. And then our business turns around and fires Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez for giving their opinion. I am not defending those two. What they said was out of line. But I think may be we should go back to journalists just reporting the news/facts and stay away from giving their opinion.
The bottom line? I don't think NPR should have fired Williams. If NPR felt he was wrong or out of line, couldn't executives just pull him into an office and give him the riot act?
October 19, 2010
Public Eye/Private Lives
Being on tv means I am in the public eye. Many call us celebrities. I call myself a journalist who happens to be on tv. We've all grown used to people coming up to us in public, at the grocery store or a restaurant. I am friendly most of the time. I say most because once a guy came up to me in the grocery store after I just had oral surgery and I was in no mood to talk. But we realize we are in the public eye so we have to interact with the public. It comes with the territory.
But that doesn't give people the license to be creepy. Increasingly I am finding viewers are asking me about some of my female colleagues. Are they single? Do they have a boyfriend? That is none of your business.
I once had a guy come up to me and make some sexual remarks towards a female anchor who once worked at WDBJ. Not only is she my colleague, she is my best friend. I explained to him that I thought of her as my sister. He then said he was just joking. In his mind, he thought I should help him out because we are both men. Like some kinda brotherhood. If you are going to make some inappropriate remarks about a woman, why would I turn around and help you get a date with her? I wouldn't be a good friend by hooking her up with a sleazeball. Remember, I am a journalist, not a pimp.
This week, I had a guy email me twice on facebook asking about two of my female colleagues. He wanted to know if they are single. I've never met this guy. Why would I tell you that? Why do you think it is ok to e-mail me and ask about their personal lives? I never responded. I had another guy e-mail this week to tell me how hot one of our anchors are.
Some people take it to more extremes. A few have sent some of our anchors underwear in the mail. Really dude? You think she is going to want you after you send that. Then there are the stalkers. I had a friend who was stalked by a viewer. It freaked her out. The guy sent her sexually explicit pictures in the mail, even showed up at public events to talk to her. She was so afraid of him she had to take out a restraining order. No one should have to live like this. Yes, we live in the public eye but again it doesn't give you the right to be a creep.
October 14, 2010
It's Halloween again. Time for candy, costumes, and trick or treating. Wait. Does anyone really trick or treat anymore? I mean walk door to door, neighborhood to neighborhood. Many of my friends say they don't get as many trick or treaters like they once did.
That is sad and I think it is partly the news media's fault. We've turned Halloween into a dangerous holiday. Most of the stories every Halloween are about child molesters and the dangers your children face because of them. Don't get me wrong. I am not defending child molesters. They get what they deserve. My concern is the degree of danger. Do children have an increase chance of being kidnapped or raped on Halloween? If so, prove it with facts. Are there actual cases where a child has been violated on Halloween? How many? Were than any higher than any other night of the week?
I don't want to belittle the danger. It's there. It could happen. You have to be careful. But I hope the news media isn't just scaring folks for the sake of scaring folks. I think a little more research will go a long way in convincing me Halloween is dangerous. With that being said, parents should go trick or treating with their kids. Go in groups. Most importantly, have fun. Isn't that what Halloween is all about? That's why I remember it from my childhood.
September 29, 2010
Rape/Sexual Abuse Victims
If you turned on your tv today, you probably saw the interview WAGA-TV out of Atlanta did with one of Bishop Eddie Long's accusers. Four men are suing Long accusing him of sexually abusing them. Long has denied the allegations. The interview with the alleged victim is now being aired on news outlets across the country. It certainly got my attention.
I have several problems with this interview. For one, many news organizations don't publish or air the names of alleged victims. This goes for cases of sexual abuse and rape. You could argue the four men have filed a lawsuit and therefore are publicly coming forward. Fine.
Here's my big issue with the interview and I base this only on what actually aired since I don't know the inner workings of WAGA's newsroom. From what I saw from their story, it's obvious they ambushed the alleged victim. They flew to Colorado and caught up with the accuser as he walked out of a grocery store, cameras rolling. The reporter approached the accuser and just started asking him questions. From the video, the accuser looked surprised. WAGA made clear in its report the accuser didn't want to talk at first but eventually changed his mind. Why couldn't the station just approach him outside of the grocery store and ask him for an interview. Why did they have to do it with cameras rolling. That is an ambush and I think that is wrong. The station will probably justify it by saying he eventually agreed to do the interview. That still doesn't make it right.
I asked News 7's managing editor whether we would ever do something like that. Mike Redding told me probably not. Redding told me the only justification for it would be if law enforcement gave us a strong indication that an accuser was lying and the accusations were false.
Shame on these national news organizations for now airing the ambush interview. They should know better since they themselves probably would never do it. I am sure they would argue that someone else did the interview. I say you are condoning this inappropriate practice by now airing it yourself.
September 14, 2010
I've used the n word
Race is a topic that has always fascinated me. It amazes me how much of a issue it still is today. I grew up in a different era. I wasn't around for the civil rights movement. I think whites sometimes don't get it. A friend of mine, who is black, recently told me how she is often followed around in stores just because she is black. I've never experienced that. With that being said, I think some in the black community are still living in the 50's and 60's. The Rev. Sharpton's of the world are always quick to go in front of the cameras and label someone a racist. My point is everyone sees race differently and there are no easy answers.
Recently, Virginia Senator Jim Webb reignited the race debate by calling for the end of most affirmative action programs in the federal government. He wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Do yourself a favor, read what he said fully. Don't rely on news accounts. Affirmative action was a big issue at Virginia Tech back seven years ago. After reading Senator Webb's editorial, I decided to research to see whether Virginia Tech's minority enrollment has gone up or down since 2003.. We discovered something interesting. Virginia Tech's overall minority population has increased in the last few years, but it's black population has decreased. News 7 has produced a two part series to examine the reasons why. This topic was very touchy with the PR folks over at Virginia Tech but I found administrators at Tech were candid and upfront about the problems the university faces.
While researching this story I remembered an incident from my childhood. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. There was an African American girl named Casey who lived across the street from us and we often hung out. One day, we were playing in the sandbox in my backyard. We ended up getting into a fight, although I don't remember what it was about. For some reason, I grabbed a nearby pitch fork and called Casey the n word. She was terrified and for good reason. You see Casey was deaf and didn't know exactly what was happening. 25 years later, I can still remember the look of horror on Casey's face. It haunts me today.
I don't know why I used that word that day. The weird thing is my parents weren't racists and I don't think I had ever heard that word before. Where did I pick it up? I am not sure. But I knew immediately when I said it, I was wrong. I don't know what happened to Casey. We moved out of the neighborhood a few years later. If I saw her today, I would apologize again and give her a hug. I am so ashamed of what I said to her. I tell you this story for a reason. I don't consider myself a racist. However, I am not perfect and I've made mistakes. I hope you will watch our two part story about diversity with some sensitivity and it will get you thinking.
September 8, 2010
Now that Labor Day has come and gone, the political season is upon us. I have to admit I hate covering politics. Despise and loathe are more like it. For one, most politicians never really answer your questions. They have talking points and they stick to them. This goes for Democrats and Republicans and they include politicians on the local, state, and national level.
The worst thing to cover is a presidential political rally. Everything is scripted, staged, and controlled. The candidates often have handlers who watch us like hawks. I've actually been to rallies where the handlers have told us point blank we are getting nowhere near the candidate to ask questions. They want you to use everything from the podium which of course is scripted. It is all about controlling the message.
I must also admit I don't think the news media really covers politics well. We focus mainly on the controversies and the fireworks, not the actual issues. How many times have you watched a newscast after a debate and the only thing you hear from the candidates are the jabs at one another? You rarely hear what they actually stand for. If you watch the all cable news channels, the commentators always seem disappointed when there are no fireworks during a debate. What is the point of debates? Are they suppose to be entertaining or informative? I think it should be informative.
I believe the news media also relies too much on polls. There are so many out there. Some who conduct the polls have an agenda. It's gotten to the point you don't know who to trust.
The thing I hate the most about the political season is the ads from the candidates. The claims in the ads are often outrageous. Some are lies, many only tell half truths. The problem is research shows negative ads work. It's unfortunate. To me, these ads are more for the entertainment value than the informative. Negative ads are a huge turn off to me. In fact, one year I chose not to vote for any of the candidates in a particular race because I felt both ran too many negative ads. Some will claim I wasted my vote but not voting. I don't see it that way.
Ok, there you go. Another blog from yours truly where I criticize the profession I love so much. I guess I am a little grumpy.
August 17, 2010
Laugh a Little
I've noticed my blogs have been so serious lately. It's time for a few laughs, even if it is at my expense. In my 12 years in the TV news business, I've met plenty of characters and famous people. I've also had some embarassment moments. They would make for a great memoir but let's face it I won't ever be famous or popular enough to write one. So let me share some of these stories in my blog. Enjoy!
1. While in college, my friend and I interviewed this couple at their home. We had been goofing off in the car so when we arrived I turned to her and said "ok let's try to act professional." I then get out of the car and trip on the curb, falling flat on my face. My friend turned me and said "yeah Justin, let's try to act professional."
2. I've met Jerry Springer twice in my career and both times he was actually very nice.
3. While in college, I interned at a TV station in Boston. A local radio station was throwing a St. Patty's Day party and I was sent to cover it. The station executives and the DJ's thought I was an actual reporter and let's just say they were kissing my butt left and right. Well, it just so happen a guy I worked with at my part-time job saw me there and mentioned it to the DJ's that I was only an intern. On the ride home we were listening to that station, when the DJ chimed in and said "you mean the guy wearing the Tom Brokaw trenchcoat is only an intern?"
4. Also during my college years, I met Dan Rather at a convention. When I told him my name, he gave me a firm handshake looked me in the eyes and said "Justin, that is a real strong name."
5. I once interviewed a woman at a grocery store. She turned to me and said "If I knew I was going to be on tv today, I would have worn my teeth." Try keeping a straight face when someone tells you that.
6. I was interviewing a woman at her house one time and my photographer discreetly points to the television. On top of the TV, there was a framed picture of her wearing red lingerie.
7. While a senior in college, we made a trip to Washington D.C. We got to go to a briefing at the White House. That room is much smaller than you realize. We also went to a taping of ABC's This Week which at the time was hosted by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. After the show, we met with Donaldson in his office. About a half hour into it, out of nowhere he stands up and says "I have to go tape a promo. I will be right back. While I am gone, rifle through my things." We sat there stunned.
8. One time we arranged to interview Matchbox 20 before the band performed in Roanoke. When we arrived, the PR person informs us Rob Thomas won't be doing the interview. Of course that is who we were hoping to talk to. Five minutes later, who walks in but Rob Thomas. It was a huge surprise and he was very funny.
9. At my first job in Missouri, I was what we in the business call a one man band. It means the reporter shoots and edits their own video. The army had arranged for us to go up in a helicopter. They strap me into one where the entire side is missing. I should mention I am afraid of heights and I get motion sickness really easily. I didn't want to tell the pilots because I decided I was going to be a man. Well, about 30 minutes into it about to throw up, I finally said something. They laughed at me all the way back to the landing pad. Thankfully I didn't throw up but came very close.
10. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Dick Cheney visited Fulton Missouri and we got a one on one interview with him. He walks in and says "I feel sorry you have to run your own camera." Remember I was a one man band. I jokingly said to him I usually make people say and spell their names into the camera. Without missing a beat, he says D-I-C-K C-H-E-N-E-Y. He was a good sport.
Ok, you can stop laughing now!
August 11, 2010
If you blinked you probably missed it but Tuesday night on the CBS Evening News they mentioned the government now feels most of the recent problems with Toyota's cars were actually driver error. Black boxes reveal in a lot of the cases the driver's foot wasn't even on the pedal when accidents happened. WHOA. That is big news but the story was only twenty seconds and was towards the end of the newscast. Wasn't this the lead on many newscasts months ago when the problems came to light? Out of fairness, shouldn't it be higher up in the newscast? Or the front page of the newspaper?
I hate editorials. I rarely read them. I don't need someone to shape my opinion about someone or something. I think newspapers should stop doing them. Here's why. I don't think the average reader realizes the news department and the editorial department are separate. The editorial department doesn't walk down the hall and tell the news department how to cover a story. Just like here at News 7, the sales department doesn't tell us what to cover and how to do it. By having editorials, I think newspapers often get their reputation for either being liberal or conservative. I just don't feel there is any use for editorials anymore.
This next rant deals with silliness. I watch a lot of cable news. I watch all of them. FOX News, MSNBC, and CNN. It is clear FOX and MSNBC are two different news organizations and they clearly don't like each other. How do I know this? Personalities on both networks tell us almost every night what the other is doing. They often call each other names. It's gotten so frequent and so mean spirited I say enough is enough. It's petty and I think it is very childish. This goes for both MSNBC and FOX.
I want to end on something positive. I want to give News 7 a pat on the back for not giving ourselves a pat on the back. Last weekend, it appears News 7 was the only tv station to have video from the car crash on Route 460 that killed a Liberty University professor and her son. In our editorial meeting, we debated do we say that on the air, "News 7 was the only one there" or do we call it an exclusive. In the end, we decided because two people died this wasn't the time to do that. I am glad News 7 went this route and it is one reason I like working here. We are not going to do something just because the tempetation is there or because we know our competitors would have done it if they were in this situation.
August 4, 2010
Common Courtesy/Conspiracy Theories
I've been wanting to write this for awhile but I've been reluctant. I don't want to come off as holier than thou or a hypocrite but two recent incidents forced me to complain. I've been amazed how rude and angry people have been lately. Let me give you a few examples.
I was recently at the City Market Building in downtown Roanoke. This guy came up to me and ranted how no one in Roanoke knows that Lee Plaza is dedicated to our veterans. He feels that is the news media's fault. He then said over and over again WDBJ had an obligation to put it on the news every night and the network news. I heard him out but he became so persistent that I had to walk away. Less than five minutes later, he came up to me again and started all over again. This gentleman, who is a World War II vet, may have a point. We should honor our vets but he was so rude I couldn't take him seriously.
This week this woman called to say FOX News wasn't coming in clearly on her TV. She thinks it is a conspiracy, that someone doesn't want her to watch Glenn Beck. I explained to her that she needed to call her cable company because it was probably a problem on its end. She yelled "you are obviously a liberal" and slammed the phone down. Btw, several stations including CNBC weren't coming in well so it wasn't just FOX News.
I also recently got an e-mail from a guy questioning why we ran a particular story. He said he was "suspicious" and wondered if someone told us to cover this story. I hear this every once in awhile. People think a politician or a government official order us to cover or not cover a certain story. In my twelve years in the news business, this has never happened. It wouldn't matter if they did. We don't allow politicians or a government official tell us what to cover.
I am writing this hoping to convince you not everything we do in the News 7 newsroom is based on an X Files episode. I also realize when many of you call or e-mail us you are angry but there's no need to swear, yell, or hang up the phone. If someone called you up and started screaming what would you want to do? You would probably hang up the phone yourself. There's a saying "kill them with kindness." I also remember my parents often saying when I was a kid "do unto yourself what you would do unto others." It still rings true today even for me.
July 29, 2010
You can't help but feel sorry for the families of the two firefighters who died in a car accident in Rocky Mount. Your heart also goes out to the Rocky Mount Fire Department. While News 7 has received a lot of praise for our coverage, we have received a few complaints.
Several e-mailed us upset that we ran video of the accident site where you can see a white sheet covering part of the fire truck. They felt it was inappropriate and insensitive. The sheets are usually put up to block our cameras and the public's view of the victim's bodies. We traditionally do not show dead bodies or blood on the news. For some reason, people think we do. We are not CSI or Law & Order. We as reporters do not have any desire to see a dead body in person, and we have no desire to show it on tv.
Sometimes we show a body if it's in a body bag. In that case, the body is covered. There is no set policy however. We take it on a case by case basis. We typically have lengthy conversations and debates in our editorial meetings on what video to show and what not to show. For example, just the other day we debated how much we should air of Jack Roush. He is the NASCAR driver injured in a plane crash. The video clearly showed his face covered in blood. We aired it on News 7 at 11. At noon, we edited the video and only broadcasted a small portion of it. The reason? You have two different audiences and at noon there's a good chance small children could be watching.
Back to the Rocky Mount crash video, News 7's news director reviewed our video after receiving several complaints. She determined what we showed was appropriate. I agree with her. We didn't show any body parts or blood, just a white sheet. With that being said, I don't know if showing a white sheet added to our coverage at all but I don't think it was inappropriate. People are certainly upset right now and are grieving. We understand that but I don't think in this case the news media was being insensitive.
July 23, 2010
Two Roanoke City Council Members have recently made headlines. A state audit found Sherman Lea used his state issued vehicle for city business. David Trinkle hasn't been paying his meal taxes on time for the two restaurants he owns. Both stories got a lot of play on TV and in the newspaper. What you may not know is how we found out about these stories.
In both cases, they were anonymous letters sent to News 7 and I assume to other news organizations. I am always suspicious of anonymous letters. Obviously, you don't know who they are and more importantly what their motive is. Do they dislike Trinkle and Lea? Do they not like their politics or is it more sinister? Are they trying to hurt their chances of running for higher office? We may never know because the letters were unsigned. We don't even know if the same person sent both letters. It could be two different people.
Some may say we shouldn't air these stories because they were from anonymous letters. I can assure you we've had that very debate in our newsroom. In the end, I think it came down to this. In both cases, the information was right and I believe both were newsworthy. Rules are rules and I think you should know when our politicians don't follow them.
The reality is we wouldn't be in business if it weren't for tips. But it does make me uncomfortable that we keep getting anonymous letters targeting Roanoke City Council Members. Who is next? If we get another one of these letters, News 7 and other news organizations need to seriously consider not running a story. I promise you we will have that debate if that day arrives. Our decision would be easier if the information wasn't so good.
July 16. 2010
Truth in Advertising!
It seems every-time I turn on the news these days, someone is touting an exclusive. I laugh because often times it really isn't. To me, an exclusive is something no one else has or no one else is going to get. Case in point? During the oil spill crisis, CNN was recently calling its interview with T. Boone Pickens an exclusive. Far from it. I interviewed Mr. Pickens when he came to W&L last year. He is more than happy to talk about his oil plan and you often seen him all over the media doing just that. There really was nothing exclusive about it.
This week one of our competitors was touting an exclusive with Senator Mark Warner. Again, not an exclusive. Here is the back story. First of all, it was a satellite interview and Senator Warner's office paid for it. His people called us asking if we wanted the interview. We declined. I am not sure our competitor knew this so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I've interviewed Senator Warner many times over the years and he is never shy about talking on camera. Is an interview with him really ever an exclusive?
On Monday (July 19th) News 7 will have an interview with the new principal at William Fleming High School. Our promotions people asked if we can call it an exclusive. I told them no. As far as I am aware, we are the only ones who have so far asked him for an interview. If he said to me "Justin I am only going to talk to you" then sure we could call it an exclusive. But he didn't and we are not going to do it.
July 13, 2010
Controversy over the word "controversy"
This woman called to complain and since I answered the phone I decided to hear her out. She was upset because we apparently referred to Congressman Tom Perriello as controversial. She felt that was an editorial comment because she doesn't believe he is controversial. I explained to her in some people's minds, like members of the Tea Party, he is. She then went off on a rant about the Tea Party. She is obviously a Democrat or a liberal, take your pick. Because of that, I originally dismissed her complaint. But then I got thinking and wondered if she has a point. For a moment, take the politics out of it. If you are a Democrat, you think a Republican politician is controversial and if you are a Republican, you think a Democratic politician is controversial. What makes someone controversial and who decides it? We the news media? Therefore, maybe it is somewhat an editorial comment to label someone controversial. I don't think we should ban the word when talking about politicians but maybe we shouldn't use it as much. This goes for Democrats and Republicans. What do you think?
July 7, 2010
This month I am going to pay off one of my student loans. Yay! Certainly it is a relief but it also has me thinking a lot about my college days. I loved living in Boston. I met a lot of interesting and different kinds of people during those four years. I truly miss it at times.
I strongly feel everyone (ok maybe not everyone but most people) should go to college. Yeah yeah, I know what some of you are going to say. Not everyone is college material or some can't afford to go to. I think that is baloney. Hear me out.
Yes, college is expensive, too expensive but it is a great investment. I came from a middle class home but I paid for most of my education. I did it through student loans. It hasn't always been easy making those monthly payments but remember interest rates on student loans are typically low. I borrowed close to $50,000 but I have no regrets. It was well worth it. If you want to go to college, do it. Don't let the cost prevent you.
As for the argument college isn't for everyone, I don't believe that. I was born sick, really sick. I had a brother who died before me of the same condition. I was on a monitor for the first two years of my life. The doctors told my parents if I survived I would probably be hanicapped. Thankfully they were wrong. However, I am not innately smart. If you put a number in front of me and ask me to turn it into a percentage I couldn't do it. If you saw my SAT's scores, you would think I was dumb. But here's what I do have, a strong work ethic. I worked really hard in college to get where I am today. If you want it, you can get that degree. I am proof it can happen.
Back to making that last student loan payment. I've saved every payment stub from the last 13 years. I have two large folders. I've been thinking about what I should do with them. Burn them? Save them? Any suggestions?
June 29, 2010
We often get phone calls from frantic family members saying their child or someone they love is missing. The problem is, in a lot of these cases, they're not exactly missing, they've runaway or they don't want to be found. Our policy is we don't do stories like this unless the police ask us to. We let them guide us. They are the professionals. You will find this policy is standard at most tv stations. Unfortunately, trying telling that to the person on the other end of the phone isn't easy. They often get upset with us. Certainly, on the one level we feel for them. We want their child or loved one found as much as they do but I think our policy is a good one. If we were to do a story on every so called missing persons, you the viewer would become desensitize to it. Also, once you found out they ran away or didn't want to be found, after awhile you wouldn't take it seriously the next time we ran a story.
Also keep in mind once you get the news media involved we have an obligation to follow the story until the end, even if that means reporting that the person ran away or didn't want to be found. Often times, the family gets upset with us. I think that is unfair. You can't use the news media and then dispose of it when you don't like the outcome. As the saying goes, you made your bed, lie in it. I know this may sound harsh but I am hoping this blog will clear up any confusion.
June 24, 2010
"I can't fight it anymore"
I've been asked several times to do a blog. My reply is always the same "we'll see." There are several reasons for my reluctance. I think blogs have been good and bad for journalism. Too many bloggers post wrong information and many believe it. On the otherhand, some bloggers have broken legitimate stories, stories that put us lazy journalists to shame. I have other problems with blogs. I get paid to report the news, not deliver opinions. Does my opinion really matter? Do you really care? I guess we will find out!
So here it goes. I want to make my blog relevant. I don't think you care what cute thing my cat did or how much I love the Boston Red Sox. So I've decided to write about what I know best, the business I work in. I think many people have misconceptions of what we as journalists do. I've never run up to a grieving mother, stuck a microphone in her face, and asked her how she feels after losing her child. Many think we do that. Part of our problem is we don't explain ourselves so those perceptions linger. It is our own fault. I hope to change that. There are many things we as journalists do well, and quite frankly there are many things we do badly. I've come up with a list of things I hate about tv news.
1. "Just" don't do it.
I've noticed the latest trend in tv news, especially on cable news, is to overuse the word "just." Everything seems to be just happening, certain information was just released, or a reporter is telling us they just got off the phone with someone. What does that exactly mean? Was it a few minutes ago? A hour ago? What you'll often find is it happened several hours ago but if we were to say that, it would sound outdated.
2. Obtain nothing.
A lot of news organizations love to tell you that they've obtained certain documents. When you hear that, you think of a guy standing out from the shadows in a dark parking garage handing you a file from underneath his trenchcoat. It doesn't happen that way. Usually, it's just a matter of going down to the courthouse/etc and asking for documents that you yourself can request to see. That to me is routine journalism. Nothing has really been obtained. It's all about giving ourselves a pat on the back.
3. You are not stupid so don't act like it.
I like watching news with my family back home in the Boston area. My aunt said to me once I don't understand why you have to bend over live on tv and pick up snow. I've lived in New England all my life, I know what snow looks like. My dad told me he lost respect for a certain tv station when a reporter did a snow angel live on the air. I think they have a point. When you do stupid things like that, you look stupid.
4. Silly stories.
How many stories have you seen on tv that go something like this? Hidden dangers in your refrigerator and you don't even know it. Important information that could save your life. Such and such could kill you. Case in point? I was in a hotel recently with my dad in Baltimore. A station was promoting a story called "Diaper Dangers." My dad looked over at me and rolled his eyes. I am sure there are dangers in diapers that could hurt your baby, but what are the chances? I would be ok with the story if we were upfront about it. Tell us how many babies have been hurt because of these so called diaper dangers. Something tells me very little.
5. Common sense.
Why do newscasters have to remind us to bring our animals in when it is really cold? Why do I need to be reminded to drink plenty of water on a hot day? Why do I need to be reminded to have candles on hand in case the power goes out? What a waste of time in my opinion. News should be about providing useful information, not information that everyone should know.
Ok, those are five. I have more but you are tired of reading and I need more material in the future. If you have an issue/question about tv news, let me know. I will try to address it.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun