I Spy Scandals In ATL Media

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There are two lovely, slaphappy, public office-related messes playing-out right now in Atlanta you won’t want to miss a moment of: the APS cheating scandal and Governor Deal’s trail of dubious dealings.

Thing is, the media attentions applied to both situations are so random and all-over-the-place it’s like Dick Cheney on a quail hunt; you never know where the shots are coming from, nor what they’re going to hit.

There is no clearinghouse of information, so you’re bound to miss something… if you’re not paying close attention.

Investigative journalism is an odd bird. Although news farms like to say they get their content from some pristine well of hard work, that’s not really the case.

Most get their news from the other news farm down the street. And most scandals erupt because people are gossipy tattletales and can’t keep a secret.

And sometimes people will even tell a journalist if they’re a hardcore whistleblower with stuff like paperwork to flaunt, and not just your common trash-talker over at Manuel’s.

But ultimately, it’s up to a near-solo, working journalist to keep the fires of an investigative situation burning… with loads of  seasoned skepticism and doubt mixed-in with better-than-yours sources.

Says longtime, Atlanta investigative reporter, Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered and the AJC :

The trick is to know your topic thoroughly, keep asking questions when things don’t add up, and sometimes even when they seem to. Focus on what people have done, not what they say they’ve done. And do not assume that the most likely explanation is correct, or at least 100% correct. There are nuances to everything.

Shifting gears slightly… familiarity and overuse come in handy. And brand-recognition in one’s market is a good thing. No one wants to tell their great dirt to an unknown fly-by-nighter only passing through town.

No, you want to get to someone with the long teeth and the resources to go look stuff up and analyze it for you. People are lazy, easily frightened, and would rather have someone else go through the trash then do it themselves, but I diverge…

The Cox Plantation has taken the lead, for a while now, on the APS cheating scandal. At the AJC (Dunwoody Journal as it’s now commonly called) they’ve thrown a motherlode of resources and data crunchers behind the effort; but again, investigative journalism is germinated by whisper and phone call, not really so much via mythical, magical powers of a whopping hunch had by some Jane Journo.

Regardless, the journo awards to AJC alone on the APS mess are piling-up. As well they should be.

The APS cheating story is hardly just a hardworking, data-crunching print story though, and WBS-TV’s Richard Belcher (and Mark Winne on occasion), have provided critical video elements. Some seemingly leaked from the state’s investigators looking into the matter.

Again, behind the scenes whisperin’ at play. And these particular APS investigator-whisperers love to take it ATL media old-school with Belcher and Winne over at the Death Star/WSB-TV.

Nothing gives you a better sense of a liar and a cheat than their demeanor in front of a camera, with that red record light on. Other than, of course, their attorney’s attempts at dishonesty or convenient little truths on their dubious behalf.

(Good luck finding a comprehensive place on WSBTV.com for the ongoing APS story, though. At one point there was a list of associated videos, but I’ll be damned if I can find it today. After 10 minutes of clicking around I just gave-up. UPDATE: Found it!)

Body language is always a sight to behold and wrinkle our judgemental noses at. So stick with the Cox TV products for the APS scandal. Others news farms chase Cox tail on this story, sometimes adding a nugget of new and interesting material, but not often.

WABE news gets APS officials on-mic when others don’t, but the folk they interview tend to spout the predictable party line they’ve been scripted to spout. (If they ever do otherwise, I’ll be sure to Tweet it for you.)

In other words, no one on the inside of the ongoing investigation is whispering in ears over at WABE news. And when you have to run a disclaimer saying you work at the behest of the APS after every single APS-related story, well…

Let’s just say the cheese gets moved ahead by other ATL media outlets, and not WABE. Although they’re great at a good recap when you need one.

Then in other TV news farm product… Dale Russell and the nicely-branded iTeam at WAGA are riding continual herd, beautifully, on Governor Deal’s desperation to prevent an investigation into pretty much everything he, the governor, did to get to be governor.

Such as removing the word *ethics* from the Georgia State Ethics Commission, and then having the board of the Now Whatever ethics org do his staff-gutting dirty work – just as the ethics office was about to hand-deliver, to the governor, a subpoena or three.

(The *i* in *iTeam* is, of course, not to be confused with the more contemporary use of the letter *i* for the word *interactive*, because interactive it’s not.)

In addition to WAGA and Jim Walls, who may have broken the ethics story on his site Atlanta Unfiltered (not sure), WXIA and Doug Richards there have been reporting very nicely on the governor’s ethics, or lack thereof, scandal.

(I think we can safely go to Level Scandal now with the Gov Deal ethics story. One good camera-shoving scene’ll put you there, in my media playbook. And they’ve already had one of that. Along with several key personnel scurry-aways caught on tape. The roach effect.)

As for online outreach and genuinely innovative interactivity, WXIA deserves a blog post devoted exclusively (such a tried ‘n true TV copy word, eh?) to what they’re doing on Monroe Place with Chris Sweigert and Jon Shirek (why is it always men-only?), which is very much Best In New Media Atlanta Show, but I’ll save that for some other time.

Fortunately, you can find a Channel 5 iTeam page fairly easily on the WAGA (I refuse to say all that My Fox Five bullshit) homepage, at the top navigation bar. Just look for the word iTeam. Not that their Georgia political investigative stories are in one nice, neat place, as they should be, but I won’t quibble.

Thanks to TV news farms’ investigative zeal, and the people who manage them, Governor Dubious Deal now has himself a Dale Russell problem. And as we know here in Atlanta political media, those do not end well.

Trust that Dale to keep the cameras rolling wherever he’s not welcome. Whew.

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