Local news directors react to Roanoke shooting: 'This one hits close to home'

By RODNEY HO/ originally filed Wednesday, August 26, 2015

At an Atlanta Press Club luncheon today, executives at all four local stations echoed the same theme after the tragic Roanoke shooting of two news employees on live TV this morning: sadness with a reminder of standard vigilance while on location.

“This one hit close to home,” said Jennifer Rigby, news director at NBC affiliate 11 Alive (WXIA-TV). “I do hold a little concern about a copycat. This person was determined to get attention. He posted video. He tweeted on his own Twitter account... We have to be vigilant.”

Larry Perret, news director at CBS46, said he sent a note out to staff telling camera crews to leave a scene if they don’t feel comfortable. “We just want to emphasize to be on guard,” he said.

Mike Dreaden, news director at Channel 2 Action News as part of the ABC affiliate (WSB-TV), said staff discussed the situation at the early morning meeting. “We’ve had cases where crews have been held up and equipment stolen,” he said. “We are already conscious of security issues. We are out here and visible and easy to identify. This reminds you how careful you have to be.”

A few weeks ago, a television camera operator was pistol-whipped during a live report in San Francisco. The thief made off with cameras from two different TV stations. A suspect was arrested a few days later.

Rachel Tobin, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and former Atlanta Press Club president who now works at Jackson Spalding, asked for a moment of silence for the deaths of  WDBJ7 photographer Adam Ward and WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker around 6:45 a.m. during a live broadcast near Roanoke. (Details of the tragedy here.)

Otherwise, nobody said anything as provocative as then 11 Alive news director Ellen Crooke in 2009 when she said local news "sometimes stinks." Since then 11 Alive has focused less on crime stories than their rivals and now uses the phrase "Holding the powerful accountable."

Perret, who joined perennial fourth place CBS46 less than a year ago, was amusingly self deprecating. When asked by Saporta Report's Maria Saporta about staffing challenges, he said his corporate bosses at Meredith gave him a greater budget to invest in news but wouldn't say how much staff he has now for competitive reasons.

Then he added, "Less than WSB," the long-time No. 1 station in town with the biggest crew in town. Pause as people chuckled. "A lot less." That garnered a bigger laugh.

(WSB lists 27 reporters, 10 news anchors, five meteorologists, two sports anchors on its site not counting two anchors emeritus still listed in John Pruitt and Monica Pearson. CBS46 has 26 total reporters and anchors listed on its site, 41 percent fewer than WSB)

In fact, nobody said they were cutting budgets and many have reclassified jobs with a greater focus on digital and social media.

Each station defined their missions. Channel 2, as usual, is the king of breaking news. Fox 5 prides itself on investigative work, as does 11 Alive. CBS46? Enterprise stories nobody else has in an effort to differentiate themselves though he admitted, "Easy to say, hard to do." He also hopes the new anchors and reporters they've brought in are "authentic and connect with people."

Read my story from June about CBS46's recent radical changes.

There were several questions about seeking stories that connect online via social media. Fox 5 news director Mike McClain said a recent video it posted of a man at the top of an overpass with an American flag honoring the Chattanooga shooting victims generated more than 10 million views. He said it was "very touching. Folks shared it. It's not just about creating TV content and pushing it out."

McClain also noted that Facebook is a major driver of social referral traffic, 10 to 1 over other sources.

Rigby said some stories show surprising legs. A crime story about a Conyers mother killed by her twin daughters generated huge traffic and is buoyed every time NBC or anybody else airs something about it.

The Press Club has held similar events in 2009 and 2013.

This is what I wrote in 2009.

Here was my recap of the 2013 event.

Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are both part of Cox Media Group.

I am part of the Atlanta Press Club board of directors.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.