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Shocking local TV news ‘exclusive’: People don’t like cameras in their face

News crew attacked by Denny's employees

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Please take a moment to watch this “exclusive” report (above) from WGCL-TV in Atlanta. It shows employees of a DeKalb County Denny’s getting quite hostile and even a little violent when confronted by a reporter and videographer who walked into the restaurant recording video and audio. The comments I’ve read on social media have mostly been calling out or mocking the workers. I think this video says a lot more about the reporter and the TV news operation than it does the Denny’s staff.

Let me make it clear I don’t excuse the bad behavior of the employees. It’s quite possible those workers paid a price for their actions and are learning an important lesson about how to act when representing a business or even themselves. It would be nice if this TV station also learned a few lessons.

What you witnessed in reporter Adam Murphy’s story was not journalism. This was theater. Walking into an operating restaurant with a camera rolling and confronting the hostess and wait staff because of a failed health inspection is enormous overkill. My impression from watching this story and the raw video (posted near the bottom of the WGCL-TV story) is this ambush was the reporter’s first resort in trying to get an interview, when it should have been the last (or not at all, considering this is such an inconsequential story). What you saw is the equivalent of someone on the street walking into the middle of one of Murphy’s live shots because they wanted to talk to him that very minute about business they had with WGCL-TV’s news director or general manager.

If you’ve attended any of my presentations, you’ve likely heard me talk about ambush interviews by TV reporters. And I’ve written about them a few times on STATter911. I believe it’s a tool that should only be used when it’s the sole means available for getting an interview on a significant story.

The job of good journalism is to inform. To enlighten. To help the public understand the world around them. To arm viewers, listeners and readers with knowledge that can help them make important decisions in their daily lives. None of that occurred here. WGCL-TV didn’t tell us something we didn’t already know. The reporter didn’t uncover facts that weren’t already on the health department handout. This was hardly worthy of the label “exclusive”.

All this report showed is that people don’t like having a camera shoved in their face. In my TV news career, I had many, many people—including politicians, fire, police and EMS—react this same way when we were just shooting video outside, on a public street, and not ambushing anyone. I’m certain you could easily set up confrontations like this every day by just hounding people with a camera at a busy intersection and call such work “exclusive”. In fact, there are already people doing something similar. You may have heard the term “First Amendment Audit”. These are videos by citizens who entice law enforcement (and sometimes fire, EMS and other government workers) into confrontations. They do so by pointing cameras at them and walking inside the public areas of government buildings with a camera rolling. That’s basically what you saw here, except you can’t wrap this obnoxious display in some kind of greater good like defending the First Amendment.

Those Denny’s employees-or possibly now ex-employees–should have been better trained on how to deal with this situation, especially considering the number of times Denny’s has made news. The people working at WGCL-TV–in the nation’s 10th largest TV market–don’t even have have that as an excuse. They should know better. They should be reporting news and not creating a confrontation that turns their newscasts into a less entertaining version of “The Jerry Springer Show”.

NOTE: In the WGCL-TV news story, so he can’t be identified, they blurred the face of the child who was with a woman who gives the impression she was an off-duty Denny’s worker. When the station posted the raw video, no such effort was made and you clearly see the child.

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