Wednesday, June 08, 2005

What Exactly is Going On Here?

There’s a brouhaha brewing, and it’s over everyone’s opinion of Kelly Gabriel. (If you've been following along and are already up to date, click here to go to the latest comments in the back-and forth: ours.) First, a recap of the events that brought us to this point:

On Sunday, MediaWatch posted an item on Gabriel.
WPTA-TV’s Kelly Gabriel is an exceptional television news reporter who is exactly right for Fort Wayne.

Ms. Gabriel mingles with her subjects, the high and mighty and the hoi polloi, never condescending to the latter, which allows her to get to the gist of stories in ways that other reporters (print and television) cannot, and do not.

Ms. Gabriel is a master gardener, and a master at understanding her assignments so that she gets the story that is the story.

We applaud this fine reporter and woman; a boon to local journalism indeed.
We read that item and disagreed with that assesment. Just to b, our beef was with MediaWatch – not Gabriel. Here’s what we posted in response:
MediaWatch, on one of its many blogs, reports that they think Kelly Gabriel is 21Alive’s “ace reporter.”

They’re wrong.

WPTA’s ace reporter, as anyone who watches their newscasts knows, is Jeff Neumeyer. It’s clear from his reports that he takes his job seriously, and pursues information like a print journalist. (That's a compliment.) He is his station’s best at reporting via live remote, which we think is the most difficult task for on-camera talent. Always calm, cool, and collected, he provides viewers the relevant facts, his only aid being his trusty reporter’s notebook.

So Gabriel is not WPTA’s ace reporter. Nor is she its second-best. That distinction belongs to Eric Olson for his 21 Country segments. Like the late Charles Kuralt, Olson has a knack for finding interesting people and places and telling their stories in a respectful, understated manner. It’s not an easy thing to do, but he makes it look that way.

Which brings us to Gabriel. Yes, she’s folksy. But she’s also forever stumbling over her words and projecting something other than intelligence. The way she comes off on camera undercuts her credibility as a reporter. In broadcast (as opposed to print) journalism, the delivery of the content is nearly equally as important as the content itself – that’s why physical appearance, demeanor and mannerisms are fair game for criticism. After all, Gabriel is the one who made the choice to be in front of the camera.

Here’s an example, from her most recent report, on the conclusion of the manhunt for George Bellio.

GABRIEL: After eluding police for four days, George Bellio was captured here near the corner of Spring Street and Lindenwood Avenue late Saturday night.

It is just six miles from a crime scene where witnesses say he beat a man with a metal pipe.

Because of the crime, he was considered armed and dangerous.

State and city police are assisting the county in an aggressive manhunt for him with dogs on the ground and helicopters in the air, but his capture was quiet...
Maybe referring to the manhunt in the present tense (in a story about the end of that manhunt) was just a slip-up, but Gabriel failed to correct it, and she's the one attaching her name to the story, so she's responsible for its content. Either she recorded the voice over and didn't notice the flub, or she did but decided it didn't merit correcting. Neither possibility is particularly flattering. (Nicole Hahn corrected it in the text of the story posted on WPTA's website, but Gabriel's gaffe remains in the online video.)

Gabriel has been at WPTA for three years and these kinds of mistakes are still quite common in her reporting. We note this not to embarrass Kelly, but to point out that MediaWatch is wrong in calling her an ace reporter -- and that by doing so, they're undermining their own credibility.
Then we noticed that Victor Locke, formerly of WPTA, posted a comment on the original MediaWatch item.
With Kelley Gabriel, what you see is what you get. She is charming, friendly and genuine. Above all, she's a hard worker, eager to learn, a stickler for detail and accuracy. I enjoyed the short time I was able to work with her. She's an asset not only to 21Alive but to the journalism community in general.
Again, we had a disagreement with Locke's characterization of Gabriel -- not a disagreement with Gabriel. So we added an addendum to our previous post.
It doesn't sound like she's a stickler for detail and accuracy to us...that was sort of the point of what we just posted. We don't necessarily disagree that she's "an asset" to the journalism community in general, but we'd like Victor to provide something to back up the assertion. Everyone seems to agree that Gabriel is nice -- but does being nice automatically qualify someone as an asset to the journalism community? We would hope it takes more than that.

(By the way, Victor now runs a voice over business, and WPTA is one of his clients. Does that mean he's got a conflict of interest when it comes to talking about Gabriel? Ask Todd Burlage!)
We emailed Locke a link to our post, because we thought he had a right to know what we were saying so he could respond if he wanted. He did.
Hi Nathan,

Thanks for pointing me to your observations regarding Kelly.

I stand by my comments regarding Kelly. I also agree with your observations about Jeff and Eric as well. It seems mostly you have taken issue with one word, "ace."

My posting was meant to be a compliment to a person who I learned, while working with her, is indeed a hard worker and sincere about her job. From my observations, she is not engrossed in "how" she looks or in "acting," while on the air as are most of today's TV journalists. Like I said, what you see is what you get, and in Fort Wayne that's what a lot of viewers identify with. That relationship can form a strong bond of credibility for an individual. There are many many network and major market anchor/reporters these days who also "stumble over words and project something other than intelligence." Some of Fort Wayne's best known radio and tv talents have stumbled, made errors etc. yet they were loved by their viewers or listeners. Something you'll learn in time, Nathan, is that before you can inform you need to have the attention of your audience. Otherwise, you might as well be talking to an empty room.

It's too bad you had to minimize what was meant to be a compliment from a former co-worker of Kelly's and someone with better than three decades in the business.

By the way, how long have you been a TV News Journalist? What was the last story you covered? When did you last do a live standup? When can we critique your performances/newscasts? When have you ever been "under the gun" to deliver at a moment's notice?

Lastly, it is true I do some voiceover's for WPTA, very occasionally. The last was several months ago. I am not on the payroll and they have no influence over my observations. Gimme a break!!! Can you be bought by a cup of coffee? Apparently so.

Bottom line: I found it pleasant MediaWatch for once was pointing out something positive, and thought I would add to Rich's observations. Too bad your observations had to approach it from the negative.
And so here we are. Now it's time for us to respond to Locke's comments, and of course he'll have the opportunity to respond to that response, and then we'll respond the that response, and get the idea.


Thanks for taking the time to respond to our post on MediaWatch and Kelly Gabriel. We always appreciate reader feedback (especially when the reader has been referenced in the post).

You say you stand by your comments regarding Gabriel. Okay. But that isn’t really a response to what we asked – namely, that you provide something to back up your assertion that she is “an asset not only to 21Alive but to the journalism community in general.” We also noted that the flub we detailed in our post seemed to disprove your statement that she’s “a stickler for detail and accuracy.” You didn’t refute that in your response.

You suggest that Gabriel’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get folksiness creates a bond that many viewers identify with. That may be true, but we don’t know that it is, and neither, we would guess, do you. So we asked a person with no experience in broadcast journalism (i.e., a viewer, who loyally watches 21Alive News) about that particular aspect of Gabriel’s on-camera persona. “There's a difference,” the viewer said, “between being genuine and being skilled in presenting the news.”

And that’s our point. We don’t care how nice a person Gabriel is. What we care about is how well she does her job. And we don’t think it takes someone with over three decades of broadcast experience to make a judgment on that. Insinuating that we’re not worthy of critiquing Gabriel (or anyone else) because we haven’t had a job as a professional news reporter, is something we find condescending and insulting. You’re welcome to attack our criticism, but not our right to criticize.

“Something you'll learn in time, Nathan, is that before you can inform you need to have the attention of your audience. Otherwise, you might as well be talking to an empty room.”

Spare us the lecture, Victor. We’ve been attracting the attention of a steadily growing audience ever since we started this blog a little over two weeks ago. More than a hundred and fifty people a day, from city and county government and the local newspapers and television stations keep coming back, which we think means we’re doing something right. It may not be huge, but we’ve attracted an audience, we’ve held onto it, and it's growing. We’re not talking to an empty room.

As for noting your voice over work for WPTA, we just wanted to inform our readers knew that there was still a (sporadic, as you noted) financial connection. As for the line about conflict of interest and Todd Burlage, well, every once in awhile we make a snarky remark, and that one qualifies. We weren't alleging a conflict of interest, just pointing out that the possibility existed. Full disclosure and all that. Did the Burlage comment go to far? Perhaps. We apologize for it, and wish we hadn't made it.

We're glad that you were heartened by reading something positive from MediaWatch, but we think you're wrong in saying that we approached our response to them from the negative. We approached it from reality. MediaWatch was wrong in saying that Gabriel was WPTA's ace reporter. They were wrong in saying that she is "a master at understanding her assignments so that she gets the story that is the story," and in calling her a "boon to local journalism."

We wondered on what basis you called her "an asset not only to 21Alive but to the journalism community in general," and we cited evidence that we think proves you were wrong in claiming that she's a "stickler for detail and accuracy."

Instead of responding, you attacked our ability to criticize because we've never been a TV journalist, we've never done a live standup, etc.

But you didn't prove us wrong.

UPDATE: Victor did respond.

Hi again Nathan,

Here are my final thoughts on your Kelly posts. I'm sure you'll have more to say.

I have three years of working with Kelly and observing her skills to back up my statement that she's a stickler for details and accuracy. What are your qualifications?

Your issue with her seems mostly to surround her use of one word, "are" versus "were."

I stand by my other comments.

Writing a blog is a far cry from gathering facts, obtaining interviews, writing a story, perhaps delivering it live, then editing it, meeting all deadlines. There's no backspace key when you're live. Give live TV a try sometime Nathan, and perhaps your harsh criticisms will soften somewhat. As I said, there are many many network and major market anchor/reporters these days who also "stumble over words and project something other than intelligence."

Exposing yourself and your work on a daily television newscast takes a lot more skill and opens you up to the possibility of much greater criticism than does sitting in the comfort of your home typing a blog.

I trust you'll have the last say!


And then I responded:

Thanks for responding, Victor.

Our qualification for judging Gabriel's reporting is three years of watching her report. We'll continue to disagree over whether she's "a stickler for details and accuracy." We don't think her reporting reflects your observation, and we used the are/were instance as an example of that. So far, you haven't provided any examples of her obsession with details and accuracy.

We get it that you think being a reporter is a hard job. We'll concede that it is. So what? That doesn't mean reporters are above criticism, or that anyone who hasn't been a reporter can't make a valid critique. The President of the United States has a hard job, too, (harder than being a reporter) and it's one you've never had. Has that kept you from criticizing the president? Does that automatically invalidate your criticisms?

And if live reporting is so hard, why is it that all of the other reporters at WPTA (those unworthy of being called the station's ace) seem to handle it just fine? We're surprised you're not rushing to compliment Janette Luu, Corinne Rose, and the queen of the summer festival live remote, Jane Hersha for their amazing ability to conquer such a difficult task.

Exposing yourself and your work on a daily television newscast takes a lot more skill and
opens you up to the possibility of much greater criticism than does sitting in the comfort of your home typing a blog.

Exposing yourself and your work does not involve skill; it's a choice. And it's one that Gabriel made when she decided to ask Don Bradley for a job. You're right -- that choice did open her up to criticism...but not from us, at least according to your flawed logic. We'd argue that we've opened ourselves up for criticism in much the same way. Instead of shying away from anyone judging our work, we're providing a forum for it.

Blogging is more interactive than print or broadcast journalism, and that means that we're being held accountable for what we say and how we say it. We disagreed with you, you disagreed with us, we both disagreed with the disagreements...and in the process, we had a discussion for all to see. And that's why you shouldn't assume that we'll have the last say. Anything we post, you can comment on.

Yes, it's our blog, but we're not controlling the medium. It's shared. And we appreciate you sharing it with us.

Here's the epilogue:

A reader posts this comment on our latest exchange with Victor Locke:

Can that please be the end of it? [Kelly Gabriel]'s a B-level reporter in a C-level city, not the subject of a master's thesis.
We agree that we're starting to talk in circles, and it's time for the discussion to come to a close. But we hope that it illustrates something important about Media Notes: we take your opinion seriously. When a reader writes in or responds to a post, we don't ignore it and we don't dismiss it, either. Our exchange with Victor was meant to clarify our position and better understand his.

We hope you know that your feedback will be taken just a seriously. If we think you're right, we'll concede that and make the necessary efforts to correct any mistakes we may have made. If we don't agree with you, we'll respectfully defend our position with evidence that supports it.

And, as we mentioned in the first days of this blog, our mission is not to get personal, but always be discussing the quality or veracity of the work -- our writing, your comments, local reporters -- and not attacking anyone. It's harder in television, when so much of a reporter's job involves the presentation of the news and not just the text of the story. And anything we wrote about Kelly Gabriel had to do with the quality of her work, not about her. We noted that we're sure she's a very nice person, as everyone seems to agree. We wish her luck when she moves on from the station later this summer.

Again, we appreciate reader feedback and look forward to receiving more as this blog grows. For as much as we criticize, we ought to be able to handle your suggestions and comments about how we're doing.

NOTE: Soon after this exchange, I decided I wasn't pretentious enough to keep referring to myself as "we" or "us," as if there was a group of me instead of only one. (Then I added some guest bloggers and there really was more than one of us!)

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