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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

WXIA-TV’s tries to shake local TV news up by not being the other three stations

Paul Ossmann (left) and newly hired Jeff Hullinger at the WXIA-TV afternoon news meeting July 1, 2010. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Paul Ossmann (left) and newly hired Jeff Hullinger at the WXIA-TV afternoon news meeting July 1, 2010. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

“TV news stinks.”

A year ago, WXIA-TV News Director Ellen Crooke posted those provocative three words for a class of University of Georgia students. Local TV news tends to be “boring, repetitive, irrelevant and too depressing,” she told local blogger and former WAGA-TV news reporter Doug Richards, who she later hired. (Richards, a part-timer the past few months, has now gone full time at WXIA.)

WXIA's effort to be different

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Crooke, who came to Atlanta from Buffalo in 2008, ditched the often successful (yet often derided) “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality and has tried to make the station more user-friendly. And given the station’s position behind WAGA-TV and WSB-TV, taking risks is a prerogative.

“We at 11 Alive needed to distinguish ourselves from the pack,” Crooke said Friday by phone from Florida, where her daughter is at a gymnastics competition. “We’re trying to seek solutions, provide information people need now.”

She places editorial meetings online. She recently launched “Bull Fighters,” a focus on politics which includes former WAGA-TV sportscaster Jeff Hullinger, hired last month after eight years off local TV. She started a daily “Ways to Save” segment, led by Valerie Hoff. She’ll use significant chunks of the 11 p.m. news to focus on a single topic. She now has veteran anchor Brenda Wood doing an editorial “Last Word” on her 7 p.m. show, a feature abandoned by most local news networks decades ago.

b_wood1Wood’s Thursday “Last Word” was about how WXIA’s red-light camera investigation led to national scrutiny in Congress this week. This is self serving, true, but at least it’s a worthy cause:

Our colleagues’ work could very well influence new traffic laws for the entire country. We’re proud because the investigation focused on an issue that affects the us all that could have life and death consequences. We’re proud because they made us aware of a safety issue few of us have even thought about and now thousands are talking about. We’re proud our investigation was presented to Congress. Local television is powerful enough to have far-reaching implications on how we live our lives both here and across the country. Local news can still be relevant, investigative and informative andit should be a catalyst in our community that makes a difference. That’s what journalism is all about.

On Thursday night’s 11 p.m. news, WXIA ran fewer, more in-depth stories than its three rivals, ignored national stories and provided time for Hullinger’s political piece, a Bill Liss ID theft story and nearly four minutes on a human-interest story about a Calhoun man who lost his face to cancer. It skipped minor crime-related stories other networks mentioned. (I watched all four 11 p.m. newscasts July 1. All led with the same story about the UGA athletic director and his DUI arrest. WSB-TV tallied the most crime/accident-related stories. WAGA fed the most national news. WGCL-TV crammed the most story items in 35 minutes.)

WXIA’s strategy has yet to bear major fruit in terms of ratings. The station remains ensconced in third place behind perennial leader ABC affiliate WSB-TV and Fox’s WAGA-TV.

Crooke did note that morning numbers have shown signs of life this spring. “Mornings usually come first,” she said, then later in the day. She said viewers tend to be most habitual with their evening news, where NBC is usually a weak third.

But the station is gaining notice among peers. On June 25, WXIA-TV won nine news-related Southeast Emmys, more than any other station. A week earlier, it won a national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative work following federal stimulus money.

Many on the largely veteran news staff extolled the energy and purpose Crooke has given the newsroom. “I’m excited by her vision and leadership,” said Wood, who has been with the station for 13 years.

jaye_watson_biggerJaye Watson, 40, said she considered leaving the business a couple years ago, burned out by too many vacant house fires, hostage situations and murders du jour. Now that WXIA no longer chases every crime story, she’s given breathing room to work on stories she feels has more meaning such as school abuse of an autistic boy.

“Ellen shows us respect and is open to our ideas,” Watson said. “She’s a force.”

The fact she hired two hard-knuckle vets – Richards and Hullinger – indicates her priorities aren’t to keep costs to a minimum. “People are sick of seeing 12 year olds on the side of the road doing local news with no experience or background, no gravitas or edge to them. Doug Richards is this brilliant guy who feels exactly the same way.” (That’s why she has the guts to let him continue to write his popular “Live Apartment Fire” blog.)

nene-leakes-bv-5-720a090109Sure, some of Crooke’s efforts border on gimmicky. NeNe Leakes (right) of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” fame on sister station Bravo will be an entertainment correspondent later this summer for the morning show, with segments likely showing up on the reality show in the fall.  And Crooke has an affinity for cutesy names such as Center for Investigative Action (CIA) for her investigative team and Commuter Dude for pothole chaser John Gerard.

Randi Shapiro, a 47-year-old recruiter at Recruiting Specialists Inc. from Woodstock, admires the station’s effort at substance, gimmicks or not. “I give them a lot of credit for trying to stand alone when it comes to news,” she said. Her favorite bit is the morning show’s uplifting Random Acts of Kindness.

WXIA’s general manager John Deushane, wearing a T-shirt and shorts last Thursday to cook hot dogs and burgers for staff in celebration of the Emmy wins, said he used to compete against Crooke in Buffalo, her former haunt and “hated her” when her station started beating his.

Now, three weeks into his job at WXIA, he’s thrilled to have Crooke on the same team.

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91 comments Add your comment

B.L. E.

July 5th, 2010
1:20 pm

It is a great Idea. But; the only thing I do not like is the ” completely interactive ” part.
NEWS should never be Reality TV. We have enough of that already. We do not need
someone elses opinion including the networks opinions to augment the news. IT IS already
newsy enough. JUST limit the content to not so much junk; rapes murders and stuff
we do not want to hear about. Thanks

STH

July 5th, 2010
2:09 pm

If I still lived in Atlanta, I’d totally give WXIA a chance. I always watched WSB — I grew up watching Monica and Glenn and co. on channel 2. We were just a WSB family. But I do admit that all the crime and drama can get to you, and sometimes you want to hear something different. I might not watch WXIA every night but from the sounds of the changes they’ve made, I’d definitely want to give them a chance.

bulldog bubba

July 5th, 2010
2:34 pm

Keep up the good work WXIA!!!!

Stollie

July 5th, 2010
3:04 pm

I like WXIA with Brenda.
Glad Hullinger is there too.

Steve

July 5th, 2010
3:18 pm

I noticed they also hired Cheryl Lemke. I saw her on the air at 11Alive the other week and noticed her in the picture in the article. Good to hear they hired a veteran meteorologist compared to the air heads WGCL has.

JennyC

July 5th, 2010
3:36 pm

They don’t come any more professional or talented than Brenda Wood. She’s class, all the way.
And the whole team has stepped it up. Kudos. Keep up the good work!

Adam

July 5th, 2010
4:09 pm

I like 11 Alive – but I’m tired of them preaching to me about themselves. And Brenda Woods – please, send her to Syracuse or Allentown or some other small-town market that is a better fit for her. Her on-air presence (for example, last night’s fireworks display) is closer to a third year journalism student than a veteran in a market the size of Atlanta. The rest of the team on the nightly news is tops in Atlanta.

vuduchld

July 5th, 2010
4:31 pm

I lived in Atlanta for 22 years until last year and let’s be real here – it is what it is. Atlanta is a city filled with crime and some how dimidh that makes WXIA look like a rah rah TV station. There are positives in the city, but remember, if it bleeds, it leads.

Matt the Brave

July 5th, 2010
4:32 pm

For me, I don’t watch the news too often, but Fox 5 and WSB 2 have gotten old. Their weather (esp. at Fox) is rarely helpful or correct. What I’d like to see more of is an around the metro area segment that focuses on counties other than Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, or Forsyth.

COCOPOP

July 5th, 2010
4:45 pm

They might want to show reruns of The Rifleman. KAPOW,POW.POW.POW! Man, that is good stuff!

Josh M

July 5th, 2010
4:58 pm

“We’re trying to seek solutions…” The first thing I learned in journalism school was seeking solutions IS NOT A JOURNALIST’S JOB.

Mike

July 5th, 2010
5:03 pm

Perhaps there’s still a niche in the ATL market for a station that will do REAL news. I don’t care about car wrecks and shootings. If you’re “here to help me”, tell me about the budget cuts in the local schools or the financial struggles of MARTA and who’s doing what about it. Tell me more about the guys who tried to set up and bring down the Gwinnett Chairman. Thanks Val, but I don’t need a ten minute segment on how to clip coupons. I always feel like I need something salty after a half hour of 11 Alive News. Ted, dial back the syrupy sweetness just a tad, please!

STH

July 5th, 2010
5:04 pm

@Josh M: J-school is a joke these days. Welcome to the new journalism. The journalist’s duty has changed over the years.

Mike

July 5th, 2010
5:05 pm

Interesting demo 11 is pursuing also….a bunch of viewers who need the local TV station to “help them”. The only possible advertiser I can think of might be a Democrat politician,

aay what?

July 5th, 2010
5:41 pm

Though I applaud the more positive news, it is still necessary to add some of the negative news. I need to know of a murderer or rapist on the loose. i need to know where the police are, ans why I-285 merge with I-675 ramp on a hill slope is the SPOT for DeKalb police everyday. It is such a difficult merge and people slowing down because of the police presence on the bottom of a hill causes poor driver choices.

I am sick and tired of the loop every 15-20 minutes on WSB because I am not getting any real information. Expanding stories is a great idea, but report the tory more than once. I will give WXIA more of a chance.

Cynthia

July 5th, 2010
5:44 pm

I like WXIA-TV format. It’s fresh and mixes a variety of stories. I look forward to tuning in every evening. Keep up the good work!

Priceless, Accurate Observations

July 5th, 2010
5:47 pm

“….seeking solutions IS NOT A JOURNALIST’S JOB.”

“…a bunch of viewers who need the local TV station to ‘help them’”.

Great comments. It’s reassuring to know there ARE bright folks out there.

The Cynical White Boy

July 5th, 2010
5:52 pm

Hell, I could program the TV “news” every single night – here is the simple formula:

1. Apartment fire in Dekalb.
2. Somebody somewhere who abused an animal.
3. Somebody who said something who offended some minority group, who is demanding an apology.
4. Drive-by shooting after Hip Hop party or around 2 am outside some club in South side of town.
5. City of Atlanta employee who is paid over 100 k and does little, if anything.
6. It’s the (insert number) anniversary of somebody’s death of disappearance and police want your help.
7. (Usually lead story) Police “want your help” regarding (insert murder, or drive by shooting).
8. Buckhead sports bar has flat screens torn off the wall in latest smash and grab.

That’s about it!

The Nerd

July 5th, 2010
5:56 pm

The way I figured is this. No matter how suck the news are, you might as well watch “The Rifleman” reruns on channel 2.2!

Old School

July 5th, 2010
5:56 pm

I have watched Channel 2 News for over 50 years and have considered it to be in a class unto itself. But I must admit—as someone else noted—that it seems to have gotten to be stale, the same old, same old. Way too much emphasis on crime as far as the leads. Only the names change. You would watch the first 10 minutes of a Channel 2 newscast from last week and from 10 years ago and not be able to determine which one was from 2000 and which one was from 2010. Give Channel 11 a pat on the back for their new approach.

As for the clowns who “…Ask the Tough Questions.” Give me a break! That outfit is nothing but a local tabloid news show. And their on-air talent must have come straight from a elementary school talent show. And don’t get me started on the red-headed weather girl. If you tied her arms together she would be a mute. They can’t have fluff like her, but they can’t have a full-time sports department?!?! If you missed the Braves score, then you know that you won’t get it on WGCL at 11. This is a major sports city for pity sake and you have a major network affiliate that can’t cover sports for 2-3 minutes a night?!?!? I had a friend visiting from out of state who was staying at a hotel. He flipped on the TV to catch th 11 p.m. news, landed on WGCL, and was shocked that they didn’t have a sports cast. What a bunch of clows to the core!

Sorry, I digressed.

Drago

July 5th, 2010
6:01 pm

WXIA brings us news to second graders. Too much sap. Hullinger returning to the screen doesn’t help.

Joe

July 5th, 2010
6:15 pm

When I moved to Atlanta I was shocked by the news content and quality of the news programs. The mentality was, as mentioned on the post, “If it bleeds, it leads.” I turned off the news. I didn’t want to watch the crime after coming home from work every day. It was very depressing. I not here anymore, but I’m glad that someone is attempting to do something different. Kudos!

jd

July 5th, 2010
6:18 pm

I watch 11 alive for one reason…Paul’s muscles

TrafficHeadache

July 5th, 2010
6:21 pm

Channel 2 actually wasted five minutes of their 5 PM news covering the story of the Jonas Brothers canceling their Atlanta concert. Did we need to see a teenybopper’s Jonas Brothers shrine? Did we need to see tape of and hear squealing girls at a Jonas press conference? Channel 2, just how was this important to me?

Jen

July 5th, 2010
6:22 pm

It is such a nice change. I had quit watching local news, as apt fires and murders were just too much to take all the time. But, I like the change on 11 and watch often. I am also glad to see Jeff Hullinger again! Great job 11.

David

July 5th, 2010
6:29 pm

It’s all about Ratings folks it doesn’t matter what channel it is or if it’s Main Stream or Cable.

rollo santini

July 5th, 2010
6:37 pm

11 is getting better and better J.Hullinger is a very good addition to the team.

DoughBoy

July 5th, 2010
6:38 pm

This chick, Ellen, “is a force”? Give me a break. Try more like a farce. That station has been #3 since she got there and if anything has moved closer to #4 than #2. Are her bosses blind? She may be in charge so phonies like Jaye Watson and Doug Richards feel the need to brown nose, but sounds like she’s just throwing stuff at the wall and it ain’t sticking. Just sayin’…

Dilly Dally

July 5th, 2010
6:49 pm

Channel 11 would get higher ratings if they ran The Three Stooges instead of news. And, they would save a lot of money! We want the The Three Stooges on Channel 11.

Curly Howard

July 5th, 2010
6:51 pm

Put reruns of The Three Stooges on WXIA. My heirs need the residuals.

VP Joe Biden

July 5th, 2010
6:52 pm

Even someone like me who does not have a brain or cogent thought knows that The Three Stooges rule!

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

July 5th, 2010
6:52 pm

If I watched TV news, I’d give WXIA a try. I don’t, like most people under 40. Why would I, when hopping online gets me full access to the AJC, the smaller local papers, national papers, and even important international perspectives? Further, I can focus on what *I* want to see. I want to know more science/tech news, some political and entertainment news, and no sports news at all. I want to know what other countries are saying about the US. I want to know what the county commissions and state legislature are doing. I have ZERO interest in crime news unless there’s a criminal on the loose who is expected to be dangerous, and even then, it’s statistically unlikely to affect me (or anyone else).

So online, I can pick what stories I check out, I can read the important parts carefully and skim what I find less important, and I can do it at my leisure. I honestly do not understand the appeal of having someone read to me when I can read what I want to read much faster to myself.

Eggoe

July 5th, 2010
7:03 pm

i liked hullinger at WSB AM I’ll give 11 a chance.

Tony

July 5th, 2010
7:06 pm

After seeing several promotional ads for WXIA, we decided to tune in. Very disappointed. Brenda Woods” delivery is so slooow. Paul Ossmann is really not a meteorologist and it shows. But the consumer info with Bill Liss is excellent. But that’s about it. On WSB, the constant crime stories, home breakins and petty stories do leave a sour taste in one’s mouth. However, all the weather reporters are excellent. But if you miss a story on WSB. do not worry, for they will repeat it again, and again and again. We watch with the DVR to escape the frequent commercials. I will tune in to WXIA and try it once more. We lived in San Francisco before moving here and are very disappointed by the news coverage. Where are the stories about culture–movie reviews, concerts and theater? Where are the stories about individuals who contribute to our communities? As one of the above posters said, (regarding WSB’s poor coverage) “How was this important to me?”

Delight23

July 5th, 2010
7:16 pm

interesting to find so many turning on the news, but not wanting the news. i want the news. not bs fluff pieces and attempts to fill-in blanks with “alternate” answers. im not a stepford and my zipcode does not lay within any longitude nor latitude found on bizarro world.

any station that actually provides employment to the likes of Nene Leakes, all the while having the Bravo cameras on set to film the absurdity, need not worry about my little neilsen.

ExMetroIte

July 5th, 2010
7:24 pm

We’ve been watching 11 exclusively for many months. I applaud and admire what they are doing. I agree with others that they can stop tooting their horn about it now. WE KNOW ALREADY. Yes – “if it bleeds it leads” is way old school and should have gone out with Nixon. I am if full favor of what they’re trying to do. Their attitude is positive and I welcome their attempts to show the public good things, better ways and deals ect….Life IS good in reality with only a few black spots of bad scattered around. The old news paradigm would have you believe that life is all bad and you should just stay inside and lock the doors. Shame on them.

I Watch 11

July 5th, 2010
7:46 pm

I’ve been watching 11Alive for about a year on a regular basis, I love the weekend morning format the most the relaxed style. And the 7pm newscast is my favorite during the week.

Sally

July 5th, 2010
7:58 pm

OK, I was onboard until I got to the part about NeNe joining. No way. I’m gone!

It's about time

July 5th, 2010
8:12 pm

Thank you for being brave enough to go in a new direction. The local news is over loaded with the same old garbage that big city living offers. We know the horrible things that happen but don’t need to see it burn or bleed. I ask that you not interview the families that have suffered a loss while they are sitting on their couch with a camera crew filming their despair as if I need to see that. It is the epitome of intrusion to do that and too many unsophisticated people just don’t know how to say no to a pushy news person insisting on it. I will be watching 11 Alive because of this but as a family that has suffered a public loss of life I can assure you we will be ernest in our vigilance to see how you carry this new direction into the future. Life is about much more than tragedy. Those that survive it NEED to see the good rays of sunshine more than the gritty details of murder and mayhem that our modern society seems too willing to best upon us. If I can make one suggestion about Atlanta news in general is that not all news needs to have a connection to Atlanta, sometimes it’s just news from abroad no matter if there is a connection to Atlanta or not.

Rob

July 5th, 2010
8:51 pm

The only good thing about local news is Joanne Feldman on Fox 5. If you don’t know who she is, look her up. She is awesome!! The Today show should hire her. Agree?

Mike

July 5th, 2010
9:02 pm

If WXIA ever wants to win, ship good ole’ boy “Ted Hall” back to Knoxville. I use to work there, and people rolled their eyes daily at his accent on-air. He may think it’s all sweet and sugar in the South, but he’s on TV, in a top 10 market, use English. Nice guy, but horrible on air. As for the station, lost cause. Hard working people, who care are fleeing daily. The ND is named “Ellen”, but everyone calls her “Yellen”. From what I hear, she plays favorites and has hit lists.

Russell

July 5th, 2010
9:20 pm

I understand Guy Sharp In coming our of the grave to join the old #5 crew. BAD 20 years ago no better now. Valerie Hoff is one of the worse reporters ever. Many of her reports have been wrong and hurt good people. Nothing can help these people but retirement………..

P

July 5th, 2010
9:34 pm

If you are watching local news on a regular basis (don’t care which channel) you don’t have a life or a clue. In this day it’s internet for weather, ESPN for sports (and internet), USATODAY, NYTIMES, and WALL STREET JOURNAL for news that you really need to know (and the AJC for a few things).

dave

July 5th, 2010
9:37 pm

Give me anything but the local crime report that passes for news on WSB every night. WSB news is an embarrassment. Their entire newscast every night appears to have been faxed in by local police departments, so I’m for anything that’s different. Please WXIA, give me some reasons to feel good about living in Atlanta rather then the crime crap every night. Please talk about issues that are vital to the present and future of Atlanta. Everything WSB does every night goes in one ear and out the other. It has no staying power at all. It is an embarrassment to journalism. I’m sure Republicans eat it up, however.

Sluggo

July 5th, 2010
9:40 pm

But, does WXIA have a Severe Weather Center? Is the weather severe all the time?

Voice of Reason

July 5th, 2010
9:50 pm

Thank goodness for this article! I have been a WSB-TV regular for years, and I have written several emails about their news content – without any answer from them. I have made specific complaints such as the blood and gore, a couple of minutes of sports coverage on a two hour repeat, repeat, repeat “newscast”, and one particular “anchor” whose parents I enjoyed years ago but who jumps into one story with absolutely no hesitation at all, from the story before. Take a breath, for goodness sake!
I have in the last several weeks begun to watch 11 Alive, and I thoroughly enjoy the human interest stories, but will NEVER watch NeNe! I am enjoying Hullinger so far, but if he starts that superiority and pompous attitude he will lose me.
In case you did not get my drift, I don’t care how many house fires, stabbings, gunshot firings, wounds and death, accidents on the downtown connector when I am sitting at home, or sad pleadings of people in their home about water problems. Regarding the water problems, if a landlord doesn’t pay the water bill, push for legislation, WSB, that will discourage this and not leave these people helpless!
As for ratings I have always questioned their accuracy. These so-called polls have never called me nor have I ever heard a friend say they were called or solicited. I heard years ago that radio ratings came from looking at parked cars radio’s. Can’t do that today because they are digital. So, convince me that these ratings are a fair representation of the public. Perhaps so, but hard to believe.
Thank you again for the story.

Wayne stuck in AL

July 5th, 2010
9:53 pm

Isn’t it high time WXIA ditch that “11Alive” name? 30-plus years is way too long to keep a corny slogan.

Mooniepie

July 5th, 2010
10:02 pm

11alive has been struggling for manyyears when they had angela robinson and and mike lewis. i think they have better news now. i like brenda, jeff, bill, jay also. good news is better then cops and robbers

stu klitenic is hullinger

July 5th, 2010
10:18 pm

I’ll give these retreads a try. However, I’m nostalgic for the 70’s, how ’bout mimic the characters in the movie, “Anchorman” the ratings would soar with character actors delivering straight news…

kayman

July 5th, 2010
11:09 pm

Sounds like a better product than what’s being offered on the other stations, so I might give them a try.