Last week, WREG's Andy Wise began a five-day suspension from work after a series of unfortunate events in which the tenacious news breaker became an eyebrow-raising news maker. It began with Wise's Christian sermonizing during an "exclusive" interview with Claudine Marsh, the mother of Mayor Willie Herenton's new baby. Shortly thereafter, Wise was manhandled out of besieged state senator John Ford's office after a failed ambush interview. But the biggest buzz broke after an e-mail from Wise, explaining his behavior during the Marsh interview, was posted at blog.dnphillips.com, a personal weblog maintained by WMC-TV reporter Darrell Phillips.
An excerpt from Wise's e-mail reads, "[It] became clear to me that ... [Marsh] felt moved by God to use her mistake, which she clearly took responsibility for, to encourage other young couples to abstain from sex until marriage. ... I have been taught that we are supposed to be bold in our faith. Because it was clear to me that God had arranged this meeting with Claudine for a bigger purpose, I felt compelled to give him the glory on television. And I was prepared to share my faith in the context of Claudine's story no matter what kind of persecution I would receive from my employer, my colleagues, my friends, the television industry or my viewers. I simply obeyed God."
Here's what Phillips has to say about Wise's e-mail, ambush journalism in general, and his dual role as a professional journalist and part-time blogger.
Flyer: First, Andy Wise said he was "On Your Side." Then he appeared to be on God's side. Now he's been sidelined. Are you on anybody's side? Should the media take sides?
Phillips: No. No, of course not. In our business, credibility is everything, and viewers tend to remember strong statements.
After you received Andy's e-mail, and his blessing to print it, did you think, "He's digging himself deeper?"
Andycontacted me and forwarded me the e-mail. We had a very short but very friendly series of exchanges about his coverage of the Claudine Marsh story, and it became clear that he wanted other people to understand his perspective.I was, frankly, surprised by his determination.But he's a smart guy and a great reporter, and I still believe he knew what he was doing.
In one season, Ford and Herenton, two local officials who don't want the media in their business, have become the alleged victims of ambush reporters. Is there anything to be gained by harassing an official?
Persistence is important, andthere's no doubtthat persistent reporters develop and break stories that would have otherwise remained untold. But there is a fine line between assertion and discretion.
Ultimately, if someone doesn't want to answer a question, they're not going to answer the question. But the dog-and-pony show we all produce that typically features a reporter chasing down an elected official does serve a purpose.It demonstrates exactly how determined the official is to avoid the question.Officials who are open and accessible to the media are almost never featured running from a camera.
You blog and you report. How do you decide what goes online and what goes on the air?
In my case, nearly everything that goes on my blog has been dispatched to the newsroom first.My Web site has turned into an opportunity for me to supplement my reporting with the little bits and peripheral developments that don't necessarily warrant full coverage, and I really like it.
The blog also lends depth to my approach as a reporter.I'm quotable andhave, at times,been criticized for being anti-this person or anti-that person.In truth, the only things I write extensively and critically about are media-access issues. Most importantly ifI report something on my Web site that is not true, I have to write a correction and I have to do it humbly.n