Where's Wendy??

Wendy Saltzman's CBS Atlanta News Web Blog

Stakeouts and Hidden Cameras

            I’ve spent about 16 hours in the car over the last few days, doing what some people seem to think it one of the coolest parts of my job.  The stakeout.  As I sit here for hours on end, it gives me a chance to catch up on mindless tasks.  In fact, I am writing this blog right now as I am sitting in the sweltering heat, running down a tank of $4 gas, staring at a parking lot.  But hey, my boss wants this story, so this is the price for a good investigative journalism.


The first question I always get is,”Wow!  So who are you staking out?”  And “Are you going to jump out of the car and ‘get them?’”  Ya… Something like that.  Except that stakeouts often require a lot more sitting, for very little action.  If you ask any photographer, this is by far the worst part of the job.  I talk with my photographer as we sit here about his weekend, upcoming vacations, and after about 4 or 5 hours, the car goes silent.  We’ve talked about just about everything, and we still have another 50 hours to spend together in tight quarters without bathrooms.  Not very glamorous.


I remember once at a previous job we got a tip that Goodwill workers were stealing from the thrift stores where they worked.  The tip came from an insider.  This was good stuff!  So me and my photographer spent 6 or 7 days documenting worker after worker walking out of the store, and loading up their cars with goodies.  Bingo!  We would sit all day until the end of the first shift of workers, and then again late at night when the second shift left after closing.  We probably put in 40 hours in front of that store.  Then finally on the last day, as we watch the supervisor walk out we asked her about all of the employees “goods” they were loading into their cars, including the piles she had put into her car.  “They purchased them,” she told us.  Ok, I asked to see the receipts.  She walked us into the store, and there it was… The book that logged every single one of the employees purchases—A Goodwill requirement.  Fortunately my exchange with the supervisor had been fairly non-confrontational from the start, so she was fine with our questions.  But that was a week worth of work, wasted.  That is my job.  A large part of it is checking out tips that may never turn into anything. 


            Most of my time is actually spent doing grueling, ho-hum work like putting in record requests and fighting government agencies for information and interviews.  There are some fun days where we do hidden camera shoots, but those days are the exception and not the rule.


            Which brings us to hidden cameras.  They are one of the best parts of my job, and the worst.  The bottom line is overall viewers love watching hidden camera stories, and I have made a career off of it.  I am nominated for a National Emmy for a hidden camera report on a ring of “Identity Creators” I did here at CBS Atlanta.  I was also nominated for another Investigative Emmy at my last job for a hidden camera report where we followed government workers to Las Vegas on a government funded junket.


            But with hidden cameras you really never know what you are getting.  Just yesterday I was on a hidden camera shoot.  Now, let me start here by saying there is a lot of vetting that goes into this before we are even allowed to take a hidden camera out of the office.  There are legal, ethical, and journalistic principals that have to be considered, and I have to get my News Director’s approval before all shoots.  We never take a hidden camera into any “private” area.  And we never use a hidden camera to document anything unless there is no other way to get the video.  Then once you take that camera out the door, what you are getting is a crap shoot.


            There are a lot of unknowns when a hidden camera comes into play.  You can see a “viewfinder,” so you basically have no idea what you are shooting, much less if the camera is even on.  We have shot video’s where the camera battery goes out, so there is audio but no video, we have shot video but maybe someone’s hand or a piece of clothing is in front of the camera, and there have been times we come back to the station with just plain nothing because the camera just wasn’t recording.  But I think my favorite, which just happened yesterday, is when we chop off someone’s head and all you see is a body in the video from with a talking chin.  This can be especially distracting when that person is a female.  She is saying great stuff.  So what do I do?  Show viewers her chest, or leave out the information she is saying.  Another dilemma. 


            So whose chest I was shooting yesterday?? And who have I been staking out writing this blog in the car all day is another subject…  You’ll have to wait until I post that story.  Stay tuned!


September 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lost?? The 30 Dollar Cab Ride

How many Peachtree Streets there are in Atlanta? I’ve lost count. I’ve been roped into training for the Atlanta marathon, which has expanded the time I spend touring my dear old ALT as I spend hours and hours in my running shoes. I consider my “training” moral support for my running obsessed friend Amy, who I swear spends more money on running gadgets than I do on my mortgage. When we “gear up” for a run, for me that means Running Shoes, Shorts, and an I pod. Now Amy on the other hand, is a running, sprinting, Inspector Gadget. If they sell it, she owns it. From “fuel belts’ (a terribly uncomfortable harness that holds canteens of water for long runs), to a head lamp and reflectors for running in the dark, to some strange squeegee towel that is supposed to have some magical powers to get cold when it is watered down. And the mac-daddy of them all, is her Garmin Forerunner watch, which is the Lamborghini of running devices. This thing does just about everything besides running for you. It tracks your distance, speed, and location using satellite trackers. It is so high-tech it even has an invaluable “Go Home” feature, which if you listen to the hype can map you back home using the fancy satellite technology in the case, like me, you get lost.

Hum… Lost. Yes Lost. My runs these days range from 12 to 18 miles which can get you in some pretty interesting predicaments. Amy and I headed out for our early Saturday morning run last week down the tranquil Morningside neighborhood. I’ve been there before house gazing. It’s beautiful. When we popped out near Emory Hospital, we were only about a third of the way through our run. 8 or 9 more miles to go… so we started meandering down side roads to avoid the heavy traffic. It became clear when we found ourselves near Ponce de Leon Avenue in DeKalb County, far far away from my Midtown home, that we were not going in the right direction. Exhausted and out of water, we stop into a convenience store to ask directions. “Where are we?” we asked the clerk. “At Rite Aid,” he curtly replies. Hum… Thanks Buddy. I know this girl running next to me looks like she may have lost her mind, but I think I figured that one out. No help from the clerk, we turn to Gadget Girl’s Garmin Forerunner to rescue us! Amy presses “Go home.” Click, Click, Click. Waiting, and Eureka! The Garmin plots our way home… Oh.. ugh… Her watch says we have 10 miles and 2 hours before we are going to get back to Midtown. But it only took us 9 miles (ON FOOT!) to get here!!! I throw my arms up in exhaustion. So my motivation (I.E, Amy), kicks me in the butt and says we will follow this little, itsy bitsy hand on this watch that will guide us back to Nirvana.

So we keep running, in whatever direction the hand on the watch points. Right, Left… I am so tired. I am lost. I have two miles, one mile to go. And then we are done. And, I have no idea where I am. We are at a convenience store somewhere in Decatur. “At Citgo,” I am sure the clerk would have told me. In a state of sheer exhaustion Amy calls us a cab and even though the clerk didn’t even seem to know where we were. Somehow the driver finds us, as we are soaking in sweat walking down Briarcliff. In a state of exhaustion, I try to reorient myself as the cab starts meandering us home. I look out the window and we are turning onto I-85 from North Druid Hills road. How did we run this far? A 30 dollars cab ride finally got my exhausted, aching body home… Thank Goodness for the Garmin Forerunner, hu?

September 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments