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Good Morning, Georgia

POSTED: July 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
This may be an answer to Georgia’s woes. The University of Georgia has decided to spend a relatively paltry $1.44 million to buy a full-fledged commercial TV station and set it up in Athens.  
The purpose of acquiring WNEG-Channel 32 of Toccoa is to train communication students in TV and to make money. The university research foundation is underwriting the purchase from Media General, a TV-and-newspaper conglomerate headquartered in Richmond, Va. A professional staff will oversee the day-to-day operation.
Administrators at UGA have big plans for their new toy.  
 “It’s time to stop talking and start doing.” says E. Culpepper Clark, UGA journalism dean and manager of the TV project, “All media are in profound transformation because the web has brought new powers to consumers and citizens. At the Grady College [of Journalism and Mass Communication] we aim to assist consumers in creating their own content and citizens in participating through journalism. In the end, WNEG gives us a license to do just that.”
“Hmmm, I thought Georgia already had a state-owned TV network,” you may whisper to yourself, and you would be right. GPTV, sending a signal from posh studios in the heart of Atlanta, carries a full schedule of programs, from business and government news to documentaries on flora and fauna.
So what does Georgia need with two grand-scale TV centers?
The answer is not immediately clear. However, with help from a visionary or two, the new Bulldog station could be used as a jumping-off point for all sorts of cutting-edge digital media.
For many years, Georgia’s public TV station operated from the UGA campus as a nearly independent voice.
However, Gov. Joe Frank Harris and his chief of staff, Tom Perdue (no kin to the present governor), decided the TV station and its administration would be better off under closer surveillance by the Gold Dome folks. In the 1980s, they zapped the Bulldog station as an adjunct to the university and transferred it into a grand tower in Atlanta.
The technical quality of the station’s productions rose 100 percent. The bad-news content dealing with state government dropped to around zero.
The news staff was dedicated and hard-driving, but they operated under strict rules. Political criticism of Georgia government was not on their agenda.
The closing of the TV operation at UGA set up an awful fuss between the governor’s office and UGA President Fred Davison. The controversy eventually forced Davison to resign. He told friends that he objected to UGA being run by gubernatorial aide Tom Perdue.
Now we’ve come full circle. Georgia’s privately-owned media companies, already suffering severe financial problems, may not be ecstatic at the notion of another commercial station.
The Athens Banner-Herald reports that the Grady College will run the station “as a commercial operation, competing with privately owned companies for advertising dollars.”
Of course, there’s always room for one more news outlet to tell us the good news about Georgia, such as:
Early last year, Georgia government received a B+ for “best managed state” from Governance magazine. In the South, only Louisiana had as good a rating. Georgia won its high marks for implementing recommendations of the Commission for a New Georgia. The commission, a group of business leaders, met in secret to arrive at their recommendations.
The B+ citation emphasized Georgia’s ability to complete an inventory of its SUVs, planes, helicopters and sedans. Wonderful. Georgia gets high marks for its ability to count the deck chairs on the Titanic. Think of the spectacular video the cars and planes might produce — endless lines and lines of executive aircraft and long black limos and Cadillac sports wagons.
One story does not a complete newscast make. There are others:
• A pioneer in offering universal prekindergarten to small children, Georgia has now fallen badly behind other states. Only 55 percent of eligible children are enrolled in prekindergarten. Talk to former Gov. Zell Miller. He started the program.
• Georgia is third in the nation in delinquent home loans and second in personal bankruptcies.
• Public care for destitute children is among the worst in the nation. The authoritative Annie E. Casey Foundation reports Georgia is showing a year-over-year (2005-2006) increase in the following categories:
High-school dropouts, low birth-weight babies, teen deaths, teen crime and children living in families in which no parent has full-time employment.
That’s hardly enough to fill a day’s worth of local newscasts. Surely, Air Red&Black can find much more picture-worthy stuff, like:
• The exploitation of the Golden Isles.
• Boundless water pollution.
• Conservation tracts bought up for development.
• Endless traffic jams, wrecks, dope deals, homicides, bank robberies. If it bleeds, it leads. Might as well teach them young.
And don’t forget those bears, squeezed out of their natural wildlife habitats, going berserk along our interstate highways.
Stand by, TV staff: Georgia is brimming with great story ideas that other big stations have barely touched. Give me a ring when you finish this list of eye-poppers. We’ve got another list ready. And don’t forget that former TV star-reporter Dale Cardwell, now a candidate for the Senate, may be looking for work after the July 15 primary.
 

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