As reported earlier, WGCL glaringly failed to cover the final day of the Georgia legislative session. Apart from that, the local stations somewhat faithfully cover the Capitol, at least during the session. Now that the session is over, political reporters will find themselves scrambling to come up with political stories that compete with the daily pressure of killings, apartment fires and traffic pileups. It won’t be easy.
TV stations don’t cover the legislature because they actually think the audience is interested. Truth is, political junkies are readers. If they want details of the process, they know they shouldn’t rely on TV to provide it. If TV reporters get bogged down in process, the eyes of their bosses begin to glaze, and the apartment fires are looking better and better to them.
Instead, they cover the Capitol because TV craves credibility. TV squanders it nightly by overplaying minor incidents of “chaos” (see “epicenter of trouble“). Politics gives TV a chance to cover important-sounding nightly developments, in a fixed location, in something other than so-called breaking news. The audience expects credibility. TV knows this because it pays dearly for audience research that says so. (Research also tells TV the audience wants “more details,” which is why WSB likes to beat its viewers over the head with that graphic following reports on big stories.)
Covering the Capitol is like mom serving asparagus. It’s a nutritious side dish that’s tolerated. But the main entree is what gets the kids in the dining room, preferably under a graphic that says “breaking news.”
If, in the next few weeks, you see WXIA’s Denis O’Hayer, WAGA’s Paul Yates or WSB’s Lori Geary standing in front of a ribbon of yellow crime scene tape, it’s because their stations declined stories they offered that had higher nutritional value.