When WSB produced a report Friday about the sudden death of Tim Russert, the station unwittingly exposed a regrettable trend in local media. In WSB’s report, Lori Geary interviewed Bill Nigut about Russert. When Nigut was WSB’s political reporter from 1983-2003, he covered the legislature and local politics with good-natured bombast. And he frequently hit the road to cover presidential primaries and caucuses, where Nigut often encountered Russert. WAGA and WXIA also covered the national campaigns, though to a much lesser extent.
Geary was unable to give any first-hand impressions of Russert in her piece. Once Nigut left WSB and handed off its political reporting to Geary, WSB stopped covering national politics. Same with the other stations.
Nigut’s national contacts made him a better political reporter at home. His higher profile made him the go-to guy when local pols had something to say or something to leak. But now, no station is willing to invest the coin in robust political coverage.
Instead, local stations make due with a squad of national reporters like Jonathan Serrie. Serrie is an ex-WSB reporter who now works for Fox. But Serrie’s role is to fly around the country to big stories like the Iowa floods. He spends much of his work day standing in front of a live camera, doing the same live shot over and over again for different stations.
Serrie will probably be at the political conventions this summer. Whether the local stations send their local guys / gals to cover the political conventions will be the ultimate test of their abdication of national political coverage. They’ve always managed to do it in leap-years past. We’re betting they won’t do it this year.
But even worse is this: In 2008, the most intriguing national primary race in a generation went uncovered by the AJC. The Atlanta newspaper relied strictly on wire service and Cox bureau reporters to cover the race. Its talented local political guy, Jim Galloway, stayed home. Its other talented political guy, Tom Baxter, hit the road to work for Insider Advantage.
And the AJC has plenty of company. From a March 28 New York Times piece:
Among the newspapers that have chosen not to dispatch reporters to cover the two leading Democratic candidates on a regular basis are USA Today, the nation’s largest paper, as well as The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Baltimore Sun, The Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer (at least until the Pennsylvania primary, on April 22, began to loom large).
Yeah, we know: TV stations have to spend all their money now to keep their helicopters and live trucks fueled so they can cover apartment fires and the like. Likewise, the AJC is all “hyper-local” now and gets better bang for its buck using national resources on national stories.
We realize our nostalgia for this stuff is wistful and naive. But its disappearance from the agenda of local news editors is still regrettable. Nigut’s coverage of national politics made WSB stand out. And its disappearance from the AJC turns the local paper into a news service for the New York Times.