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.

This entry was posted in AJC, WSB and tagged , on by .

About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

6 thoughts on “RIP

  1. rptrcub

    AJC at one time aspired to be a national paper, or at least a superior regional one. But it simply cost too much for the bottom line, taking away from profits, to do so, so they pulled back not just from the national and regional scene, but the entire state, withdrawing to metro Atlanta’s core counties. Sad.

  2. Austin Rhodes

    I would argue that Nigut was one of many who could do little to improve on the quality of coverage that came from the indepth coverage that many network news teams and national magazines delivered regularly. Geary is young (compared to where Nigut was when he finished) but she builds her resume and network every day, while proving you don’t have to be an arrogant horse’s ass in the process. Nigut was nasty when he had no reason to be…Geary has no axe to grind, and brings an even handed attitude to her stories. I bet she gets a lot more of her calls returned than Nigut…which means she doesn’t have to make stuff up to get the “scoop”.

  3. rptrcub

    Off-topic: what do y’all think about the whole AP s**tstorm with bloggers that’s a brewin’? I’d appreciate a broadcast perspective.

  4. locutus of borg

    Good-natured bombast? Nigut? Please. In the dictionary under “pompous ass” you will find a photo of Nigut. Of course, so was Sam Donaldson, Andrea Mitchell, et al. So…does one have to be a jerk to be a good political reporter? If so, then Nigut was a fantastic one!

  5. spaceyg

    Yep, local news and Cox Media Plantation have four months to get on the hot political news bandwagon. If they’re low on funds, I suggest incorporating as much citizen journalism/journalists as they can round up. STAT.

    Outlets like Huffington Post’s Off The Bus and CNN’s iReport are reaping great things, on the cheap, that way. Oh, did I mention Off The Bus? Funny, I just posted something there myself:

    And tt was all about… Georgia politics. Off The Bus, with its national audience, went ga-ga for anything to do with Georgia politics.

    Hint, hint local news farms. YOU’VE GOT FOUR MONTHS! To come up with a citizen journalism/new media plan. Best get crackin’. And yeah, the three working (video) CJ’s in this town, working on a national level, myself, Shelby Highsmith, and Amani Channel, can help.

    Again, you’ve got, say it with me, FOUR MONTHS. The clock started January 3rd though.

  6. spaceyg

    UPDATE: The little “my 2-cents” column I wrote about Ralph Reed? It just went to the front page of the Huffington Post, the political news site that’s surpassed Drudge in traffic. So, yeah, even local politics is hot stuff about right now.


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