Barack Obama's presidency is a news story that reaches all corners of the globe, but it was a local story for Washington, D.C., news outlets. Reporters and residents alike are curious how the new regime—and new First Family—impacts life in the nation's capital. “People really want to see how the new administration works,” says WJLA VP of News Bill Lord, “and how it affects D.C.”
As befits the capital, Washington is full of seasoned, well-funded news outlets. NBC O&O WRC strengthened its longtime hold on the ratings crown with a standout November sweeps, taking total day household ratings along with morning, evening and late news. President/General Manager Michael Jack says WRC has not skipped a beat since Camille Edwards became news director in June. “It's just great blocking and tackling,” he says. “We've got a long legacy of doing good news, and viewers in this market recognize it.”
Yet the race is heating up. Allbritton's ABC outlet WJLA, enjoying a massive newsroom that also houses cable's NewsChannel 8 and The Politico, was runner-up in total day, evening and late news, and grabbed a 2009 DuPont Award for investigative reporting. “Our goal is to be No. 1, and we get closer in every ratings book,” Lord says. [WJLA laid off a reported 26 staffers after presstime. Allbritton management did not return a call for comment as of this writing.]
Other players are Fox-owned duopoly WTTG and WDCA, Gannett's CBS affiliate WUSA and Tribune's CW outlet WDCW. Comcast is the major cable operator.
While no market can claim immunity from the recession, Washington's plethora of government jobs, and the suppliers who do business with the feds, keeps the No. 9 DMA relatively stable. “This part of the country might be faring a little better than others,” says WTTG/WDCA VP/General Manager Duffy Dyer. “We can thank the federal government for that.”
It was all hands on deck for the inauguration, and stations continue to spread their reach. WRC relaunched its Website with the Locals Only template in October, and is transforming its newsroom into NBC's “content center” model. WDCW will air the Virginia high school basketball championships in March, and launched the entertainment-themed Trendctv.com microsite. “It's an inside look at what's happening in D.C.,” says VP/General Manager Eric Meyrowitz.
According to Lord, NewsChannel 8 is stepping up its live coverage to 15 hours a day. Morning runner-up WTTG expanded its noon news—now starting at 11—and adds The Office and My Name Is Earl come fall. (WTTG and WRC are in talks to share video footage, similar to what the Fox and NBC-owned stations are doing in Philadelphia.)
Primetime champ WUSA unveiled its “digital correspondents”—one-man bands who produce their own segments—at the beginning of the year. Some call it a desperate cost-saving measure, but President/General Manager Allan Horlick says it means greater coverage of the market and more stories to choose from. Major breaking news, he adds, won't get a lone reporter. “If a story needs six people,” Horlick says, “we'll still send six people.”
The inauguration served to get reporters warmed up for a busy 2009. With the president and his family getting used to their new digs, stations promise a full-court press on all things Obama. Says Lord: “We'll probably cover the White House as a local news story more than we have the past eight years.”
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