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Finding Local Angles at Obama Inauguration

While countless media outlets worldwide are treating Barack Obama's inauguration as a global news event, dozens of stations are hustling to find their own local flavor in Washington. For outlets in Chicago and Honolulu, it's about a local kid done good. For others, it's about a local high school marching band performing in the Inauguration Day parade, or a state-hosted ball.

For the Washington stations, however, it's a story about iron-fisted security, nightmarish traffic, performances by Bono and Bruce Springsteen, and the crush of some two million tourists inside the Beltway. After months of planning, the stations are moving on their execution. “We're consumed by the enormity of it all,” says WRC VP of News Camille Edwards. “Every on-air reporter and photographer we physically have in this building is part of the coverage.”

D.C. stations are indeed pulling out all the stops. For Gannett's WUSA, it's a chance to give its controversial new one-man bands—“digital correspondents” who shoot and produce their own reports—a trial by fire, as the station extends its 11 p.m. news to an hour for three nights. “It's a full-court press for us,” says President/General Manager Allan Horlick. “It's an enormous local story.”

In a market rich with network-owned stations, the local outlets will not only work alongside their network brethren, but will provide content to their fellow O&Os around the country. Fox O&O WTTG starts its Inauguration Day coverage at 4 a.m., with reporters stationed everywhere from Metro stations, to RFK Stadium as the tour buses arrive, to viewing parties in neighborhood churches and theaters. Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith gives the station folks a break at 11 a.m. as he reports from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“All of our entities are working overtime on this,” says Fox Senior VP of News Sharri Berg. “It's events like this where you want to maximize a station's strength and resources.”

Stations are maximizing their reach with technology not readily seen at the last inauguration. WRC and WTTG, among others, are using Skype technology to post live video, while several news directors mention deploying Twitter to disseminate up-to-the-minute Web reportage. Numerous stations are streaming the inauguration events live on their Websites, and asking viewers who are attending to send in digital video and photos, and post on discussion boards.

The local TV presence in the Beltway scrum is hardly limited to those from Washington. With sky-high interest in Chicago in the Hyde Park resident becoming president, WGN is supplementing a delegation of five reporters with resources from Tribune's Washington bureau. ABC's news powerhouse WLS is sending eight reporters, including one who took the train from Chicago to Washington and offered viewers her tales from the rails.

“We'll try to bring some Chicago flavor to the coverage,” says WLS VP/News Director Jennifer Graves, “by telling the personal stories of the people who made the trip from here.”

Because the new president spent his teen years in Honolulu, Hawaii residents see Obama as one of their own as much as Chicagoans do. KITV morning anchor Mahealani Richardson started live reports from Washington last Friday, and will cover the various balls and bashes hosted by Hawaiians, along with the Punahou High marching band as it plays for its most famous alumnus. “It's all Obama, all week—it'll probably be the lead story in every newscast,” says KITV President/General Manager Michael Rosenberg. “There's great interest from the state of Hawaii.”

Even markets with a less obvious connection to Obama are getting in on the inauguration action. Reporters from a half-dozen Fox O&Os made the trip, while WJBK Detroit is hosting a high school class at the station to gauge the youths' reactions to Obama's swearing-in. LIN TV's WISH Indianapolis is opening the 18,000-seat Conseco Fieldhouse at 9:30 a.m. for a free viewing event.

WSVN Miami anchor Robbin Simmons is live from Washington this week because the local Taravella High School band is marching, because Florida broke from recent tradition to vote Democrat in November, and because the Sunbeam station is obligated to cover major news, says VP of News Alice Jacobs. “WSVN is known to travel to cover a big story, and this is a big story,” she says.

Reporters are eager to be an eyewitness to world history this week. “It's exhausting and it's a lot of pressure,” says WTTG VP/General Manager Duffy Dyer. “But everyone here will be able to say, guess what I did for the 2009 inauguration—I was there.”

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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.