NBC equipped to move on after Russert

Few recent events have generated such an outpouring of respect as the shocking death of Meet the Press host and NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert from a heart attack on June 13.

Few recent events have generated such an outpouring of respect as the shocking death of Meet the Press host and NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert from a heart attack on June 13.

A journalist who previously worked with former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and former Gov. Mario Cuomo (D-NY), Russert was a fixture in millions of homes during his 16-plus years as moderator of the leading Sunday morning political talk show. He was also widely revered by colleagues and politicians alike.

"The loss to Meet the Press, NBC as a whole, and the public at large is indescribable," writes Dana Glaser, VP at Kaplow, who worked with Russert while she was a producer at NBC, including during the 2000 presidential election, in an e-mail. "[Russert] was one of the fairest, yet toughest reporters out there. He set a very high standard and I think everyone at NBC News, as well as the other networks, will want to live up to that standard."

Meet the Press overtook ABC's This Week as the top-rated Sunday morning news program by September 1998, and has maintained that spot ever since. This year, Meet the Press averaged about 4 million weekly viewers, according to media reports.

The AP also reports that the show "earns more than $60 million a year in profits... and often has a waiting list of potential advertisers."

In addition, as Washington bureau chief, Russert appeared regularly on other NBC programs and networks. His absence will be particularly difficult for the network in the face of an historic presidential election in five months.

Russert's Election Night 2000 "dry-erase board" analysis, featuring a simple prediction of where the presidential race would be won - "Florida, Florida, Florida" - was a simple, low-tech explanation of a winding and confusing situation.

Many had hoped he would bring that same style to this election, including CNBC columnist John Harwood, who penned a column "Russert's Silence Will Be 'Heard' This Election Year."

Indeed, NBC is now charged with finding a journalist who can vigorously interview politicians on most any topic, but still be held in high esteem by those same officials, even getting them to come back for more.

"He just had this credibility [and an] appeal as an everyday man who cared about the same issues as everyone, but was there to ask the questions," Glaser says. "People turned to him to get political information, but they trusted him and felt like he was a friend."

Yet despite losing one of its most important contributors, NBC is not in an untenable situation. The network has stockpiled political talent and the chatter about who will fill Russert's shoes - Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, David Gregory - has already begun.

"NBC, on account of MSNBC, has a huge political operation in place," notes Alex Pareene, Gawker day editor and former Wonkette editor, in an e-mail. "The loss of Russert will diminish that, but won't hurt as much as it could. MSNBC often has the wonkiest political coverage of all the cable
[networks], which is a mixed blessing, but [it has] a big stable of analysts ready to interpret the general election."

In an article published in The New York Times on June 16, columnist David Carr suggests that the media has changed so much that Russert's death only adds to the ways in which networks must rethink election coverage.

"In this election, he became one more aspect in a burgeoning ecosystem," Carr writes, "an environment where consumer interest is constantly deciding what the story is and a new species of blogs, social networks and YouTube clips are there to satisfy that interest."

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