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In Albany, media do more with less

Television and radio reporters from across New York converged on the State Capitol last June to record the history-making vote that would legalize same-sex marriage. On YNN, live coverage went past midnight, according to Anthony Proia, senior director of news operations for YNN News channels.

"It was hours of crazy, compelling coverage," said Proia. "We were able to be at the bureau right down the hall from where that vote was in the Senate chamber, and be live all night."

Factoring in the cost of staff, time and distance, local radio and TV news directors have had to find innovative and cooperative ways to try to cover the capital.

"State coverage rounds out the newscast," said Jim Ranney, news director at WBFO-FM 88.7/WNED-AM 970.

"What happens in Albany has an impact on all of our lives, whether we know it or not. It's challenging because of the distance, and you can't do it effectively by phone on a daily basis. Having a reporter there in those meetings, in the sessions and at those press conferences is extremely valuable for us."

Strategies for maximizing state coverage vary.

WNED-AM 970/WBFO-FM 88.7 has partnered with other National Public Radio stations in New York to staff an Albany bureau led by veteran NPR correspondent Karen DeWitt. Her reports air daily on "Morning Edition."

"Capitol Pressroom," with host Susan Arbetter, is a one-hour political news magazine, airing at 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is broadcast from the Legislative Correspondents Association Pressroom on the third floor of the capitol building.

YNN-TV (Your News Now), Time-Warner Cable's 24-hour news station, staffs a three-person capital bureau led by reporter Nick Reisman. In addition, "Capital Tonight," a daily hourlong look at state politics, airs on YNN stations throughout the state at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. weekdays. It is hosted by reporter Liz Benjamin.
WNED-TV airs "New York NOW" at 9:30 a.m. Sundays. The weekly PBS television and NPR radio program has been on the air for 12 years, and is staffed by two columnists from the Albany Times Union newspaper, Casey Seiler and Marie Cusick. Bureau chief is Matt Ryan.

None of Buffalo's network affiliates staff an Albany news bureau. WKBW-TV Channel 7 airs a daily 90-second "Capitol Report," also hosted by Arbetter, according to news director John DiSciullo.

WGRZ-TV Channel 2 sends news teams to Albany for special reports, news director Jeff Woodard said. So does WIVB-TV Channel 4.

Four public radio stations – WNED, WXXI (Rochester), WMHT (Capital Region) and WSKG (Binghamton) – founded the state public radio bureau in 1988. DeWitt, formerly on WINS Radio in New York, began working for them in 1990. In the early 1990s, the combine grew to 10 stations."With the way public radio works, each station individually could not probably afford to have a dedicated reporter in Albany," said Ranney.

"We all kick in to pay for [DeWitt's] salary."

DeWitt launched her political reporting career in 1986.

"It seemed like the [Eliot] Spitzer–[David] Paterson era was a blur of scandal and government dysfunction," DeWitt wrote in an email interview, "but of course the single most stunning event was Spitzer's abrupt resignation, in the light of the prostitution scandal. No one saw that coming. "Capitol Pressroom" features one-on-one interviews conducted by Arbetter, former news director at WAMC. Analysis is provided by political beat reporters from newspapers and wire services including the New York Times, Newsday, The Buffalo News, the Albany Times Union, Gannett News Service and the Associated Press.

YNN's "Capital Tonight" started as an Albany show in 2004 before it was introduced to a state television audience in 2007, reaching viewers in Syracuse and Rochester as well as Buffalo.

"We're not there to cover the political events," said Proia. "We're there to break down their political nature and impact. We're there every day to ask the tough questions."

Before Benjamin became program host of "Capital Tonight" about two years ago, she worked at the New York Daily News and the Times-Union as a columnist and reporter.

"Liz attacks it like a print reporter," said Proia.

"We like to give the show a lot of room to breathe, where she can break down a guest, break down a topic like a newspaper reporter would do."

The 30-minute news and public affairs program ‘New York NOW' is on WNED each morning and also airs on other PBS stations around New York State.

"It's sort of what the history of public broadcasting has generally been," said Ron Santora, WNED-TV program director.

In addition to reports from Seiler and Cusick, "New York NOW" features contributions from DeWitt.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com