- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Steven D. Hammel said yesterday he will resign as news director at WJLA-TV (Channel 7) at the end of November to accept "a great offer" from another station.
Just don't ask him to name the station or the job. He said his new boss requested he not talk about it until the latest ratings sweep ends Nov. 27.
"It is a management position, but the title is not general manager," Mr. Hammel said. The job isn't in the Washington area, he said.
His departure is considered a major loss at the ABC affiliate. Staffers credit Mr. Hammel with slowing the newsroom's infamous revolving door, improving the quality of its newscasts and helping close the ratings gap with its competitors.
Last year, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a group that studies local television news across the nation, gave WJLA the only A grade in Washington.
"Steve has made significant contributions to the station, both in terms of the quality of the on-air product and behind the scenes. He is extremely well-respected," said Christopher W. Pike, president and general manager of WJLA and NewsChannel 8, its sister cable network. Washington-based Allbritton Communications Co. owns both operations.
When word spread that Mr. Hammel was considering another job, several WJLA news stars met with Allbritton Communications Chairman and Chief Executive Robert L. Allbritton to urge him to try to hold onto their boss.
Mr. Pike gathered the WJLA staffers in the station's conference room yesterday morning to announce that Mr. Hammel had accepted another offer. Veteran reporter Greta Kreuz was one of several staffers who gave speeches praising Mr. Hammel.
"It was a tearful setting. A number of people got choked up, including me," Mr. Hammel said.
Mr. Pike said he will embark on "a national search" for WJLA's new vice president of news. Staffers believe two internal candidates Bill McFarland, Mr. Hammel's deputy, and NewsChannel 8 news chief Jim Church have a shot at the gig.
Mr. Hammel joined WJLA in May 2000 and guided the newsroom through the September 11 terrorist attacks, the deaths of anchor Dale Solley and director Phil Smith in the spring as well as the sniper attacks and the merger with NewsChannel 8 in the fall.
He also helped woo popular weatherman Doug Hill away from rival WUSA-TV (Channel 9), the local CBS affiliate.
"I was able to work with a group of people that gave it their all, day in and day out. I think together we built a foundation of excellence," Mr. Hammel said.
More comings and goings
Popular morning meteorologist Alexandra Steele is also checking out at WJLA.
Ms. Steele said she enjoyed working at the station, but didn't want to commit to another three-year contract. "They really wanted me to stay but I can't move forward if I'm standing still," she said.
Her final airdate will be Thanksgiving Day.
Management began preparing for Ms. Steele's departure months ago, but stopped when it looked like she might stay. During the summer, the station considered several candidates, including Dallas forecaster Gwen Tolbert, who ended up signing with Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5).
Meanwhile, WUSA has hired Doug Buchanan, son of longtime anchor Mike Buchanan, as a reporter. The younger Mr. Buchanan begins work this month. He currently reports for the ABC affiliate in Erie, Pa., and has also worked as an assignment editor at WJLA and WTTG.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.


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