- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Two local television stations rushed reports onto the air yesterday when they learned the bus driver shot in Aspen Hill had died. But minutes later, a hospital official asked reporters to sit on the information because some of the victim's family had not been notified.
CNN broke the news that the man died at 10:34 a.m. Roughly 10 minutes later, ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) each followed with their own reports.
"Our practice is that we wait until the next of kin is notified. I wish we could have waited in this case," said Steven D. Hammel, WJLA's news director.
Conrad James, 35, was shot early yesterday morning as he stood on the steps of his bus. Police believe Mr. James could be the 13th victim of a sniper who is stalking the Washington region.
Shortly after WJLA and WTTG announced his death, a Suburban Hospital official asked the media to withhold it.
WJLA complied and did not report Mr. James' death again until Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose announced it during an early afternoon press conference. The briefing also marked the first time reporters learned the victim's name.
"I regret that we said he had died. We were factually correct, but the humanity side of the story makes me wish we had waited," Mr. Hammel said.
WTTG continued to report the news. A source in the station's newsroom said its reporters were able to verify the information on their own and did not rely on CNN for the news.
NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) and CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9) waited until after Chief Moose's press conference to announce Mr. James' death.
"You put yourself in the shoes of the people related to the victim. You don't want to find out about this sort of thing from TV," said David Roberts, WUSA's vice president and news director.
Ratings roundup
Ratings for local television news have surged since the sniper began stalking the region Oct. 2, but analysts say that won't necessarily translate into bigger profits.
The 28-day October ratings period that ends today will show big gains for most network affiliates during key time slots.
For example, weekdays at 5 p.m., WRC's news drew 134,400 households (up 22 percent from last October), WUSA's drew 110,600 households (up 26 percent), and WJLA's drew 108,400 households (up 4 percent). WTTG's 5 p.m. newscast which debuted Sept. 9 drew 65,000 households.
Media buyers say the stations won't necessarily be able to charge higher ad rates because sponsors believe the numbers have been inflated by the sniper coverage.
Also, station managers say they have lost money covering the story, including the cost of keeping news helicopters in the air and paying reporters overtime.
On the AIR
WTOP (1500 and 820 AM and 107.7 FM) led the list of nominees for the 16th annual Achievement in Radio (AIR) awards, which were announced last week.
The all-news station received 29 nominations. Oldies station WBIG-FM (100.3) and rocker WWDC-FM (101.1) received 20 and 17 nominations, respectively.
The Washington chapter of the March of Dimes organizes the competition. It raises money from entry fees and tickets to the awards ceremony, which will be held Nov. 13 in Bethesda.
One broadcaster won't have to sweat it out that night while waiting to find out if he won a trophy: veteran WMAL-AM (630) newsman Larry Krebs, who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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