- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

It was about 4:25 a.m. on Oct. 24 when Dave Statter got the call every reporter on the trail of the Washington-area sniper was hoping for.
Mr. Statter, who works for CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9), was stationed outside a rest stop near Frederick, Md., where police working the sniper case had arrested two persons that morning.
The source on the other end of Mr. Statter's cell phone confirmed the men under arrest were John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, whom police had identified as possible suspects the previous night.
Within seconds, Mr. Statter was on the air delivering the news.
It was another example of a seasoned local reporter getting a big scoop in the sniper story. From the moment the shootings began, veterans like Mr. Statter who has logged 17 years at WUSA virtually owned the story.
"It's not just that [the veterans] knew how to break news. It's also that they added context," said Deborah Potter, executive director of NewsLab, a nonprofit that advises stations on news coverage.
On the morning the sniper gunned down a 13-year-old boy in Bowie, NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) dispatched reporter Chris Gordon to Children's Hospital, where the victim was treated. During a hospital press conference, a spokeswoman mentioned the name of the surgeon who treated the boy.
Mr. Gordon who has worked in local television news since the 1970s recognized the doctor's name. During his live report after the briefing, he told viewers that Dr. Martin Eichelberger was one of Washington's most celebrated surgeons.
It was a small but illuminating detail, the kind a rookie might miss.
The seasoned reporters also largely avoided the speculation that plagued so much of the sniper coverage.
Throughout the investigation, a handful of unlikely suspects emerged, including one man with a history of mental problems who turned himself into Arlington County police. When reporting on these cases, Pat Collins, WRC's notoriously deadpan crime reporter, always tempered his words with a hefty dose of caution.
"A good reporter has the ability to separate the rumors from the facts. There were tons of junior G-men out there with theories and prognostications," said Mr. Collins, who has logged 30 years in the business.
Mr. Statter was unavailable for comment yesterday. Ardyth R. Diercks, WUSA's president and general manager, said his Oct. 24 scoop like WUSA anchor Mike Buchanan's tarot card scoop two weeks earlier came from sources the station's reporters and producers have been cultivating for years.
"It was a real team effort," she said.
But the stations' reliance on veterans like Mr. Statter and Pat Collins raises an important question: Are they grooming a new generation of journalists to replace the old guard?
Managers point out that several newcomers, such as Paul Wagner at WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and WUSA's Stacey Cohan, also did good work on the sniper story.
"Many of us try to teach the old-time religion to the younger reporters, and there are many out there who understand it," said Robert L. Long, WRC's vice president of news and operations.

Speaking of veterans …
Classical music station WGMS-FM (103.5) honored its retiring morning host, the regal Dennis Owens, at an Oct. 22 banquet. Among the highlights: A speech by Billy Bush and an "Access Hollywood" reporter who brought taped greetings from Jon Bon Jovi, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and others.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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