- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Sweeps, the quarterly periods when local television stations try to raise ratings so they can charge advertisers more for airtime, tend to bring out the best and worst in broadcast journalism.
The 28-day winter sweep that concluded last week was no exception. Here's a look at the stuff that made us cheer and the stuff that made us cringe.
Making news:
WTTG-TV (Channel 5) reporter Beth Parker uncovered evidence that National Zoo Director Lucy H. Spelman contributed to the death of a rare zebra in 2000 when she reduced its diet. Ms. Parker's WTTG colleague Elisabeth Leamy took the D.C. government to task for the District's broken parking meters. WUSA-TV (Channel 9) investigative reporter Stacey Cohan examined loopholes in the military's no-fly zone around Washington.
Faking news:
WTTG reporter Maureen Umeh dug up another story on toxic mold, a sweeps staple. Fellow WTTG reporter Patrick McGrath examined medical experiments on cadavers. Ms. Leamy did an expose on bedbugs.
Department of the Obvious:
WRC-TV (Channel 4) reporter Tony Dorsey used a hidden camera to film panhandlers in Montgomery County, finding that some of them may be too lazy to get a job. WJLA-TV (Channel 7) consumer reporter Elizabeth Manresa took modafinil, a drug designed to help narcoleptics stay awake, to show viewers what happens when people go without sleep for long periods of time. Turns out they become sluggish.
More original thinking:
On Jan. 30, the first day of the sweep, WJLA, WTTG and WUSA each dispatched a news crew to cover the reopening of a Krispy Kreme bakery in Alexandria.
Slow down, Will:
WTTG has the liveliest presentation of any station in Washington. Its photographers find unique angles to shoot their subjects, and its reporters do the walk-and-talk thing better than anyone on "The West Wing."
But we didn't need the theatrics Feb. 12, when reporter Will Thomas delivered tips on preparing for the Code Orange terrorism alert. With the words "live demo" fixed in one corner of the screen, a frantic Mr. Thomas scurried around the basement of a Kensington home, duct-taping bags of kitty litter to a window sill and diving under a pingpong table for shelter.
Maybe some modafinil would have helped him calm down.
Simply the best:
On Feb. 24, WRC anchor Jim Vance delivered a moving six-minute profile of Curtis Mozie, a Shaw resident who has spent 14 years documenting the lives of 32 friends killed in the District's drug wars. The report was quintessential Vance: beautifully written, lovingly reported, masterfully edited. After a month of sweeps silliness, it helped restore our faith in local television's ability to tell stories that matter.
This just in
All-news station WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) has sent national security correspondent Chas Henry to Qatar to cover the looming threat of war with Iraq. News radio stations typically don't send reporters on the road, but WTOP management said the war is too big to ignore.
Cincinnati radio anchor and reporter Pat Brogan has joined ABC-owned news and talk station WMAL-AM (630) as managing editor. He reports to News Director John Matthews.
WJLA pulled ahead of WUSA at 5 p.m. during the final two days of the February ratings sweep. WJLA finished second, behind WRC.
Watch your back, WAMU. Public radio station WETA-FM (90.9) has started "The Program," a one-hour Sunday-morning magazine show on the local arts scene. Rival public station WAMU-FM (88.5) has made arts coverage one of its signatures.
Questions? Comments? Tips? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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