- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The 28-day May television-ratings sweep — one of four annual periods when stations try to boost ratings so they can raise ad rates — ended last week. Here’s a look at the best and worst the Channel Surfer saw:

Peak performances. NBC affiliate WRC-TV (Channel 4) kicked things off in style with anchor Doreen Gentzler’s riveting series on life aboard USNS Comfort, the medical ship that treated U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians during the war. Ms. Gentzler and photographer Luis Urbina spent five days aboard the ship in early April, bringing home compelling, network-caliber stories.

ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) distinguished itself with a first-class special on Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the first prisoner of war rescued during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kathleen Matthews and Suzanne Kennedy did most of the reporting, giving viewers a better understanding of how Pfc. Lynch, a 19-year-old West Virginian, became a modern American folk hero.

Bleak performances. How did Fox affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5) capitalize on the huge audience it was delivered by the “American Idol” season finale on May 21? By airing a hidden-camera report that featured teens going wild on spring break in Cancun, Mexico.

Touchy topics. Stacey Cohan, investigative reporter for CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9), took online auction house EBay to task for permitting sellers to use the “n-word” on the Web site. WJLA’s always-reliable Kevin Schultze examined both sides of the debate over “curing” homosexuals. At a time when local news seems especially toothless, these stations deserve credit for tackling sensitive subjects.

They don’t just report the news…. Pregnant WJLA medical reporter Kathy Fowler illustrated a report on new technology that determines the sex of unborn babies by using it to reveal her child’s sex on live television. Colleague Elizabeth Manresa interviewed chief meteorologist Doug Hill on his recent weight loss.

Live at five. WJLA also dismantled a car, aired a face lift and burned down a living room during its 5 p.m. news. Talk about outfoxing the competition.

Government denial. WTTG promoted a Bob Barnard piece on missing nuclear-powered construction gauges as “Tools for Terror?” even though Mr. Barnard included a sound bite from a federal official who said the government does not believe terrorists stole the equipment.

Unanswered questions. WUSA’s Doug Buchanan did a nice series on “traffic solutions,” though the installment on monorails could have used more than one source. Miss Manresa conducted an interesting experiment for WJLA, comparing an Alexandria cab that uses a meter and a D.C. taxi that uses the zone system to see which charges more for a rush-hour trip within the District. But was it really a fair comparison, given that Alexandria cabs aren’t allowed to pick up passengers in the District?

Solid reporting, unsexy subjects. Ms. Cohan found emergency medical services in Prince George’s County are underfunded. WRC’s Mil Arcega examined the impact on Beltway traffic of the new Ikea in College Park. WTTG’s Paul Wagner uncovered abuse in a local jail. This is what local TV news should be.

Another WTTG win

cThanks in part to “American Idol” and that teens-gone-wild report, WTTG pulled ahead in the late-news race during the last two days of the sweep. The station’s weeknight 10 p.m. news averaged 172,000 households, compared with 165,000 households for second-place WRC’s 11 p.m. news.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.


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