- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Another era has ended in local television: Jim Clarke signed off at WJLA-TV (Channel 7) yesterday after more than 41 years as the ABC affiliate’s national reporter.

Mr. Clarke said he wanted to step down before Oct. 14, when he is scheduled to have surgery on his knees. The operation will take place one week before his 69th birthday.

After his recovery from the surgery, he hopes to return to journalism, possibly as a print reporter.

“It’s been a long ride, but it’s not over. Mike Wallace is my role model,” he said, referring to the 85-year-old “60 Minutes” correspondent.

Mr. Clarke started in the business as John Cameron Swayze’s copy boy. He joined WJLA in April 1962 and covered nine presidents, seven speakers of the House and countless Washington scandals.

Most impressive: He survived, by his count, at least 29 news directors.

His bad knees have plagued him for years. He said the problem worsened after the war in Iraq, which he covered stateside for WJLA and its sister cable network, NewsChannel 8.

The man whom colleagues lovingly call “Clarkie” is known as crusty but kind, an old-school newsman who always gets his facts straight.

Cameraman Mike Forcucci, Mr. Clarke’s longtime partner and frequent foil, remembers how Mr. Clarke flew back to the District from Norway when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, writing his script on an air-sickness bag.

Reporter Gail Pennybacker, Mr. Clarke’s deskmate of many years, recalled the time he got the attention of a distracted newsroom manager by shoving a piece of burning paper beneath the man’s office door.

Bill Lord, senior vice president of news for WJLA and NewsChannel 8, said he will assign someone to Mr. Clarke’s beat, but a successor won’t be named immediately.

About those numbers

The folks at Nielsen Media Research were plenty steamed by this column last week, which touted WJLA’s ratings on the day Hurricane Isabel blew into town.

Nielsen said that it had provided the numbers to two stations “for internal uses only.” Because the storm caused so many power outages, the ratings were “unstable,” spokeswoman Kerry Kieler said.

Nielsen’s research was based on 271 local households, instead of the usual 445. Ms. Kieler said we should have done a better job explaining that the Isabel numbers did not meet Nielsen’s normal reporting standards.

Fair enough.

But if the data were unstable, why did Nielsen release them?

“Our clients requested the data. They wanted to gauge how unstable the market was,” Ms. Kieler said.

Around the dial cWJLA’s half-hour recap of its hurricane coverage, “Isabel’s Wrath,” won its time slot Saturday night with more than 101,000 households, Nielsen reported.

• More than 460,000 households tuned in to WUSA-TV (Channel 9) to see the Washington Redskins whip the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon.

• From our Better Late Than Never File: WTTG-TV (Channel 5) won a National Emmy Sept. 3 for investigative reports on arsenic contamination in the District’s Spring Valley neighborhood.

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

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