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Station Break

WLKY-TV Bust Driver

Louisville— A Kentucky public school system accused a local TV station of allowing a condition potentially dangerous to school children to continue when it reported a bus driver drinking on the job.

The station says the school system is simply trying to shift the blame onto the station from its own failure to investigate. Following a tip from someone who said he'd made the same report to busing officials, WLKY-TV reporter John Boel followed the driver into a bowling alley, watched him from a distance, and then followed him into a school bus with which he picked up students. Boel continued his investigation and later confronted the driver, who admitted drinking but denied he was impaired. The driver was suspended following the report. School officials contend that the complaint to them was general and did not specify that a driver was drinking.

Jefferson County School spokeswoman Lauren Roberts said that police should have been called in when the driver got on the bus with students and that state child-protective services have been notified.

In his story, Boel told the driver, "I watched you at the bowling alley drink a couple of Jack and Cokes, and the bartender confirmed that she served that to you." News Director Mike Neelly said Boel observed from a distance in the bowling alley that the driver had been drinking from paper cups and with beer bottles on his table. Although he suspected the driver of drinking, Neelly said Boel was not sure until he did a follow-up interview with the bartender. Then he confronted the driver and notified the school system.

Had Boel found convincing evidence at the time, he would have called police, Neelly said. "He's a parent, I'm a parent. Of course he would have called. The school district has been trying to capitalize on that. Meanwhile, we investigated, and they didn't. And nobody there has even said thank you to us."

Hospital Discharges KCTV

Kansas City, Mo.— The University of Kansas Medical Center said it will end its relationship with KCTV(TV) over the station's reporting of the location—or from the location—of crime victims during treatment. That means the hospital will no longer share with KCTV reporters the condition of newsworthy patients.

Hospital spokesman Dennis McCullough says local stations have routinely been more discreet but, on two recent occasions, the hospital feared for the safety of witnesses to violent crimes as well as hospital staff during the witnesses' treatment. "We're not saying they don't have the legal right" to report the location of someone under treatment, McCullough said, nor did he expect a blanket ban on such reporting. He says he has contacted victims'-rights groups as well as other medical facilities for support.

"We don't negotiate journalism," said News Director Regent Ducas. "These are decisions we make case-by-case." Ducas said that an article in the Kansas City Star
on the boycott was the first he'd heard of any potential danger to patients, adding, "There's absolutely no proof our report put anyone in danger." General Manager Kirk Black said there's no policy for or against live shots or reporting where a victim has been treated, and he and Ducas said patient safety comes first. "But we want to reserve the right to make that decision rather than agree to a policy against it," Kirk said.

Hammel Exits WJLA-TV

Washington— Only weeks after a merger with co-owned cable operation Newschannel 8 created the region's biggest TV news department, WJLA-TV News Director Steve Hammel announced last week he will be leaving the Washington area for an as-yet-disclosed management job in another market.

Hammel's tenure with the station has been an eventful one, including the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, the recent sniper shootings, the death of popular anchor Dale Solly, and the merger of operations with Allbritton-owned Newschannel 8 in Virginia. While WJLA-TV has not taken WRC-TV's local ratings crown, numbers have improved, and, in 2001, the station earned the area's only A grade from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.