Fox-4's Clarice Tinsley has been at the station 30 years today
Nov 13, 2008 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It's a Monday afternoon at KDFW/Channel 4, and Clarice Tinsley and Baron James, her always stylishly dressed co-anchor for the last nine years, are doing the 5 p.m. newscast. The studio air conditioning is set on arctic, as it often is in TV studios, and the atmosphere is at once busy and deceptively quiet.
Fox-4 reporter Shaun Rabb comes in to do an introduction to one of his reports; 5:30 p.m. anchor Steve Eagar does an on-camera preview of his newscast; chief meteorologist Dan Henry arrives to do his report. During commercial breaks, Tinsley and James study copy and chat, getting increasingly jocular as the newscast goes on.
It all seems to be over in a blink, with the apparent smoothness that comes from people having done this sort of thing hundreds of times. For Tinsley, who celebrates her 30th anniversary at Channel 4 today, it's almost second nature. (KDFW will celebrate the milestone with a special, CT Celebrates 30, at 9:30 p.m. Friday.)
But this 5 p.m. half-hour, and the 10 p.m. half-hour she and James also co-anchor, are only mere fractions of a day that starts around 9 a.m. with a fitness routine (including boxing two days a week) and ends at 1:30 a.m. after she's had some time to hang out with her husband, Dallas business executive Stephen Giles.
Although she might have to make a speech or attend a station-related event early in the day, the office day begins at 2 p.m., and Tinsley is just as jazzed about it now as she was in the early '70s, when a college field trip to a TV station in her native Detroit convinced her that the career she was already considering was the right one for her.
"When I hit that door, it's like, 'Whoa, what's going on?'" she says. "I've seen the news before I come in and I've read the papers before I get in, but it's like, 'What's happening right now?' And when I hear the door open and it's like people talking and radios and the phones are ringing, it's like, yeah, 'I love it, let's get to work!'"
Not everyone gets to do what they thought they'd do when they grew up. But Tinsley, 54, says she believes her path was set early. Although she'd considered a variety of careers -- medicine, law, even politics -- she says the beginning of reporting came when she was 2, when her parents noticed that she was unusually inquisitive. Her mother, a schoolteacher, gave Tinsley a blank book when she was in fifth grade and told her to fill a page every day. Tinsley wrote about what she observed in the world, shared the results with her friends and began at lot of conversations with "Did you know?" Her natural curiosity led to work on the junior high and high school newspapers, then to a radio-TV-film major at Detroit's Wayne State University, and then that fateful field trip.
"We went to WXYZ-TV in Detroit, and that was my first time being in a television newsroom," she says. "And I walked in, and it was like, my jaw literally dropped to the floor. People were coming in and out, they were talking loud, they were holding up scripts. Back then it was typewriters, you could hear typewriters. We had UPI [United Press International] at the time and AP [The Associated Press], and it was Teletype. You could hear the Teletypes working; the phones were ringing. It was just like, 'I want to do this. I want to be part of this.' And that's what really cemented it for me that I wanted to work in television."
After college, Tinsley took a job as a general assignments reporter, and then an arts reporter, at a TV station in Milwaukee. She was there three years when she was contacted by Allen Levy, then the producer of the 6 p.m. news at KDFW, who was calling friends around the country looking for a reporter good enough to fill an opening in a region that was then No. 10 in the country (Dallas-Fort Worth is now No. 5). A Milwaukee friend suggested Tinsley.
"Among the many tapes I received, Clarice's reporting was fine, but she also included some anchoring," Levy, now an LA-based network-news field producer, says via e-mail. "Her anchoring was much better than any other I had seen recently. So in my notes to the news director I recommended that Clarice be considered if we ever had an anchor opening. It was a timely suggestion. Clarice was brought in. And, the rest, as they say, is history."
For a Northerner, the moderate Texas winters -- Tinsley recalls that it was 80 degrees on her first Christmas here -- and brutal summers took some getting used to. But she found plenty of things to like about Dallas-Fort Worth.
"I really did like the people here. I liked the openness and the sense of hospitality," she says. "Living here can be very easy, and I loved the opportunities I got at the station in terms of the stories I was getting to cover. But I never thought it was a lock, I'm going to just be here, because there's so much that's out of our control. But I think in my heart of hearts, it was pretty early when I said, 'If I'm lucky enough, if I'm fortunate enough, this would be a great place to set down roots and really make this my home.'"
Tinsley's bio on KDFW/Channel 4's Web site ( www.myfoxdfw.com) lists many stories she has covered during her 30 years. She received a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for one of them, the 1984 story "A Call for Help."
The story, a report on response flaws in Dallas' 911 system, began when she received a call from a man named Larry Boff, who said that he watched his stepmother, Lillian Boff, die while a 911 nurse dispatcher and her supervisor argued with him and insisted that he put his stepmother -- who was incoherent and unable to breathe at the time -- on the phone.
Tinsley says Boff had taken his story to newspapers and other TV stations but couldn't get anyone to pay attention to him. "There was something in his voice, there was something in the way that he was talking to me, that made me say, 'This man is legit,'" Tinsley says. "Something happened, I didn't know to what degree, but something happened. I just said, 'Tell me more,' and I just grabbed my pen and notebook, and I started writing."
Tinsley made some calls, and a Dallas Fire Department source told her that everything happened just as Boff said it did, then hung up on her. She and KDFW filed a Texas Open Records Act Request for the 911 recording, and Tinsley discovered that the story was exactly as Boff had told it -- verbatim. She spent the next month working on a report on Dallas 911 training and procedures. The station received hundreds of phone calls after it aired, national newscasts and Nightline picked up the story, and 911 employees were fired or demoted or took early retirement after the story aired.
"The most significant thing is that the system changed because of that story," Tinsley says. "Tragically, a woman died in order for that to happen." Larry Boff, she says, is now deceased.
The Peabody Award had an unexpected effect on Tinsley's personal life: It led to her meeting her husband. A couple of friends threw a party for her, and a handsome man named Stephen struck up a conversation with Tinsley. He didn't hover; he'd go talk to someone else, then come back, and he seemed interested on a level that went beyond talking to a TV personality. But when he left, one of the hosts said, "Oh, I'm sorry Diane couldn't come," and Tinsley assumed that Diane was his wife.
"Well, he wasn't flirting with me, so there was nothing untoward," she says. "But immediately I'm like, 'OK, he's married,' although he wasn't wearing a ring."
A couple of days later, she got a card in the mail from Steve Giles, saying he enjoyed meeting her. She called one of the party hosts, wondering what a married man was doing sending her a card. "He's not married!," said her friend, who clarified that "Diane" was just someone Giles worked with. "So I got his number, and this is my doofus moment, I called him and I said, 'Hi, Steve, this is Clarice Tinsley, remember me?'" Two and a half years later, they were married.
Because she works nights -- she doesn't leave the station between newscasts and usually eats dinner at her desk -- Tinsley and Giles don't see each other as much they'd like.
"We really hang out on the weekends, because when he's up, I'm asleep, and he's at work," she says. "We talk on the phone during the day, but we really make the most of our time when I get home at night, and really spend time together on the weekends. It's worked out. Twenty-one years."
Besides co-anchoring the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts, Tinsley is probably best known for the Hometown Heroes series, which airs on Monday newscasts. In 1995, Tinsley pitched the idea of doing a series of reports on volunteers and people who give of themselves. "I was just up to here with that kind of [TV news] drumbeat of 'It's all dire and it's really serious and important and it's bad and you really need to know about it,'" she says. "Let's talk about great things that happen in North Texas as well."
Her first report was on Princella Hartman, then 89, who did volunteer work with newborns at Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital. Tinsley has said that Hartman looked like "the quintessential grandmother": petite, hair in a bun, half-moon glasses hanging from a necklace, a tendency to call people "honey."
"Because Princella was so fantastic, that's why I was able to get management to see what the franchise could be," Tinsley says. "Princella is now 101 years old, not volunteering anymore, but she's doing great. That's the person that I say helped give birth to Clarice's Hometown Heroes. Thirteen years later, it's still going strong."
Current and former colleagues note that Tinsley has plenty of the volunteer spirit herself.
"In so many ways, she's my Hometown Hero," says Baron James, her co-anchor. "She does so much in the community, she does so much with families and groups and organizations... . I've never honestly worked with someone who's so inspiring and so elegant and funny."
John Hammarley, a former Fox-4 medical reporter who is now senior media adviser and news bureau chief for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, says that although KDFW and Komen have a long history of working together, Tinsley's commitment goes even deeper.
"I worked with her for almost 15 years," Hammarley says. "I could reach across my cubicle and touch her office. And I can tell you that from behind the scenes, I can't give you anything else than what viewers see on the screen. She's caring, she answers phone calls, she writes e-mails back to viewers when she really doesn't have to. I think that's one reason she's succeeded for so many years in this market."
This year, Tinsley was honorary chair of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Dallas. The race was run in October, but Tinsley was involved in several activities beginning in April. She took on a project of her own with the Komen Promise Ring, which is sold in sets of two -- one for the buyer to wear, and one to give to a friend, with the promises that they'll conduct monthly self-exams and get mammograms after age 40.
"I saw the ring and thought, 'Oh, that's cool,' so I bought like three cases of 'em and just passed them out to women all over North Texas," she says. "And it was so cool because that ring engendered such a response on a really gut level. Women would say, 'My aunt died of breast cancer,' or 'My sister's fighting it right now,' or 'My mother had it, and I'm scared to death, and I really want to make sure we get that cure.' And it was something that they could see, that they could touch. I think it represented hope for them."
On the air, Tinsley projects a warm earnestness, but there's something intangible about successful news anchors that even people who study media have trouble putting their fingers on.
"One of the things that we'll do here is to put students in that situation and let them practice [anchoring]," says Andrew Haskett, a radio-TV-film instructor at Texas Christian University. "And you never predict beforehand, by looking at the people sitting in those chairs, who's going to be good at it -- and I don't mean technically good, but who's going to come through that camera and come through that screen."
Haskett says Tinsley and other successful anchors have "that thing where you want to go back."
"It must be a psychological thing," he says, "whether it's the face recognition in your brain or ... maybe [it] just fires the right set of neurons to where you're comfortable with that person."
Tinsley isn't the only long-running female anchor in Dallas-Fort Worth: KXAS/Channel 5's Jane McGarry and WFAA/Channel 8's Gloria Campos have been at their stations for more than 25 years. Tinsley has another theory explaining such longevity: It comes from the viewers.
"I think people in North Texas form attachments, and if you are worthy and you work hard -- it's a chemistry thing, I think," she says. "You never know what's going to work or not work. But I think people here are very open. I've been fortunate enough to have people say, 'Hey, you're in my bedroom, you're in my kitchen. I grew up watching you, and now my kids watch you.' I love that. I respect that, because it's a wonderful thing, but I don't know that you can ever say what the formula is that makes it work, what makes you want to watch someone not just tonight but over a span of time. It's a very special thing."
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