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This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Thurs., Feb. 14)

CBS11's Chris Salcedo, NBC5's Ellen Goldberg, WFAA8's Jim Douglas

The most important news of the day?

That used to be the benchmark for leading off a TV newscast. It's now become a laughably antiquated notion in D-FW and most other locales. Thursday's late night newscasts offered more proof that much ado about little doesn't keep a reporter from hitting in the lead-off spot.

On NBC5, fledgling Mistress of the Dark Ellen Goldberg (successor to former nightbeat reporter Susan Risdon) led the 10 p.m. show with the saga of an angry mother whose four-year-old son inadvertently had been left in a day care center bus for an hour after falling asleep.

Yeah, it shouldn't have happened. But the kid's just fine, and he agreeably giggled for the camera while sitting next to his momma.

WFAA8's Jim Douglas topped his station's late nighter with a "Buying Time" story about two Granbury inmates who were allowed to go on brief Thanksgiving and Christmas furloughs because they'd earned "trusty status." The men also had saved taxpayers thousands of dollars by making repairs inside the prison, the sheriff told Douglas. "Nothing bad has happened by these guys going home," he said, noting that the furlough policy also had been in effect under previous sheriffs.

One of the trusties has been serving an 80-year sentence "for drugs," Douglas said vaguely. He agreeably talked on-camera. But now the "shocked" judge who sentenced the men has ordered the furlough practice stopped, Douglas said at the end of his story. Cripes, what did that really accomplish?

Douglas is a solid, seasoned reporter who has little to do with how his stories are placed. And Goldberg seems to be a promising newcomer who does the best she can under the yoke of her station's crime blotter approach. But this is the fifth-largest TV market in the country. And neither of these stories really held much if any water wherever they wound up on the NBC5 and WFAA8 newscasts.

That brings us to CBS11's Chris Salcedo, who led Thursday's 10 p.m. newscast with "exclusive" audio tape from a Jan. 18th Southlake police department meeting in which chief Wade Goolsby told his officers to stop leaking information to outsiders.

Salcedo noted that his station and one of its "media partners," the Southlake Journal, were the first to reveal "allegations of integrity issues and immoral practices inside the Southlake police department."

The cop shop indeed is under an ongoing Tarrant County grand jury investigation. But Salcedo never went beyond his highly generalized introduction, which likely left most viewers puzzled.

Specifically, in case you wondered, several officers in the department have contended that some of the city's wealthy residents are getting preferential treatment. According to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story, "the issue came to a head after five teens received community service on a reduced charge of attempted criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor, after they were originally charged with criminal trespassing."

Chief Goolsby also has been accused of using department equipment for personal business and of impairing morale.

Salcedo didn't get into any of that during his mostly perplexing "exclusive." The chief's purloined audio tapes, which had a squeaky quality to them, mostly sounded like a typical company boss -- or TV news director -- telling the troops that internal business shouldn't be discussed with outsiders. In other words, business as usual.

For the record, Fox4 led its 9 p.m. newscast with an update on Thursday's "deadly massacre" at Northern Illinois University, in which five people were killed on campus before the shooter made himself the sixth fatality.

Having a heart: WFAA's Mike Castellucci and Fox4's Krystle Gutierrez

And In Other News . . .
NBC5 reverted to classic sweeps form with news of a "New Diet Development" that has many acolytes "peeling off the pounds," according to anchor Jane McGarry.

Reporter Meredith Land then did the dirty work, extolling a regimen that didn't seem to be much more than eating healthy and controlling portions. Except that "The Dr. Ted Diet" costs $895 for a 10-week immersion, which one patient said was "like pennies" paid for the privilege of shedding some flab.

Maybe WFAA8 should succumb to a feature on the "Dale Hansen Diet." After all, the loquacious sports anchor has shed 39 pounds in 41 days by his count.

"I'll probably die soon, but damn, I'll look better," he said in an email to unclebarky.com. He's nothing if not an inspiration.

***WFAA8 "Why Guy" Mike Castellucci hammed it up as always with a Valentine's Day love story about a Kaufman judge who married a prosecutor and now is giving him one of her kidneys, too. Castelluci quizzed them as though he were Perry Mason. Good story, hackneyed approach.

***Fox4's Krystle Gutierrez had a nice 'n' buttery piece on two seniors who met online after losing their longtime spouses. It didn't exactly hit the bullseye with the station's younger target audience. But oldsters need some sugar, too, and Gutierrez displayed a nice touch.

***Veteran Fox4 reporter Shaun Rabb also had a worthy story on efforts to get more young African-Americans interested in becoming doctors. He visited a classroom at Prairie View A&M, which has a prep course aimed at upping the very low percentage of black MDs.

***CBS11's Jack Fink asked Hillary Clinton some bracingly pertinent questions about her campaign in a satellite interview tied to Texas' possibly pivotal March 4th presidential primary.

"Why aren't women voting for you in the same margins as African-Americans are voting for Senator Obama?" he wondered.

Fink got a stock answer in return, with Clinton professing to be "very proud" of the "deep and broad" support she has among women. All you can do is ask sometimes.