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The local news scene is about to lose Don Ellison, one of its most conspicuous presences and a pretty entertaining one at that. The beginning of the end of Ellison’s four-year run at WUSA-Channel 9 came last month when management tossed him off night duty. His work now only appears on the afternoon shows, but the station’s plan to make Ellison an invisible man will be complete with his impending assignment to the weekend morning team, the televised equivalent of a small village in Russia. Ellison’s been around TV news long enough to read the writing on the blue wall.
“They want me gone,” he says of his bosses.
Ellison says that when he was removed from nightly news his bosses told him they made the move because “the late show was getting complaints that it was too white.” That, however, wouldn’t explain why he’s being drummed all the way out of the department. When he moves on, he’ll be missed. By me, at least.
“Don Ellison carries himself like a superhero,” said a local PR man after working with him on a story. That’s a compliment, and a darn accurate characterization.
In Ellison’s mind, the best way to draw attention to a story was to draw attention to himself. Silly? For sure. Vain? Oh, yeah. But Ellison’s style also made for some of the liveliest live shots this market has ever seen. For a piece on an old tree in danger of being chopped down, he climbed the tree. In his report on a dangerous ditch, he did a twisting jump into the ditch, live and on camera. Sent to the area’s most unsafe intersection, he strolled into the street until a Metrobus came within inches of making road pizza out of him, right before our eyes. During last winter’s coldest cold snap, he went on the air stripped down to his hideous red thermal underwear. He is a guy who well understands the visual nature of the medium he works in.
Ellison never, ever let on whether he realizes that Edward R. Murrow might have taken a different tack.
“When I first came to 9, there were a lot of people who didn’t like my style, and a lot of people considered me to be this crazy person because of the way I did stories,” says Ellison, nostalgically. “But over time, people saw there was a method to my madness, and I won them over, to the point where station managers, in full meetings, held up my work as what they wanted to see everybody here doing. But now, new management is here, and they’re relegating me to news Siberia and telling me to leave. I’m baffled, but this is a dirty business.”
And so he goes. Channel 9’s recent hiring of Ed Laskos, another white guy and purveyor of amped-up journalism, is the final nail in Ellison’s coffin. No newsroom is big enough for both. Even Ellison is alarmed by some of the new kid’s tactics.
“This guy brings a prerecorded sound-effects tape to every scene, just so he can have these ‘whoooosh!’ noises when he goes on-air,” huffs Ellison. “I would never do that.” CP