For the past couple of weeks, KDFW/Channel 4 has had a series of digital billboards around DFW, honoring veteran anchor Clarice Tinsley on her 40th anniversary with the station. The billboards change daily, each one showing a different phase of Tinsley’s career.
On her Twitter feed, colleagues, competitors and viewers have been congratulating Tinsley, who will also be honored with a half-hour special, “CT 40: A Broadcast Life,” airing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 4) on Fox 4. All the attention is sort of a flip for Tinsley, who says that one of the reasons she’s in the business is to tell other people’s stories.
“I’m very grateful,” says Tinsley, who currently co-anchors the 5:30 and 10 p.m. newscasts on Fox 4. “It makes me happy. It’s very humbling. And it’s a time of reflection, because it’s about the work. It’s doing the work every day, every newscast, every story, and there really isn’t an opportunity to sit back and take a breath and look at what happened in the past.”
In the late ‘70s, Tinsley was working for a Milwaukee TV station when she was contacted by Allen Levy, then the producer of the 6 p.m. mews at KDFW, who was calling friends around the country looking for a reporter good enough to fill an opening at a station in the No. 10 (now No. 5) market in the country. A Milwaukee friend suggested Tinsley.
Her demo tape included some anchoring footage along with field reporting. Levy liked the anchor footage, and suggested to KDFW’s then-news director that he consider Tinsley if they had an anchor opening. It turned out to be a timely suggestion, and Tinsley was brought in. She liked the hospitality of DFW and the opportunities she got at the station, and it didn’t take long before she decided that it would be a good place to set down roots.
She didn’t immediately think a long career in DFW was a lock, because there were factors she couldn’t control. Now she often runs into people who say that they’ve been watching her since they were children, or that they’ve watched her for more than 30 years.
“I think maybe sometimes some people think, ‘Oh, those are too many years to talk about’,” she says. “ I’m like, ‘No, no, no — I love hearing that.’ First of all, thank you for watching for all these years, but that’s part of what you want to hear that you’ve been part of someone’s life for years or decades. “
Tinsley was at the station less than 10 years when she won a George Foster Peabody Award for “A Call for Help,” a 1984 report on response flaws in Dallas’ 911 system. In 1995, she launched the “Hometown Heroes” series, a series of reports on volunteers and people who give of themselves; it continues to air during the Monday newscasts.
But a lot of big things have happened during the past 10 years. Tinsley is not one for slowing down.
“I just won an Emmy, a Lone Star Emmy, for a documentary that I did, ‘In the Moment,’ on Jan Strimple, who is in a battle with breast cancer,” Tinsley says. “Jan is this phenomenal presence. An amazing model, she produces really high-end fashion shows for profits and nonprofits, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer — I think it was about this time last year.”
Strimple, a 6-foot tall model with, as Tinsley puts it, flaming red hair, began losing hair during chemotherapy. Rather than wear a wig, a hat or a headwrap, Strimple decided to shave her head.
“You see this woman who’s 6 feet tall, and you say, ‘OK, what is the story here?,” Tinsley says. “Jan has inspired so many women by basically telling them, ‘Yes, I’m fighting cancer, I’m doing this my way, working with my doctors and my nurses, and you know what? It’s only hair. And my life is more important than that.”
The documentary aired in May, and Tinsley says that many women were inspired by the story.
In 2014, Tinsley interviewed President Obama in the White House, making international news because sjhe asked about the search for Malaysian flight MH-370; a North Texan, Philip Wood, was among the passengers on the plane.
And according to her station bio, she was in Dubai with her husband on New Year’s Eve 2015, when she saw smoke in the distance. She went on social media and discovered that it was a fire at the Address Hotel, near the Burj Khalif, the world’s tallest skyscraper. She shot video of the smoke from the roof of her own hotel, then walked two miles with her husband to cover the fire and send video to Fox 4.
Her bio lists numerous other accomplishments, but Tinsley reiterates that it’s all just about doing the work.
“It’s about the story and what’s next and what’s new, and just being there,” Tinsley says. “That’s what I get energized about. That’s what I look forward to. And when I hit the newsroom every day, if I don’t have a smile on my face, I’m smiling inwardly, because it’s like, ‘OK — what do we tell people about today? What do we help them understand today? What’s going on where we can make a difference in terms of telling that story?’ “
Tinsley says she started “Hometown Heroes” to help provide some positive stories to balance out stories of crime and tragedy. “Volunteers who help nonprofits, I think, are the lifeblood of North Texas,” she says. “And to be able to tell those stories, and to have done it once a week since 1995, it’s fantastic. Those people aren’t looking for recognition, they do it because they are true humanitarians.”
One of Tinsley’s favorite Hometown Hero pieces is about Haley Whatley, a little girl who started The Bunny Drive when she found out that there were other children who would not be able to go home at Easter because they were in the hospital. Haley encouraged her schoolmates to donate stuffed rabbits to patients at Cook’s Children’s Medical Center..
That was 18 years ago, when Haley was 5. Tinsley continued following Haley’s progress, and did a Hometown Hero report on her in March 2018.
“Haley is now married,” Tinsley says. “She’s about to become a mother. And she has given other kids the inspiration to continue the Bunny Drive. It’s now going into its third generation.” After rHaley graduated from high school, Trudie Troublefield took over the Bunny Drive, which she renamed the Joy Project (Whatley’s middle name is Joy) — and Troublefield recently handed the reins over to Brooke and Carys Henry, the teen-age daughters of Dan Henry, Fox 4’s chief meteorologist.
There’s a perception (based in a certain amount of reality) that DFW is a volatile media market, but many of Tinsley’s on-air anchor partners on Fox 4’s evening newscasts have also been at the station a long time. Heather Hays and Steve Eagar have been anchoring together for nearly 20 years, and Henry has been with the station since 2003.
“We have a brand as a station that I think is very definite, and it’s something that I think people relate to,” Tinsley says. “That has a tremendous amount of viewers, because they know who they are. They trust us in good times or bad. .... To have that kind of stability for a station is very important.”
If Tinsley has anything to do with it, she’ll continue to be part of that stability. Another veteran anchor, WFAA’s John McCaa, has announced that he will retire on March 1; McCaa’s longtime co-anchor, Gloria Campos, retired in 2014. But Tinsley has no plans to retire.
“I don’t know what that word means,” she says. “I love what I do, I feel very grateful, it’s a privilege to bring people their news every night. I’m looking forward to what’s new, what’s next. I want to stay in the game.”
This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.