The Oral History of NY1

The Oral History of NY1

THE REBRANDING

[In March, Time Warner executives informed NY1 staff that they were planning to change the station’s name to TWC (Time Warner Cable News), as part of a rebranding that will likely include a graphics makeover and new theme music. Despite the fact that Steve Paulus promised, in statements to many news outlets, that the tone, quality and news would not change with the rebranding, the news was not taken well by die-hard NY1 fans.]

Matt Besterman: Well, first of all, it's very gratifying to see that so many New Yorkers feel such a personal attachment to the NY1 name and brand. Certainly we've all worked very hard for more than twenty years to earn that kind of loyalty and confidence. All I can really say is that, at the end of the day, it's not about what we look like or what we're called—it's about the quality of our work, and that isn't going to change.

Steve Paulus: The bottom line is this: NY1 is a Time Warner Cable company. It’s one of the primary reasons why people don’t leave Time Warner Cable. They know that if don’t have it, they will lose NY1. Now, the hard part is that there a lot of people out there who don’t know the ownership issue. We get many emails from people who’ve left to go to another provider and they say, 'I can’t believe I can’t get NY1 from Fios.' You know, that kind of thing. There is a really high viewership but a lack of ownership awareness, so we really want to push the connection as much as possible. The simplest way to do it is to simply rebrand. Clearly, the reaction to it, you know, people are concerned. 

 

At the end of the day, it's not about what we look like or what we're called—it's about the quality of our work, and that isn't going to change.
—Matt Besterman

 

Roma Torre: All you had to do was pick up a newspaper or look at the Twitter feed a day after [the rebranding] was announced to see that everyone was so upset about it. There are editorials about what a dumb decision it was. I understand, from a marketing standpoint, why it was done. My thought is, 'If it ain't broke, why fix it?'

John Schiumo: [Viewers] feel a sense of ownership [over the NY1 brand] on some level. You can’t call up Channel 4 and talk to Chuck Scarborough, but you can call up NY1 and talk to us. We present ourselves as, "We report what you tell us to; Tell us where you see news happening and we’ll go.’ And over the course of twenty-something years, that has sunk in.

Errol Louis: I think there is a real attachment based on the way people watch the station. I mean, I remember when it first came on the air and I was doing something completely different, I was doing community work, and I noticed that everyone in and around City Hall had NY1 on all day. And they had it on with the sound turned down off in the corner, and when something important came on the screen, he would turn it up and check it on it and turn the screen and then he would turn it back down. I think the fact that in their homes and in their offices and increasingly in commercial places—I mean I went to my dentist the other day and they had it on — it’s really like part of the furniture. It’s part of the, you know, the texture of the day and so to hear that anything is going to change in it, it’s like, 'Wait a minute, this has been in my living room for the last ten years. What are you doing?' It’s like that big Pepsi sign on the East River: People spent years complaining about it, 'an eyesore’, and then once they tear it down, there is a giant movement to declare it a landmark.

Steve Paulus: You know, we haven’t resolved what the branding is going to be and what it’s going to look like. I’m pretty sure, ninety-nine percent sure, that we’re going to retain the NY1 bug, you know, the logo, time, and temperature on the screen, you know, that the mic flag is gonna be the same. You know, you’d have to be crazy to take the most iconic logo and brand in New York City and convert that to something else, so clearly that was never the intent.

 

HURRICANE SANDY

Pat Kiernan: I didn’t think we would ever have a story that had as many moving parts as 9/11 did. We came pretty close with Sandy. The crane hanging over Midtown is a news story for a week. Thousands of homes wiped out is a news story for a week. The gas lines is a news story for a week. All of these stories would have us going for more than a week.

Jamie Shupak: Also, the power went off here [at NY1 headquarters].

Pat Kiernan: We were on this little island of emergency power. We were hiking upstairs from the blackout streets to get here.

Jamie Shupak: Dumping buckets of water to go to the bathroom. It was an experience, for sure. You sort of kick into overdrive.

John Schiumo: I was just fielding phone calls for hours before Sandy hit. I felt less like the local newscaster and I felt just like somebody’s neighbor, just trying to answer questions. People were calling in with everything from, was their school going to be open, were they going to pick up my recycling, do I have to leave my home, where can I go? 

 

I felt less like the local newscaster and I felt just like somebody’s neighbor, just trying to answer questions.
—John Schiumo

 

And then afterwards, it was the same thing. 'I can’t get in touch with my parents, they were in Breezy Point, what do I do?’ That sorta stuff. So my role transitioned and goes back to the way I was treating reporting after 9/11. And I just look at these moments as, OK, don’t just be news anchor, be everybody’s neighbor. Help with what they need to know. All style points go out the window and you just communicate.

Matt Besterman: I was working Monday night, when the storm came ashore. We were live for eight hours, with no breaks. As the storm worsened, NY1's phone and Internet service went out—no one could call in, during a time when you desperately need people to be able to call in. I remember one of our colleagues, who lives in the Rockaways, sent a station-wide email saying, 'Please pray for us.' That was when I started to get scared. I'd worked through Hurricane Irene, but this was far worse than we'd expected.

John Schiumo: I was one of the three anchors on the set throughout the night. It was challenging because we were completely in the dark, no pun intended, as far as gathering information. Our reporters were out there, it’s two, three a.m., the storm is at its height and there is no way to communicate with each other except by cellphone. I just got on Twitter, which was kind of like a mini “The Call,” without making phone calls because all the power was out at NY1. We were on the backup generators. It finally occurred to me, based on tweets, that there was a problem in Breezy Point, and I actually said that on the air. Pretty early in the evening I said that I had a really bad feeling about Breezy Point. And sure enough, when the sun came up hours later, it was proven to be justified. I keep seeing an orange sky over breezy point. And that obviously indicated fire and I was getting no tweets from Breezy Point. Zero. Actually, the whole peninsula was quiet.

Jamie Shupak: Brian was covering the storm in Maryland for the Times, so I was by myself, and I woke up, and I was petrified. He took the flashlights with him because we didn't think it was going to be bad here, so on his advice I carried my laptop with me to work so I could use that as a light. So I was walking down the hallway in my building with my laptop held open. I looked like a crazy person, and I get outside and, for anyone who knows because they were in this zone during Sandy — I live about ten blocks from the station — there is a difference between 'dark' and 'blackout.'

I started walking up my street, because obviously there were no cabs or anything, and I closed my laptop at this point, because it was too hard to maneuver like that. So I was walking and literally tripped over this enormous tree that had fallen into the street that I couldn't see in front of me. And when I got up, thank God there was a police car pulling around and they were screaming at me like, 'What are you doing outside? Go home!’ And I was like, "I have to go to work!’ It was one o'clock in the morning. I literally looked like a lunatic, and they wound up driving me into work. I get to Chelsea Market and it's black and we have to walk up the stairs. The first person I see is Steve Paulus carrying huge buckets of water, which really speaks to NY1 because I doubt at any other network you would see…I doubt that you would see the head honcho spilling buckets to make sure the staff could go to the bathroom while they were there. It was at the same time really comforting and also really petrifying. I was sort of like, 'Oh shit, this is really bad. Steve Paulus is refilling buckets of water for us to use the bathroom.'

Matt Besterman: I was trapped in the city for a few days—I think it was early Thursday morning when I finally made it home. I basically lived at the station. We'd sleep in hotel rooms that had no power, water, or elevators. Our crews were constantly on the lookout for which gas stations still had gas. Our managers brought in food for us wherever they could find it. At one point, a restaurant downstairs in Chelsea Market wanted to get rid of some food they couldn't sell, so a bunch of us went down and filled plates to bring upstairs. We had this brigade with paper plates of Italian food. The whole experience was surreal. I'll never forget, maybe a week after the storm, seeing video of people in the Rockaways making campfires on their lawns, burning their ruined furniture for warmth. You see that, and the long difficult workdays no longer matter. You just think, 'These people need me to keep working,’ and you do.

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