The Oral History of NY1

The Oral History of NY1

The story of the little channel that took on the big city, as told by the people who lived it.

As told to Hannah Miet (@HannahMiet)

It was summertime in New York City, 1992. David Dinkins was mayor. The city was mourning the 27 passengers who died aboard U.S. Airways flight 405 after it crashed upon takeoff at LaGuardia. The Real World had just wrapped its first season at a loft down in SoHo. And in a modest studio on 460 W. 42nd Street, 28 freshly hired on-air reporters were sweating through “video journalism bootcamp,” preparing for the launch of New York City’s first 24-hour local news channel, Time Warner Cable’s NY1. Their training ground was the former home of Univisa, a Spanish language television network. Their mission was as groundbreaking as it was earnest: to tell the “eight million stories in this Naked City”—with no fluff, filler, or regard for areas outside of the five boroughs.

Before NY1 hit the air in September of '92, there was no channel to flip to for New York City specific news. The broadcast stations in the region were limited to roughly three hours per day of local stories, divided between NYC and every other town in their Designated Marketing Areas.
 
All this uncharted territory in America's biggest city excited the newsmen who got NY1 off the ground. Richard Aurelio, then the president of Time Warner's New York City Cable Group, founded the station, hiring WCBS-TV’s then-news director Paul Sagan as vice president of news and programming. Sagan hired Manhattan native Steve Paulus, who had been at WCBS-TV since 1978, as news director. (Paulus is now a senior vice president at NY1.)  
 

Their mission was as groundbreaking as it was earnest: to tell the 'eight million stories in this Naked City'—with no fluff, filler, or regard for areas outside of the five boroughs.

 
 
Their budget paled in comparison to their broadcast competitors. They had a bare-bones staff and 1970s-esque graphics. Reporters focused on facts, not on personality. Their unflashy reports were delivered against a simple blue backdrop. The New York Times dubbed them “The Little Channel That Could.”
 
In the early days, when NY1 rolled up on the scene, a joke emerged among reporters for other outlets: They call it NY1, it was said, because they always send one person. Its reporters were often "one-man bands,” fumbling with tripods while holding their own cameras and microphones. NY1’s anchors were also reporters. NY1’s reporters were also videographers. NY1’s producers knew how to speed-edit.

Nothing, however, was more earnest than the content. In addition to the major stories of the day, NY1’s beat reporters covered park openings, rat infestations, and local-gal-done-good stories—deep into neighborhoods the networks barely grazed. They served the five boroughs and did it with pride.

As with so many other institutions, everything changed for NY1 on the morning of September 11, 2001. The channel’s reporters dodged falling debris to broadcast live from the scene. When CNN’s signal was ousted by the attack, they put NY1’s reporter on the air; NY1 footage was broadcast across the country. The one-man bands that were once a source of ridicule were essential in that time of chaos. Kristin Shaughnessy was alone and on the air when the first tower collapsed—just a couple blocks from where she stood. NY1’s fleet manager and courier captured footage of thousands of dust covered New Yorkers walking over the Brooklyn Bridge.

In the months following the 9/11 attacks, as other stations shifted back towards a normal news schedule, NY1 stayed with the story, dedicating an entire show, “New York Tonight,” to aftermath coverage for four years. The station received awards for its 9/11 coverage from New York Cares, The Uniformed Fire Officers Uniformed Firefighters Association of NYC, The American Red Cross, and The Geological Society of America. Their coverage on the 10-year-anniversary of the tragedy was extensive. Their follow-up stories continue to this day.

NY1’s public service during and after 9/11 did not directly increase its budget, according to Steve Paulus, the channel’s vice president of local news and programming. However, Time Warner Cable had no issue with funding NY1’s programming when other unforeseen expenses—like covering Hurricane Sandy—occurred. In the past decade, Paulus said the channel has had no budget cuts. They've increased the size of their staff and added Washington and New York Stock Exchange news bureaus, live traffic reporting, a Spanish-language version of the channel (called “NY1 Noticias”), and a Hudson Valley news channel.

It became clear that NY1 had outgrown its 25,000-square-foot Midtown studio. The station moved in January 2002 to a 55,000-square-foot space on the sixth floor of the Chelsea Market, which was once the set of HBO’s prison series Oz. At first, it “really looked like a jail,” NY1 Engineering Director Jeff Polikoff said in a (meta) NY1 report on the channel’s own move. "There were cells, there were isolation areas, there was a mess hall, and there was a gym.”

But the channel spent two years transforming that space into a state-of-the-art newsroom. The 35-foot column-less ceilings were a selling point, since they allowed the creation of multiple TV studios, offices, and desks. Six clocks were placed prominently in the newsroom. They were labeled "G.M.T.," (Greenwich Mean Time) "Bronx," "Queens," "Brooklyn," "Manhattan" and "Staten Island."

By the time the station celebrated its 20th anniversary last September, NY1’s household ratings had risen 86 percent since they were first measured by AC Nielsen. Roughly 4.5 million viewers were watching it on channel 1 in their homes, in addition to more than 10,500 corporate offices, 1,900 restaurants and bars, and 60,000 hotel rooms. NY1 became the go-to when major motion pictures and sitcoms (most recently, 30 Rock) needed a New York City reporter to explain a plot point. (In Cloverfield, for example, NY1 anchor Roma Torre reports on the earthquake that precedes the arrival of the monster.) According to a Talk of the Town piece in The New Yorker, Pat Kiernan has portrayed himself a dozen times, in TV shows like Law & Order and movies like Night at the Museum 2.

The channel’s presence became so ubiquitous that its society reporter, George Whipple, got shouted out on rap tracks by The Beastie Boys and Action Bronson. Last March, when Time Warner execs first announced plans to change the station's name to "TWC News"—as part of a rebranding that would likely include a graphics makeover and new theme music—diehard NY1 fans did not take the news well, using social media to register their displeasure. (The plan has since been put on hold.) Clearly NY1 is no ordinary TV channel.

Here's the story of a news station that became a phenomenon, as told by the people who made it happen.

 

THE PLAYERS:

 

Steve Paulus – Vice President of Local News and Programming, NY1

Matt Besterman – Executive Producer, NY1

Jamie Shupak – Morning Traffic Reporter, NY1

Pat Kiernan – Morning Anchor, NY1

Errol Louis – Host, “Inside City Hall,” NY1

Dean Meminger – Criminal Justice Reporter, NY1

Kristen Shaughnessy – Weekend Anchor/Reporter, NY1

Budd Mishkin – Host, “One on One,” NY1

Roma Torre – Mid-Day Anchor and Theater Critic, NY1

John Schiumo – Host, “The Call,” NY1

Lewis Dodley – Evening Anchor, NY1

Action Bronson - Rapper

Anthony DeRosa - Social Media Editor, Reuters

Amanda Massa - Video and Social Media Manager, NBCUniversal

Hamilton Nolan - Senior Editor, Gawker

A STATION FOR NEW YORKERS

Steve Paulus: I think that with NY1 the goal was always, we’re gonna cover the most underrepresented television market in the country, and that’s New York City.

Lewis Dodley: In the early days, NY1 was a work in progress, but we were determined to deliver. Once, our time and temperature bug went down and Paul [Sagan] had me read the weather live every ten minutes, with no graphics, and give the current time from my watch. Since then, the station that was searching for respect and credibility has grown into somewhat of a local news standard.

Budd Mishkin: I was dealing with athletes in those days, and I spent maybe a thousand nights in the Knicks’ locker room with the camera on one shoulder—the old heavy cameras, and the microphone—and there’s nobody else by themselves. And you always remember and respect those guys who looked at you and thought, 'This guy is working.' John Starks forever will be good with me, because he appreciated the fact that there was work going on here, physical work. And then there were others who gave us a hard time. Derrick Coleman of the Nets, that was hard. So you had to roll with the punches. You knew how hard you were working. You knew what you were trying to prove. 

 

You knew how hard you were working. You knew what you were trying to prove.
—Budd Mishkin 

 

Steve Paulus: When NY1 launched, the only local news you had was print and radio, but on television it’s only the broadcasters. And the broadcasters are in a pickle because the viewership is too large. The frustration of being a broadcaster doing news in New York is that you never know who your audience is: the 40 percent of the people who live in New Jersey or the 20 percent that live in Long Island, or the 30 percent that live in Manhattan, in New York City, or the 10 percent that live in Westchester County. You have to sort of take the common denominator that appeals to everybody, which is why you end up seeing a story like O.J. Simpson, or Joey Buttafuoco—the homogenized content that has the largest appeal to the largest geographic area. So we were able to say, 'You know what? Let’s talk about the mayor. We’re gonna cover mass transit—we got a reporter dedicated to that. We got millions of kids in the New York City school system. You know, the least we can do is dedicate one reporter to covering education.’

Kristen Shaughnessy: When we first started, we were all one-man bands, meaning we did our own stuff. Now, it’s very common, but at the time, it was unheard of. And a lot of the union shops didn’t like us because of that. They were mean out in the field to us... Now they’re fantastic. It took NY1 maybe five years to establish itself or maybe even September eleventh. At first, they were hoping we were going to go away. But now everybody does one-man bands. Which they said would never work in New York and it does.

Action Bronson: I’m a fuckin’ New Yorker. Who doesn’t know about NY1? That’s the channel that goes on in the morning. If you need to know the temperature right away, before cell phones and all this shit, you go to NY1. Weather on the ones, dude—01, 11, 21, 31, 41, 51. We’re not playing games. 

 

BEAT REPORTERS

Steve Paulus: When you're in a typical broadcast environment, you come in every day and it's sort of like a cafeteria. You come in and you get your tray, you get your story, and off you go. It could be a crime story, an education story, it could be a feature story. Our reporters, we expect them to come in every day with a story [in their beat] and pitch it. They are a part of determining what we do on a daily basis, and that's the true nature of the beat system. We established a beat system early on, so you had reporters who developed areas of specialization. 

Dean Meminger: We really start from the bottom line that most of the reporters here are native New Yorkers. So we’re like beat reporters born into the beat. I was born in Harlem and raised in Harlem and the Bronx and so many other people here, the beats that they cover, they were raised in those boroughs. So when you do a story, it's like, 'I know a lot about what goes on already.' Now, there may be an official story that I have to get from an official, but personally, myself or my family or my friends, we've dealt with this agency before so we really know what's going on. Does that give you a bias? If you were speaking to a lawyer in a story, or they were delivering a report, you wouldn't tell them to throw out their law degree to tell the story, so my bosses, when I was covering the Bronx, never told me to throw out the Bronx side of me. That was a very big part of me understanding the borough, the fact that I went to school there and that I lived there. And with the police, the criminal justice part of it as well, management here realized, Hey, this guy is doing a lot of stories about criminal justice and about the police and he has sources. So they said, 'Hey Dean, do you think you wanna be the criminal justice reporter?' After a while, I agreed to it. 

 

Most of the reporters here are native New Yorkers. So we’re like beat reporters born into the beat.
—Dean Meminger 

 

Steve Paulus: When I was at CBS, we were hard pressed to cover two stories a month on Staten Island. And we've got five, six people out there every day covering news. You know, there's more news out there that you can imagine. And the stories that we do are relevant to the people who live on Staten Island. I don't care if it is not relevant to the people of Newark, because people in Newark are not watching.

 

ALL NEWS, ALL THE TIME

Roma Torre: We're run by a group of people who've been in the news business all their lives. They're real journalists as opposed to folk whose bottom line is the profit as opposed to storytelling. We're just committed to giving you a pure news experience as opposed to all that other frou-frou that the other channels seem to feel is necessary.

Steve Paulus: We're not covering the fluff. I was at a dinner once, and it was the day that Anna Nicole Smith had died, and there was a toast made at dinner and the guy stood up and said, 'I want to make a toast to the one channel that we know did not lead with Anna Nicole Smith.' We didn't lead with it because it wasn't a story that was relevant to the daily life of New Yorkers.

Matt Besterman: Because we have a 24-hour format, we're able to go a little more in-depth than other stations that have to work within a 30-minute newscast—and we're able to cover a lot of the smaller, neighborhood-level stories the other guys might pass on. And of course, unlike many network affiliates, we don't have to worry about, say, who won Dancing With the Stars.

 

We're just committed to giving you a pure news experience as opposed to all that other frou-frou that the other channels seem to feel is necessary. 
—Roma Torre

 

Dean Meminger: At NY1, they allow reporters to stay on stories that are important and may not be the flashiest story. You have such a big issue now with stop-and-frisk, with the Police Department saying it’s a very important tool to keep crime down but many community residents saying it only targets Blacks and Latinos and you’re just stopping us because we are Black and Latino. And that’s a tough story to do because there’s so many sides to that story. Not a lot of flash to it, but a lot of times a lot of substance and a lot of understanding.

CHANGE, OR LACK THEREOF

Steve Paulus: We're certainly not accused of changing on a whim. I mean, I’ll tell ya, to be perfectly honest, in terms of format, it’s still a half-hour news reel with a NY1 minute at the beginning, and weather on the 1s, none of that has changed. Basically, if someone turned the television set on September 8th, 1992 and compared it to what you're seeing now, I think they would be pleasantly, comfortably, familiar with what we're airing. 

Pat Kiernan: We trade on consistency. That’s what our offering to the viewer is. We are a consistent team you can wake up to, turn on in the afternoon, turn on when something is going on. 

Jamie ShupakPeople have woken up in New York City for fifteen years to the same face doing the same routine, and while there have been minor tweaks, the graphics look the same, [Pat Kiernan] looks the same. And while that can be seen as a negative in some ways, I do think that the not changing makes people feel really comfortable.

Dean Meminger: I've been at NY1 since 1997, so we're talking about sixteen years. People have seen me on air for a very long time covering the various communities of New York City. So if I roll up on the scene, very often people do recognize me. Some people watch NY1 religiously, every day, and the other reporters every day, so when we roll up on the scene, they feel they know us.  

 

If someone turned the television set on September 8th, 1992 and compared it to what you're seeing now, I think they would be pleasantly, comfortably, familiar with what we're airing.
—Steve Paulus

 

Matt Besterman: Technologically, we're light-years ahead of where we were. When I came to NY1, we still shot and edited stories on tape. If I wanted a piece of video for a story, I had to tell an editor who would then cut the video. Now, I can edit it myself, right on my desktop. I have very precise control over the material we put on TV. The nature of news-gathering itself has changed. I came to NY1 before Facebook, before Twitter. The web was kind of a shiny new tool that we didn't really know how to use. We only vaguely sensed how important it would be. There were no smart phones. I didn't even own a cellphone until after 9/11. I remember coming to NY1 and seeing reporters with BlackBerrys and thinking that was the height of hi-tech. They could write stories right on their phones and email them in! Even after I became an Executive Producer — nearly four years later — I still took reporters' scripts over the phone, whereas today everyone has an iPad. Nowadays, when a big story is breaking — like the Boston bombings —the first place I go is Twitter. The pace of news-gathering is a lot faster — which puts more pressure on all of us to vet the facts carefully and get them right.

 

GRAPHICS

Matt Besterman: Our "no-frills" approach to news really appeals to me— it's one of the reasons I like working here. We don't generally have distracting tickers at the bottom of the screen, or any of the other bells and whistles that tend to irritate me about other news outlets. For us, it's all about the story—telling the stories that are important to our viewers, as best we can. But we're certainly not low-tech; it takes a lot of state-of-the-art technology to do what we do. It's just that technology is all under the hood, so to speak—not in the paint job.

Jamie Shupak: I have worked at places where their graphic packages are so flashy, and sometimes so obnoxious, that it makes you feel like that is how they get you to watch, instead of…

Pat Kiernan: —substance.

Jamie Shupak: Yeah! You know, content.

Pat Kiernan: And New Yorkers place a value on that and it’s almost like, the slicker the other channels try to be, the more the distinction stands out. 

 

The slicker the other channels try to be, the more the distinction stands out.
—Pat Kiernan

 

Jamie Shupak: I definitely go both ways on it sometimes. You know, [NY1] definitely looks super retro and super old school, and sometimes I'm like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe that this is what it looks like.' But I also appreciate that we're just giving it to you straight. We do our own hair and makeup, we have the graphics from, like, 1974. [Laughs] It's just very, 'This is it — this is who we are.’

 

FANS

Jamie Shupak: I was on WNBC for a while, and nobody ever came up to me on the street when I was on WNBC. And now, it's like, I'm at the grocery store, I'm out to dinner… and all over the place people are NY1 fans. Most of the time, it's 'I love you and Pat,' or 'Are you and Pat secretly in love with each other?' Or 'We wake up with you every morning!' Or 'You're much smaller than you look on TV,' which always cracks me up because I’m like, 'That is not a compliment.' [Laughs] But the best was when I was at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last spring, and Paul Rudd was walking into the party as I was walking out of the party. I went to say hi to him, just to be like, 'Oh, I'm a huge fan'—because I'll totally nerd out with celebrities—and he looked at me before I had a chance and he was like, 'Jamie Shupak! What the hell are you doing here?' And I lost it. I literally lost it. He was like, 'I watch you every morning!'

Action Bronson: Pat fuckin' Kiernan? That's my G, right there!

Amanda Massa: My favorite Pat Kiernan moment was when he reported from the NY1 rooftop the morning after a blizzard and made snow angels live on the air. That pretty much confirmed my suspicions that there's a true funny side to the serious anchor we see every morning.

Anthony DeRosa: Pat, to me, is quintessentially New York in a way that only real New Yorkers can appreciate. If you live outside or around New York you might have caught wind of the cult of Pat but you don't really know. Spike Lee is famous and from New York but Pat is famous for being New York. Pat is like the amazing local deli that every real New Yorker knows but doesn't want to share and spoil with tourists. I like to think of him as everyone's uncle.

Hamilton Nolan: Pat Kiernan and Roger Clark are the real life Batman and Robin of New York. I'm not sure what it is about Pat that makes everyone love him so much. Probably his inherent Canadian lack of ego. That sets him apart from just about everyone else on TV. Roger Clark is my favorite reporter in NY in any medium.

 

I think the viewers don't see us as above them, but as their equals.
—Roma Torre

 

John Schiumo: We’re not movie stars. We’re the local cable news hosts. So, for me, when someone sees me and I get stopped, it’s usually a comment about city government. That’s the most common thing I’ll hear. 'Tell Bloomberg to blank blank blank.' Yeah. That’s what I’ll do. You’re not getting stopped and chased down the sidewalk for autographs.

Errol Louis: [People on the street] ask me what I think is going to happen in the [mayoral] race, and I usually just shrug. Then they give me their theory, which is really what the encounter is all about, saying that they think Quinn is going to win or, "Is Weiner going to get in?’ All this kind of stuff. People are really quite sophisticated and very knowledgeable.

Roma Torre: I think the viewers don't see us as above them, but as their equals. We're very personable and the place has been crafted in Steve's image. He's a really nice guy and the people he hires are very friendly. Maybe that comes through on air. When I'm walking down the street and someone recognizes me, I usually get a 'Hey Roma, How you doin'?' like we're friends.

Budd Mishkin: Back when I covered sports, full time, I would be at the Garden a lot. You have a mixture of people: people who live in the five boroughs and people who live in the suburbs. It was interesting to see the different reactions. People who lived in New York [City] would say hello and then I’d see the reaction of some of the people sitting next to them [from the suburbs], like, 'Who’s that guy? Should we know him?’

Lewis Dodley: People usually ask me if I ever sleep, because they see me on the station so much. The most memorable encounter happened when I was sitting in a restaurant that was showing NY1 while I was on. A fan actually asked me if it was live. So I said, 'You realize I'm sitting here, right?'

 

MORNING NEWS

Jamie Shupak: Well, I get in at 4 a.m., and I'm usually in the makeup room by about ten after, quarter after, and Pat's usually in there about five minutes or so after me. I DJ the makeup room in the morning.

Roma Torre: I have to be honest, I would prefer makeup and hair people to help me. For no other reason than I think we would all look a lot better. [Laughs] I'm being honest here. 

 

"The success of morning TV is based around a routine, and people waking up with their 'people.'
—Jamie Shupak

 

Jamie Shupak: I think the success of morning TV in general, forget about NY1 for a second, the success of morning TV is based around a routine, and people waking up with their 'people.' If turning on the TV and seeing us talk about what we did the night before, how cold it is that day, if that’s the one thing that is going to keep them feeling secure, then great. Then we’re doing a good job.

Pat Kiernan: The comfort is a connection with the viewers. When we run into people they say, 'We love you and Jamie in the morning.' They act like we have a half hour show.

Jamie Shupak: Yeah, that’s all they want to talk about. I think we got lucky. [Kiernan] lets me poke fun at him, and I let him tell his jokes and stories and things. We worked out. I don’t think you can really explain it or pinpoint it. I often forget I’m on television. In the middle of a conversation, I’m like, 'Oh, wait.'  Well [Kiernan] and I have the same agent. And when we were negotiating my contract to work here, he kept saying, 'You’re going to love this guy.'

Pat Kiernan: You don’t manufacture on-air chemistry. You either have it or you don’t. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that I could start a sentence and Jamie could finish it.

Jamie Shupak: [Kiernan] played a big part in Brian [Stelter, of The New York Times] and I getting together. Well, Brian first found me on Twitter, and then he asked Pat right away if I was single before he messaged me the first time. Then Pat, without me knowing, was sort of playing wingman to Brian to help him date me. So it's really funny when people are like, 'You and Pat, you guys are making out, aren't you?' And I'm like, 'No, actually, he helped me and my boyfriend get together.'

NY1 IN POP CULTURE

Steve Paulus: We've been in more movies than you can imagine. The most fun was Elf, where NY1 was featured extensively in the last fifteen minutes of the film. What was great about Elf was that it has become one of those iconic Christmas movies and it gets played a lot during the holidays. We've been featured in several Spike Lee films. I guess when a director wants to reinforce the 'New Yorkness' of a film, what better way than to have the actors watching NY1? The strange one was the film Jumper, where a character who lives in [Michigan] was watching NY1, which was mentioned by a movie critic.  

 

When a director wants to reinforce the 'New Yorkness' of a film, what better way than to have the actors watching NY1? —Steve Paulus

 

Pat Kiernan: [NY1 is] an iconic New York City news brand. If people have not been here or heard of it, if they see the NY1 in the corner, not much doubt what city that station is from. If you’re going to sell the idea that you conjured up for your movie, I think part of it is, 'How would NY 1 cover it?’ When they come to me with these scripts, me and my editors are totally happy to play along with your story, but I want to see the script and have some level of comfort that it is how I would cover it. Obviously, dinosaur tracks in the snow on the west side of Central Park in Night at the Museum was far-fetched.

Jamie Shupak: Aside from [Kiernan's] starring role in Iron Man 3, I'd say my favorite role is his new one: as [co-]host of CNBC's Crowd Rules [a reality show, in which three struggling small businesses compete each week for a $50,000 prize].

Steve Paulus: We always look at scripts beforehand and insist on changes if necessary. We actually rejected The Paper, because television news was not depicted in the best light. We realized we had to have control over what clips were used in trailers as well. For the film Cloverfield, they used a Roma Torre clip in the trailer talking about explosions in New York Harbor and that actually confused some of our viewers. Now, we require pre-approval of use of NY1 in trailers as well.

Action Bronson: [On his lyric from the song "Steve Wynn," "Bite a bitch like George Whipple in the staircase"] You could just tell that George Whipple is a scummy dude. So at all these events he gets drunk and fuckin’ just tries to bite a bitch. You know? And it’s OK cause he’s George Whipple. That’s how I feel. I’m me. I could just get away with anything pretty much.

 

“THE CALL”

John Schiumo: [“The Call”] was my idea before there was Twitter and Facebook. I just got tired of having producers making editorial decisions. I always thought that people should have a say. There was one disagreement in the newsroom about the importance of the Martha Stewart trading scandal story. There was a day in court and our producers wanted to play it up really high and I didn’t think it was a big deal. I said out loud, 'One day I will host a newscast where the people will tell us what’s the news.’ Every morning, we post a list of the top ten stories of the day on the website. Then our viewers will spend the day ranking the stories. We take those rankings into consideration and we report on the five top stories and we take calls on the hot topic of the day. That’s the basic format. We pick the one topic that we think will resonate based on history, based on the viewers preferences, and we will talk about it for an hour. At 9 p.m., we take phone calls, we take emails, we [read] tweets, we look at our Facebook page. We have something that is called a 'snap poll' where people can vote with their remote. We will have someone call in and the first word gets the topic started. That’s the basic design of the program to give control to the viewers so they have a say in what’s happening.

Steve Paulus: We had no idea if it was going to be a hit, but we were very confident that the interactive concept would work. Whenever we have done any kind of call-in, we have been overwhelmed with responses.

John SchiumoWhen we launched, no one had done that before. No one had given editorial control to the viewers. We called up media outlets to ask 'Do you know of anybody in organizations that have given control to the viewers?’ And [one person] said, 'No, why in the world would you be doing that?’ It was such a foreign concept at the time. The fear was that the viewers were going to be really stupid and we were going to wind up talking about the latest Tom Cruise scandal every single night. We would put on one stupid story [on the website] every day, and to our delight people never went for it. 
 

We called up media outlets to ask 'Do you know of anybody in organizations that have given control to the viewers?’ And [one person] said, 'No, why in the world would you be doing that?’
—John Schiumo

 

We launched in July [2005], and the transit strike happened that December. Suddenly, there were no buses and subways for a couple of days. There were so many things going on that we received so many emails every night for two weeks. The other big story was when the City Council allowed Mayor Bloomberg to run again. New Yorkers were not happy. There were no outlets for them to express their anger, so they called us. The third was the unplowed snowstorm, when the city forgot to plow the streets. If you’re going to a website or watching the news at 9 p.m., you care about your city.

 

“ONE ON ONE”

Budd Mishkin: I was in Anaheim into 2002 covering the Yankees and the Angels in the baseball playoffs. And I was bored. And I thought, 'That’s not good. That’s really not good.’ And I came home, and I discussed it with my wife, who was really a 'seize the day’ type of person. [She said], 'Don’t complain about it, effect some kind of change.’ So I went to Steve Paulus and I said, 'Look, I’ve been covering sports for ten years. I still enjoy it, but I need a new challenge.’ So Steve said to me, 'We would like to make 'One on One’ a weekly [profile] series, Would you be interested?’ One of the first profiles was Puffy. Who at that point was Puffy, just moving over to P. Diddy. We went with “Sean Combs.” We thought that was official. And he gave us about forty-five minutes. When we get someone really well-known, we try to do something off the beaten path. So I found out that he was a Fresh Air Fund kid. Fresh Air Fund is when you take the kids out of the city for about a week or two, upstate or wherever. And I found out that he grew up in Harlem, and that his Fresh Air Fund place he went to was Amish country, Pennsylvania. And I was like, 'Are you kidding me?’ Just the notion of it is intriguing. I’m always intrigued by these diametrically opposed images. And so I asked him about it and he started talking about it. I think he was about eight or nine. [He talked about] how, growing up in his neighborhood, you always had your defenses up and how he went out to Amish country for about two weeks and he could walk in the fields. And he was wonderful talking about it. You didn’t hear him often on TV talking about it. He’s on TV talking about rap, hip-hop, maybe his own work, somebody else’s work. You don’t hear him talking about Amish country, Pennsylvania. And that’s much more interesting than his relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

 

THEATER

Roma Torre: The theater industry is responsible for bringing in more money to the city than all of the sports team combined. When you talk about stadiums that seat tens of thousands as opposed to these [small] Broadway houses, it's really quite impressive. Our boss is a theater lover, and from day one, there was no doubt that we would cover theater as extensively as we have.

Steve Paulus: We are recognized universally in the theater community as the only television channel that cares about theater. It's Broadway, but it's also Off-Broadway and community theater.

Roma Torre: Everybody else on TV has dropped their theater coverage and we've only increased it. In fact, we’re expanding it. I have to tell you, I get recognized more and more for theater reviews than my news anchoring even though I'm anchoring the news seven hours a day, five days a week. The theater reviews are only a half hour and only run four times on the weekends. That tells you something. The ratings are very, very high for the 'OnStage' program so you can tell that it's very popular.

Steve Paulus: One of our favorite days is the morning of the announcement of the Tony nominations.  We usually do a number of phone interviews with nominees and invariably they tell us that they were watching NY1 and not CBS.

Roma Torre: This year I came in to do the Tony Awards nominations and I sat on the set with Pat. Every year in the past, the Tonys begin the announcement of the nominations around 8:35 a.m. I was in the makeup room around 8:20 and our producer came in yelling, 'You gotta get on the air right now!' The circuit blew in the makeup room and I couldn't blow-dry my hair so I looked like hell. But what could I do? I had to flatten it down with hairspray and go on set. As soon as I plugged my earpiece in, I heard '90 seconds' and that was really hairy because Pat and I hadn't had a chance to confer and discuss what we'd focus on. The plan was that we would talk for maybe five minutes and they would start with the nomination. We usually do that because we're afraid that if it starts early, we don't want to miss anything. All of a sudden they say, 'Here are [the hosts] of the nominations' and then they say "Oh, but we have to wait for CBS so give us a few moments.' What we managed to do, which you won't see on CBS, is that Pat and I managed to stay on air and talk about theater and got into the nitty-gritty of what we thought would be nominated and analyzed that season. That went for eight minutes before CBS gave them the cue to start talking, so it was kind of annoying. 

 

CITY POLITICS

Errol Louis: If you are a New York City mayor or New York City official, you’re automatically considered in the running to become president, or at least most are. There’s kind of an importance to this or sort of a high profile quality to the local politics here that you don’t find anywhere else. There is a local political scene that overlaps with a national and international political scene. There are lots and lots of ethnic groups that are tracking their political groups back home. We got the United Nations here.

Roma Torre: There is a New York attitude out there. It's a brazen, brash, and aggressive perspective on life. It's a blood sport and fun to watch. I think we put it all out there: the blood, the guts, the good, the bad, the ugly. We have a platform to put it all out there, the most naked visage. You don't get that British parliamentary, everyone's-so-well-behaved thing. Here in New York, everybody just lays it all out there and they don't hold back. It's almost addictive to a lot of people to see how things unfold. 

 

Here in New York, everybody just lays it all out there and they don't hold back. It's almost addictive to see how things unfold.
—Roma Torre

 

Errol Louis: You do have some very vivid characters, and this is a city where, because there is so much going on, if you want to get a share of the public spotlight, you know, you are competing with Broadway, you’re competing with literally rock stars, you are competing with billionaires, you are competing with Madison Avenue, and so you tend to find people that are very vivid and distinctive characters. That is where you get an Ed Koch, that is where you get somebody like a Charlie Rangel, or somebody like that late Adam Clayton Powell. These are people who are absolutely larger than life. Mario Cuomo falls into that category. If you want to be here in this big noisy circus that is New York City, you’ve got to do something to stand out, and that applies to a lot of our politicians.

Steve Paulus: There are so many political stories. I suppose we knew we were doing a good job after our first mayoral election. Mayor Dinkins blamed us partially for his losing, while winner Rudy Giuliani accused us of favoring the incumbent. Mayor Giuliani was so unhappy with us that he only appeared in one interview on "Inside City Hall" in his eight years as mayor. That was when he endorsed Mario Cuomo for re-election as Governor, bucking the Republican party candidate, George Pataki. Of course, he was in thousands of stories, but he only granted us one sit-down interview.  

Roma Torre: I think we've managed to change politi-speak into language that people recognize as affecting them personally. It's not just political coverage for those interested in politics. It's really there for people who care about the city— which direction it’s moving and who's doing the moving. Having said that, I think we've contributed to selecting a smart electorate because the people are hearing what the politicians have to say, and they're able to read between the lines versus taking whatever is doled out to them. I think we've made a lot of headway in showing people politics matter. Not just for the other guys, for everyone living in the city—they're all impacted by the decisions made by these politicians. It's in their interest to pay attention to us.

Errol Louis: I had a very amusing ["Inside City Hall" interview] with Randy Credico [who ran as a Democratic party challenger against Senator Chuck Schumer in 2010]. In the middle of it, he started doing these political impressions — impressions of well known political figures. I thought it was pretty good. I was a little taken aback. There are a number of people like that. I did an interview with Jimmy McMillan [of "The Rent is Too Damn High" party fame]. Sometimes it is a struggle to keep a straight face. 

9/11

Kristen Shaughnessy: I was covering primary day [in Brooklyn]. We were short-staffed because everybody was working at night. So we had wired an entire school building, the two of us, and they said a plane had went into the towers. And we thought it was joke. Because we just pulled a hundred or two hundred feet of cable and we were like, 'There’s no way you want us to take all this cable out and go…' There was a group of firefighters in a fire truck who were going over there and they had shut down the Manhattan bridge. But I had worked with those guys a bunch, so they said, 'Follow us.’ So we followed them. We lost them around City Hall, a little bit before that. Once we lost the fire truck we had to stop, because you just couldn’t go anywhere. So the truck parked near City Hall and then I ran over to the towers. I talked to one of the chiefs and he had this look in his eyes that was just — you don’t ever really see on a scene. But he was like, 'Kristin, we don’t know what’s going to happen here so you just need to get back.' So I ran and got the nearest pay phone, which isn’t there anymore. I think it got blown out by the explosion. Like when the second tower came down, because it was close to that. It was right on the corner. And then I went live with Pat [Kiernan]. We had pagers, I think, cellphones didn’t work if we had cellphones.  

So I was on a pay phone, I was talking to Pat, and then the tower started coming down. And you started getting hit with debris because it’s so tall. I’m thinking in my head that it couldn’t possibly reach me, like I’m a block away. Well, of course it can, because it’s a huge building and it’s coming down. And in my head I was like, 'I’ve got to run.' And I just dropped the phone. There was an FBI agent there and he said 'Kristin, you have to run.' We had been chatting for a little bit. We were like the only ones on the street at that point…He was running too, and that’s when I knew it was bad. So then I ran to the East Side, lost my shoes. I wasn’t wearing shoes. And then it was sort of a blur. When I got back to the station, we went live about my experience. We just went live for the next two months, it felt like. It felt like you slept here and there and we just kept reporting. 

 

I actually said on the air thatwas no longer reporting as an employee of NY1, I am just telling you the story as an eyewitness.
—John Schiumo

 

John Schiumo: I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised here, I have friends who died on 9/11. I was one of the first reporters there. We were already downtown for primary day. I ran from the falling debris. I had never run for my life before that morning. So the story was personal. I actually said on the air that I was no longer reporting as an employee of NY1, I am just telling you the story as an eyewitness. And I didn’t have to say that, but it kind of freed me up to be able to do whatever it is I had to do. Whatever that was, reporting with emotion, or whatever, I didn’t feel I wanted to be constrained. I wasn’t planning on saying it. It just came out. I spent every day down there for about two months. It was a tragic moment, and reporting with emotion was totally appropriate, in my opinion. You obviously don’t want to break down and start crying on the air. But it’s also hard to feel sorry for yourself, when you have survived all this tragedy. So many people had it so much worse than we did. For me, there was no sort of pity—'Look at me, look at how hard it is for me to stand here and tell stories'—when the people in the stories are going through a lot worse. When they are looking for loved ones in a pit.

Matt Besterman: I spent 18 months in our World Trade Center unit, and I think that's probably the most important work I will ever do as a journalist. I got to meet and talk to a lot of those 'victims' families' you saw on TV—ordinary New Yorkers who found themselves a part of, basically, the worst thing that has ever happened to America.

Roma Torre: I would have been in the office at nine o' clock because that's when I arrive. But because it was a primary election day, and I was covering politics at the time, they told me to come in at two o'clock on September 11th. I was at home, and my daughter had just started kindergarten. My husband ran in and said, 'Turn to CNN!' I heard the woman who replaced me at the anchor desk speaking on CNN and that's because CNN's antenna was knocked out because they were on top of the World Trade Center. NY1's was on top of the Empire State Building. For a while, we were the only game in town. CNN was putting us on their air because they had no means of transmission. I got dressed so fast and jumped in the car and started driving, which was kind of foolish because I didn't have a game plan. Of course, from Jersey, all roads were closed getting into the city. I did a u-turn in Route 46 and decided to go North and went to Tarrytown and parked the car because I heard on the radio that Metro North was running. When I got to Grand Central Terminal, I miraculously found a cab and got one block until firefighters stopped the cab to ask if he could please let them in to take reinforcements to the tower. I was like, 'Of course!' So I walked to the west side. I really didn't get into the office until about seven or eight o' clock that night and I set out from my house at 10 a.m. 

When I got to work—I don't think I went on the air that day—they had it covered. But I had to be in at 5 a.m. the next day, and we all put in twelve-hour shifts. I stayed on the air two whole weeks, commercial free, and the women were exchanging jackets because we didn't have enough clothes to wear. We didn't want to look like we were wearing the same outfits three or four day in a row, so we began mixing and matching with each other. It was gratifying to be able to be the only ones broadcasting for a while. I started getting emails from people I knew from college and from high school who lived in various parts of the country because NY1 was being aired all around the country.

Lewis Dodley: 9/11 happened just days after I got married so there is a constant reminder of the yin and yang of life. That day there was no way to get to work so I had to walk...from the middle of Queens! When I got there, the energy and focus was like nothing I'd seen before in a newsroom and was not seen again until Sandy hit. In both cases, you could see how personal it was to everybody in the newsroom. I have been in the news business for 36 years and I had never seen that kind of teamwork and compassion in reporting. 

 

I have been in the news business for 36 years and I had never seen that kind of teamwork and compassion in reporting.
—Lewis Dodley

 

Budd Mishkin: I was asked to do a bunch of essay stories, like longform essay stories [about the aftermath of 9/11]. I did a package on John Perry, who was this police officer who actually resigned from the police force to become a lawyer, in order take a law job — on the day of 9/11. He actually gave his badge to one of the police officers at One Police Plaza. Then saw one of the planes hit, took his badge back, and ran to the towers. He ran in and died. We did a story about him and his family. He was a remarkable police officer.

John Schiumo: After 9/11, we launched and I hosted what was called “New York Tonight.” That was an all 9/11 show. I hosted that from November 2001 to July 2005. It was basically four years of 9/11. It will never be more meaningful than those years. I was covering a story that affected my city, my friends and me. It affected everyone. For a live hour at night, NY1 was not really a place that people tuned in.

They watch in the morning, they get their weather, watch ten minutes, and then they are out the door. That is how the station is designed; It’s not necessarily important viewing for a whole hour. And that wasn’t the case after 9/11. People would sit down and watch. It was important stuff. We had people in many roles come through the program: Senators, the Mayor, the Police Commissioner, the Fire Commissioner,the designers. Eventually, we transitioned into what should be built at the site. So we started having all the people that were stakeholders coming in.

Matt Besterman: There's one moment I remember very clearly. When "New York Tonight" was devoted entirely to 9/11, and I was its producer, we used to do a 'family roundtable' each month — we'd invite maybe 8 or 10 family members into the studio, and spend an entire hour's show talking to them about their concerns, hopes, fears, difficulties. One of these roundtables, we pre-taped early in the afternoon. I was a smoker then, so after the taping I went downstairs for a cigarette. As I'm standing outside the building on Tenth Avenue, out comes one of these family members—a retired firefighter who'd spent months combing the wreckage of the World Trade Center where his son, also a firefighter, was killed. He sees me and—in a thick Irish accent—proceeds to tell me all the reasons I should quit smoking: how he'd seen guys in their fifties die of heart attacks, all that sort of thing. And then he gave me a hug— and this was a huge 6-foot-plus guy, so he practically smothered me—and walked away. I'd like to say I quit smoking that day, but it took me a few more years.

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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