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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