Talking TV: Putting An End To Drive-By Reporting At NY1
Annika Pergament has little patience for an old TV news habit: Report on a big story, show how it has upended someone’s life and then … just move on.
That penchant for “drive-by reporting,” as she calls it, will find no quarter in The Rush Hour, the new daily afternoon newscast Pergament is anchoring at Spectrum News’ NY1. Instead, she aims to circle back to big stories and the lives intersected by them to see how it all turned for the key people involved.
In this Talking TV conversation, Pergament, a 30-year veteran reporter and anchor for the station, shares her ambitions for a different kind of newscast, the conventions all around her that irk her the most and explains how much is at stake for TV news this year.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Annika Pergament is a three-decade veteran of Spectrum News’ NY1. She’s the anchor of a new two-hour weekday news program, The Rush Hour, on NY1 that debuted on January 16th.
I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV, our weekly video podcast. Today, I’m in conversation with Annika Pergament to talk about the new show’s ambition to dive deeper into New York news and her vantage point from the anchor’s desk about how local TV news is, and should be, changing. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Hello and welcome, Anika Pergament.
Annika Pergament: Thanks for having me.
Thanks for being here, Annika. What was the impetus for an overhaul in the 4 to 6 p.m. weekday slot at NY1?
I think increasingly we were realizing that it’s such an important news hour. People sort of digest a lot of local news sometimes quickly, on their way out the door, and then they get on with their days and don’t know how the stories that we first introduced in the morning panned out, or what develops during the day.
So much happens between when you leave your home in the morning and when you’re ready to go back home in the evening, and a lot of people in New York City, especially, who work at odd hours, are on their way out for the evening and they’re just checking in. “What do I need to know before I go out? Either to dinner or to work, or wherever I’m headed?”
So, we thought that that was a really crucial hour to sort of set the table and let people know, these are the important stories of the day, as a New Yorker, this is what you should just be aware of. And while we have viewers there, we want to also introduce them to some topics, subjects, issues that might not even be on their radar: Interviews with newsmakers and leaders of institutions and so forth.
So, we’re hoping to draw them in with the important stories, so they feel prepped and ready to go out and then if they linger with us, we’re also going to bring some really rich content in terms of feature stories and so forth. But it’s an important time of the day and people don’t really have time to linger then sometimes, and they just want to get what is happening. So, we’re going to hopefully meet them where they are, be fast paced, hard hitting and informative.
In pragmatic and substantive terms, what does that look like inside of the newscast? How does it render differently for a viewer?
Sure, well, we’re going to start with the headlines. Just the brief headlines. This is what’s going to come up in the next hour. We’re going to get right to the weather, because that’s obviously a crucial thing for New Yorkers, because so many of us are going from point A to point B on foot or to the subway or something. We’re not in a car. Then we’re going to get to the main story of the day and that that changes every day, and sometimes there’s more than one. We’ve got a host of really experienced field reporters in New York at NY1, and they’re working their stories, and sometimes we’re going to have them on halfway through that work, and they’re not finished, but they’ll jump on with me and say, this is what I’m working on for later.
This is what I’ve learned since you heard about this story first in the morning. So, we’re just going to really give you the updates. In the practical terms, it could be a development outside of City Hall. It could be a crime story. It could be something—a massive protest that’s impacting travel around the city. I mean, you know as well as I do, that those are unpredictable, and they can take any kind of form. But we’re going to give you the most important information that can make you feel informed, whether that story is going to impact you directly, or whether you’re going to run into a colleague at work later or somebody at dinner and they’ll say, “can you believe this is going on?” and you’ll at least want to know and be aware of the story. So, that’s sort of the first 15 minutes of the show.
We’re always going to cover business headlines from Wall Street. My background’s in business, so we’re sort of reintroducing some fresh business news, and that’s not going to overtake things, but it’s really so that you can also be informed about the business world, the real estate… I feel like real estate in New York, it’s such a fun topic, an interesting topic.
There’s the housing crisis, obviously, that’s not fun, but that’s important. But, you know, real estate is a huge part of New York City business news. In fact, we have a story that we’re doing looking at one of the first office buildings has been converted into apartments, and we’re talking to the architect and developer how that’s been done and the whole process, because obviously that’s a big topic in New York, whether we can get more housing stock out of the current buildings. So, you know, I’ll have guests on like, those are two guests, for example, I’ll have a lot of our reporters on when they’re in the newsroom or in the field to sort of… how are they getting their information? It’s not going to be them so much just blurting out everything they know, but we’re going to try to have conversations to get a little bit deeper to what’s on their radar, how are they finding their stories? Yeah, so that’s the gist of it, and also, we’ll always cover politics. We’re calling that segment, with Errol Louis, “The Political Lane.”
We seem to be in a period where more and more newsrooms are taking a critical look at what they’re putting out into the world, and they’re unhappy, and certainly viewers are unhappy, with much of what they see out in the whole landscape. What do you see in other newscasts — and I’m not asking you to call out any competitors specifically, but generally speaking — what do you see in other newscasts that hits you as antiquated or in other ways problematic? What are some of the worst things you see newscasts doing that you wish they would stop?
Thank you, I don’t want to call any particular newscasts out, but I think it’s never helpful, and nobody’s learning anything, when one station is calling out another and criticizing the way they’re doing the news, and I don’t think a viewer cares to see two different anchors on two different stations go back and forth at each other. That’s a waste of everybody’s time, and it’s negative and unproductive and really uninformative. So, that’s one thing. I think another… I mean I cover local news. I think New York City is the best local news market really in the world, because it’s not—well, it’s a very sophisticated market. Like I was just saying, Wall Street is here, you know, it’s a center of industry. So, it’s like you have all the big macro stories, and then you have the small community stories happening on every block all across the five boroughs. So, there’s really everything here. We try to cover that in a in depth way.
I think sometimes what I see on local news is a lot of, like, for lack of a better phrase, like drive-by reporting. There’s a fire. It’s very easy to cover, like the police blotter stories because it’s shiny and busy behind you with the flashing, you know, the sirens and the lights, and then they move on. What we hope to do and what we really see as part of our mission in The Rush Hour is to follow up on these stories to see how they pan out. We’re introducing people to our viewing audience that have been through something that is newsworthy. That’s why you met these people in the first place, or you saw what happened to them in the first place, whether they’re migrants, whether they’re people who’ve been displaced because of a fire or a crime or any of the above. We want to follow up.
Where did that story pan out? Because I know as a news viewer it’s very frustrating, or as a reader of the of the paper, “whatever happened to that person? How did that story [end]?” So, we’re trying to remind people, “oh, remember a few months ago we told you about this? Here’s where they are now. This is what’s happening.” Whether that impacts all New Yorkers or not is not necessarily what we’re going for. It’s more the stories that we all are interested in, that we all have a vested interest in because as broad and big as New York is, it is a series of neighborhoods and communities, and those are the kind of stories I feel like, that tie people together that we can all sort of relate to, and it sort of brings the city together in a lot of ways. When you find those stories, those are really what we aim to bring, not to just like touch on something and then move on and never revisit it.
Well, dovetailing into that, I mean, TV news has a big trust problem, and that has spread from being directed to national news now deeply into local news. Do you see that largely as a self-inflicted wound by the local TV news industry? I mean, did it come by this position that it’s in honestly?
I don’t know. I hear what you’re saying. I don’t I think that the problem that national news has … it’s so divisive and partisan. I think that’s largely driven by presidential politics, and then those big national divisions I don’t think exist locally. I think locally, at least here at NY1, it’s much more of like a utility news, and I think that over the course of the past 30-plus years, we’ve earned that trust of viewers. It’s not that we’ve earned it once and then haven’t continued to try to always take it seriously and not for granted and re-earn it.
But I don’t think … and I feel really fortunate that I’ve never been in a position that I have to sort of take a side on a divisive issue. I think we can talk to people who feel really divided. I mean, I guess right now the two stories that come to mind that people are very divided on is the Israel-Hamas war and is the situation with the migrants. And people feel very strongly, and they are very divided and very dug in and really enjoy their echo chambers. So, the best way that we can cover that is to not cover it emotionally.
And first of all, in terms of local news, how is it important for New Yorkers? It’s important when you’re trying to get home and Grand Central is shut down and you take Metro North, OK? It’s important when you need to go over one of the bridges. In fact, we interviewed somebody who was trying to get to a doctor’s appointment and couldn’t, using his car, because of the protest. So, those are the ways that those stories impact our viewers. I hope they know that they can come here and we’re not going to say, “you’re right and you’re wrong.” We’re going to say these are the issues. I mean, because this is what I do, and I feel so strongly about it, I can’t approach it with the concern that people aren’t going to trust me. All I can do is to continually try to earn that trust and hope that people see that that’s the way that I see my job, and to give people a voice when they want to speak out on a topic.
You have obviously a lot of power in the anchor chair to shape or to frame the narrative here. You were talking a bit about when you’re checking in with reporters during this newscast. Often, they’re not finished with their work. It’s not a complete kind of polished package that they’re handing over to you, but you seem to be wanting to engage them more conversationally about a story that’s developing, in progress. Is that sort of how you are tackling this, to focus on transparency and process more? Is that a deliberate and kind of constant beat that you want to hit in this newscast?
Well, that’s not every story, because a lot of the times they are done or wrapping up and they know what they need to know to report for that day. But it is something that we do want to continually hit, and we have a segment that’s called Reporter’s Notebook. So, I’ll bring on a reporter to say, “You know, what are you working on? What three stories are you working on? How are those panning out? How did you learn about this?” Sometimes they can say, sometimes they can’t, you know, if they’re protecting a source. But the idea is to sort of introduce to people how the sausage gets made, and for me to ask those reporters what their work process looks like, what they’re waiting to learn, what they already know and how they’re going to approach that story so that when that story’s ready for air. People have a little bit of an idea about what went into it.
Do you see the role of the anchor evolving pretty rapidly now? Has it changed substantively, and if so, how are you aware of that when you’re doing your job in the day to day?
I think at NY1, it’s different than it is anywhere else, and so I’ll speak, obviously, just from my experience here. It has evolved because back in the day for the first at least, 15, probably 20 years of NY1’s existence, the anchor was a news reader, would for sure anchor live coverage if something big happened in the city, but otherwise it was reading a series of stories and the anchor was really viewed sort of just as a commodity.
There was a mission at NY1 that there’s no, you know, “stars.” We’re just here to report the news, and we’re not here to make it about us. The way that’s changed, it’s not that we’re making it about us, but we are much more involved. We have, you know, we have shows now as opposed to just half-hour news wheels is what we used to call them, and so we can we can invite on guests.
I think the different tones and personalities of the shows are a reflection of the anchors of those shows. You know, Errol Louis covers inside City Hall his own way, his own style. You know, it’s the topics that he wants to focus on. Pat Kiernan is on in the morning with the topics that he likes to focus on. And so obviously you have to enjoy and be engaged in the topics that you’re bringing to New Yorkers, and also make sure that’s not clouding or getting in the way of bringing them the important news that they absolutely need to know.
The fun part is doing both, bring them the news and then bring them what you think you should dive into a little bit more, who you think you want to bring on as an interviewee to probe a little bit deeper as to what drives that person, whether it’s an elected official or a business leader or somebody who’s done a heroic act in their neighborhood, you know, people who you want to introduce to our audience who are changemakers in the city.
It sounds like with this newscast right now that you haven’t had to really hang up your reporters’ spurs while anchoring here. You can still do both jobs in a way.
Yeah. In fact, it’s funny you say that because I definitely had to dust those off probably two years ago, because I had been doing the morning show, which was business news, which a lot of it was just covering it from behind my desk. A lot of it was in-house unless I was going out to profile a CEO. But as we’ve been getting ready for this show and over the past year and a half, there’s topics that interest me deeply, and I’ve done deep reporting on them because I’ve been able to make some calls, track down some people and uncover some really interesting things. I did a deep investigative series into ACS. I’ve always been interested in the topic of certain city agencies that operate behind a veil of secrecy, and …
This is child services for those who don’t know.
Child Services, yeah. And so, I was able to do that, and I continue … that’s one of my areas that I’m most interested in. With this show, it’s funny that you said that, ’cause I just said to my husband yesterday, I said, “It’s so nice. I can book guests with my producers. We can talk about them, and we can really bring on who we want.” And it’s not that we’re bringing on everybody, you know, people say no, but we can try, and we can discuss what we think is interesting and then we can just go for it. And that’s a real joy for me because there’s so much in New York and there’s so many people that I want to meet and that I want to introduce to our viewing audience.
It sounds like you’re able to leverage the anchor role against the reporter role, use them to kind of mutual advantage here.
Yeah. That’s a real joy. That’s I mean that’s my hope, and so far, it’s working. Sometimes it can be too many balls to juggle. But so far, it seems like we’re on track to get that done.
You have been at NY1 for 30 years, even by New York standards, that’s a pretty long tenure for an industry that generally is full of pretty peripatetic people shifting around from station to station, market to market. Of course, you’re in market No. 1, DMA No. 1, so you don’t really want to shift down from that. But why so long at one place, in one outlet?
Gosh, I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worn many different hats here. It’s not the only place I’ve been. There was a time in early 2000 that I went to Channel 2 for two years. Not even two years, almost two years, and it was not the right fit for me. That that was too much of the drive-by kind of stories, and I had no control over the topics that I was covering every day. I was really … I didn’t like the feeling of not being able to follow it, what I wanted to do.
So, I came back to NY1 as a business reporter, I got lucky because the business reporter who was here in those days, she had just left on maternity leave. So, I was temporarily filling in, and while I did that, I learned about business news. You know, I was taking night classes at Stern to sort of learn the subject matter. And then also I’ve always been very interested in trial coverage, and so I got a job as a substitute anchor at Court TV, if you remember, back in the days, doing live trial coverage, and that was fascinating. I learned so much, and that was my first experience covering, you know, two-hour anchoring, two-hour live shows.
And the anchors there were very experienced. It was Jack Ford, Ashley Banfield. There were a lot of people who had been all through the different networks, and they were so generous with teaching me. Ricky Claman, I mean, they were so great to me. So, I loved my experience at Court TV. Savannah Guthrie, I always like to say, was my field reporter who I would be tossing to when I was fill-in anchoring.
But then it got to be a little bit too much juggling at NY1 and Court TV. So, I was full time at NY1 at that time, I was just fitting in Court TV when they would hire me, you know, for a day freelancing here and there. So, I had to drop that, in fact, and that’s when they got full acquired back by Turner, and then they changed what they were.
Then I came back to NY1. I was business. Then we launched the morning show. So, I’ve had different hats here. I was a political reporter for a time, covering first George Pataki when he was elected governor. That was my first job. Then I covered City Hall politics, and I quickly learned that politics is not for me. So, that’s when I was the Manhattan reporter. I’ve been here for this big stretch of time, and I feel very lucky, but it hasn’t always been the same job, I guess, is the best way of answering that while I’ve been at NY1.
Just lastly, do you feel that is a critical, maybe even an existential year for TV news with the election, with the trust issue? And I know you said — and it’s true — that local news is not as infected by the trust problem as national is, but there are an increasing number of studies and surveys that indicate that that problem is definitely creeping into local. Do you feel that this is a critical year? And it will test your mettle and the whole industry’s mettle and that it needs to do something to show viewers something this year that, when the stakes are higher than ever?
I do. In fact, somebody said to me recently that their motto is stay alive till ’25. I think you’re definitely speaking to something that a lot of people are feeling. I truly don’t believe so much that for us it’s a trust issue. I think there are a host of challenges, and I think probably the biggest challenge that we are facing is people accessing their news in different ways. You know, young people are getting their news on TikTok and YouTube and in various social media ways. They’re obviously not picking up an actual newspaper anymore, much less reading news online.
For example, The New York Times website. Obviously, The New York Times is doing pretty well with its digital product, but I think the way that people access news has changed so much and the way, you know, we’re owned by the cable company and the way that people are streaming and accessing their cable content is different as well. So, we increasingly are trying to tell people, look, if you don’t traditionally turn on your cable box and watch the news on NY1 the old-fashioned way, you can also watch us on the app, watch us online. You can watch on your connected device, your Roku or whatever it might be. We’re available in many different formats, and I think over the next year, our big hope is that people realize that we’re not only accessible the old-fashioned way, and they start accessing the news that we’re offering through those other means.
That will be critical because people are changing their viewing habits or maybe not even changing, just developing them, especially younger people. This is how they’re starting out in the first place. So, we want to meet them where they are with the best possible product, and I don’t want to be hampered by the concern of credibility because that’s something that we always work toward doing the best possible journalism. So almost that goes without saying, and I know we have to continue to earn that trust on a daily basis. So that’s a given.
I think what’s not a given, and what we have to also especially work towards, is to remind people that while we’ve been around for more than 30 years, you don’t only have to access us the old-fashioned way. And so, we’ll see how the year goes, but we’re going to keep trying our very best to remind people of that and to provide them with engaging coverage so they will keep tuning in all of the various formats and ways that they can access us.
All right. Well, stay alive till 25. That’s something we can …
And beyond, I hope!
And a bumper sticker, perhaps, for every newscaster to have on their car.
Annika Pergament is the anchor of the new weekday newscast, The Rush Hour, on NY1. Thank you so much for being here.
Thanks so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Thanks to all of you for watching and listening. You can catch past episodes of Talking TV on TVNewsCheck.com and on our YouTube channel. We have an audio version as well that goes out to most places you get your podcasts. We’re back most Fridays. Thanks for joining me for this one.