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Echo Profile: Down the middle

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Kristen Shaughnessy is one of those faces you can’t quite place. Familiar, but you’re not sure where from.
“‘Are you my bank teller?’ ‘Are you my dentist?'” the mother of two recalled being asked constantly. “Because it’s a familiar face.”
If you check out New York 1 at any point during your day, there is a good chance she is indeed familiar. The 24-hour cable news network, a part of media and communications giant Time Warner, has been on the air since 1992. Shaughnessy signed on in 1995 and has been heading up the channel’s weekend morning and weekly breaking news. The channel is available only to New York City residents with cable access, which is no small number. It has been among the first to utilize new technology, and they recently moved into a state-of-the-art studio in the Meatpacking district’s Chelsea Market, where the newsroom spans over an entire floor, including the “pod,” the term employees use for the set anchors are filmed on.
If you ask any of the channel’s diehard viewers, the 37-year-old Shaughnessy is one of the reasons to watch. Her even tone and cheerful demeanor translate off-screen as well, as the Irish Echo found out after she’d finished filling in as morning anchor earlier this month.

Small town start
“I always knew I wanted to be a TV reporter,” she told the Echo. “Or some kind of reporter. I used to get annoyed when you could tell how people [on television] would stand on issues.
“I wanted to tell it down the middle of the road, and people could make their own opinions,” she said.
Perhaps without the temptation growing up, she was able to master her own objectivity.
For Shaughnessy got her start in television in the most unlikely of places – in a home with none. “That was their decision,” she said of her parents, John and Alice. “They thought we could learn more reading and listening to radio. They were teachers; can you tell?” she laughed.
Their household was in Pine Bush, N.Y., about 80 miles north of the city. To hear Shaughnessy tell it, however, it may as well been in the middle of the country.
“You would think you went to Kansas,” she smiled. “It was, and I think it still is, a one-stoplight town.”
She recalled how when she was dating her husband, she would try and explain that he would have to ask someone the way to her house, as there were no street numbers and the sign for her road had been gone for a while.
There was the occasional respite, though:
“We would always have a TV for games, my dad was a football coach, so all of a sudden it would be Sunday, and we’d be at someone’s house,” she said.

The makings of a reporter
Shaughnessy, certain of her career path, chose to attend Hofstra University in Hempstead, L.I., decidedly more urban than what she was used to. She enrolled in its communication program, “which turned out to be great for someone like me,” she said. “Since I had no exposure to anything like that. Everything was hands-on.”
At college, Shaughnessy was able to learn about the technical side of the news as well, which came in handy when she started at NY1. At the start of the network, reporters often had to take their own equipment around and shoot with little help from engineers.
“We could do everything right away,” she said about Hofstra. “It prepares you well.”
She landed an internship with WNBC in the city and upon graduating, she went to a radio station in upstate Newburgh, N.Y., where she alternated her reporting duties with a bartending gig.
From there she inched further north to a TV station in Wappingers Falls, south of Poughkeepsie. When NY1 came calling in 1995, Shaughnessy made the jump to New York City, and has been here ever since.
To land in the biggest market in the country is the stuff of dreams for most reporters.
“I was one of the first outside hires,” she recalled. After the requisite “fitting in” period for both her and the station, collective New York fell in love with both.
“Where I live, nobody knows about it,” said Shaughnessy, who now resides in Northern New Jersey with her husband, Joe Bush, a golf pro who recently won a winter league tournament, and their daughters Jamie, who is 8, and five-year-old Kara.

Two jobs
Most impressively, perhaps, Shaughnessy has managed to have a successful career both as a mom and in the newsroom, often cited as not the most supportive environment for mothers.
The couple’s first daughter was just born when he gave up his medical transport business to pursue golf.
“You just do it,” she admitted. “If you wait until the right time to have kids, it will never happen.”
These days her daughters, who “rarely” see her on TV (“They think it’s funny,”) only “want to know if I’m going to work because they want to know if I’ll be there when they wake up in the morning,” said Shaughnessy.
Her schedule does allow her to spend a fair amount of time with her family. While she has to leave for work while some of us are just going to bed — around 3 a.m. – she is back in time to pick her daughters up at school.
“It’s like that dual life thing,” she admits. “I leave here and then I get into mommy mode.”
She recalled one instance driving the girls back from after-school gymnastics and pointing out the traffic to her girls:
“I said, see all those cars? They’re all just coming home now.”
Shaughnessy has not lost her nose for news in all of this, and likes how NY1 has the time to delve deeper into some stories that other networks wouldn’t or couldn’t touch, for time constraints or other reasons.
“I always like the human interest ones the best, where you learn someone’s story,” she said. “I like all the outer boroughs, families who walk their kids to school . . . you’ll get people who will stop and tell you their stories. It’s more fabric of life.”
“I always try to think, it doesn’t always work, but if this was your family, how would you want this reported?” she said.
“I think NY1 does a lot of interesting positive stories, it does ‘New Yorker of the week’ and tech stories, like how to be business savvy,” she said. “I think it all balances out.”

Heritage honored
Recently, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. honored Shaughnessy as one of six Irish Americans celebrated for their contribution to the history of New York.
“To the shock of my husband,” she laughed.
She points out how sometimes it is hard “feeling that because you’re not a 100 percent Irish, you can’t lay that claim,” but added that so much of the culture is worth of celebrating.
Her grandmother’s father was from Ireland, and came over during the Famine to settle in Northampton, Mass., where he met his wife, also an Irish immigrant.

New York now
In Shaughnessy’s case, it has been an exciting decade for news to be in New York City.
She was the point of contact for many viewers on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was one of the first reporters on the scene. She and her crew were called from doing Primary Day coverage in Brooklyn Heights that fateful morning to go downtown where disaster was about to unfold.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11’s impact on the news, “it took a while to settle down, obviously,” she said. “I think it’s been interesting to see the changes and see the city adapt to the changes, like how many things they’ve put into place just to thwart what was going to happen.”
She noted that while the day-to-day news burns out pretty quickly in the big city, some issues appear to have some staying power.
“Immigration reform, that’s huge,” she said. “It’s been there for a while now … obviously since December … but unless they take it off the table and leave it as the status quo, it’s going to be a huge issue.
“In New York there seems to be not a lot that stays on the news, it’s like, next one,” Shaughnessy admitted. “That’s kind of why I like it, but it’s also important to do follow up, like ‘where are they now,’ kind of thing.”

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