When Neal Shapiro graduated from Tufts University in 1980, in search of his first professional job, “I wrote to all three networks. I figured the presidents were too busy, so I wrote to the vice presidents.”
Shapiro said his contact at ABC “said ‘I’ll hire you for a year — and if you’re good, I’ll keep you, and if you’re bad, I’ll fire you.’ So I kind of failed upward.”
Shapiro, now CEO of New York-based WNET — which on July 1 took over New Jersey Network and began broadcast of “NJ Today” — spent 13 years at ABC before heading to NBC, where he was president of the network’s news division when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
“It was one of the most harrowing days to be a news person,” Shapiro said. His first thought, after suicide pilots flew jets into the Twin Towers, “was that 30 Rock would be next.” NBC’s headquarters are at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
“I made a few key decisions, and after that you can only do so much,” Shapiro said. “I decided we’re not going to abandon the building, and we’re going to stay on the air until I say stop.”
He also told the staff, “You guys start shooting pictures as you get them, and we’ll roll them into whatever show comes next.” He decided against presenting all talk, and then all-taped pieces, because “that is not how people see the world.” He said the decision to go with the story flow “made our coverage really different” and led other networks to follow NBC’s lead.
“Everyone was watching television, and you did feel you had a responsibility,” to tell the story well, Shapiro said. “I thought we were measured and smart in our reporting.”
Read the complete interview, including Shapiro’s plans for NJTV, in this week’s edition of NJBIZ.