The Importance of Being Earnest

New York anchor dean Ernie Anastos is positive that local news needs more uplifting stories

WNYW New York anchor Ernie Anastos received a Lifetime
Achievement Award from the National Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences at the New York Emmys
April 3. He spoke with Michael Malone, B&C deputy
editor, about what he’s learned across more than three
decades in local TV, what he picked up while working
alongside Walter Cronkite and how he’s addressing all
the doom and gloom in the media.

What gets you excited now?

I want to be a champion of bringing more positive
news, more uplifting stories to our broadcast and to all
media. We can’t change the news. There are events that
take place, natural tragedies that we have no control
over. What I want to do is create more of a balance. I
always run into people who say, “Ernie, why don’t we
have more good news on the air? I love watching you
but sometimes, especially at night, it frightens me. Can’t
you just put more positive stuff on air?”

I’m doing it. I have something on my site [] called “Positively Ernie.” I’m finding the kind of
things that make people feel good. Positively Ernie will
also be a half-hour special on [WNYW] in May. Guests
will come on before a live audience and talk about good
things that happen in the world of medicine, education,
social change. Things people can listen to and [that] help
change lives.

Do you feel there’s too much negativity in local

Everyone is just stressed out. You turn on the television,
there’s a recall, there’s radioactivity in the air.
There’s terrorism, war, Internet bullying. I’m looking to
cover the stories but put things in there that people can
look at and say, “That’s a good thing, there’s some hope
there, this is something I can apply to my life.” We need
that for ourselves, for our family, for our children.

I go to schools and joke with kids, say, “Who’s going
to be on my newscast?” The answer is, oftentimes, you
gotta do something bad to get on the news. Kids tell
me you have to kill somebody to get on TV. We put bad
behavior on the air. These people end up writing books,
they get reality shows, and they’re celebrities. We need
to reward good behavior, too. Reward the people who
are working hard, doing good things for the community.

Those good stories don’t get the ratings. It’s
Charlie Sheen’s antics that people want
to see.

What I’m saying is, let’s cover the news,
but let’s make sure we get stories in there
that people are looking for, now more
than ever. People are looking for uplifting
stories. There’s a need for it. I think this is
the time.

You’ve mentioned being mentored
by Walter Cronkite. How did
you meet him?

I was working at CBS
when I was a student,
around 1967-68, and met
Walter then. I would
bring copy into the CBS
newsroom for Walter
Cronkite. I’ll never
forget that. He had
such great wisdom.
I’d say, “Walter, how
do we decide what is the lead story?” He’d say, “Ernie,
ask yourself, how many people will this story affect? You
work your way down from there.” I always remembered
that. It’s a good rule of thumb.

Walter talked about how important it is to maintain
credibility. I remember reading the CBS manual—you
had to be very careful about your facial expressions,
body language, tone of voice. The networks had very
different standards in those days. We have more of a
conversational style now.

Is there a place in local news for point of view?

As long as people know it’s someone giving an
opinion along with some factual information, I have no
problem with it. Why not? If stations want to do it, I say,
try the format, see if it works. Just as long as the
information is clear to the viewer.
Is there still a significant role in the
media landscape for local anchors?
Honestly, now more than ever. There
was something I saw at [the New York]
Botanical Gardens that said the only sign
of life is growth. This is a growing process
for all of us. Whether it’s Facebook, the
Internet, you name it, it’s a very exciting
time to be in the communications business.
There are more outlets, more opportunities,
more voices, more ways of being
creative and bringing out the kind
of information that needs to be
brought out. In 1978, we’d sit
in the newsroom and say,
“It’s kind of quiet lately,
we haven’t had a big
story.” I walk into the
newsroom now, and
there’s always a big
story. The coverage is