My New York Obsession

My New York Obsession: Pat Kiernan, the Calmest Anchor in the Storm of Life

The NY1 star makes waking up in New York City—and so much else—better.

Photo courtesy of Spectrum News NY1

Since about 1997—when he began appearing on local news channel NY1—I have been obsessed with Pat Kiernan. I am one of his nearly 49,000 followers on Twitter, where he shares his two cents on all manner of things, but mostly media, food, and transportation issues. He’s not aggressively flashy like so many New York media glitterati, but rather a very competent on-air (and online) presence with a healthy dose of dry, Canadian humor. He also seems genuinely glad to have made it into the media fabric of this great city, which is refreshing. His accent, which a Curbed writer memorably described as “slightly dorky,” is actually a big part of his charm. Also: He does push-ups on air! What’s not to love?

Kiernan’s daily “In the Papers” segment is what made me first take notice of this man of hyperlocal letters. He finds noteworthy stories in the daily newspapers and riffs on why we should be thinking and talking about them. And because Kiernan is such a fundamentally decent man and an enthusiastic New Yorker, the viewer is compelled to pay attention even at such an early hour. In this age of Trump, a lot of Kiernan’s what-fresh-hell-is-this commentary involves the daily destructions of our democratic norms. One of my favorites of his recent “In the Papers” riffs was his obvious disdain for the president’s “shithole countries” remarks regarding Africa, the continent on which I was born. It’s these kinds of commentaries that have made Kiernan something of a New York institution, and rightly so.

Other NY1 anchors sometimes present the “In the Papers” segment, but Kiernan’s stand out, not least because he usually delivers them first thing in the morning, before most viewers, myself included, actually get the papers (or have scrolled Twitter). He has done more than 4,000 of these segments. He’s the print news business’s designated, de facto reader, perhaps one of the last people under 70 who reads more than one newspaper a day. I’ll regularly buy a paper based on a story Kiernan teases on the air.

Perhaps it’s because he talks about news stories (on television no less) that the New York media establishment has utterly embraced Kiernan. The Atlantic once called him “New York’s favorite Canadian”; The New York Observer dubbed him “a baller.” (Probably a first for a Canadian.) Despite living in the same neighborhood, I’ve never met Kiernan, but we have 447 Twitter Media followers in common. He doesn’t know me, but after all these years, all these mornings, I feel like I know him.

Another reason Kiernan should be dear to every New Yorker’s heart—and not just those whose bylines appear in newspapers—is the way he comported himself on September 11, 2001. As the Twin Towers smoldered in real time on TV and many of us understandably panicked or went into lockdown, he stayed on air for eight consecutive hours. His was an astonishingly soothing presence during New York’s darkest days in recent memory. Although 9/11 was a global story, it was through the local prism of NY1 that many of the city’s residents found solace.

Life in this city can sometimes be overwhelming. For more than 20 years, Pat Kiernan has helped New Yorkers ease into our high-octane, supercompetitive days.

There was supposed to be a mayoral primary on that fateful day. Kiernan recorded the emotions that went into those unforgettable hours on air in Pat’s Diary. Nearly five hours after reaching the offices, he writes, he got word from the assignment desk that there was a fire atop the World Trade Center. It only got worse. As the hours passed and the towers burned and ultimately fell, he was wise and measured, processing information for the city. As the afternoon went on, he raised the possibility, responsibly, with reporters in the field that it was an “apparent” terrorist attack. Even then-mayor Rudy Giuliani came on the show to send a message to New Yorkers to stay out of the area of the World Trade Center to make room for the rescue effort. That was and is how important NY1 is to the city.

As Kiernan’s relative celebrity has grown, no one medium has been able to contain him. He and his coanchor, Jamie Stelter, have a podcast, and Kiernan does TV and movie cameos, playing himself on such shows as 30 Rock From the Sun, Billions, Broad City, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And he portrays a newscaster—an insider-y New York touch—in city-focused movies like Daredevil, the recent Ghostbusters reboot, and The Punisher. I can understand why Kiernan would be cast in such a role, as he reads as truly New York, even if the films are often shot in Vancouver.

What’s in the papers today, Pat? / Photo courtesy of Spectrum News NY1

The pendulum swings. In 2018, the media is at a crossroads. The New York Daily News’s future is in doubt; the New York Post remains a very rich man’s very expensive hobby; The New York Times is under daily assault from the White House. Despite all that, Kiernan remains a great friend of newspapers and their employees. Others may pass them at the newsstand or skim the headlines on their devices, but Kiernan continues to read and promote the print versions of the Times, the News, and the Post. And he goes even deeper, mentioning the tiny free papers in the outer boroughs, especially when they cover important stories that might otherwise be overlooked. Like any friend, he praises the papers when they get things right and wags a finger at them when they get things wrong.

What makes Kiernan infinitely watchable is his everyman approach, as well as the sense of fun he infuses in his anchoring duties. He is not a front-and-center, selfie-obsessed anchor like the infinitely Instagrammable David Muir of ABC. He is a low-key family guy who just so happens to be on nodding acquaintances with the Bedford Avenue crowd. His banter with Stelter (with whom he cohosts the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade) is familiar, like two workplace buddies. Despite all the accolades he’s received, he never takes himself too seriously. Consider the time he went topless in an infamous segment in the late summer of 2015. Discussing the coverage of desnudas, the “topless” performers in Times Square that were on all the covers of the city’s tabloids at the time, Kiernan decided to emulate them. “This is a serious story wrapped inside an absurd story—and at some point we had a newsroom discussion on whether it would be funny to do the topless story topless,” Kiernan told the Daily News. He is, clearly, not your typical local anchor.

Life in this city can sometimes be overwhelming. For more than 20 years, Kiernan has helped New Yorkers ease into our high-octane, supercompetitive days. He does so with humility, decency, and a sense of fun.

“Pat lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with his wife, Dawn, and daughters Lucy and Maeve,” his NY1 bio proudly states. “He still doesn’t like getting up at 3 a.m.” I, for one, am sure glad he does.

Ron Mwangaguhunga is a contributing editor at Openletr. He edits The Corsair, a media-obsessed Tumblr, daily.