NY1's Pat Kiernan.

Pat Kiernan: On Curation Tactics, Getting Up Early & Calling It Done

He’s up at 3 am, in the office by 4 am, and on-air in time for New Yorkers to wake up to his deadpan delivery of the morning news, and his signature feature, “In The Papers.”Pat Kiernan, NY1′s morning anchor of 14 years, is a pioneer of news curation. Sorting through hundreds of newsprint columns hours before the sun is up, Pat presents a mix of his picks – from politics to pop-culture to health to international news – five days a week.

As appealing as it sounds to have a job that Pat himself describes as “wrapped into a complete package” each day, he’s under a constant siege of information. The news never ends, and neither does his team’s responsibility to be the viewer’s filter – processing the tidal wave of information being published, and selecting what New Yorkers need to know.

I met with Pat for “lunch” (at 10:30 am) one morning to discuss how he makes his selections, his constant race against the clock, and why we all must learn how to find the moment when something is “done.”

As NY1′s morning anchor, you have an unusual schedule. What’s a typical day?

At 3 am, I wake up. Immediately thereafter I’m on email and on the web, seeing what’s going on and what I missed. By 3:30 am, half of our crew is already at NY1, so they’ll send me some notes briefing me on what’s been happening overnight. By 4 am, I’m in the office, and at 4:30, I’m in the chair pre-recording some segments so we can go live at 5.

Starting at about 6:30 am, I actually have some time to focus on what’s in the newspapers, and getting ready for 7:40, when we do our first “In the Papers” segment. So the bulk of my 6:30-7:30 hour is digging into what’s actually in all the papers, and choosing what I liked, what’s on my second tier if I have time, and what’s not going to make the cut. For the rest of the morning, we continue at a fairly brisk pace until 8:30 or 9, when it starts to slow down, and we make the transition to our daytime crew.

So you’re in the anchor chair from 4:30am-10am. After that, do you head home and sleep?

Generally I go home. I’ve always got a few things going on with other TV programs I’m in discussion on. I’ve hosted some things in the past for VH1 (The World Series of Trivia), and right now I’m tossing around a pop culture book idea, so I have some meetings on that. But generally at 10 am, my next destination is home, working toward my nap, which I try to make from 1-3 pm. If I get my 2 hours in the afternoon, I’m usually good to stay up until 11.

Do you have any tips about how to be disciplined about a schedule as difficult as yours?

Yes, I’m super protective of my nap, and my schedule generally. You have to learn how to say no. I usually keep a pretty hard line about that. You have to be rested and healthy for your job in the morning, so you have to cut some things off, and resist the temptation to go to everything you’re invited to.

You have to learn how to say no, and resist the temptation to go to everything you’re invited to.

In your “In the Papers” segment, you curate articles and present the ‘best of’ the morning papers on air. Can you talk about your curation process?

The process is pretty simple – it’s a combination of what the major NY papers  have chosen to highlight by putting it on the front page or in prominent real estate on the paper, with a combination of what I saw in the paper that interests or surprised me. I try to be the viewer’s filter on that. The paper is a diverse document that covers all aspects of life, gossip to serious news, and I want the segment to have some sense of that same balance.

“In The Papers” is one of the first examples of news curation. How did the idea come about?

It was one of the ideas of the original founders of NY1, 20 years ago. I think they thought – New York is such a good newspaper town. Certainly it was true back then, and even now I think it’s true. That’s something that they wanted to tap into. People thought it was absurd at first – it looked like we had run out of news! How desperate is that? We’re tipping off people that we got the story from our competitor. Yet, it’s the most talked about segment that we do in the morning. It’s a service to the newspaper, but it’s also a standalone news cast in itself.

One of the reasons I’ve been successful and sort of made “In The Papers” a calling card, is that I believe that I have a good sense of what people will find interesting. Ultimately, that’s what they’re turning to me for. They’re busy, they can’t or don’t want to read all the papers, but they want to know what’s in them, and they’re trusting me to do the curation. People have told me that I was logging and content curating before either of those terms were popular.

The majority of your picks are chosen before 7:30 am, but then you continue to post more stories online at Pat’s Papers after you finish at NY1. Do you ever feel “done”?

I think anyone in the web world can relate and understand that this is the type of activity that – you could always be doing it. So I try to draw the line somewhere so it doesn’t take up 18 hours of my day.  You just have to stop. The catch is – you don’t want to overwhelm people, or it takes away the curation aspect of it. But at the same time, if you find a story that you think is better than the 10 things you already put up, then you do want to put it up. I don’t know where the line is. In any creative line of work that’s also a business, you have to come up with the moment at which something is done or good enough.

You’ve been on the air through September 11th, two wars, and the financial crisis. Has it been hard to stay motivated to deliver such news?

The longer term, depressing stories, like the financial crisis, are actually not particularly difficult, because your pace of the workday is the same. A tougher thing is when you’re in a tragic breaking news story. Obviously, September 11th is in a class of its own in that regard. In a situation like that, you’re feeling intense pressure in the moment, but you haven’t really got time to dwell on it or analyze your own situation or feelings because you’re so focused on delivering the information and keeping track of the story and making sure it’s accurate and knowing what questions to ask next.

In any creative line of work that’s also a business, you have to come up with the moment at which something is done or good enough.

I did a lot of September 11th retrospective interviews this year for the 10th anniversary, and all the panelists were asked the question, “When did it hit you personally?” For me it was after hours and hours on the air. I had to walk home, and I was sitting in my apartment, the sun was setting, and I could see the smoke over the city and that there was this haze over everything. I think it was at that moment, when it came into my personal space at home, that I got a more serious reminder about what had happened, and how this wasn’t a story that had happened to somebody else, it happened to all of us. Aside from a time like that, I’m mostly successful in keeping my home life separate from the space of the office.

Do you have any advice for people on how to land their dream job?

I think you have to understand what your brand is, what you can bring to the brand, and regardless of how competitive the day-to-day may be, just always put in your best effort. In my case, my job is as much a performance as it is an exercise in journalism. I need to have an appropriate level of enthusiasm and energy at 6AM in the morning, and to step up everyday and know what I’m talking about.

One of the things I love about my job is that at the end of the day it has wrapped itself up into a complete package. In my pre-journalism days, the handful of other jobs I had – like working as an accountant during a summer job, and working on the floor of a hardware store – there was always a sense that you did as much as you had time for, and whatever you didn’t do, you’d do the next day. It was always very hard for me to be motivated. And at this job, if I’m looking at the clock, it’s not because the clock is standing still, it’s because I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want to do.

Any tips on how to deliver a good story?

In any story, I try to always find a stand-alone nugget to grab onto that ideally leaves you with something quotable. I keep that in the back of my head: “Don’t just recite the first paragraph of the story, actually give them something they can grab onto and make their own.” I try.

**Image via Guest of a Guest.

Sarah Rapp

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In addition to contributing regular interviews and tweets to 99U, Sarah keeps her finger on the pulse of Behance's immense network that stretches around the world. Aside from keeping Behance's customers happy and increasing our web presence, she searches for new ways to engage our members, both on and off-line.
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