The New York Minute

Interview Series: Meet Your Remarkable New York Neighbors

The News Anchor

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Cheryl Wills of Spectrum News / New York One (NY1).
…sometimes I do have to report on some horrible things — it’s inevitable. But you know, I never allow myself to become numb to horrific tragedies. I make it a point to maintain my empathy. If I have to say, “An eighteen-year-old was shot today,” I allow myself space to mourn.

Cheryl Wills has been with NY1 since its launch in 1992. She is the first African-American woman to host a prime-time nightly newscast for the cable network the Emmy-nominated Live at Ten and host the weekly public affairs program, In Focus with Cheryl Wills.

She is also the author of a series of books about her family’s transition from slavery to freedom in the United States. She graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Cheryl has been honored numerous times during her 30+ year career by groups like The New York Press Club and The Associated Press and has received a special medal from the United Nations Correspondents Association.


Paul & Vince: How did you come to be in New York City and in your current career?

Cheryl: Well, I’m a native New Yorker. I was born in Queens and lived in New York City all my life. I was raised in public housing, the oldest of five. My father was a firefighter, my mom was a stay-at-home mom.  And I had a dream of being a journalist that I just decided never to let go of.

Paul & Vince: So, how did you get to New York One?

Cheryl: In 1992, I was at Fox Five [Fox Network’s flagship hosting its NYC nightly news], and some of my colleagues were leaving to launch NY1. So I thought, since my friends are going, what do I have to lose? And I’ve been there now for 30 years.

Paul & Vince: Wow. So, you came into the TV world as a journalist. Had you always intended to be on camera?

Cheryl: Yes. That was the goal. I didn’t start out on camera. I was a production assistant and then a writer, then a producer, and then a weekend reporter. I literally climbed the entire chain on the editorial side. The business is complex. It was a great challenge.


Paul & Vince: What does a typical day on the job look like for you?

Cheryl: My day starts early in the morning with many meetings about what happened overnight. By early afternoon, we get into the newsroom. Then we have our in-person meetings; we decide where we’re sending our news trucks, and begin the writing process.

Sadly, sometimes I do have to report on some horrible things — it’s inevitable. But you know, I never allow myself to become numb to horrific tragedies. I make it a point to maintain my empathy. If I have to say, “An eighteen-year-old was shot today,” I allow myself space to mourn.

Paul & Vince: Okay, you’re meeting with your producers about the day’s news. When do you have to get ready for filming?

Cheryl: So, we work on shaping the show, and by five o’clock, if all goes well, I go into hair and makeup…Because later in the evening, my day gets more intense.

Paul & Vince: Because the news keeps coming in?

Cheryl: Exactly. So I go in, they set my hair and makeup, and then I’m into the trenches, writing what’s happening with my production team. We’re almost like mission control, and something new just happened, so now we need to move our reporters from downtown and send them to Queens because of a train accident or something. That’s how our life goes every day.

Paul & Vince: On a normal day, when does the working end and you can relax?

Cheryl: At 10:57:35! [laughs]


Paul & Vince: What are some things most people don’t realize about your job?

Cheryl: Well, it seems interesting to people…the station seems glamorous, with TVs everywhere…there’s lots of activity…And it is. But some new hires walk in, and they want to have this meeting at this time and then go home. But it doesn’t work that way.

There’s no guarantee ever that I’m going home at 10:57:35…ever. I mean, sometimes, I think I’m going on at 10 pm, but then as I learned on January 6th [2021], I went on at 5 pm because of an attack on the US Capitol. Or on September 11th, 2001, before the attacks, I went to work. I thought it would be a regular day, but I didn’t return home for a week. So, not everyone can do that. And that’s fine. We’re a special kind of people who can work like that.

Paul & Vince: And you’re also an author, Cheryl?

Cheryl: Yes, I am the author of a series of books about the research I completed about my great-great-great grandfather, who was an enslaved African in the state of Tennessee, who liberated himself and then fought in the Civil War.

Paul & Vince: Amazing. And we understand that you are also using these books to educate a whole new generation of people about African-American history. It’s incredible.

Cheryl: Yes, I am so proud of that. You cannot tell the story of this country without the people who were trafficked to help build it. It’s not just a personal mission but an educational one as well.

Paul & Vince: Agreed.


Paul & Vince: What are your favorite things to do in New York on your day off?

Cheryl: Well, I love Broadway. I go to many, many afternoon matinees. Sometimes I’ll go to opening night, but I like matinees because I get home late every other day of the week. The last play I saw was A Piano Lesson with Samuel L. Jackson, and I saw Death of a Salesman. I know a lot of Broadway stars, personally. So, I feel like I’m watching friends doing what they love.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: Okay, now for our Just For Fun question: If you could create your own Olympic event that you knew you would do well in, what would that event be?

Cheryl: Oh, wow…Typing? I type fast.

Paul & Vince: Huh, that’s kind of cool. The gold medal in typing! Did you take typing classes, the kind with the typewriter “home row keys”?

Cheryl: Yes, there was a full education for typing in high school. I was the fastest typist in class. So when I type my script every night, my hands are properly placed, just like in high school, and I can look away; I’ll be talking, and people stare at me. “Really? Her fingers go that fast?”  So, for the Olympics, I’ll just let my fast fingers take me to the Gold! [laughs]

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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