Alumnus Remotely Produces NY1 News Program amid Pandemic
For 20 years, Robert Wolejsza ’97SVC has found himself front and center for every breaking news story in New York City, including Hurricane Sandy and the 2003 Northeast blackout, among many others. Serving in various roles at Spectrum News NY1 has prepared him for almost anything, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought him a new challenge: how to tell stories while under quarantine.
“I compare NY1 to St. John’s, where you walk in and are able to learn on the job. I started out watching master control on the weekends, and now I produce a three-hour morning show. It took a while, but there are not a lot of places that would allow you that opportunity.”
Mr. Wolejsza serves as Executive Producer for Mornings on 1, a news program that only recently had adopted a three-hour live news format when the pandemic forced nearly the entire staff to work remotely. Prior to the live format, NY1 presented stories in a news wheel format, with stories prerecorded and then uploaded to a server. Mr. Wolejsza would then program the clips to air in a certain order, updating them as needed.
In mid-March, NY1 returned to the wheel format amidst wall-to-wall coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak. “I give the NY1 technical crew credit because they figured out a way for us to work from home almost overnight—and to do it seamlessly,” Mr. Wolejsza stressed.
NY1 anchors and technical staff are spread throughout the tri-state area. Reporters are in the field, and Mr. Wolejsza pulls all of it together with his team. “Unless you know what to look for, you would never know it is pretaped.”
Mr. Wolejsza explained that each reporter and anchor is equipped with an in-home studio, which includes lighting and a camera. Each digital camera is equipped with a Dejero, a device which allows the camera to transmit information using Wi-Fi and cellular data. The studio has a technical director and an audio person receiving the information and recording the spots. Mr. Wolejsza then programs the stories into the news wheel with his home computer, selecting the order in which the stories air.
A native of Astoria, Queens, Mr. Wolejsza chose St. John’s for a variety of reasons, including its proximity to his home and its strong connection to Archbishop Molloy High School, which he attended. However, the unfettered access students had to the state-of-the art Television, Film, and Radio Center cemented his desire to go there.
“Other schools only allowed students to touch the equipment in their junior and senior years, but St. John’s gave first-year students full access,” he recalled. “When I joined TV Club (now known as WRED-TV) I was thrown into the deep end by the seniors,” he joked, adding that is where he made many lifelong friends.
Mr. Wolejsza always had a passion for media and initially had designs on becoming a movie critic. At St. John’s, he also joined WSJU, the campus radio station; however, TV Club soon became his primary focus. “I had all intentions of being a technician. I liked working with the camera, audio, and video switcher,” he said, adding that he also enjoyed the art of editing a news piece or a project.
Upon graduation, Mr. Wolejsza sought out technical work. He accepted a position as an Operator/Video Engineer at Merrill Lynch Video Network, where he had interned as a student. In 2000, after a two-year stint at MTV Networks working on the show Celebrity Deathmatch, a friend from St. John’s helped Mr. Wolejsza obtain a freelance position at NY1—and he has been there ever since.
Initially, he performed technical functions like the ones he did in his prior roles. However, he was not at NY1 very long when he did so well on a writing test that the news director asked him to start writing.
Mr. Wolejsza eventually transitioned out of technical work to full-time writing. Over the years, he rose through the ranks, becoming an Associate Producer and Morning Producer. After a brief stint at WCBS-TV, he returned to NY1 as an Executive Producer.
Mr. Wolejsza returned to St. John’s as an Adjunct Professor in the Television and Film program before his schedule precluded him from continuing. “The kids were really great, and I would love to get back into teaching down the road. I always enjoy teaching a new hire or intern a job I know how to do really well.”