With all due respect to Thomas Wolfe, Lauren Glassberg found that she could go home again, especially when that home is New York City.
Growing up, Lauren’s life took her to all five boroughs. As a baby, she lived in Queens and the Bronx, later moving with her family in the 1970s to the newly developed residential area on Roosevelt Island. “We were one of the guinea pig families,” she says with a laugh. Her father, a pediatric urologist, worked in Brooklyn and on Staten Island, so she also knew those two boroughs. Finally, when she was in seventh grade, she transferred to the Spence School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
After detours for college in Chicago (Northwestern), stints at TV stations in Akron, Little Rock, and Minneapolis, Lauren returned to her hometown to cover the territory that she knows so well. “I’m a real city girl,” she says. “There are so many great stories out there, whether it’s Queens or the Bronx, and I think, because I’m a native I’m totally comfortable going into all of these neighborhoods.”
For the past six years, Lauren has been the lifestyle reporter for WABC-TV, describing her beat for what it doesn’t include—“no murders, no fires, no politics.” She adds: “I love the opportunity to tell a great compelling story about someone who’s interesting or a trend. It’s the two minutes of happy news that we offer in the broadcast. You can count on that.”
What viewers can count on is that Lauren will deliver the story with her trademark smile and contagious enthusiasm. And why not? It’s clear that she’s enjoying herself, whether she’s discovering a new restaurant in Brooklyn, taking an exercise class given by an instructor from Dancing with the Stars, or touring the latest exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt. And we are happy being along for the ride.
If Glassberg has, as she admits, perhaps the best TV job in the city, she has learned her trade and paid her dues. Growing up on Roosevelt Island, she wrote for the community newspaper, the Mainstream Wire, while her mother, who ran a health clinic, did food reviews. “As a kid, I think I really enjoyed [Roosevelt Island] because it was like a small town in the middle of the city and you knew everyone; you could pop into their homes or apartments unannounced,” she says. “I didn’t do too many pieces [for the Wire] but it was enough to whet my appetite.” At Spence, she was editor of the school’s newspaper. When choosing a college, she knew she wanted to study journalism and sought out one of the best and most selective programs, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
Each summer during college, Glassberg did internships, first a three-month stint at a Fort Lauderdale newspaper, then, the following summer, working for the Fox-TV affiliate in Chicago. One of her first TV assignments found her in the Chicago Cubs locker room after a game interviewing players. “That was before there were any rulings about women in locker rooms and treatment of women in locker rooms,” she recalls. “Some of the players were trying to throw spit balls down my shirt.” The only piece of advice she was given was not to look down. “But when you’re five foot two you can’t really look anywhere,” she says. “That was pretty jarring.”
Lauren was so nervous about being on TV, that she went the entire summer without appearing on camera, instead using her microphone to ask other people questions, putting them in the spotlight.
The summer after her junior year at Northwestern, she interned for Fox-TV in New York and finally got up the nerve to go before the camera. “We did a demo tape and I guess I wasn’t half bad,” she says.
Her first fulltime paying job was for WAKC-TV, an ABC affiliate in Akron. She made between $5 and $6 an hour and stayed for a year and a half working as a reporter and fill-in anchor. “It’s your first job and you’re doing what you dreamed of doing, so, yes, it was really exciting,” she says. “It didn’t pay many of the bills but it was a foot in the door.”
From Akron, she moved to Little Rock, working for another ABC affiliate, also as a reporter and anchor. “It paid $20,00 a year and that was quite a bump up from what I had been making,” she says. “You could almost manage on that in Little Rock.” It was the mid 1990s, and the Whitewater scandal, focusing on the real estate investments of the Clintons while Bill Clinton was Arkansas’s governor, was making national headlines. “There was some pretty heady news reporting to do on the local level,” says Lauren.
She stayed in Little Rock for two and a half years, eventually moving on to a larger market in Minneapolis. KARE 11, an NBC affiliate, remains one of the most respected local stations in the U.S. “There was an incredible focus on writing and storytelling and photography,” Lauren recalls. “I think that’s where my game rose a little bit.” During the two and a half years she was in Minneapolis, Lauren hosted an hour-long morning news show, KARE Today, that often went up against Regis and Kathy Lee, frequently winning its time slot.
Besides gaining experience, Lauren made lasting friendships along the way. “You’re thrown into a news station with all these young reporters and anchors from all over the country and you just bond, you make friendships,” she says. One of the women Lauren worked with in Akron now works for a station in Los Angeles, but she admits that many others are no longer in television. “It’s a tough business. You have to really have that fire and move from market to market.”
In 2000, Lauren moved back to New York City, taking a job with Fox 5. She barely had time to unpack her bags before she was hired away three months later by WABC as a morning reporter covering fires, murders, shootings, in her words, “the mayhem that happened usually after midnight.”
“That meant coming to the station at three in the morning, being on the air from five to seven in the field, and then doing another report for the noon show and sometimes staying through the five or six o’clock news,” she says. When did she sleep? She laughs. “Not often and not many hours.”
In May, 2000, Glassberg was one of the first reporters on the scene when two men shot and killed five workers at a Wendy’s restaurant in Flushing, Queens. The long hours and subject matter take a toll on many journalists when the beat involves covering crime in a city like New York. Glassberg admits that she often felt intrusive. “It’s hard to knock on someone’s door when they’ve lost someone and put a microphone in their face,” she says. “You have to do it as delicately as possible, but you can only imagine what it would feel like to have the tables turned.” She adds: “That’s one of the reasons I like the kinds of stories I cover now.”
According to Glassberg, WABC has always been committed to covering human interest stories. The lifestyle beat is high profile. One of Lauren’s immediate predecessors—Lara Spencer—used the job as a springboard to move into national TV. Spencer, after hosting The Insider and doing regular segments on The Rachel Ray Show, is now the lifestyle contributor for ABC’s Good Morning America.
Lauren, however, has truly made the beat her own, focusing on one of her own passions—food. (Her brother, Andrew, is one of the owners of Delicatessen, in Soho, and Lauren is a part owner with him of Cafeteria, in Chelsea). “No one had covered food in a long time,” she says. Every Friday, Lauren features a restaurant in the tri-state area, including an on camera food demo.
The station sends a courier to the restaurant the day Lauren’s “Neighborhood Eats” segment airs so that samples of the food can be shown and sampled by co-anchors Diana Williams and Sade Baderinwa. “It’s just a nice live element,” she says. Although Glassberg’s duties interviewing and working with her camera person often keep her too busy to actually sit down and enjoy the food she features, she did confess that she downed two full size canolis while doing a feature on Bruno’s Pasticceria on Staten Island. For the record—they were delicious.
In 2010, Lauren won an Emmy for a story she did on a small key and locksmith shop in Greenwich Village. “It’s in the smallest free standing building in New York and it just lent itself to some creative shooting and editing and storytelling and writing,” she says, adding that the owner is a colorful individual, loved by everyone in his neighborhood.
She admits that winning an Emmy was a “nice pat on the back,” but manages to keep things in perspective. “At the station, I’m in the company of a lot of Emmy winners,” she says. And while her family was excited about her award, she says that her parents and two brothers (the other is a banker) are not obsessed with her career. “My family likes to tease me, so they probably have kept me grounded,” she says. “There’s no star in my family.”
Lauren says she doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter page and she avoids red carpet events, helping to keep her name from the gossip pages. “I think there are a lot of ways people in my profession can put themselves out there, and I’ve always been more reclusive,” she says. “The gentleman I’ve been dating for a while didn’t know I was on television when we met, and the day we went on our first date, I was recognized twice. He was very confused and then got sort of a kick out of it.”
Does she think of moving on? “I think I actually have one of the best jobs in television,” she says. “My hours are great. I get to tell real interesting stories, so I’m not in a hurry to leave this job. That being said, I’m always looking for new challenges. Maybe one day I’ll have my own show and that would probably be the dream.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: As part of my job, I get to eat everywhere, and often in some of the best restaurants in the tri-state area. But the place where I feel most at home is my brother’s restaurant, Delicatessen in Soho.
Favorite Place to Shop: I’m a terrible shopper, so I don’t do it often. But I never have a problem buying shoes– from sneaker shops that sell Converse to Edon Manor in Tribeca.
Favorite New York Sight: The sunset over the Hudson from my window.
Favorite New York Moment: Watching New Yorkers join together immediately after 9/11.
What You Love About New York: The diversity.
What You Hate About New York: Traffic.