What I’ve Learned: Neal Shapiro, A80, A23P
Neal Shapiro, A80, A23P, president and CEO of the public television company WNET, has built an award-winning career spanning print, broadcast, cable, and online media. Prior to joining WNET in 2007, he served in various executive capacities with NBC, including as president of NBC News. His work has earned him 32 Emmys and 31 Edward R. Murrow Awards, among other honors. A trustee and a Brighter World co-chair, Shapiro recently spoke with One Tufts about the core values that have been important to him along the way and why he admires and supports the university that gave him a running start in journalism.
Time management is essential.
Long before the word multitasking was invented, that’s what defined Tufts for me. I got involved in the Tufts Observer first as a reporter and then as editor-in-chief, and that was like having a full-time job. It was really good training in setting priorities. I’ve been very fortunate in my life, to manage a lot of different organizations, but the first one I ever managed was the Tufts newspaper.
Be relentlessly curious.
My first job out of Tufts was as a research assistant for the vice president of ABC News, David Burke [A57, H09], and from there I kept moving up [at ABC News], eventually becoming a senior producer of “PrimeTime Live.” I was very lucky. But I also told myself that I was going to work harder than anybody else, and I was never going to make the same mistake twice. So to those just getting started: work hard, be diligent, and be curious; it will pay off. After all, Watergate was just a story about a couple of guys breaking into an office suite, until some intrepid reporters uncovered the truth. Telling important stories requires talking to people, making connections, and being relentlessly curious.
Knowledge and writing are powerful tools.
Early on in my days there, ABC was thinking about buying a documentary about the Soviet Union, and my boss said, “Take a look at this and tell me what you think.” Now, this was before the internet, and I had an hour to come up with something. But I had taken classes in Soviet history and economics, and I banged out three pages on my manual typewriter about what was missing in the film. My boss thought it was amazing. That’s just one example of how what I learned at Tufts came to bear on my work. I always looked for an opportunity to put my ideas in writing, so whenever I got assigned to write something, no matter how small, I tried to make the most of it.
We rise or fall together.
I see television as a team sport. You’re only as successful as your reporters, camera people, editors, researchers. Everyone can make a story better, and everyone has a duty to each other to try to get it right. Yes, mistakes will happen—because we are human beings—but as a team we do our best work when we put ego aside and are responsible to each other.
Giving is a privilege.
When I think about the role that Tufts played in my life, it’s really a privilege to be able to give back. Tufts has an amazing story to share—it’s on a rocket ship. It’s been fabulous to be a part of that trajectory. I also value that Tufts has an ethos of caring about the world. The Tufts community is defined by so many people who want to make a difference. It’s satisfying to know that, in my small way, I can help the university grow.