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What's Your Deal

It’s Dean Meminger’s New York City, We’re Just Living in It

The iconic NY1 anchor sat down with Hell Gate to talk about everything from how he approaches covering crime to how he chooses his beloved NYE outfits.

(Elias Williams / Hell Gate)

Within 13 seconds of meeting Dean Meminger, he has given me a nickname ("Jules"), plopped down his coffee (in a small silver thermos), and leaned back in a leather executive chair, his smile wide beneath his mustache. The beloved local news anchor is wearing a plaid blazer, maroon tie, and paisley pocket square, reflecting his well-known sense of excellent personal style. Now "a proud member of the 50s club," Meminger has spent nearly 30 years as a criminal justice reporter and key face of NY1, the only local news network that exclusively covers "the five boroughs, and Connecticut ain't one of 'em," he quips, grinning. I have never interviewed a television news anchor before, but his amiability strikes me as less the general temperament of local news anchors—a job which seems to require a high modicum of jovial nice-guy-ness—and more the specific temperament of Dean Meminger, lowkey the king of New York City.  

Meminger, a self-described "Bronx boy," is not like other local reporters, in the same way that NY1 is not like other local stations. Competing NYC-centric news broadcasts, most of which I feel focus way too much on New Jersey, often seem like they are in the business of dictation for City officials and the NYPD. PIX 11, notoriously, showcased the NYPD Dance Team in a segment that felt pulled from dystopian satire cinema; Fox 5's coverage of crime seems generally filtered down from the fearmongering of its parent company.

Meminger is curious, careful to learn nuances. NY1 is the channel that pops up when you turn on the cable box, and so a generation of New Yorkers remember Dean Meminger as the guy they saw on the TV after school. He projects an inquisitive intellect, but it is clear he also knows how to party (responsibly); aside from his infamous New Year's Eve presentations, where this year he cannily assured viewers that his champagne was non-alcoholic, he is the kind of reporter who can credibly cover both breakdancing competitions and bail reform. In the field, Meminger covered the aftermath of Tropical Storm Noel from the Dominican Republic in 2007, felt aftershocks from the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and risked his life during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. ("When I'd seen the NY1 car that I drove to Queens floating down the street, I didn't really know what was gonna happen," he recalls, his voice lowering.) Behind the desk, delivering the news in his mellifluous Bronx brogue, he can be straightforward and somber, though his delivery is not always serious—sometimes his lilt aims upwards a bit, when he seems to know that a story he's reporting on may be a little absurd.

"My goal is, when I'm giving the news, I want to act like I'm just talking to a family member or a friend telling them about a story," he tells me. "So you'll hear me drop those New York City nuggets every now and then. I don't say, you know, 'They got into a confrontation on the train.' They didn't get into a confrontation—they got into a beef." 

"I used to tease that I always wanted to use 'They got a beatdown,'" he adds. "And my boss was like, 'No, we're not gonna allow you to say 'beatdown' on TV.'"

And that's the hyper-specific New Yorker element that makes Meminger and his NY1 cohort feel so crucial to the city's fabric. "We're on NY1 hollering out 'Shabba!' Some [viewers] might go, 'What are they talking about?' But that's why I say we feel like we're talking to friends and family. If you don't get it? Well, I guess you gotta look it up," he says, flashing his famous smile.

(Elias Williams / Hell Gate)

We're chatting in a glass-walled conference room at the Spectrum News NY1 studios, located a few floors above Chelsea Market's artisanal bustle. The set where Meminger, and iconic colleagues like Cheryl Wills and Errol Louis, sit at a broad glass desk to deliver the news opens into a well-spaced warren of cubicles, natural light streaming through from the sky above the Highline. Anthony Pascale, news anchor of Staten Island, readies himself for a broadcast, a swoop of cameras and hot lights trained on his face.

Meminger has an hour before he has to hit Union Square station for a report—the day before we meet, Governor Kathy Hochul has dispatched the New York National Guard into the subway tunnels. When it airs, Meminger's spot includes interviews with Rob DeLeon of the Fortune Society, an organization advocating for formerly incarcerated people, and Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, about the governor's proposal to ban those convicted of violence against another passenger from the subway. "As a matter of public policy," Lieberman told Meminger, "it's kind of nuts."

It's a grim environment for reputable television anchors, when mega-conglomerates like Sinclair Broadcasting use their hundreds of local stations to push right-wing agendas. Meminger, with his old-school gravitas and air of authority, can seem like a throwback to the era of ubiquitous trust in TV news. In February, Meminger conducted a 16-minute, wide-ranging interview with three Black members of the New York City Council, including Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, about Mayor Adams's veto of the "How Many Stops" Act, which requires public transparency and oversight over data about NYPD stops and seizures. (The council overrode his veto.) "So were, or are, the mayor and the NYPD, are they lying about this paperwork and how difficult it will be?" Meminger asked baldly, at one point. They discussed Salaam's recent stop by NYPD officers, which occurred while he was driving in Harlem, the district he now represents; Meminger gave the councilmembers space to briefly discuss the roots of policing in slave patrols. In other words, it was a useful, productive, enlightening conversation with City officials that captured, if not the perspective of the ACAB crowd, widely held criticisms of the NYPD—a disturbingly rare event in the larger landscape of local broadcasting. 

"Growing up in New York City, I have seen it all. That's why it's important to tell stories as accurately and fairly as you can, because I understand how it really impacts people," Meminger said. "I often say I'm the eyes and the ears and sometimes the voice for regular New Yorkers."

A few of Meminger's New Year's Eve outfits, through the years. (Courtesy of Spectrum News)

Meminger sometimes speaks of himself in third person, as though there is a fundamental wall between Dean the person—who strolls around the Bronx in a jogging suit and drives to work in the NY1 Ford SUV—and Dean the respected journalist. On personal questions, he demurs, but his personality is always present—like on New Year's Eve, when he's become known for the chic fits in which he delivers the ball drop, always with multiple costume changes. (For 2024, he swapped sequined blazers a modest twice, though he wore neon light-up sneakers all night.) "The secret to that now, because I've been doing it so long, is just to shock people. It's not necessarily about being elegant; I've done that," he said. The hunt for the right look is a trek—"I hit malls throughout the tri-State area, local shopping strips in the Bronx and Brooklyn, I look online"—and he says his fans often recommend looks to him via social media. He usually chooses the final ensembles last-minute, a secret he even keeps from NY1's producers and technical directors until he steps on the set: "It's a little scary for them, because maybe the lighting is all wrong, but no one knows!" 

Born in Harlem and raised in the South Bronx, Meminger is of local royalty—he lived in the same building as the rapper Fat Joe, and his father, Dean "The Dream" Meminger, was the point guard for the Knicks the last time they won a championship, in 1973. Meminger Sr. was, in his own telling, not around much to help raise his son. "There were tough days when he didn't want to speak to me or see me," Meminger told the New York Times of his father in 2003, a decade before the former Knick passed away from a suspected drug overdose. "But you know that's not the person you love; that's the drugs. I've held his hand on the way to recovery. My father is a good person; he's just battling a horrible disease." (When I asked him about the Knicks, Meminger replied, "The Knicks—in my blood, right? I always hope for them to win a championship again. And they look strong, they're energetic, they're exciting, but—injuries. But I'll leave the Knicks talk to others, I'm not the expert on that!")

Meminger began his career on the radio station at Pace University, where he was a DJ playing house and R&B records. "If I remember correctly, someone was like, 'Hey, do you want to be the news director?' I was like, OK, now I do news," he said. He switched his major to broadcast journalism, and in 1995, began working for BronxNet TV's daily newscast, where he also created an entertainment show called "Bronx Magazine." 

In 1997, Meminger joined NY1 on the Bronx beat, and began pushing the station to cover more hip-hop, including an interview with Big Pun that was so popular with young newsroom staffers that the top brass reconsidered their approach. He loves gospel and old soul, too, and the NYC house music that he DJed in college. (At one point he breaks out into song: "You gotta have HOUSE!"—two claps—"Music! All night looong!") Last year, during the 50th anniversary of hip-hop celebrations across the city, he hosted an hour-long special called "Rhyme and Revolution in New York" that explored the culture's origins and touched on its sociopolitical significance. 

(Elias Williams / Hell Gate)

Meminger has covered five New York City mayors and their administrations. One of his first big assignments was a fluke of misplaced expectations, covering Giuliani's mayoral win against David Dinkins in 1993—his editors thought Dinkins would win, so sent their young stringer to what they figured would be the losing candidate's headquarters. 

Having seen the inner workings of some of the most powerful politicians in the U.S., I wondered how he perceives the differences between our mayors, all of whom have been hated to various degrees by the average New Yorker. (Loathing the mayor is a matter of tradition, though many have earned it.) While Meminger largely steered clear of his personal opinions, he did offer his measured anchor's take. "A lot of things go in cycles. Under Giuliani, even onto Bloomberg, they were battling to get crime down, and some of that was an aggressive stance that caused an issue within the Black community in particular, but poor communities too," he said. "Then under de Blasio there was a softer approach, because he came into office saying, 'Hey, I want to make policing fairer and better.' And in fact, crime stayed way down underneath de Blasio with that approach. Everybody didn't agree with him. Police officers turned their backs on him. But it did work." 

But what about our current mayor, who has a decidedly different tack than his immediate predecessor? Meminger has reported on Eric Adams since he was a young police officer holding weekly news conferences and decrying stop-and-frisk. He was diplomatic in describing Adams' governing style, explaining the mayor "plays the middle of the road…If crime is up, he's gonna be aggressive, like we see right now with the subway system. Crime goes down, or people are complaining about overly aggressive policing, then he's going to put a policy in place to deal with that."

Meminger, too, is down the middle on this topic, straddling the tension of journalistic objectivity. In recent weeks he has interviewed Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed Guinean college student who in 1999 was shot 41 times by NYPD officers; he has also interviewed NYPD Chief of Transit Michael Kemper about the increased presence of cops in the subway. "I have to be speaking to both sides, the community and the police. And if someone thinks I'm reporting something wrong, well, let me know! If it's the NYPD, well, call me up and let me know, and if I agree with you, I'll have the chance to correct it," he said. "Even with the community, because I'm the criminal justice reporter, they think I favor the police too much. But anybody that really watches Dean Meminger, they know I've tried to cover these issues right up the middle. I cover both sides. And yes, sometimes there's tension. Because the police, obviously they want good stories told about them. And they do a lot of good work. But there are a lot of police officers and police policies that are problematic." 

Serving an audience that is, ostensibly, everyone, requires a kind of poker face, and Meminger's job is to inspire trust from one of the most multivalent, and probably toughest, viewerships in the U.S. "We're in a time where a lot of people across our city and the country don't trust the media," he says. "I tell people that for Dean Meminger, there's no one taking me in a back room and saying, 'You better say this, you better say that.' If I ever felt someone was trying to spin my story in a way that I didn't like, I just wouldn't do the story. I want to get the stories right, and if I get them wrong, people will let me know." 

The first person to let Dean Meminger know—if he pronounced something weird, if he needs more Chapstick—is his mother. "She calls me all the time—'Why did you say that?'—so my mother's watching to keep me on point as well: 'Oh, I think the mayor's mad at you, I saw your interview with him,'" Meminger laughs. "She's a city mom, what can I say? She doesn't hold back. My technical team knows, when I'm anchoring, 'Make sure Dean looks right or his mother's gonna call.'" 

(Elias Williams / Hell Gate)
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