It’s hardly breaking news that Heather Unruh loves Nantucket. The four-time Emmy Award-winning news anchor has been summering on the island since she was a little girl. Now with a family of her own, Unruh continues to enjoy her off-air time on the island. N Magazine caught up with the newswoman in her WCVB studios in Boston before she came out to the island for Daffodil Festival.
N MAGAZINE: How does your story on the island begin?
UNRUH: My love affair with Nantucket began almost forty years ago when we took a family trip and felt an immediate calling. My parents made many sacrifices for us to be able to summer here. When Dad was alive he used to joke that buying a home on the island back in the seventies was the only good investment he ever made… I don’t know about that, but it was certainly his best investment! I like to say it’s a place where time stands still. Nantucket is the one place where I feel most like myself and can completely decompress.
N MAGAZINE: Legendary newswoman Natalie Jacobson is a longtime Nantucket resident. Do you feel a certain kinship with her? How did she help pave the way for women in the industry?
UNRUH: My admiration for Nat goes back to 1988 when I interned at WCVB, but she and I have always had a special connection because of our love for Nantucket. As a journalist, Natalie was a groundbreaker. She was one of the first authoritative newswomen, and she was the best. I feel so fortunate to have learned from her and even luckier to reconnect with her regularly on the island. We often bump into each other at the Angler’s Club and share a few good stories.
N MAGAZINE: Now that you’re in Natalie’s position as an established anchor, what advice would you give the next generation of newswomen?
UNRUH: Reporter Ron Gollobin was an award-winning investigator when I interned at WCVB, and he gave me stellar advice. He said, “Get your first job reporting, not anchoring. Be the best writer and storyteller you can be and the rest will follow.” He was absolutely right. To that advice I would add that you should stay true to who you are, and let your personality shine through — that’s what viewers are looking for and what will ultimately help you to make a lasting connection.
N MAGAZINE: What’s the biggest story you’ve covered?
UNRUH: In my twenty-six-plus years as a journalist I have covered plenty of big stories, from the Papal Conclave in Rome to the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. Sadly, stories rooted in terrorism tend to be the biggest and most impactful. The Boston Marathon bombing haunts me to this day and deepened my commitment to my profession. It’s an honor and a privilege to be welcomed into people’s homes during such uncertain times… times that call for calm, reassuring and accurate information. Covering stories that sparked such a seismic shift in public safety have deepened my resolve to be more compassionate, accountable and trustworthy.
N MAGAZINE: How have you seen the news industry change?
UNRUH: Talk about a seismic shift. Television news has had to evolve in the wake of the digital age. People’s habits have drastically changed with information available at their fingertips in real time, now. That definitely shapes how we deliver the news. Our viewers have no doubt noticed us picking up the pace of storytelling. There is tremendous pressure to be first on the air, but for me, content and accuracy are most important. Fortunately, WCVB hasn’t wavered on its belief that it’s better to be right than to be first.
N MAGAZINE: Describe a typical day in your life.
UNRUH: My day is a juggling act. I open my eyes with device in hand and start scanning what’s happened in the world overnight while I slept. Then it’s coffee, laundry, a two-mile hike in the woods with my dogs, half an hour on the treadmill (if I’m really motivated), quick shower and off to work. These days I’m either shooting a medical report or a segment for Chronicle and writing until my anchoring duties start at 4:30 and 6pm.
N MAGAZINE: Do you have any rituals for preparing for a newscast?
UNRUH: I drink hot water and then warm up my mouth by making sounds like a horse. It’s basically blowing air through my lips. I’m sure it sounds strange, and I wouldn’t want to be caught on camera in action, but I’m told opera singers do the same.
N MAGAZINE: What’s happening behind the scenes of a typical newscast that most people don’t know about?
UNRUH: A lot of running around. Gone are the days when anchors sit behind the desk for the entire newscast. I wish I had a fit bit to count the steps, because we are constantly moving from set to set.
N MAGAZINE: Who has impressed you the most among the people you’ve covered over the course of your career?
UNRUH: I interview many people who have had to overcome incredible odds, but a couple deserve huge praise for their unstoppable, inspirational attitudes: Celeste Corcoran, who lost both legs in the marathon bombing, and Diane Legg, who has stage IV lung cancer and continues to raise funds by riding the Pan Mass Challenge each year. These women set the bar so high and continue to inspire everyone who is lucky enough to know them.
N MAGAZINE: You’re attending this year’s Daffodil Festival. What are you most excited for?
UNRUH: Daffodil weekend inspires creativity in our home and reunites us with friends we haven’t seen enough of over the long winter months. I’m looking forward to smelling the flowers, laughing, tailgating and reconnecting.
N MAGAZINE: What’s an ideal day on the island consist of for you?
UNRUH: My day starts and is never complete without a sunrise beach walk with my good friend Beth Hanlon and our pack of border collies. The whole family lingers on the patio with Downyflake donuts and coffee. Nick and I love to stroll downtown mid-morning and admire the boats… sometimes popping in to the Wharf Rat Club for stories from the good old days. Then it’s off to the beach with the kids if we’re lucky (they’re teenagers) and later a spirited game of cards after mom’s amazing home cooking.
N MAGAZINE: Any favorite restaurants?
UNRUH: We are very casual when on Nantucket. I love burgers and chowder at The Brotherhood, fresh seafood on the patio at Sayles and lobster rolls at the Anglers Club.
N MAGAZINE: If you could change one thing about Nantucket, what would it be?
UNRUH: I’m nostalgic for yesterday’s Nantucket… the island most people in the world had never heard of. I miss the days of no traffic jams… when Wagoneers, not Bentleys, filled the streets. Willy played the guitar and hitchhiking was how most of us got to town. It’s a wonderful thing to be dubbed the world’s best island, but I really wish fewer people knew our secret.