Stories to Tell
Investigative reporter Sarah Wallace opens up about her career as a journalist and her life in Bergen County—including the best places to grab a bite.
It’s been years since Sarah Wallace last turned off her phone because whether it’s the middle of the day or the dead of night, she’s always on call. Even at 3 a.m., she wants to know who’s on the other line. Is it her producer? Someone with a news tip? An incarcerated source? “There have been times when my son asked me who had called,” says Wallace, a Cresskill resident and reporter on WNBC 4 New York’s investigative unit, the I-Team. “Sometimes I have to tell him ‘you don't want to know.’”
Wallace’s two children understand the nature of her job. She’s been covering the tri-state area for more than 30 years. They recognize the importance of unearthing stories, she says, and they see her passion for it. It’s a passion that was sparked while Wallace was growing up in the San Francisco area. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of KCBS radio’s first female news reporter, Ann Shaw, Wallace recorded herself repeating newscasts. “I also wrote her a letter asking how do I get into the business,” she recalls, “and she wrote me back. That meant a lot to me, which is why I’m adamant today about responding to students and viewers who contact me.”
Wallace worked as a news assistant at another local radio station while attending the University of California, Berkeley. After earning a degree in communications and public policy, she made the transition to television news, anchoring and reporting at stations in Fresno, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego. In the early 1990s, she moved to New York after landing a coveted consumer/investigative reporter position at WABC-TV. She also sat behind the anchors’ desk for six years, leading the weekend newscasts at Channel 7 before joining the station’s investigative unit in 1998.“
Anchoring takes a different skill set, one that I appreciate,” Wallace says. “But I’m a people person and a ‘street girl.’ I like to go out to meet people, talk to them and tell their stories. Everyone has a story to tell.”
“It’s always been my passion to do investigative stories and peeling away layers to get to the truth,” she adds. “I want to address any controversies, and not just report what’s happening but also show how it’s impacting the everyday person.”
And she covers all sides—from in-depth reports on the New York Police Department to interviews with convicted murderers. Her continuing coverage of The NYPD 12: Cops and Quotas earned her a New York Emmy Award last month, Wallace’s first since joining WNBC in late 2015. She also won the prestigious Journalistic Enterprise honor at the Emmy Award ceremony.
“I’m so proud to have been nominated in my first year of eligibility at Channel 4. It’s nice to be recognized for the importance of the story,” says Wallace, who now has 17 Emmys, a George Foster Peabody Award and two Edward R. Murrow Awards on her resume.
The hardware is a testament to Wallace’s doggedness. An active work schedule keeps her busy and on-air every day, but family, she insists, is always top priority. Spending time at home with her kids and husband, Harry Martin, a former news anchor and current Board of Trustees member at Englewood-based Bergen Family Center, is as important to Wallace as getting a story. In fact, she turned down opportunities to work with national news programs because she wanted to “stay local.”
“If you’re clear about your priorities, balancing work with family is easy,” she says. “If the time you spend with your family is quality time, things are easier.”
It’s also easier when you love your neighborhood, she quips. “I run along the streets in Cresskill every day with my dogs. I love seeing people in their yards and talking to them. I meet a lot of people when I go to the Tenafly Diner or the Farmhouse Cafe in Cresskill,” she says.
Wallace also takes frequent trips to Westwood “for its great restaurants” and to See Saw in Tenafly and Garden State Plaza to pick up new pieces for her wardrobe.
“When I meet people, they often tell me I’m like a member of their family because they see me on TV in their living rooms each night,” she says. “When they tell me I'm making a difference, that’s the biggest compliment I can get. And it’s even sweeter that I’m making a difference in the community in which I live.”