NBC Correspondent Shamlian to Receive Award at Mirror-Spectator Banquet


By Alin Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

HOUSTON, Texas — As Armenians, we all have been guilty of name-checking fellow Armenians in the media. Sitting high on that list is the name of Janet Shamlian, an NBC News national correspondent. Shamlian can be seen on any number of NBC programs, from the “Nightly News with Brian Williams,” to the “Today Show,” “Dateline” and news programs on MSNBC and CNBC.

Shamlian is as kind and gentle off-camera as she comes across on television. She is polite to a fault and thoughtful and deliberate with her choice of words.

On any given day, she gets her assignment and hops on a plane heading away from her home in Houston. However, one actor that makes her career more challenging — and makes her more unique in her field — is that she has five children. She never knows where the next story takes her and for how long. For example, she said, the Trayvon Martin case took her away from home for two weeks.

“It’s a very competitive business. A thousand people want my job,” she said in a recent interview. A relief for her, however, has been that “NBC is very family friendly.”

Her children range in age from 9 to 16 and they have slowly adjusted to her being away so often. She said it is hard when she has to miss parent-teacher conferences, nightly rituals or family meals.

“It’s always acceptable when a man is doing it,” she said.

She noted, “Being home full time is the hardest job.” However, she said, with her husband being self-employed, he can be there for the children on a regular basis and thus allow her to pursue her career.

“The hardest thing is that they [the children] go to my husband for their needs. It makes me question my decision sometimes, but I love what I am doing,” she added.

Shamlian’s stories can run the gamut from hard (the Trayvon Martin murder case and the Tulsa shootings) to soft (Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first royal engagements in Britain). Some of the stories she does she pitches herself to the news desk, while others are assigned to her. One story that she pitched successfully was on super-commuters, people who drive far beyond a typical commute to jobs, rather than relocate closer. “They know the jobs are not forever,” she said.

Shamlian was born and raised in Chicago, to an Irish-American mother and an Armenian- American father. Her interest in becoming a newscaster germinated when she started watching Jane Pauley on NBC. She attended the University of Missouri to study broadcast journalism, one of the very few public universities in the US that owns a television station, in this case the NBC affiliate in Columbia, Mo., KOMU-TV. The advantage of going there, she said, was that upon graduation at age 22, she and her fellow grads all had a tape which they could send around.

Shamlian did not always have a high-profile position. Fresh out of school, she got a job at Grand Rapids, Mich., on WOOD-TV. After three to four years, she moved to Houston, “where I knew no one, [at] KHOU-TV. It is a very highly regarded TV station. [At that point] my ultimate goal was to work in local TV in Chicago.”

However, fate had something different in mind for her. While in Houston, she met and married LeRoy Melcher III and together they moved back to Chicago, where Shamlian start- ed to work at WBBM, the local CBS affiliate. While she thought she had reached her goals, she got pregnant and she and her husband decided to move back to Houston, where he had family. Sadly, by this point, both of Shamlian’s parents had passed away.

Shamlian’s mother died when the young Janet was 14 and her sister, 12. “My father raised two little girls,” she said. “He really believed in me.”

Shamlian lost him when she was 22. “After all he put into me, he didn’t see it or his grand-children,” she said. “He gave me a good launch.”

She continued, “I was working part-time for the NBC station in Houston. I was pregnant with my second child when I got out of TV.” She went on to have five children eventually and was a stay-at-home mom for seven years.

Then, “I just had the bug to get back in,” she recalled. And against all odds, she succeeded. “I got very, very lucky.”

It helped that her work ethic had impressed a couple of powerful players, Robert Brandel and Williams. Brandel, a news producer at the NBC News desk in New York, agreed to give Shamlian a shot as a freelancer in 2004, something that does not often happen to those who have left the business.

“NBC would hire me for days and I would go to MSNBC all day covering hurricanes. I was a day hire, but I fell in love with it,” she said. After doing it for about 18 months, in 2005, “with a very, very young family and a great husband,” she was able to become a full- fledged national correspondent. Steve Capus, the president of NBC news, took a chance with her and gave her a job.

Shamlian works out of Houston, but she does not have an office there. “I travel all over the country and all over the world, from the White House to Buckingham Palace.” Aside from glamorous locations, she has to file stories from difficult places, such as an oilrig off the Atlantic coast or climbing atop a tall wind turbine in New Mexico.

Shamlian was happy to note that the reports predicting the demise of broadcast television news have been premature. “They predicted network news is dead but the audience is up. It is still a large and significant market for an impartial recounting of the day’s events.”

By contrast, she said, much of cable news is “very opinionated.”

Shamlian’s goal is to do more long-term reporting for programs such as “Dateline” and “Rock Center.” She expressed her fondness for and gratitude to Williams for being “a big sup- porter of me.” She credited him with under- standing that the audience for a typical news program is mostly female who can relate to another female. “He is very supportive of his people,” she said.

When asked for advice to young reporters starting out, Shamlian said: learn how to write. “Writing is very important. People need to learn how to write. Local news is a great train- ing ground. You need to get local news experience and get yourself in front of the camera.”

Shamlian credits her husband of 21 years as the person who has made her career and family possible. “He is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Shamlian will receive one of the two Awards of Excellence to be given out at the Armenian Mirror-Spectator’s celebration on Thursday, May 24, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. For tickets and more information, call (617) 359-0413.