By Norah Machia
Laura Hand had always believed she could use her position as a broadcast journalist to shed a positive light on the Syracuse community and all it had to offer.
During her 47-year career as a reporter and anchor at NBC 3 and CNY Central News, “I saw my job as giving a voice to people and groups who were doing good things, but didn’t have a place to tell their stories,” she said. “I was never at a loss for having people who wanted to come through the door and talk.”
Laura built a reputation for inviting guests with a variety of different backgrounds to speak about the issues in their communities, and how they were working to address them. “I didn’t just report the news, I really became friends with several of those people,” she said.
She tackled topics such as domestic violence, mental illness, grief and loss, and gambling addiction. Local firefighters talked with her about safety issues, and members of the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing spoke about their organization’s mission.
“I wanted to bring as many guests as possible into the studio to share their stories,” and provide information about their positive efforts to offer programs and services to the community, she said.
At the same time, Laura helped to publicize fund-raising events, heritage festivals, road races, parades and many other activities held throughout Central New York. An animal lover, Laura also hosted a pet adoption segment each week.
Laura was the first female reporter hired at WSTM-TV, an NBC affiliate station. Her first day at the station was Election Day in 1972, the year Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in the presidential election.
She held numerous positions at the television station, including reporter, anchor, and community relations director. Laura produced the popular “Weekend’s Best Bets” and “The Weekend Ahead” segments, and later maintained the CNY Central “In Your Community” web events calendar.
The top-ranked television segments were popular “because people really wanted to see what was going on in the community,” and often made their weekend plans based on that televised information, she said. During those early years, social media didn’t exist as a resource for publicity, she noted.
When she was first hired, Laura worked as the anchor for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. The earlier broadcast was typically produced by others, and “I was there to put a face to the newscast,” she said.
Laura was the only nighttime reporter at the station, and it was her job to develop stories for the 11 p.m. broadcast. “I did an original story every night, and I had to dig deep,” she said. “I really got to know the community.”
“But if there was a major breaking news story, I would be diverted,” added Laura. During her broadcast journalism career, she covered many important news stories throughout the Central New York region.
She vividly recalls interviewing Nancy Reagan, after managing to secure an interview with the former First Lady following a speaking engagement held at the Syracuse Hancock International Airport. After the other journalists left, Laura asked Mrs. Reagan if she would do an interview with her crew, and she readily agreed. Laura also had the opportunity to interview former New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
In 1993, Laura reported on the Tully mudslide, where she found a vantage point to stand safely in the mud while watching state police pull homeowners off their roofs to safety.
“Those were the days before live trucks,” she said. “We’re talking film, not tapes. We had to get back to the station by 9 p.m. to edit the film before it could air on the 11 p.m. newscast.”
Laura is the first to admit that it’s “uncommon” in the television news business for one person to stay at the same station for 47 years. “No one usually lasts that long,” she said. “But I was always able to produce my own content. I knew the important issues because I was in touch with the community.”
She was from a generation of reporters who made daily “physical rounds” to talk with sources at the police station, the mayor’s office, and other key locations, Laura noted. “It was basic journalism, but it was good journalism,” she said.
In 1994, she was appointed the station’s community relations director, and oversaw the internship and career fair programs at local schools. In that role, Laura was also responsible for filing required Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports to document how the station was addressing some of the most pressing issues in the community.
Laura established a library reading program called “Book Breaks” that brought television staff into the public libraries for more than 30 years to read to children during the summer months.
Although she signed off the air for the last time in 2019, Laura has not slowed down. She continues to be a strong community advocate, and her commitment to helping others is reflected in her busy volunteer schedule.
Laura has continued her dedication to library programs, but she has a different type of companion accompanying her these days. She brings Moose, her child therapy dog, along on her visits.
Moose, a 15-pound Pomeranian, became therapy-certified through the PAWS (Pet Assisted Wellness Services) organization of Central New York. When she first adopted the rescue dog, “I realized she needed a job,” said Laura.
Laura has taken Moose with her to several different libraries and daycare centers. “She has a calming effect on the children,” she said, and added the visits allow her the opportunity to teach children how to safely interact with a dog.
They have done programs together at the Onondaga Free Library, the Paine Branch Library in Eastwood, and the Salvation Army Day Care. Laura primarily works with 3- and 4-year-olds.
She takes advantage of Moose’s charms to help keep the children’s interest when teaching them about letters, numbers and colors. “The dog is the answer,” Laura said. “The kids see the dog, and they pay attention.”
Laura now volunteers with PAWS to help certify other dogs. “We’re looking for more volunteers to go through the training with their own dogs,” she added.
Moose accompanied Laura to the recent Syracuse Mets “Bark in the Park” event held at the NBT Bank Stadium She and Moose lead the pre-game parade on the field, where she also helped judge nearly 100 dogs for various awards.
Laura also volunteers for the Oasis Senior Education Program, sponsored by Upstate Medical University. She gives her time to serve as a technical assistant for the Italian language classes. Laura learned to speak Italian as a child, when she spent many summers with her mother’s relatives in Italy.
Although she is retired, Laura is often called upon to help promote different community events. During the past New York State Fair, she was asked to volunteer as a judge in the milkshake contest.
Laura also gives her time to help fund-raise for different nonprofit organizations, including Hope for the Bereaved, which offers support groups and other services to those who have lost a loved one.
When she is not giving her time in the community, Laura can be found volunteering in her neighborhood during the warmer months. An avid gardener, she maintains several gardens located in the medians of her neighborhood roads.
As a child, Laura grew up in many places throughout the world and the United States because her father served in the military and was often transferred. Born in Virginia, Laura lived with her family in England, Germany, Thailand and Italy.
Laura enrolled in Syracuse University to study news and politics, graduating in 1971. She was the first female director of the campus radio station, WAER, and recalls covering the anti-war protests by students that resulted in cancelled classes for two days.
After graduation, she decided to stay in Syracuse because “it’s such a great place to work and raise a family,” said Laura, who has two adult children. “I’ve never lived in one place for very long until I came to Syracuse,” Laura said. “It’s just been wonderful.”
Here are just some of Laura’s awards:
Hope for the Bereaved Award for being a founder of the Butterfly Garden of Hope at Onondaga Lake Park
The Onondaga Kennel Association Award for her support of animals
The Central New York Firefighter’s Association Fire Services Journalism Award
Community Action Network for Exceptional Merit Award to WSTM-TV for its “Feed the Hungry” segments
Award for Outstanding Support from the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing
The Gentile Advocacy Award from National Alliance on Mental Illness Syracuse Chapter for Mental Health Reporting
The CNY Business Journal Nonprofit Award for Career Achievement
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