Melissa Russo is NBC 4 New York’s award-winning Political and Government Affairs Reporter and a member of the NBC 4 I-Team, the station’s investigative unit. An expert in local policy and politics with unmatched sources, Melissa is often the first to break major stories on her beat.
In 2020, Russo’s reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), generated worldwide attention and enacted action of health officials in Albany and New York City. Her reporting on this issue also played a part in the station’s January 2021 win of the honorable Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for “creat(ing) a 360 view in real time of the coronavirus pandemic, with courageous and thorough reporting on the virus’s explosion in New York City.” The duPont has long been recognized as the broadcast, documentary and on-line equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, also awarded by Columbia University. As the first journalist to report on MIS-C and the concerns of local doctors, Russo’s I-Team work was integral to the resulting action taken by the state and city’s respective health departments. This work was recognized in a New York Daily News editorial and lauded by elected officials for the difference made for New York’s children.
Also amid the pandemic, a Russo-led investigation found that AABR, a non-profit which serves approximately 200 adults with disabilities, did not have enough necessary masks and gowns to safely retrieve 12 hospitalized autistic and developmentally disabled residents treated for coronavirus – forcing them to remain in hospital care. She also discovered that New York City’s Office of Emergency Management had denied AABR one week’s worth of emergency PPE, noting that the City’s Health Department did not prioritize distribution for the disabled. After the story aired, Governor Cuomo’s office recognized Russo’s reporting and facilitated the delivery of hundreds of masks, goggles, gowns and gloves to the group homes that weekend. Russo’s story also generated $20,000 in donations in support of the program.
Throughout her career, Russo has also closely covered four New York City mayors, dozens of local and national elections and moderated numerous live prime-time televised debates in local races for Mayor and Governor. She reported from Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida during the 2020 presidential campaign. Four years earlier, she conducted in-depth interviews with several candidates from both parties, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Known for delivering thoughtful, in-depth coverage of issues not ordinarily tackled on local television news, Russo has achieved unprecedented, extended access inside New York’s homeless shelter system, juvenile jails and family courts. Her work has generated significant government policy changes and have been recognized with two of New York Emmys, in the categories of journalistic enterprise and societal concerns reporting.
In July 2019, a Russo-led investigation found that a Harlem day camp run out of the New York City’s Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Jackie Robinson Community Center was forced to close due to severe pest infestation, including dead rats falling from the ceiling of the facility. The investigation caught the attention of New York City and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, prompting the city’s response with inspectors, exterminators and electricians. One day after the camp re-opened, Russo found evidence that the clean-up was not completed, with additional vermin spotted on-site, resulting in further action from the city. The New York Times specifically recognized Russo and the I-Team’s reporting in a July 30 editorial focusing on the challenges facing NYCHA.
In March 2019, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services announced a corrective action plan after a Russo-led investigation exposed young children living with weapons, criminals and deplorable conditions inside the city’s foster care intake building known as the Children’s Center. As Russo was first to report, neglect by City officials forced one disabled child to live in a broken, urine-soaked wheelchair in the center for more than a year.
In February 2019, Russo’s investigation on gaps in the social media safety net for children prompted a Congressional Inquiry by Rep. Jerrold Nadler. This investigation found Instagram failing to act on complaints about child predators, including one who terrorized a 12-year-old Upper West Side girl. In the aftermath of Russo’s reporting, the federal Department of Homeland Security advised parents to bypass social media platforms and go straight to law enforcement when they encounter potential predators.
In January 2019, the New York Daily News’ Editorial Board and the Administration for Children’s Services credited Russo’s multi-year investigative series Begging With Babies, with new enhancements for infants and toddlers. The Begging series documented an organized practice of women panhandling with young children on the sidewalks and subways of Manhattan while refusing help from social service providers. Russo’s investigation led to City officials to confirm evidence of abuse and neglect, resulting in the placement of these children in foster care.
In 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the NYC Department of Education to provide every homeless child with a school transportation and publicly thanked Russo for bringing to light systemic transportation struggles facing homeless students. Russo’s I-Team investigation uncovered a series of challenges experienced by students with special needs, in addition to an immigration scam in Queens Family Court that resulted in a federal HSI probe.
In 2015, the New York State Court System extended family court hours in response to Russo’s multi-part investigation, “Closing Time: Access Denied.” The series illustrated how budget cuts were resulting in courtrooms closing early, depriving parents of hearings and due process in neglect cases. As a result, children were unnecessarily traumatized by being removed from their homes for days at a time only to be returned after parents were able to prove their case at a hearing.
During the tenure of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a New York State Supreme Court judge found his administration in contempt of court following Russo’s extensive undercover reporting on conditions inside the homeless shelter system. Her diligent reporting verified that the administration’s treatment of families violated court orders.
In addition to generating change through governmental action, Russo’s work has received national recognition. She is the recipient of two prestigious Edward R. Murrow Awards and the American Society on Aging’s top award for coverage of issues affecting the elderly. She has also won several Emmys for outstanding political and education reporting. In January 2012, City and State named Russo one of New York City’s 25 most civic-minded women.
As a young child, Russo worked as an actor in films and TV commercials, helping her pay tuition at The Dalton School. Early on, she displayed an interest in learning how others live and helping the less fortunate. Russo volunteered at the Children’s Storefront School in Harlem throughout high school, interned in the White House press office and worked for the New York Times Editorial Page during college. While an undergraduate at Tufts University, Russo wrote several articles that were published in the Times, including an Op-Ed on a controversial policy limiting free speech on the Tufts campus. One day after Melissa’s op-ed appeared in print, Tufts rescinded its policy.
In addition to reporting, Russo also served for several years as a weekend anchor for NBC 4 New York. She also joined Chuck Scarborough as co-host of Ask the Mayor, a quarterly interview program that aired from 2015 and 2016 on Sunday mornings prior to Meet the Press.
Prior to joining NBC 4 New York, Russo began her TV journalism career at NY1, where she videotaped thousands of her own stories, sparking a strong passion for photography, which she pursues in her spare time.
Russo earned a master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Tufts. She is focused strongly on the community and regularly assists nonprofits with charity events. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Frank, teenaged stepdaughters Grace and Kristin, and daughter Abigail.
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