No shouting on the air for Bloomberg TV's Brennan
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Margaret Brennan is the anchor of “InBusiness with Margaret Brennan,” a daily business program on Bloomberg Television focusing on global markets and the day’s top geopolitical, economic and consumer trends.
To do that, she’s traveled the world. In January, Brennan hosted Bloomberg Television’s first live broadcast from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she interviewed Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim bin Abdul Aziz al-Assaf and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. She also reported live from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and was the only journalist to participate and report on the Global Irish Economic Forum in September 2009.
Brennan joined Bloomberg Television in July 2009 from CNBC, where she served as a general assignment reporter and contributed to MSNBC, NBC’s “Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News.” She began her business news career in 2002 as a producer for financial news legend Louis Rukeyser.
Graduating with highest distinction from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Foreign Affairs and Middle East studies and a minor in Arabic language, Brennan was named an Emmerich-Wright scholar for an outstanding thesis. As a Fulbright -Hays Scholar, she studied Arabic at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan.
On Tuesday afternoon at Bloomberg’s headquarters, Brennan sat down in a conference room near the Bloomberg Television set to discuss her career and business journalism on television. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.
How did you get interested in covering business?
I ended up in business news through the back door. I studied foreign affairs and Middle East studies at the University of Virginia, and I thought I would end up working for the government. I ended up interning at CNN at their international news desk and caught the newsroom bug. After graduation, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an editor or a producer or a reporter, but I had the opportunity to work for Louis Rukeyser. He took me under his wing when I went to CNBC. It was a job as a researcher, and my job interview was all about how he had been a foreign correspondent for a number of years before he went on to his 30-plus year career in business journalism. So it was interesting to me to see that this was someone who was able to pull all of that together.
He taught me a lot about the work that he was doing about making topics that were arcane relevant to Main Street. That is kind of how I got the bug. I grew up in Connecticut with my dad working on Wall Street, so it was always in my consciousness. But business news became interesting to me when I saw the centrality of it to everything.
How was working at CNBC different than what you’re doing now at Bloomberg?
Completely different. Completely different. It’s a very different place in very many ways. CNBC and NBC, I had a great time there. That’s really where I grew up. I had a great experience there. But I was ready to grow. What appealed to me about Bloomberg is that it’s about the information, first and foremost.
The international news bug that bit me years ago really hasn’t found a home in recent years on many networks. The fact that Bloomberg has such a tremendous footpoint internationally makes it completely different than a network that is purely television. Because we have the print operations, that’s a huge attribute. It’s completely different when I am talking to my producers about how to put together a show. We’re not restricted by the main cities that we have cameras in. We can get the reporters who cover obscure things here on the air.
We have a tremendous amount of information at our fingertips, and from that we’re building the TV part out versus a traditional television network that goes out and tries to find the people to tell the stories. We have so many tools here. Bloomberg is trying to build a network out from a great foundation. There’s more of a team effort here, believe it or not. Maybe it’s because there’s a lot of new blood mixing in.
Since you’ve been here almost a year now, what is the evolution you have seen with the television operations?
The visual elements have obviously changed tremendously for the viewer. For the anchors and on-air people, that’s been a massive change as well. The newsroom setup that we have now, I’m standing, I’m moving, I’m walking around talking to people. You’re not tethered to a desk. It’s challenging as well, because you don’t have that safety net. We’re getting new people as well, building at the team.
What’s been some of the most challenging things that have happened?
We’ve done some international broadcasts that this network had never done before. I did a two-hour show from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and that was amazing for me because I had the background and interest in the area. But we were establishing contacts on the ground and setting up live shots literally on a street corner trying to figure out the logistics and getting everything right. But it was also the most exciting thing that I have done.
The hardest story to cover in terms of content was Bloomberg’s lawsuit to get the information from the Federal Reserve. I was not there at the beginning, so I was there for the end reward and getting the information about the Fed and the action it took. Getting access to information like that has been challenging for all journalists in terms of accessibility of government agencies.
How is Bloomberg TV different than CNBC or Fox Business?
I don’t watch a lot of Fox, to be quite honest with you, so I wouldn’t critique what they do in comparison. I worked at CNBC for so long, so I know that best. As far as the content, I’d have to come back to the fact that here, information is paramount before the personality. That’s refreshing to me to talk to the reporters about that first, to get really well-sourced reporters on thousands of different topics on camera or on background. There’s just a different resource allocation here. And I think because of that, it allows Bloomberg to be a smart alternative to anyone else.
Plenty of people at CNBC pick up Bloomberg and read the wire service on background. But if you want tune in and hear an in-depth conversational give and take between one of the highest ranked analysts — they have strict paramaters about who you can have on air here — CEOs, investors, you’re going to have a measured, conversational tone. You’re not going to hear screaming. This is sort of my personal thing too. I don’t like jumping in and cutting people off in mid sentence. I let them finish their sentences and get across the thought that they have. It’s more about what they’re saying than the fact that I am saying it to them. That’s a different production choice, and I think that’s better for the viewer.
I think there’s a lot of context given here because of the resources — the terminal, the print reporters, the people around the world. There is a lot of that that allows you to flesh out a story a little bit more.
How close do you work with the bookers on who’s on with you?
Very closely. I have two hours every day, so there are two bookers, Anne Torres and Kelly Bit. And we meet every single day after the show ends at 12 to talk about what we’re doing the next day and the rest of the week. And there are two producers, one for each hour. The four of them and myself sit down and discuss what’s going to be on, what we’re going to be talking about and then they’re booking them. Bloomberg has rankings of the most accurate analysts and so anyone who comes on is going to be the best. In terms of topics, I like that a lot. We can talk about the identity of the show.
How much international news do you try to get on during those two hours?
My show is broadcast in Europe during what is their market close. It’s in the evening in the Middle East and Asia. Because we do have that viewership, we do have to be midnful of it. The 10 a.m. hour is going to be a lot more focused on the U.S. because it’s the beginning of the U.S. trading day. But we do get a fair amount of international on there, and it’s not just because that’s what fires me up. If anything, I feel vindicated in terms of what I have said that connecting the dots has become more apparent right now with all of the sudden a little country called Greece is on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis.
I had the finance minister of Ireland on last week talking about how they’re experimenting with the good bank, bad bank concept. That’s the only country that we’ve seen go through what Secretary Paulsen floated as an idea. All is extremely relevant to our European viewers, but also around the world as well. On a daily basis, it’s part of the lineup. Today, we were talking about the Canadian loonie vs. the U.S. dollar and Australia raising rates.
Overall Bloomberg Television is much more digestible to an everyday audience. We’re building on a great foundation, and you learn as you try it out. It can be challenging, but it’s good.