Media Moves and News

How one business journalist has covered Brexit

June 30, 2016

Posted by Chris Roush

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 7.58.05 PM
Ashley Webster

Ashley Webster joined Fox Business Network in September 2007 as the overseas markets editor.

Webster spent the previous 10 years as the main anchor of the Emmy Award-winning nightly newscast on WZTV-TV in Nashville, Tennessee. Before joining WZTV-TV, Webster was anchor for two daily newscasts at WGBA-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin. There, he received an Associated Press Award for Best Documentary for his coverage of the Gulf War.

Webster also served as an anchor of the evening newscasts for KSWT-TV in Yuma, Arizona. He began his journalism career as the news director for KTVH-TV in Helena, Montana.

Previously, he had spent six years in London, working in the banking sector for Bank of Montreal and Lloyds Bank. He is a native of Brighton, U.K., and was raised in Los Angeles.

Webster received his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from California State University.

Webster spoke by email this week with Talking Biz News about his coverage. What follows is an edited transcript.

How far back did Fox Business start focusing on Brexit coverage?

Fox Business was aware that a referendum on the U.K.’s future in the European Union would happen by 2017. British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced such a pledge three years ago in an address to Parliament.

The U.K. has had a love/hate relationship with its European neighbors when trade agreements were first enacted more than 40 year ago. But as the EU has grown from an economic experiment into a more political entity with Brussels gaining ever more leadership roles that relationship has become even more strained. As the migrant crisis has evolved it has been clear that individual EU countries have struggled to cope and cracks have appeared in the EU structure.

Against this backdrop it was clear that a vote for Brexit by British voters would create real problems for EU leaders who would worry that more European countries would head for the exit doors.

Fox Business has been well aware of the potential repercussions for the global markets, the U.K. and EU economies and the impact on U.S. companies doing business in the United Kingdom. A vote by British voters to say goodbye to the European Union is significant on many levels.

What were the angles that you all thought were most important?

How will the UK and European markets react? How will it impact U.S. markets? How about all the global markets? What about currencies? Does the British pound fall like a rock? Does the Euro follow suit? What about British banks? Do they have enough capital on hand to handle to withstand the turmoil? Will the U.K. be pushed into recession and how soon? Will U.S. companies be forced to lay off workers in their British offices? Will those companies be forced to relocate to continental Europe?

And then of course there are the political ramifications. If Britain leaves, will other EU countries do the same? Can Brussels survive? And there is the question of national security. With the U.K. no longer at the table, does America lose a valuable edge in the security of Europe?

So many questions and only time will fill in the answers.

Why should consumers in the United States care about this story?

For consumers in the United States what’s happening in the U.K. and the rest of Europe can have consequences. A sell off in the markets will hurt the value of your 401(k); if you’re squeamish just ride it out but be prepared.

On the plus side, the value of the pound and the Euro will likely fall which means a trip across the Atlantic will give you more buying power — a great excuse to load up on Belgium chocolate or French wine.

What are some of the reporting tactics that you’ve used to explain its impact?

To be honest this is a story that can quickly end up in the weeds. So much of the economic discussion is based on speculation that ranges from unbridled optimism to all out doom and gloom. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I think the key is always to try and keep it as simple as possible. Why should U.S. viewers care about what happens in Europe? There are straight forward economic angles but political as well. Does a vote for Brexit continue the anti-establishment movement we’ve already seen in the United States?

Issues dealing with migration and border control resonate with our viewers as well, so there are parallels to draw that help American viewers connect with the story.

Now that the vote has occurred, how does the coverage change?

The vote took many of us by surprise. Despite what the polls and bookmakers predicted, the U.K. said “au revoir” to the EU. This makes it a much bigger story. Our coverage has reflected the fast-moving developments. With extensive live reporting from London, Berlin and Brussels, it has enabled us to tackle the fallout of the vote from every side.

I grew up in the U.K. and hold dual citizenship with the United States. I remember when Britain first joined the European common market and how the trade pact has grown from there.

I think that gives me a better perspective on the emotions of the U.K.’s decision, the critical issues and how it could impact the United States. This is a moment in history and we’re committing the resources needed to tell the whole story.

How much do you see this issue crossing over into coverage of the presidential campaigns?

There is no doubt that what we’re seeing unfold in the United Kingdom has similarities with the presidential campaign in the U.S. It’s anger at the establishment, a feeling that the average person is being ignored by a ruling elite.

Fox BusinessThere are similarities as well between Donald Trump and the leader of the “leave EU” campaign Boris Johnson. Both are unconventional, both garner a lot of media attention, and both know how to tap into the anger of the voters.

There are similar issues as well, immigration, control of the borders and boosting the economy through deregulation. The ultimate similarity could be yet to come; Trump hopes to be the next president of the United States; Johnson hopes to be the next British prime minister.

How has Fox Business covered this from London as well as New York?

We’ve been able to instantly report from London the very latest developments as the Brexit vote has evolved. This includes reporting from numerous locations across the U.K. capital including Parliament, voting stations and the Bank of England.

We’ve also done many interviews on the street to measure voter emotions and covered demonstrations in the wake of the vote. As events have unfolded we’ve been backed in New York by a wide number of market analysts, political experts and political leaders. This has enabled us to put the events into perspective and explain why it’s important for our viewers in the United States.

When you look at other business media, who has done a good job of covering the issues?

I think all of us in the business media world have provided extensive coverage.

I have been struck by how many TV crews are here from around the world, from Japan to Denmark, from Italy to the United States. We are all covering a history making story with global implications. I’m sure others like us have been working 15 hour days ,so I really have no time to monitor what other media are doing and that’s how it should be.

Of course I like to think that Fox Business has provided some of the most extensive reporting, providing live coverage of the vote throughout the day, overnight and the following day. It turned out to be a thrilling and fascinating evening as the vote numbers came in, and I think our viewers appreciated the ability to watch it unfold minute by minute

Do you think that most people fully understand the ramifications? And what is the media’s role in making sure they do understand?

The U.K. and Europe are thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic but the world today is a much smaller place and we are all interconnected in so many ways. This is especially true in the financial world.

Some poor economic data out of China can push global markets lower, a terrorist attack in Nigeria can push oil prices higher, so the U.K.’s decision to bow out of the EU is a big deal.

I think U.S. consumers understand the ramifications of the vote and how it could impact the very future of the European Union. It can hurt our markets initially and our investments and have long-term impacts on U.S. companies. I think the EU vote and the will of the people also resonates with American viewers; it’s a theme we’re already seeing in the presidential campaign.

As for the media’s role in explaining the ramifications, the key points need to be made clearly and with context. I think cutting through the clutter can be helped by using simple graphics that show the key numbers, timely reporting that explains the critical points and expert commentary that pulls it all together.

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