OLD Media Moves

Adjusting to life as a TV business journalist

January 26, 2012

Posted by Chris Roush


Kayla Tausche joined CNBC in January 2011 as a general assignment reporter covering corporate finance and deals for CNBC’s Business Day programming. In 2011, Tausche covered a wide range of stories for the network including the Occupy Wall Street movement, the News Corp phone hacking scandal and the bankruptcy of MF Global.

Previously, Tausche was based in London as the assistant editor of DealReporter, a Financial Times-owned publication geared toward merger arbitrage investors. Before moving to London, she was a New York-based journalist at DealReporter, where her M&A coverage consistently broke stories on high-profile deals like the takeover of Cadbury, the unraveling of Hunstman-Hexion and the leveraged buyout of Interactive Data Corp.

Prior to DealReporter, Tausche worked on the companies desk at Bloomberg News, covering earnings in the consumer and retail industry under a fellowship from the Steamboat Foundation. She began her career in journalism at the Brussels bureau of the Associated Press, where her bilingual interview experience included Jacques Chirac and Peter Mandelson.

An Atlanta native, Tausche graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in business journalism (NOTE: She was one of my students.) and international politics. She was an Ameel J. Fisher scholar in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, where she earned honors for research analyzing newspaper coverage of the British handover of Hong Kong.

Tausche spoke by e-mail with Talking Biz News about her first year as a television business journalist. What follows is an edited transcript.

What was the biggest difficulty for you in making the transition from print to TV?

Learning such a different style of storytelling – they say it’s as easy as having a conversation, but that conversation inevitably involves credit default swaps, a complex bankruptcy reorganization, or legal jargon. Even though I had been a frequent guest on CNBC before joining, I was a print journalist by trade, so overcoming the tendency to read through an article on-air was hilariously difficult.

What was the easiest thing to pick up with TV?

The subject matter. There were definitely times during the last year where I wished I had spent a decade in local news to learn the lingo – the cues, the shorthand, etc. But to be able to report for duty on day one and start ringing sources was a huge head start.

Is covering business for television any different than for print?

There’s a saying: “The problem with being a TV journalist is that you have to be on TV.” It’s clearly facetious, but truthful in that physically being in front of the camera means being off the grid for a period of time. It’s not as easily mobile as print reporting has become: A deadline means being somewhere, not filing something.

How have you developed your sources on Wall Street?

There’s a built-in aversion to media on Wall Street, yet so many bankers attribute news reports – especially CNBC – for their knowledge of its goings-on. Communicating to potential sources the importance of needing their input to get that story right is incredibly effective. That being said, it became very apparent that there are two very polarized types of sources: those who are itching to get on TV, and those who want to be as far away from it as possible!

M&A seems like a competitive beat. How do you feel when you get beat on a story?

So many of the M&A stories break on weekends or in the middle of the night, which is not conducive to live programming that is largely limited to weekdays and daylight. It’s inevitable that there is news we simply cannot break, so we do our best to move the needle on a deal a little further by the time we reach air. On one of my first days at CNBC, my colleague David Faber, who has been on the beat for nearly two decades, said, “Make the news wait for you.” That’s always the aim.

What did your internships and jobs teach you that you’re now using on your CNBC job?

That just being industrious – and a bit bold – will get you places. My very first experience in journalism was working in the Brussels bureau of the Associated Press. I was 19, sticking a recorder in then-French president Jacques Chirac’s face – it was nuts, I was working in sometimes more than two languages, conceiving and producing all of my own articles, and also writing essays for the AP’s wire prototype for young people. At Bloomberg, I had to pitch nearly everything I wrote, which was a great way to develop a keen news sense — about 90 percent of those pitches never made it. Immediately before CNBC, I was at DealReporter, a trade publication under the FT umbrella that covers deals for a hedge fund audience. It wasn’t really a job so much as a boot camp in M&A-and-developing-sources-during-a-crisis.

What is the process for getting time on a show during the day when you have a story?

Every morning and afternoon, the producers and editors get together to decide what to cover that day and the following – oftentimes I’ll go to that meeting to let them know what I’m working on, or raise my hand for an idea they’re mulling. On my beat specifically, I prefer to wait until I have breaking news to pipe up, and then will cater to whatever hour of the day it is – each show has a different audience, demographic, anchor style. I was extremely lucky to be covering some of last year’s most newsworthy events – from phone hacking, to Hurricane Irene, to Occupy Wall Street, and MF Global. When you’re covering stories like those, the requests for segments come to you.

What is your typical day like? When do you start reporting?

A typical day starts very early! Barring a call in the middle of the night about breaking news, I’ll wake up just before 6 a.m., hop on a shuttle bus to our studios and read the papers on the commute. Hair and makeup are the first matters of business, but I try to be on the phone before 8 a.m. Sometimes I get lucky and can make it back to the city in the evening for source meetings or a long run. The “typical” days are few and far between – breaking news sets the day’s schedule, which can vary wildly. While covering the Murdochs in Parliament, we were live-ready for 20 hours each day.

After one year at CNBC, what do you feel like you’ve learned?

What makes good TV. Sometimes the best stories are best suited for print, and I’ve learned how to make some of those stories more visually appetizing in order to get them on the air. Last spring, I wanted to do a series on the risks of getting trapped in high-yielding assets in a low-interest rate environment. The producers were hugely helpful in using our giant wall to create graphics that illustrated the concept well.

What is the biggest false assumption about CNBC?

I constantly field the question, “So who writes what you read on air?” The truth is, we all do our own reporting, our own writing, and, in many cases, our own production. And that’s when it’s scripted – most of the time it’s ad-libbed reaction to what’s happening in the market. The idea generation and long-term planning is a true team sport, but the person talking on-air has full steering control.

Who at CNBC have been your biggest mentors?

That’s nearly an impossible question to answer, but I would say the crew from “Squawk on the Street.” Mark Haines was the original inspiration, and the new line-up definitely has carried that on in his memory. The faces are mostly new to the NYSE floor, but they’re all CNBC vets and have been incredibly welcoming.

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