Covering financial and business news for 37 years, pioneering female broadcast journalist Sue Herera has been a reassuring TV presence through the 1987 crash, the dot-com bust and the global financial crisis — more than three decades spanning six different presidential administrations, each with its own reportorial challenges. In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, Herera comments on the new, unique — and daresay idiosyncratic — way the current president communicates with the press and public: tweets.
A founder of CNBC in 1989, she is the network’s breaking-news updates anchor during the business day as well as lead anchor for breaking news stories.
Herera is also the genial co-anchor, with Bill Griffeth, of the longest running business TV program on the air, “Nightly Business Report.” The award-winning show is produced by CNBC for American Public Television.
Amidst a slew of shows that sensationalize business and stock market news, “NBR” calmly puts events and market swings in clear perspective. Often focused on retirement issues, it even discusses with experts investing opportunities that arise during a market correction.
Herera interviews money managers, corporate heads and financial advisors. These have included Christopher Ailman, CIO of CalSTRS, the giant pension fund for California teachers; Roger McNamee, founding partner of Elevation Partners, an early Facebook investor; and personal finance expert Jean Chatzky.
On a recent “NBR,” Herera covered corporate earnings reports (“The bar is higher now”), the Federal Reserve and interest rates, retail sales (“rebounding”) and “potential headwinds and tailwinds” for stocks that viewers should be watching.
Spokane, Washington-born, Los Angeles-bred, she kicked off her career at Financial News Network in 1981 focusing on futures trading. At CNBC — which acquired FNN in 1991 — she has covered overseas geopolitical summits and anchored on-location series on the economies of China and Japan, as well as hosted special international series “CNBC in Russia” and “CNBC in India.”
ThinkAdvisor interviewed Herera one recent morning. She was speaking by phone from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where CNBC is headquartered and “NBR” is taped. Though she has never worked in the financial services industry, she wrote a book about one important aspect of it: “Women of the Street: Making It on Wall Street — the World’s Toughest Business” (Wiley 1997). As for TV reporter Herera, she made it covering the Street. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
THINKADVISOR: What are the challenges covering financial news since President Trump took office?
SUE HERERA: This administration is one in which the president communicates primarily by social media, which is a new way for an administration to communicate not only with the press but with the country. So the challenge for our team of Washington-based reporters is the social media aspect. Things happen very quickly.
What do your reporters focus on?
Tax policies and trade policies because those are the issues that move the market.
How do you handle President Trump’s harsh criticism of the media and accusations of “fake news”?
You take it with a grain of salt and do the best job you can and double- or triple-source whatever you’re talking about. Your work stands on its own.
What approach do you take on “Nightly Business Report” during periods of intense market volatility, such as right now, or in a correction?
When we see a large downside — or upside — move in the markets, we try to take a step back and cover not just what happened on Wall Street but also why it happened. Providing perspective and context helps viewers understand why the market [is] behaving in a certain way and helps take the irrational component out of financial moves they may be considering.
You’ve been covering financial news for more than three decades. This includes the 1987 crash and the global financial crisis. What approach did you take as a broadcaster?
When covering a significant financial event, you have to make sure you’re very calm, and as clear and concise as you can possibly be in reporting facts and [employ] multiple sourcing.
How did those events differ in their impact?
Each had its own complexion, if you will. The 2008 financial crisis was very frightening to an enormous number of people and very complicated. In contrast, the 1987 crash was major, too; but the market recovered very quickly, whereas the financial crisis took a longer time to play out, and significant financial institutions were lost. It changed the face of Wall Street. Also, it impacted a larger number of consumers: The housing implosion hit a huge swath of America. It was much more an event that had dramatic Main Street impact than did the 1987 crash, which was more a Wall Street event.
How did you seek to help viewers during the financial crisis?
We tried to provide stories that would empower them to get through the crisis, and we also provided possible solutions for those who found themselves underwater on their mortgages or who had costly subprime mortgages.
Financial advisors are among the people you interview on “Nightly Business Report.” What topics and issues do you discuss?
Personal finance, business news of the day, a recap of Wall Street. It depends on the day. Some of the topics are how to protect your portfolio from volatility; what companies are cutting their dividends — Do you stick with dividend-paying stocks or not?; ETFs versus picking individual stocks — Which is better for your portfolio? We don’t really get into the weeds of finance, but we do one of the most comprehensive summaries of the business news of the day that’s on television.
Do you handle much of the writing for your shows?
My role is both writing and helping to choose the stories. We have morning and afternoon meetings for “Nightly Business Report.” And I try to be as heavily involved as possible in the CNBC news updates.
What’s the secret to your success?
No secret: You just work hard, enjoy what you do and make sure you’re always giving your viewers what they need for information, whether I’m doing the national and international news or the “Nightly Business Report,” which has a larger, but more general, audience.
How did you come be a founder of CNBC?
I was working at Financial News Network and felt that I wanted to move on. I heard that NBC and GE — which owned NBC at the time — were considering setting up a competitor to Financial News Network. So I called the person who was going to be running CNBC and said, “I’d like to talk about coming to work for you.” And that was that. He hired me.
Contacting him proactively was a good idea!
Well, I just saw the opportunity, and you’ve got to grab [those] when you can.
Larry Kudlow has been a longtime presence on CNBC, and he gave Donald Trump advice during the presidential campaign. But was it a shock to you that Trump named him economic advisor and National Economic Council director replacing Gary Cohn?
[Kudlow] has known the president. He was also in the Reagan White House — he has that Washington experience. So I wasn’t shocked at all.
You started out in Los Angeles covering the futures industry for Financial News Network. Was that aspect of finance your choice, or was it their idea for you to cover it?
They assigned it to me. I didn’t know anything about it, but I learned on the job. It kind of landed in my lap, and that’s the type of thing you pick up the baton and run with. You have to own your beat and your space. That was what I was determined to do.
Compared to when you began, there are now many female broadcast journalists specializing in finance. What do you think the reason is for that increase?
Women have always been interested in finance and economics. Hopefully, those of us who started in the business early on have helped make it easier for more women to break into that [arena]. It touches so many different aspects of Americans’ lives and is a very dynamic field.
What’s your favorite part of covering finance?
I love that every day is different. The market is always different. There are new facts in ongoing stories. You often come into the office not knowing what will be on your plate. I find that exhilarating. It keeps you sharp as a reporter and as an anchor.
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