You're constantly covering the financial crisis. Is there any positive news to report about the state of the U.S. economy?
You know, it's interesting, I think that in every challenging economy, we tend to focus on the negatives as opposed to some of the positives. And there are some positives. Just last week I interviewed the CEO of Hasbro the same day I interviewed the CEO of Lego. They are two companies who happen to sell toys (and I know a thing or two about that because I have seven-, five- and two-year-old boys), but they're companies that even given the difficult economic uncertainties in this climate are doing really well. Lego sales are up 38 percent in the most recent report. In times like this, I find myself telling people that what tends to do well are the kinds of things that we use every single day. So yes, are the Krafts and the General Mills of the world and the Tupperware -- are they going to experience some weakness because people are tightening their belts, sure. They also make the types of products we need and use every day. I'm not going to stop eating Cheerios -- in fact, I'm going to eat Cheerios for dinner. Instead of going out to dinner or going to the diner three days a week, I'm going to go home and make eggs. So supermarket companies are doing well. I don't know that I would characterize all the things that are happening to those companies as great things, because each of those companies is still dealing with the economic headwinds and cost-cutting and all the other things that corporations have to deal with, but there are bright spots. It's not all doom and gloom.
Let's talk about the upcoming TVNewser Summit: You're going to be one of the keynote speakers, talking about the business of TV news. Describe your view of the business today.
I think there is no more critical time in our history in terms of the role business news is playing both on TV, on the Internet, and in print and in radio. There's no doubt that this is a moment where people who are in the business news industry are creating and shaping the American dialogue about what is happening to this economy, which makes our job more challenging than ever. It is so dynamic, so fast-moving. The news flow is one of the most challenging things I've ever experienced in my career in working on Wall Street and the news business. [You have to make] sure that every single thing you say is correct, and that you've checked it and double-checked it, and that you've kept your eye on the news wires and on what's happening. It's so crucial. I find before I do an interview, before I talk to a head of state, or an executive from a corporation, it's like being back in undergrad. You've got to be over-prepared. There's so many tentacles tied to the future of so many different industries right now that the risk of saying something that's inaccurate -- that's going to create more euphoria or negativity or add to the doom and gloom -- [It] is very crucial that you draw the line, that you state the facts, that you remain fair and balanced, that you ask the difficult questions but that you know the questions you're asking are going to impact millions and millions of people's lives every day. I believe our connection to this story is even greater than any other story that we've had in my time in economic journalism.
|"You will not succeed in this kind of environment unless you can talk about a range of issues. These economic times have forced everybody in the media industry to widen their tool belt."|
You talked about business news, but looking at the TV news industry as a whole, what do you think it needs to focus on in order to begin to grow and thrive in this tough economy?
At least for the next two to four years, what we're going to have to focus on is how to get ourselves out of this financial crisis. I get so frustrated in the news when we focus too much on revisionist history, mistakes we made, how we got here. I want to learn from all those mistakes, it's vital to learn from all those mistakes, but I also want to have the ability to look forward. I look at this administration, and I believe we hired a chief executive officer of the United States of America. That's what this president is. The members of Congress, the members of the Senate and the House, they are the board of directors. They're sitting around the table. Some say, "Well this doesn't work for fiscal prosperity," some say, "This doesn't work for economic growth." Well, they're going to sit around the table, they're going to agree to disagree on certain issues, but at the end of the day everyone on that board of directors including the CEO of the United States of America, they want that shareholder equity returns for the taxpayers, the American people. So our job as journalists is going to be to measure some of that progress.
You talk about the economy affecting all sectors, one of those certainly is the media. What advice do you have for people who are losing their jobs in the media world? Or for someone who's hanging on to their media job but is nervous about their future?
I think the most important thing in tough economic times is if you've lost a job, you've got to put your foot in the door. When I was in college, my dad used to teach me that the best thing you can do in life is to have multiple internships because it brings you closer to knowing what you do want to do, as opposed to what you don't want to do. By the time I was coming out of college, I had a very strong idea about what I wanted to do because I worked every summer. In this case, we've got people [who] are getting laid off who have 10 to 15 years experience in the business. Let's keep in mind a couple keys things -- number one, it's a small business. Relationships matter. Volunteer to get your foot in the door. I know that people are cash-strapped and they need money and it's a challenging climate, and there are far fewer positions. But if you can get your foot in the door, even if it's a quasi-internship type scenario, it gives people an opportunity to see what you're made of. And that can really open up doors in places you didn't realize. I also think this is a moment in time in media journalism where people who know specific industries really well, [who] understand specific mechanics of financial institutions, or the mechanics of the oil markets or energy or wind and solar power -- having a specific area of expertise where you can be very strong really helps you. But you cannot and you will not succeed in this kind of environment unless you can talk about a range of issues. These economic times have forced everybody in the media industry just as much as probably any other industry to widen their tool belt.
Let's talk a little about your background. You first joined Fox News as the director of business news, in what was initially an off-air role. Walk us through your decision to join the network -- how did the opportunity come about and what helped you make your decision?
There was really a two-fold decision. One was the opportunity to work with Roger Ailes and to work for what could be considered arguably one of the geniuses in this industry. For a kid like me who came from Wall Street who kind of fell into this industry, to have the opportunity to be in a place that was going to build a network from scratch, and to have an opportunity to be a player coach was just unprecedented. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and to know that the likes of the Rupert Murdochs of the world were going to make a huge investment in it, it was just sort of a no-brainer. I have looked at my experience on Wall Street versus my experience in television at the time, and what I had missed about Wall Street was thinking strategically. One of the things I felt right away about coming to work here at FOX was they would give me the opportunity to use both of those things that I had been so passionate about. And that is number one, being on air and keeping the passion about television and what I love about TV, and also being able to develop and create a network behind the scenes. To me, in my first year here on the block, I got to learn about advertising and production and set design and everything from distribution and Internet strategy and how to build an Internet Web site and talent and show flow. As I said to Roger Ailes on multiple occasions, I think the first year here of working around the clock to help build this thing was like getting two MBAs in one year, and then doing it with some of the greatest minds in the industry -- it was a no-brainer.
About that player-coach role you mentioned, now you are an anchor on the business network, but also the VP of business news. What sort of day-to-day activities do you do in your executive role?
To be perfectly honest with you, a lot of the planning and strategy meetings I used to sit in for multiple hours a day, I don't sit in as much now. In the year, year and a half that I was here prior to launch, I [focused on] the development of the network. Once we went live, I had to sort of switch hats and my focus had to be on being a face of the network and getting it out there and develop[ing] it. What I spend the lion's share of my time on now is not only preparing and putting together what these shows look like and working with my executive producers and bookers, but it's also meeting the people who are going to help move and shape the dialogue of the network. Creating that infrastructure and relationships, meeting senators and executives and members of Congress and heads of state. I don't go out at night, but I go out at lunch. I either have meetings or I go to lunch meetings either at corporations where I'll visit with executives, or have lunch with one of those specific people I talked about and build and cultivate a relationship. I spend a great deal of my time commentating on the markets. So I'm on the Fox News Channel almost daily, sometimes throughout the day, sometimes throughout the evening. Also I'm on Don Imus[' Imus in the Morning], and Good Morning America and CBS' Early Show and doing a lot of radio. So in terms of the role, it has definitely shifted. I'm spending more of my time and energy talking about what's happening and making sure that we're continuing to build our brand.
|"While there seem to be monetization issues in any Internet model right now, there is no doubt in my mind that the Internet is one of the most crucial parts of our strategy."|
Looking at the network from that executive role, what do you see as something the network is currently doing well to compete for new viewers, and something it needs to improve on in the future?
Throughout this really challenging financial crisis, I think we really stood hard and fast to a mantra that Roger Ailes put in front of us in the very beginning, which is being fair and balanced. I also think we've stood very close to what it is that Neil Cavuto has done for over a decade on Fox News: he figured out how to take very difficult arcane topics from Wall Street and translate them to a Main Street audience. What I applaud us on is taking a very challenging and critical time where things are very complicated, intricate and confusing, and trying to translate those concepts into ways people can understand. Allowing people to call in and ask questions, write emails -- I think we're being very innovative in the way we're reaching out to our viewers. Your Questions, Your Money, allowing people to call in for four hours on Saturday, the launch of this one-hour Internet show from 12 [p.m.] to 1 [p.m.] that's anchored by Connell McShane and Jenna Lee, which is allowing people to communicate through Twitter and Facebook and all kinds of other options. So I think we're doing a really, really good job on making sure we can be a resource and a tool to ask questions. What I think we need to work on is being in the breaking news business. Part of the challenge of being in the breaking news business is developing relationships and sources and opportunities to get out there and be the one responsible for driving the news. Peter Barnes down in Washington, D.C. has done a terrific job of getting the story out there in a very timely fashion on what the treasury department is doing and all the different intricacies of the Treasury plans. That kind of thing over time, when we have more and more of those breaking scenarios, people will turn to us because they'll feel there's a sense of urgency of being with Fox Business because we're the first with the story or the first to know what's happening -- and why it's important, why it's relevant, and why it relates to you. So I think we can always tweak how well we continue to do breaking news.
One of the things you mentioned is this push on the Web, with new media: with the Web show, you have a blog. What do you see as important aspects to having a successful Web component for a financial channel?
It's crucial. When I first got here, I spent a great deal of time investigating the Internet and print publications I looked at all the distribution models and the level of hits and the video downloads and the maven products. I can't begin to tell you how much time in that first year I spent on the Internet. I'm still a very big believer that while there seem to be monetization issues in any Internet model right now, there is no doubt in my mind that the Internet is one of the most crucial parts of our strategy. And that's because of a couple things. Number one, we're in 50 million homes. To get full distribution, we'd have to get north of 90 million homes. It doesn't include an international distribution plan just yet. Once we get there we'll be great, but in the meantime, how do we get our product out there? We get it out through the Internet, by becoming a recognizable brand, through great stories, great journalism and a great video player where people can see who we are: the talent that occupies this network, the kinds of stories we're covering. I think it widens our portfolio of what we can offer. Look, we're a part of one of the greatest franchises in the world. Being under the umbrella of News Corp., with The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones and MarketWatch and Fox News, we have these endless tentacles and resources. I think that's also part of the future plan here with the Internet -- the connectivity. It's a franchise, it's a business, it's a long-term goal here, it's an agenda. We can take these people and cultivate this huge business franchise.
You talk about being under the umbrella of News Corp., but in the most direct way you're in competition with the current financial TV news leader, CNBC, which has been around much longer. As Fox Business grows, is there a specific effort to compete with CNBC?
In the years we were building the network, I'll be honest with you, of course we looked at what we thought CNBC does well or perhaps what they don't do well. But we didn't focus a great deal of our time or energy on CNBC. We sat down and thought, "Look, what works about ESPN? What works about Fox News? What works about this specific channel, or this Internet strategy, or what works about USA Today? How is it that USA Today tells stories that are very translatable to the American people?" We didn't sit here and think, "Okay, CNBC is going to be our No. 1 competitor; let's direct our time and energy on what we can do to break down what they do well or what they don't do well, because at the end of the day they are the dominant players in business." But averaging what are two or three hundred thousand people at any given time of the day is not big enough pieces of pie for us to worry about what our success could or could not be if we were to reach a piece of their pie and rip half or a third of their audience. I mean, there are over 90 million people watching television in this country who have cable. We need to figure out how we're going to get some ESPN viewers, viewers of CNBC, some viewers of news, viewers who are watching soap operas. We bundle all of those things together. Look, I came from CNBC. I have a lot of good friends there. There's no doubt they've been the dominant players. They've done a very good job. What they do is they speak very specifically to Wall Street, and I think what we do is we speak to Wall Street, but we also try to speak to those people who have important and pressing questions every single day and who just want some answers. We've got to worry about Bloomberg, too; they've got a great product, as well. Look, CNN's focusing on the economy, Fox News, MSNBC all the major morning television shows are focusing on the economy. The economy is dominating the story. So it's one factor, one piece of the entire equation.
When you were at NBC, there was a lot of speculation about how your role would evolve at the network. Verne Gay in Newsday wrote at one point that "you could be the next Katie Couric." Is Couric's current role as evening news anchor something you would aspire to?
(Laughs) Let me say a couple quick things. First of all, I look back at my experience at CNBC and at NBC, and I look back with the greatest thanks and admiration. They opened up tremendous doors to me. I was a kid who came from Wall Street who didn't know the first thing about television. I just started appearing on TV because I was speaking on behalf of Morgan Stanley, and so what I learned in the three years I was there was tremendous. While I was so deeply honored to be compared to Katie Couric, despite that I couldn't hold a candle to her, it was like being a kid in a candy shop, to be honest with you. It was a dream. I found myself consistently pinching myself that I was sitting on a couch next to Katie Couric, who was somebody I watched while growing up. To this day, I look at her with the greatest deal of admiration. She taught me a tremendous amount, not only growing up watching her and as a role model, but also sitting next to her and watching how she handled breaking news, how she handled confrontation with an interview, how she handled an interview where the responses were yes's and no's, the great way she's handled the press and the challenges the press has presented over the past couple years. I still am sort of awestruck that anybody put me in that conversation. If I grow up someday to be like Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters, it would be the dream of a lifetime. I continue to look at them as some of the greatest examples in the business. Whether it's Greta Van Susteren, or frankly Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity and Joe Scarborough, there are people in this business, man or woman, that I've watched for years. I still pinch myself and think I'm so lucky that this is what I do, and this is even a choice. Because I didn't write this script, the script sort of unfolded. So if I ever get those chances to continue to do more of this and to grow and build into careers like some of the people I mentioned, I'd be very blessed.
One of the other things about NBC were the rumors and gossip going around toward the end of your tenure at the network. Looking back, do you wish any part of it had gone differently?
There was a lot of rumor and speculation. To be perfectly honest with you, a lot of that rumor and speculation was not true. I'm new in this business -- I know it's been five years, but I still feel new. And one of the things that happened is I left quietly. I left quietly because I knew that I had entered into some serious discussions with other places. One of the things I had to address was I had a six-month non-compete where I had to sit out of the business. So I had two choices: One was to allow the rumor mill to perpetuate rumors that were largely false and go out there and negate those stories, or to sit back and allow the future to unfold and do it quietly and not get involved in all this rumor-mongering. So I chose to sit back gracefully and keep my mouth shut. In hindsight, do I regret that some of the rumors were false and I didn't stand up to some of them? Maybe a little bit. That's a little frustrating to have everybody beat you up for months while I sat back from the industry. I knew where I was going, I knew what I was going to do, I knew I had the full faith and confidence of Roger Ailes. So I couldn't say to people, "No you're wrong, I'm not getting thrown out the door. In fact, I'm going to do something that was a once in a lifetime opportunity." I talked to some very close friends of mine on the Today show, and I told them about the kinds of opportunities I had, and I said if you had to weigh these three different opportunities, what would you do? And they said, "Alexis you had to go for it." So I will always look back with the most tremendous gratitude for everything in my experience there, and there will always be rumors about me or things in my career. I remember Al Roker, a good friend and somebody I love to this day, who said, "Alexis, you can never read the press, whether it's good or bad, because when they like you one day, they won't like you the next day. When they don't like you, it'll hurt. Just don't read it." I just try to stay away from Google and not read what people say about me, and I learned some very valuable lessons in that Today show experience. It was very hard to hear the things people said. It was hard for my family; they stood through it knowing that I was going to come here, knowing the kind of job I was going to take here, and we just decided to sort of be elegant about it. And I'm so appreciate of the people who stood behind me throughout all that transition.
Before television, you worked at Goldman Sachs and a couple other places in the financial world. What skills did you learn there that you continue to draw upon in your current role in television?
I used to be a basketball player here in New York, and what's very similar between the television business and Wall Street is: You're on the foul line with three seconds left in the game -- do you want the ball? Every single day you come in to your job, and it is completely dynamic. There is no written play. Sure, you can have a handful of guests that were pre-planned or pre-booked, but there's no written slate. And the fascinating and exciting part of the job is you have to consistently be on your toes. You have to be consistently over-prepared, and prepared to change in the middle of the ball game. And that is so similar to Wall Street. It's clearly worked to my benefit that most of these executives who are running these financial institutions to this day are people that I've worked for. I've worked for many of the top names in the business, so I happen to have some very strong and powerful relationships that throughout this process have kept me very much in the know.
You mentioned basketball, and that relates to my last question. You conducted a much talked-about interview with President Barack Obama while he was still a senator, in which you discussed playing him in basketball. Drawing on your expertise as an all-NYC basketball player in high school, what do you think would be the best strategy for defeating the president in a game of one-on-one?
Want to know the funniest thing? There was a group of kids here who I had to speak to a week or two ago, and when the kids came in, we talked a little about that interview and one of the kids said, "Alexis would you let the president win?" And I said, "Are you kidding? Of course not!" And the kid said, "Are you sure? You seem very competitive," and I said, "Of course I'm competitive." Look, I know that the way I could beat him, if I could, which is not likely especially if it involves a full court, let's hope it involves a half court because I'd probably stop breathing, but it would all come down to the perimeter shot. There's just no doubt about it. If it came down to a hustle and tussle under the hoop in terms of who's going to out-rebound each other, unfortunately I'm afraid that height would win the day. No matter how much I think I can jump, I'm certainly no Michael Jordan, So it would all come down to a little fake and a little pop up in the air for a perimeter shot. It would certainly be fun, but you know he hasn't delivered on that yet.
I know, he made that promise in the interview.
I keep reminding the White House. I keep hearing rumors and speculation about where he's going to be playing ball, and I said, "Listen, I'll come visit." I want you to know, on the weekends with the three boys, I'm keeping that outside shot alive, so when I get that call, I'm ready to put on the sneaks.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]