November 11, 2007

Down to business

An interview with…


managing editor

Nightly Business Report

Business reporting is boring.

That’s the common wisdom among print reporters, but it’s damn near gospel for TV reporters. Who wants to recite stock market quotes when there are hurricanes to stand in front of?

But Wendie Feinberg won a national business-reporting Emmy in 2006 for her work as senior producer on a Nightly Business Report series called “China’s Century of Change.” Of course, producing a five-part series on China’s emergence as an economic power required going there, and that became the highlight of Feinberg’s career so far.

And it’s been quite a career. Feinberg works on TV’s longest-running daily business news program – on broadcast or cable. Created in 1979, the Nightly Business Report airs on 225 PBS stations, reaching more than 90 percent of U.S. television households.

And it’s all done out of WPBT, Miami’s PBS station, where Feinberg runs the show. Yet even the most faithful Nightly Business Report viewer has no idea what she looks like – because she hates being in front of the camera.

Lots of folks know what on-camera talent does for a living.What exactly does a managing editor do?

I work with our producers, reporters, photographers, editors, assignment editors, associate producers, anchors, and everyone else to ensure we send PBS and its stations an informative, accurate, interesting, comprehensive, and concise half-hour wrap-up of the day’s business and financial news every weeknight.

In our case, it’s a bit trickier than running a typical newsroom because we’re far-flung. Besides our production facility at WPBT, we have bureaus in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago. I also work with stringers in Japan, China, Malaysia, and India. So the real challenge for all of us is to know what everyone else is doing, then pull all that work together in a coherent air product every night.

Why behind the camera instead of in front of it?

I have no interest at all in being in front of the camera. I tried it a few times, anchoring the midday newscast at the j-school at the University of Florida. They were not my finest hours – or, more accurately, half hours.

You have a bachelor's and master's in journalism. How important is that for broadcasting? Lots of aspiring broadcasters figure they just need to look pretty and major in hair care...

Getting a master’s degree was a personal accomplishment for me – something I had always wanted. It’s not a necessary item for working in broadcast news today. If you eventually want to do any teaching, it’s good to have, since many colleges and universities require their instructors to have advanced degrees of some kind.

I think it’s a good idea to get a bachelor’s degree, if only because being in a college or university setting teaches you how to think. It also exposes you – or should if you’re in a good curriculum – to a wide variety of topics. It’s good to know a little about a lot of things.

How did you get into business broadcasting?

I actually got into it by getting out of news.

I was freelancing for the ABC News bureau during the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew (after leaving the managing editor’s job at Channel 10). It was really tough. We were working long hours under difficult conditions. We were also dealing with an emotionally wrenching assignment that was made worse by knowing my family had been badly affected by the storm. So, I decided I had had enough. I got out of the business altogether and went to work for Southern Bell (now BellSouth) doing PR.

It was a completely different kind of environment, working for a large, publicly traded company. I learned a lot about the company’s business and a lot about business in general. So when I heard about the senior producer’s job at NBR, I had the right set of skills: a TV news background, as well as business experience. It was a good match. I line-produced the program until I took the managing editor’s job at the beginning of this year.

What's one part of your job that most folks don't realize you do?

I push paperwork. I sign off on just about everything we do, so a larger-than-expected part of my day is dealing with all the housekeeping stuff.

Career highlight?

We were in China – in Ningxia, a province known as part of the “Wild West” because it’s so far from Beijing. We had spent the day shooting video of, and talking with, rural farmers. Late in the afternoon, on a whim, we drove out to see part of the Great Wall.

This isn’t the Wall visitors see: It’s crumbling and more than 500 years old with no souvenir stands. It was bleak, remote, and incredibly beautiful. Besides our crew, guide, and driver, the only person for miles was a shepherd and his flock. I remember thinking how lucky I was, to be where I was, doing something I loved. And yes, being paid for it.

Amusing professional gaffe?

My first exposure to television came at age 5, when I celebrated my birthday on the Skipper Chuck show. Chuck Zink was a pioneer in South Florida broadcasting. So when I saw him one afternoon in my boss’ office at Channel 10, I gushe about how he was the reason I got into television. There was only one problem – it wasn’t Chuck Zink. It was Rick Shaw! Admittedly Shaw is another South Florida broadcasting legend, but I wanted the floor of the office to open up and swallow me. I was mortified.

One piece of career advice you wish you could surgically implant into the skulls of college students and young professionals?

This comes from someone with 20 years in this business, who believes reporters should be more concerned with getting the facts right on a story than how they look on camera when delivering it. Feel free to call me old-fashioned…

Pay attention to details and keep it simple!

I would’ve loved to have said it to a reporter who worked for me in another market and who, during a live shot about a murder/suicide – husband kills wife then kills himself – said, “Police still have no suspects.”

And I would’ve loved to have said it to the reporter who, while awaiting a hurricane on a beach, said during a live shot, “The water is touching the shore!”

Please, just tell the story in factual, simple, declarative sentences, and the broadcast news world will be a much better place.