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NELSON: So let's start and just talk about you growing up. Where were you born; where did you grow up?
HERERA: I was born in Washington State, in Spokane, Washington, but I really spent most of my life in southern California in the Los Angeles area. I moved there when I was just in infant; my parents relocated to LA, so I really view myself as probably not a native Californian, but as pretty close to it as you can get. So I spent my early years in Los Angeles and absolutely loved it.
NELSON: Basically an Angelino.
HERERA: Basically an Angelino.
NELSON: Now, when you were young, television – you watched television, I'm sure.
HERERA: Sure, absolutely. Who didn't?
NELSON: What did you watch? What were your favorites in those days?
HERERA: Oh, that's kind of hard. I loved television. I was always fascinated by it. I do have to say that I loved news even when I was a kid.
NELSON: That's strange.
HERERA: I know it is. It's odd, isn't it? And look where I ended up. I honestly had no intention of ending up in the news business, but I was always fascinated by it. I watched almost everything on television. There wasn't the variety that there is now, certainly, but I remember some of the old comedy shows. The Carol Burnett Show I absolutely adored. I still love the old reruns of the Carol Burnett Show, so I would say comedies and the comedy hours were some of my favorite things to watch.
NELSON: So at that time you really had no expectation of getting into the TV business. So was this a secret ambition? No.
HERERA: No, I wanted to be a nurse. Unfortunately I wasn't gifted in that particular area and didn't score well on the nursing entry exams. I did work in the medical field for a little bit but it did not suit me and I went back to college and decided to pursue journalism.
NELSON: That was at Cal State Northridge?
HERERA: At Cal State Northridge, yes.
NELSON: This school keeps coming up in every interview I do with you people!
HERERA: It's because it's a great school!
NELSON: And everybody went there.
HERERA: Well, you know, there weren't that many options if you wanted to get the degree in journalism in southern California. There really was only USC, which is incredibly expensive and hard to get in to, or you could go up north, but if you wanted to stay in the southern California area, Cal State Northridge had a great reputation, it had the journalism degree, and one of the things that I loved about the school was that it was very hands on. The instructors and the professors there also worked in the industry, and so you really got a very realistic view of what news was, whether that was newspapers, television, magazines – there were people who were actively working in the field instructing you and I think that made a huge difference for me.
NELSON: And you knew how it really worked as opposed to some professorial theory about the media.
HERERA: Yes. And we had to do internships and those internships were done at either major television stations, at a major newspaper – and most of them led us to jobs, incidentally, which was terrific – but I really think that I came out of school less wide-eyed perhaps than other people in other programs because my instructors were in the middle of putting together stories, putting a newspaper to bed, putting on a television news program, and that was really invaluable as a student for me.
NELSON: Now you mentioned internships. Any one in particular that you recall that stands out that was interesting or exciting?
HERERA: I did an internship at the Channel 2 CBS News affiliate in Los Angeles, which then was KNXT and Jerry Dunphy was the news anchor then. Now it's KCBS, I believe, and that was a terrific experience for me. I started out on what they call the planning desk and it taught me how to find sources, how to call people in unusual and stressful situations and convince them to give us a quote, convince them to go on television. It's a lot harder to convince someone to go on camera with what they want to say if they're unwilling then it is to just get a quote for a newspaper. So I learned a lot about how to put a story together.
NELSON: And so when you get ready, you're graduating – at this point I assume you had decided that the TV business was for you, or were you just going to take whatever job you could get?
HERERA: I was looking for anything that paid, hopefully something with benefits, but at that time television news was very competitive but cable was in its infancy.
NELSON: What year was this?
HERERA: This was 1980.
NELSON: 1980, okay.
HERERA: 1980! And cable was in its infancy and no one really thought that cable would last and I thought, well, I need a job. I need a full-time job, preferably, and look, who doesn't want to work in Los Angeles? So needless to say, there was just a little competition and basically I couldn't find a job. I had a very difficult time finding a job and that's what led me to FNN. They were hiring.
NELSON: Because they were just getting started.
HERERA: They were just getting started. A lot of my friends said, "You know, you really need to get a job in real television," and I will never forget that because I was devastated. I was so pleased that I could even find someone who would hire me and people were saying, "I think you need to get into real TV." I thought, what the heck? I was offered a job as an associate producer/writer working for Financial News Network and I decided to take it even though business news and mathematics was not my strong point to say the least.
NELSON: Was that part of your problem with the nursing exam?
HERERA: You got it, yeah. Needless to say that numbers and equations and things did not play to my strong suit, however, I think when you're young and very eager you think you can do anything and perhaps that was the beauty of FNN coming along at that point in my life because when they hired me they said, "We'd like you to do the futures markets," which is probably the most the complicated part of the entire financial system, and you know, I was 20 and I said, "Okay!"
NELSON: I believe in the futures, right?
HERERA: I had no business saying that, but I did. I needed a job, I figured I can learn this, this can't be that difficult and of course it was, but I think those are things that happen when you're young and ambitious and very naïve and it was honestly such a great stroke of luck.
NELSON: Now in terms of when you say "do the futures market", was this on-air or were you doing research that other people were using? What was your role in that?
HERERA: I was initially hired to write the segments. It might have perhaps been easier if I'd just been hired to anchor them because then someone who has some idea of what was going on in the futures markets would have been writing those segments, however that was not the case so I was assigned to write the segments on the futures markets and I think that's when I realized that I was in over my head and I needed to really bone up on what segments and what markets I was going to have to cover and that's when I started calling all the guys on the floor in Chicago and New York and literally relearning how to put a story together but with a different twist because the language was different for futures, the parameters were different for the types of questions that you were going to ask. The old who, what, when, where and why applied to a certain extent but you didn't get the story that way. It was much more complicated and it was like speaking a foreign language and I had to learn that all over again.
NELSON: Now you said when you were in school one of the things you learned about is how to call people up and you develop a certain... now what happened when you were calling these guys on the floor out of the blue? Here's some young woman on the phone badgering them for information, what kind of response were you getting?
HERERA: The kind of response that you would give somebody who was badgering you for information. Basically they would hang up on me. They would say, "Who are you? What do you want? From where?" Because no one knew what Financial News Network was. They certainly didn't know who I was and I didn't know how to ask the questions with the right lingo. So that went on for about three months and finally a group of guys on the floor of the Chicago Merc got together and asked one gentleman on the floor if he would please call me and get me to stop, and he said, "No, I won't call her and get her to stop but maybe what we should do is teach her to speak our language." So he called me – his name was Gary Wilhelmy, an absolutely lovely man – and he called me up and said, "Sue, the guys have asked me to call you. It's really apparent you're not going to go away." I will never forget that. I thought, "Oh my gosh, they want me to go away." It had never occurred to me that I was bothering these guys.
NELSON: You were just doing your job, right?
HERERA: Oh, the ignorance of youth. He said, "Well, since you're not going to go away we thought we would help you learn what we know," and that really was a turning point in my ability to understand markets, the inter-relationship of markets and I honestly think that's what helped me fall in love with markets and business news and it's why I'm still in it now.
NELSON: Now at that point you were writing, researching, how did you finally end up in front of camera?
HERERA: The woman that I was writing for because pregnant and she had a number of small children at home and decided that she really didn't want to work full-time anymore. It was very demanding, her family was very demanding, and the job was very demanding, and so she decided to phase out a little bit. The beauty of doing something as specific as covering the futures market or the stock market is that you're almost guaranteed that you're in demand because so few people do it. The problem is that when you leave it leaves a hole and the only person that they can put in is someone else who understands it, and that was me. I honestly had no intention ever of being on camera. It kind of just happened. I didn't go through the normal route to become an anchor.
NELSON: In terms of that kind of training?
HERERA: In terms of training, in terms of... I kind of grew up on television, if you will. I really did. I was anchoring when I was 21 years old.
NELSON: On a national network.
HERERA: On a national network!
NELSON: We won't talk about how many people were watching.
HERERA: Yeah, there weren't a lot of people but it was national nonetheless, but that just doesn't happen. That's a stroke of luck that never happens to people. I mean I did a little field reporting but I never had to go the very difficult route, and it's a good route, but I never had to go the route of moving to the small market, shooting and reporting and editing all your own pieces, and those really difficult things that reporters out in the trenches have to do. I inherited my own difficulties but it really wasn't the same. All of the sudden I found myself in an anchor chair and I had no idea how to do it, so I just kind of did it.
NELSON: Well, you didn't know anything about futures, so I assume that in some way or other you picked this up because you're still doing it.
HERERA: Well, at the time that they actually gave me the anchor position then I did. That was a couple of years in, or at least a year in, and at that point I did. I knew the markets backwards and forwards and it was fine, but in terms of the cosmetics so to speak of being a television news anchor I had never had voice training, I didn't know that when you change cameras you dip your head down to come up on the other camera, all of those little things that make a newscast look more finished, more professional, snappy.
NELSON: And that people expect.
HERERA: And that people expect because that's what they saw on television, and they saw it with the big networks because there wasn't all the... there was CNN at the time but there wasn't the reach then that cable has now, so the people that you were compared to were the local anchors and I was in the second biggest market in the country for the television networks, the big guys on the 6:30 news.
NELSON: So in a way, those are the only people that could possibly be your role models because there were so few cable networks at the time and other than CNN they really weren't news oriented. You weren't going to look at a VJ on MTV as a role model for what you were doing.
HERERA: That's right. None of that really existed. So the big journalists on the major networks were my role models and had a huge influence in the way that I wanted to do my job, but again, never having worked in that capacity obviously and never having worked in a network environment... In a way Bill and I were kind of making it up as we went along and we got to know our audience and got to know what they liked about us. I mean they saw us for eight hours a day!
NELSON: I talked to Bill Griffeth as well and you two sat side by side – I don't know what your anchor set up was in those days, I'm assuming...
HERERA: It's very similar to what there is now.
NELSON: So here you still are, side by side.
HERERA: Here we still are!
NELSON: But at that time, though, as you just said, you were on the air from before the market opened through your market wrap eight hours a day. That's a pretty grueling schedule for anybody to be in front of the camera.
HERERA: Another thing you can only do when you're that young. You really didn't have a choice and it actually ended up being easier because you started following stories from the very early morning until the afternoon and I still find it easier to latch onto a story very early in the day rather than play catch-up to it late in the day. So for me it was difficult in terms of stamina, in terms of being fresh and not getting tired by the end of the day, but in terms of watching a story develop it was actually easier to get it from the beginning and put it together that way. So that was one advantage.
NELSON: So it was good on-the-job training, so to speak.
HERERA: It was great! You couldn't buy that kind of training nowadays.
NELSON: And especially at that age.
NELSON: But was there ever a moment where you walked out at the end of the day and said, "What am I doing!?" because you had a bad day or you just felt you weren't living up to the standards of the people that you were aspiring...
HERERA: Oh, many days.
NELSON: Many days.
HERERA: There were many days where things didn't quite go right or a story was incredibly difficult because in those days the markets were in the process of evolving from very basic instruments to what we have now, which are very complicated derivatives and there are a million different financial instruments that are traded. Then it was much more vanilla and so we kind of caught the market at an interesting point where it was evolving from the insider's game on Wall Street to more of the everyman's game on Main Street and although that was a wonderful time and an exciting time, it also meant that there were instruments that were being created that were difficult to understand and were used as hedging instruments and derivatives and it was hard to grasp some of the movements in the markets and what was going on because communication was not quite as quick as it is now and you didn't have as many sources for information like the internet. Rumor was a great vehicle to get markets to move and so you spent a lot of your day running down rumors that would move markets in dramatic ways and there were times when you would get it right and there were times where you really felt like maybe you had been used by some of those market insiders and that was a very frustrating feeling.
NELSON: Did you have a lot of, and I assume you really did, but did you have research, backup and people that were helping you? Because you're stuck there; you're on camera. You're not leaving and saying, "I'll be back in half an hour. I have to check out this story."
HERERA: A little bit but not really too much. We had a phone and a computer out on the set and you'd get a bathroom break but not too much more than that. One of the most embarrassing things was I was eating lunch at my desk which was on the set and they took a wide-shot and I'm stuffing pizza in my mouth because there was no place to go. You really were stuck out there until we went to an infomercial, which was how Financial News Network made a lot of its money at the time. We would get these half hour infomercials which we hated but at the same time it gave you half an hour break and you could run down a story or eat some pizza or whatever.
NELSON: So you actually did get that moment sometimes.
HERERA: Yeah, sometimes. Not often, but sometimes.
NELSON: So how long did you do that? How long did that go on?
HERERA: Eight years.
NELSON: Eight years of grinding it out, essentially.
NELSON: Now we're going to get to what happened to FNN but actually you left before the great scandal. Why was that?
HERERA: I did. The reason that I chose to leave FNN was two-fold. One, I felt as though I had been doing the same thing for a long period of time on a very grueling schedule and I felt like I was personally ready for a change, and the other aspect was that I suspected that there might have been some financial shenanigans going on. Couldn't prove it, certainly, but there were just little things that were happening at the company that I found suspect. They would change banks all the time, we would change insurance companies all the time, they would inventory equipment, the same equipment, over and over and over again. At first I didn't think much of it because I was focused on my work but after awhile I remember going home and saying to my husband Dan, "There is something wrong with this. It just doesn't make any sense." There had been plenty of times at Financial News Network when they could not make payroll and we would all stand in line and they would give us fifty bucks to get through the weekend and that was it.
NELSON: Live it up!
HERERA: That was it. Fifty bucks. I think I just thought the company's too close to the edge. The day that I really came to that conclusion happened to be the same day that the Wall Street Journal ran an article about NBC considering an entry into business cable and that was a huge coincidence, obviously, but I think I was so frustrated on that particular day that I picked up the Wall Street Journal, I read the article, and there was a gentleman's name mentioned in it, Michael Eskridge, would be the new president and CEO of CNBC and I picked up the phone and I called his office. I didn't know it, but he answered the phone!
NELSON: May I speak to Michael?
HERERA: I said, "I'd like to speak to Michael Eskridge, please?" not realizing that with the New York/LA time difference it was 5:00 LA time, it was 8:00 PM on the East Coast and he happened to be working late in his office. He picked up the phone and said, "Can I help you?" I said, "I'd like to speak to Michael Eskridge," and he said, "Well, why?" I said, "My name is Sue Herera and I think I'd like to come work for him. I work for Financial New Network," and he said, "Yeah, I know you!" I said, "Well, who are you?" He said, "I'm Michael Eskridge," and that was it. We chatted for a few minutes and he said, "You know, why don't you come back and we'll talk." I did and they offered me the job.
NELSON: Now how did you manage your on-air five days a week? How did you sort of slip out and go have this interview?
HERERA: I made him come in on a Saturday, which was really aggravating to him because he was an avid, avid sportsman and I think I made him break up a golf date in Florida for it and he had to stay in New York – because it was winter – he had to stay in New York and interview me because I said I may lose my job if they know that I'm talking to you. And so he never really let me forget that. He was a fabulous guy and he did say to me when I walked in the office at 30 Rock, "You know, I usually don't work Saturdays," and I went, "I usually don't either, but here we are," and that was that.
NELSON: So here you are, a southern California girl, off to 30 Rockefeller. What were your impressions of the big city at that point?
HERERA: I had never been in New York City before in my life and to come to New York at the holiday season is...
NELSON: And Rockefeller Center!
HERERA: And Rockefeller Center, it's just breathtaking, and I think honestly it highly influenced my decision. I really felt an energy in the city and it was so different than Los Angeles: a different attitude by the people, a different energy, a different sense of place, that I really felt that I wanted to be in New York. I wanted to be in New York even more than I wanted the job with CNBC. I just felt like this would be such an amazing place to work, and it is.
NELSON: Now did he offer you a job then, or said, "Nice to meet you, we'll think about it." How did that all work out? Did you get back on the plane knowing you would be coming back or just hoping?
HERERA: No, they basically said we'd really like you to come work for us and I said I think I'd really like to come work for you. We just got along very well and I think also NBC was trying to define what they wanted their cable presence to be in business news and I knew I wanted to be a part of what really felt like it was going to be an amazing experience. Having helped start Financial News Network with no backing and no purse strings, I knew from that first visit that Bob Wright and Jack Welch really wanted to launch this network and to be a part of that and have the backing of NBC is a really extraordinary thing and I knew that from the very beginning. It was a very heady experience actually.
NELSON: Especially with your feeling about FNN obviously being very shaky, the $50 a weekend tabs and all that. And as well at that time there weren't that many financial news reporters. They had to staff up a whole network. I'm sure when you walked in the door in a sense they said, "Jeez, maybe we can get our hands on her!" because you were one of the few experienced people in the business.
HERERA: They really didn't show their hand. Had I known that I was the only employee at the time, I would have hit them up for a lot more cash, but I didn't know.
NELSON: So were you number one, the first hire?
HERERA: I really was. I was the very first employee and it was one of the most important days of my life. I think it completely changed my life and Bob Wright was such an amazing leader because there were so many people in this industry and in the general business world who did not think this would succeed, and he never, ever showed any questions or doubts about the future success of that network, of our network, and that had a big role, I think, in keeping people going when they're putting together a network when you're forced with possibly buying your competition. You know, those were difficult days and if it hadn't been for the leadership of Bob Wright and Jack Welch and the other NBC executives I think it would have been very difficult for us to get to where we are today. Their leadership had a lot to do with our success.
NELSON: Obviously from the top you were well accepted, but how about more from the NBC level, the working people level? They were a highly regarded news operation and here's this cable network...
NELSON: ... whatever, sort of borrowing their initials.
HERERA: You know, it's interesting. I never really experienced any animosity. It was difficult at first; they didn't want us to use the peacock logo. Things like that.
NELSON: You mean the one over your shoulder?
HERERA: The one over here, yeah. The one that's all over us now, but you know, I think it was still a new venture and a new idea and there was also the thought that why do you need two business networks and why does NBC need to go into cable? Why does GE need this other aspect to its broadcast arm? But what I think people weren't thinking of is that cable was the hedge that Bob Wright and Jack Welch knew they needed against declining ad revenues. It gave them that financial hedge and stability that they were looking for from a purely business standpoint. Now I think that NBC was... I think they kind of thought, "Oh, that's nice. They're starting a cable network." So first we started out with the Consumer News and Business Channel and then we went to Cable NBC and then we just became CNBC, so I think there was some identity crisis at first, but after awhile NBC embraced us as they have MSNBC and all the other properties, but I think we were the first. Cable still was kind of in its development stages and it was a big jump for NBC and we had to prove ourselves. Definitely had to prove ourselves.
NELSON: How about you in terms of proving yourself? Because the financial world at that time was very much a man's world, the guys in the pit at the Merc. Were there issues for you in terms of being accepted as a credible financial expert, and how did you deal with that?
HERERA: Sure. I think again being young helped me because it just never occurred to me that I wouldn't eventually be accepted. I can't explain it other than to say that I just had this sense of "Well, of course they're going to talk to me. Of course they're going to give me the interview." I think the most difficult part for me was when traders would think that I was doing this job simply as a front, that someone was writing my materials, that I was just a cute blonde on TV. That was difficult, but I don't know that that's necessarily a problem that a woman in financial television faces; I think it's a problem that women in television news face, period. But I think it's more intense in the financial arena, less so today than it was back then, but I will also say that as soon as you learn how to ask the right questions in the right way and you know the markets then those prejudices disappear because when you can conduct an intelligent interview and pin somebody down on questions all of those preconceived notions go right out the window. So you do feel a heavier burden of proof and I did feel that I always had to hold myself up to the very highest standards. There could never be a question about integrity, there could never be a question about where I got the questions, where I got the information. I did feel that burden. I felt like I had to be that much better than my male counterparts, but that's also a fine line because you don't want to be the overly aggressive female, either because that doesn't work. So it's that balance that was difficult at first but you kind of work into it. You get to your own comfort zone and it plays out well.
NELSON: But it seems to me a lot of those things you had to do just made you a consummate professional in the end.
HERERA: I think in the end anybody who holds themself to a higher standard and anyone in this profession who feels that their integrity is the most important thing to them does well in the end, male or female, it doesn't matter. If you don't hold those principles to be the guiding principles of your profession I think it will come back to haunt you no matter who you are and I suppose that goes for almost any industry as well.
NELSON: Here we are, New York City, you've just arrived to work. What are you doing? You're not even on the air yet?
HERERA: No, as a matter of fact my arrival date in New York City was January 3rd and we had some small offices at 30 Rock but we didn't even have a headquarters building for CNBC. We didn't even have a building. We didn't have a studio. We were going on the air in April and it's January and we didn't even have a building. So, I didn't know that either when I took the job, but Michael Eskridge said, "Don't worry about it." Bob Wright said, "Don't worry about it." So I didn't worry about it for awhile and I think it was about February we found the building in Ft. Lee, New Jersey and I remember coming out for a tour and the studio was not built out. As a matter of fact, we had to do a video to try and get subscribers and sales said, "Why don't you just do a video in front of the set?" This was February and I was like, "We don't have a set! We don't have a studio, for gosh sakes!" So we had to chromo key in a set and I would walk around pointing and there was nothing there. So we did that at 30 Rock and then we came out to Ft. Lee and they showed me the building and we went upstairs to the 6th floor and there was nothing there. It was empty, raw space, and I remember calling my husband in Los Angeles, my husband was back in LA, and I said, "Do not sell the house because things are looking a little dicey." He said, "I'm sure it'll be fine." I thought maybe, maybe not. But it was and we eventually got the building together, we got the sets built and we went on the air in April.
NELSON: As scheduled.
HERERA: As scheduled. We didn't have many subscribers so they put me out on the road to try and bring in subscribers, so I did a little of the sales aspect of things, too. It was fascinating. I learned all sides of the business.
NELSON: On-air anchor and affiliate relations.
HERERA: That's right! I went to all these small towns in California and New Mexico and tried to convince subscribers, and actually I was probably a good person to do it because I had moved from FNN and all of these people were very loyal to Financial News Network, all these viewers, and I had to give them a reason to come to CNBC, and so I was out on the stump for awhile.
NELSON: So if you were to approach me at that point what would be the thing that you would say that you would hope would get somebody to come over to the good guys?
HERERA: The thing that we would talk about, the issues that we would talk about – we would never talk down Financial News Network because I still had very dear friends who were working there and I just think you can't play dirty, it just doesn't work, especially when you're dealing with a niche audience that's very loyal to the people and you never know in this business where you're going to work and who you're going to work with, so it's better to just play nice – we would always talk about the differences of backing, the bench that NBC had, the fact that not only was CNBC going to bring the financial expertise of the anchors and reporters that we had hired, but in addition to that the viewer would have access to the wonderful reporting of NBC News and all of the things that went along with that and you could get not only business news but that you would also get all the other news that might affect your life as well. Actually it worked pretty darn well.
NELSON: So you went on-the-air, things are going along, and then there's this situation that happens with FNN that you're observing and you are covering financial and business news and here's your old network wrapped up in bankruptcy proceedings, security fraud... What are you thinking looking back? "Wow, I'm glad I got out of there!"?
HERERA: Yes! I thought two things. I felt relief that I was not there and that I had made the move when I did, and I felt a lot of pain because I had very good friends that were still there who had families and I think it was an incredibly difficult thing for them to go through. Also, when you start a network operation like Financial News Network and you start it with people you went to college with there is this feeling of family that still persists today, but it was even stronger then and to see a network that was such a good thing be destroyed by people doing such wrong things was really difficult to watch and although I think a lot of the people that I worked with at CNBC were certainly happy that Financial News Network was having problems – as a competitor, not for the people that were there, but as a competitor – I had a hard time feeling that same sense of elation because I knew how difficult it was to work there when I had been there and that was three years ago, three years past that, so I knew that it had to be really pretty ugly.
NELSON: Under those circumstances.
HERERA: Under those circumstances, yeah.
NELSON: So you're at CNBC and you watch this situation evolve at FNN with bankruptcy, securities fraud, and while they're competitors at the same time you've got a lot of old friends and colleagues working there. How were you feeling at that point?
HERERA: It was a difficult time for me. I really felt divided loyalty because although I was incredibly happy and fulfilled at CNBC and we were in a fight with Financial News Network for subscribers, I still felt an enormous amount of affection for Bill and for Ron and for the other people that I knew at FNN, and so although you certainly want to win the fight I didn't find any satisfaction in the fact that I think they were going through a very difficult time. When you start a television network with people that you went to college with and had known for so long, it's a very heady, wonderful experience that doesn't happen very often in life and I had a real sense of loss that that network was being destroyed by people who had done really terrible things, illegal things, and it didn't have to be. I think that was the frustration for everybody, for people who worked at CNBC and people who worked at FNN. Competition is a good thing. You don't want to be necessarily the only game in town. Competition keeps everybody sharp and to lose that competition in FNN in the way that we lost it was really unfortunate. It's better to win the fight by winning the fight through your own intelligence and your own strategies and your own battle plan. To win the fight because you had people at the head of Financial News Network who were doing securities fraud and other illegal activities...
NELSON: Not very satisfying.
HERERA: It's not very satisfying. It's very sad, actually. So that was a difficult time.
NELSON: But it ultimately, not long thereafter, did go away. There were suitors, primarily Dow Jones and NBC and NBC of course became the winner. Now all of the sudden you guys own what's left of FNN and some of these folks from the West Coast show up in New Jersey.
HERERA: I know! Funny story – as I was leaving Financial News Network those many years ago and I'm standing in the lobby Bill Griffeth said to me, "Why are you going there? It's so damn cold in New Jersey," and fast forward three years later, I'm standing in the lobby of CNBC welcoming Bill Griffeth and I said, "You're right! It's really damn cold in New Jersey. Welcome!" But it was I think bittersweet for Bill and Ron and for me. We wish that we had all been able to stay together for all those many years and I think it was probably difficult for them. They didn't have a choice. They had to move their families, they had to move across country, but on the other hand we were all reunited, we got a chance to kind of rebuild, so that was the good part of it and now I think we're all East Coasters and it's fine, but it's an adjustment. It really was an adjustment.
NELSON: Now CNBC is basically all there by itself astride the financial television world and you're sitting overlooking the greatest bull market in history.
NELSON: So talk about how that effected what you were doing and how the network grew during the '90s.
HERERA: I never anticipated the type of growth that CNBC experienced, which is probably why I'm not an executive because Bob Wright and Jack Welch did anticipate that growth which was why they started CNBC, but honestly I think it was beyond anybody's dreams that we would become as popular, as watched and as influential as we did become. It was just astonishing. I mean, business news – Bill and Ron and I did it because we liked it, not because it was sexy and hip and in, and all of the sudden it was sexy and hip and in and it really was a surprise to me, a very pleasant one, but not what we anticipated and it did change things. I wasn't used to walking down the street and having people recognize me from being on television, and it got to the point where I couldn't really go anywhere without somebody knowing who I was from CNBC and that was a huge adjustment. I was used to doing my reports and being on TV but life was pretty normal. I was like everybody else, and it was very different when the bull market hit and everyone had to be in the stock market and everybody was making money and there was so much money everywhere that you became an instant celebrity in a way, and that was unexpected. Welcome on most fronts, but it was definitely unexpected.
NELSON: You obviously dealt with it.
HERERA: Yes, well, you do. I think you can view being on television two ways. You can either view it as what you do during the day and you really don't want any contact with people – you just want to go in, do your work and go home. I think if you are going to put your face in front of the world or the nation or whatever it is, you have to be willing to interact with that audience. You are coming into their home. You become part of their life, and in many cases people would keep and still do keep CNBC on many, many hours of the day, so it's a very intimate relationship. They get to know your husband, they get to know your family. I would get anniversary cards from people, I would get birthday cards from people, they knew the names of my dogs, they knew when my husband went back to medical school, and you have to embrace that. That's a wonderful thing. It's really a privilege to have that kind of a relationship with your audience that you don't get with magazines and you don't get with newspapers, and I think there were some people when CNBC became very popular that weren't willing to accept that and weren't willing to allow people into their lives and I think you really do, you have to just... otherwise you shouldn't be on TV.
NELSON: So that was sort of a dividing point for certain people who had come along from the early days to when financial news became the hottest thing out there and everybody talked about the stock market all the time and it just changed really who you were and how you were perceived.
HERERA: I think you had to make, as a television "personality" or journalist or however you want to say it, you had to make the choice of whether or not you wanted to engage the viewer and make them part of the process or whether you just wanted to be an anchor and report the news and read the news and then not become engaged with your audience. I've always found that you learn more about what your audience wants if you allow them into your life a little bit and you get into their life.
NELSON: It's got to work two ways.
HERERA: It's got to work two ways.
NELSON: Now talk about that audience because you really have a range of people out there. If we can put them in two categories, one you've got the general public, more or less amateur investors, some more involved than others; and then you have the market pros. How do you talk to these two groups of people all at the same time?
HERERA: That was an interesting process of developing how we wanted to present our newscasts, our stories, our reports because most of our audience was the professional audience until the bull market started to hit and then all of the sudden we had people who were managing their own portfolios either by choice or they were forced to because of the end of the defined pension plan, or you had people who just all of the sudden wanted to play the market. They thought it was cool, they were making money hand over fist and at the same time they weren't very sophisticated investors, but the market was in their favor and so they were lucky. So what we did was we decided that we would try and keep the content level high in terms of its educational value and in terms of its intelligence value but at the same time whenever you would use a term that would be considered jargon you would just take a moment and define it. Most of the time that worked. Very few pros on the street objected to defining a term like what a straddle was or what a contengo was because those were things that were going on in the market you had to talk about, but we would do it in different ways. I would say to the guest, "Well, you and I love to contengo together, but why don't you explain to the audience exactly what that is," and we would do it in a humorous way. You didn't want to be lecturing to the audience but at the same time you knew that if they were really going to understand the story that you were trying to tell them you had to back up a little bit and most of the pros on the street don't mind that because it brings more noses into the tent anyway. It brings more investors onto the street which benefits their bottom line in the long run too. So it was a dance, it took a little while, but...
NELSON: You got your line that you could walk down, and they must realize of course that you're dealing with a larger audience now and you have to address that audience and as you said, in a way they become the beneficiaries of that. There are that many more investors out there.
HERERA: And then we would do programs that were a little bit more basic. Bill did a show in the evening called Your Portfolio. We would do the Mutual Fund Report and those were programs that were designed to be a little bit more basic than our during the market hour broadcasts were, so that kind of bridged the gap too.
NELSON: And that really went back to the early days of CNBC, the Consumer News and Business where there was supposed to be this really consumer oriented programming and since you're not part of primetime we won't really get into that whole issue of dealing with primetime.
HERERA: Yes, could we not get into that whole issue of how we deal with primetime? (LAUGHTER)
NELSON: Yes, that's the end of the discussion of that. Changing gears here a little bit, aside from your life as a television anchor, you're also an author. How did that come about?
HERERA: Well, when we moved back to New York, my husband had always wanted to go to medical school. He was a television news cameraman. We met on assignment in Los Angeles and we married.
NELSON: A television romance. That's fantastic.
HERERA: I know, it really was actually, it really was. When we moved to New York he knew that I was going to be busy starting a network and he said, "You know, I've always wanted to go back to medical school. This is probably a good time to do it because you're going to be darn busy." So he did, he went back to medical school, and in his second year of medical school a publisher approached me and I thought, well, you know what, he's busy and things were well on their way with CNBC, maybe this would be a good time for me to try and write a book. I had never done it and it was an interesting exercise for me. I'm not used to long format writing; I'm used to 30 second bites and television writing and so I don't know if I'll be writing another book.
NELSON: How long did that take you?
HERERA: It took me a good year and it was an interesting exercise because I would anchor during the day and write at night and my head could not switch between short format and long format. I had a really difficult time doing that.
NELSON: But you made it work.
HERERA: I made it work but I remember my editor, God bless her, my editor asked me to write the foreword for the book, the introduction for the book, and I wrote it and I sent it to her. I had written two pages, and I said what I had to say in two pages. I mean, two pages is a lot for a TV journalist! She called me back and said, "Where's the rest?" I said, "That's it. I said what I needed to say." She said, "You've got to do at least 14-15 pages." It had to be the hardest 15 pages I've ever written in my entire life.
NELSON: So you actually did do that.
HERERA: I did! I don't think it was as good as the two pages though, I really don't. I know my colleague Ron can go into long format. He can switch in his head and it doesn't bother him. I'm just not that good at doing it. I enjoyed the process, I loved talking to the women that I interviewed for the book, I learned a lot, but I think I would have to take time away from television to write again because I have to get into a different way of thinking to write like that. I can't do it...
NELSON: And you won't have a husband in medical school at the same time.
HERERA: And I don't have a husband in medical school, although now he can support me! Now I really could take the time off and do it.
NELSON: I don't think there's any danger of you doing that.
HERERA: No, I actually love what I do. I love the television medium. I enjoy the access. I consider it a real privilege to have the access to the audience that I have on a daily basis and I enjoy that type of work. Writing I like as well, but I don't find it yet quite as satisfying.
NELSON: And how about the access to the kind of people that you're able to have on the show as guests, you know, high-level people?
HERERA: Well that, I think, is one thing that makes my job really extraordinary is that I meet people that I would never meet in another line of work. I go places I would never get to go. I've been to China, I've been to Russia, I've been to India. I've seen parts of the world that most people never get to see. I have a really good job that allows me to do things and talk to people that I never dreamt I would be able to do. It always amazes me that they actually want to talk to me. It's a funny sort of thing but I still find that amazing. I put in a request to interview the First Lady and she said yes! I can't really explain it but every once in a while you sit back and you think they said yes! My gosh, I'm so surprised!
NELSON: And now I have to do it.
HERERA: And now I have to do it, exactly, and that's the other side of it is that those people do say yes to you and you do have access to them, extraordinary access to them, however the reason that you have that access is because you really do your homework and you work very hard to do the type of interview that is that much better than everybody else's. So it does raise the bar every time you land that big interview. I still get very nervous. I still can't sleep the night before. I still get all of those butterflies that I got when I first started in the business and I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's actually a good thing.
NELSON: Keeping you on your toes.
NELSON: But the camera rolls... that all goes away?
HERERA: Not always, not always, no. Sometimes it does.
NELSON: Does it go away with interviews like the First Lady?
HERERA: It did with the First Lady, but it didn't with the Treasury Secretary. When I interviewed Paul O'Neill it was a very tense time; his relationship with the President was not good. He was very willing... I spent the day with him – I profiled a day in the life of different people and he was one of them – and it was a tense time to be at Treasury and so the burden was on us to make sure that we reflected that and those are the types of things that make you a little bit nervous. But that's good, that's okay. A lot of times, though, when the camera rolls I just forget it's there and I'm just doing what you're doing, having a conversation, and it's great, but there are other times when it's more adversarial and you're very conscious of the fact that things either are or aren't going well and you have a lot to get done in the time that you're allotted.
NELSON: When the market turned down did that effect the way you felt about your job or the way you went about your job because this was now one of those bad news situations?
HERERA: The most difficult part of the market turn and the market break was that so many people got hurt and got hurt very badly. Many people lost everything and it was really ugly and it was very difficult for an enormous amount of people including a lot of our viewers. People had not diversified. I think a lot of people who should not have been in the market felt pressured to be in the market.
NELSON: It was the thing to do.
HERERA: It was the thing to do. You would go to parties and if you couldn't talk about the stock market or you weren't in the stock market, especially technology, people looked at you like you had two heads. They didn't know what you were doing not being in the stock market, so I think a lot of people who should not have been in the market were in the market and they were very angry when the market turned. Some of their anger was directed at us and some of it was directed at Wall Street and I think part of the issue also was the fact that this market turn involved some scandal with it and that always makes it less palatable than just your everyday market reversal. The fact that there was corruption on Wall Street made it seem so much more unfair that these investors had lost their money. So I think all of that put together made it a very difficult period for people. I will have to say, though, that when the market was going up, up, up, up, up and we had a Henry Blodgett on the show, who was the analyst who put out the very, very controversial and very, very high price target for Amazon, when we took him to task on the air we got emails from viewers who were convinced we were short the stock – meaning that we wanted it to go down – convinced that we had some sort of reason to send the stock market plunging. They were convinced that we were trying to talk the market down. So it's almost like you can't win. When you play devil's advocate and did your job as a journalist when the market was going up, you were overly negative and bearish on the market, but when you tried to do your job when the market was going down you weren't right either, so I think that goes with the territory and you have to put that aside and realize that no one's going to agree with you all the time. I always say that if I get equal amounts of hate mail from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the investing public I am doing my job because nobody knows where I am in terms of the issues and I still go by that whether you're talking about politics or whether you're talking about a stock price or whether you're talking about a company, no one should know what your personal position or opinion is. It was difficult to see so many people so disillusioned by Wall Street.
NELSON: Well, of course they fell for the illusion in the first place.
NELSON: That hate mail, does that bother you? I assume people say some pretty awful things, but you just get a thick skin about it and that's the way it is?
HERERA: They do. They do. People can be very hateful and they can be very vindictive and they can say things that... sometimes I just can't believe what they say, but you put that aside because a journalist's role is not to be liked. A journalist's role is to inform and that's what you do and sometimes they're going to like the story and sometimes they're not going to like the story and that's just the way it is. As long as you're doing your job objectively than that's all there is to it and that's what your editor's for and your producer is for and all of those people who back up what you're doing and make sure that you're doing your job correctly and objectively and as long as you do that no one's going to like you all the time. That's just the way it is.
NELSON: Does the good mail help in that regard? You must get some good email, too. "Thank you, you were helpful."
HERERA: Yeah, we do. We actually get lots of thank yous and a lot of really good emails and we also just get emails from people – we got one the other day – from people who have watched Bill and I since Financial News Network time and they remember me when I was a brunette and he had hair. They go back a long way and those are really lovely. Or when I did my series on India a number of our viewers who are of Indian descent wrote me and really liked the series because no one had ever taken the time to really explore what India is and a lot of people have misconceptions about the economy, the people. Most people won't get to India and it meant so much for me that people who had lived in that country or were from that culture took the time to write me and say you really got it. We won awards for that series. Those awards are not worthy as much to me as the viewers who took the time to write in and say you did a really good job on that story. That means a lot.
NELSON: You felt that was truly the commendation that you were looking for?
HERERA: It is. That's really what makes the difference to me. Although the accolades from your peers are always welcome and lovely and terrific, makes us all feel good, but when someone who really knows the story from the inside writes you and says, "You got it," that's great. It's really great.
NELSON: Now just kind of looking back on CNBC now 15 years old and your career there, and I know, obviously, this will continue to go on, but from this point in time...
HERERA: Oh, you never know.
NELSON: Well, let's just assume that. And I have no bad news for you here while we're taping...
HERERA: Good! I'm glad!
NELSON: How would you characterize the legacy of what CNBC has accomplished and what you and Ron and Bill and the others have accomplished as part of that?
HERERA: That's a tough question because I think that one of the things that we tried to accomplish is to create a network that is enjoyable to watch and enjoyable to work at. I think we've done that. It's fun to watch CNBC, but it's informative as well. That's sometimes a hard balance to come by. We don't achieve it every day but we try. And at the same time, it's one of the few places I think that is really a lovely place to work. The people here are very nice. There's a sense of camaraderie and there's a sense of respect that is difficult to find in other parts of the television world. It's also very rare that you end up working with the same people for 20 years and you get to know their families and you go through births and deaths and life changes together. We still really respect each other and rely on each other and are good friends. That's a really rare thing to have and it's something that I really treasure and I think that's what makes it easy for us to go on the air and do what we do because there's never a competition. It doesn't matter who gets a little more airtime one day or one hour. There is none of that because we all have something to contribute. We all have our areas of expertise. We all have our own shows and then sometimes we do shows together, so it's a real partnership for lack of a better word that exists. It allows you to just do your work.