Dollars And Sense
Nightly Business Report's Rodney Ward And Wendie Feinberg
In a television news landscape overflowing with flashy promos, celebrity “newscasters,” and sound bites, Nightly Business Report (NBR) is an oasis of down-to-earth, fact-based news. Since its inception as a 15-minute local program on Miami’s PBS member station WPBT (where it is still produced) in 1979, its mission has remained virtually unchanged: to provide consumers straightforward, unbiased business and financial news and information.
Just the facts, ma’am. That’s what it comes down to and that’s what Senior Producer Wendie Feinberg and Managing Editor Rodney Ward aim to deliver. Together, they oversee all activities and processes involved in getting the show to air.
Ward, who joined WPBT as a producer/ reporter in 1976, is responsible for coordinating the day-to-day editorial and technical operations of the program. He sets the daily agenda and makes sure it is carried out. Feinberg joined NBR about seven years ago. She is a veteran of television news production, having held a variety of positions in newsrooms, including stints as the news director at WTNH, in New Haven, CT, and the assistant news director at WGCL, in Atlanta. She is responsible for the content and execution of the show on a daily basis: working with the reporters, coordinating script approval, and making video selections. She also helps write scripts and serves as the line producer.
For a show that routinely draws in more than a million household viewers daily, NBR started small. In October 1978, WPBT’s senior management asked Linda O’Bryon, now the show’s executive editor, who was then news director, and the news editorial team to develop a daily local business news program. Barely three months later, in January 1979, Nightly Business Report premiered as a daily 15-minute summary of national and local business news. The show was popular with viewers in South Florida almost from the get-go, and in November of the same year it expanded into its current half-hour format. By October of 1981, it was national, uplinked by satellite to more than 120 U.S. public television stations by the American Program Service (then known as Eastern Educational Network). Today, NBR is carried by more than 270 PBS stations.
Much of that success can be attributed to the straightforward approach to business news reporting that NBR promotes. Instead of wasting time on extensive anchor banter and cute graphics, the program cuts to the chase—interspersing national and international news stories with charts illustrating daily financial information from around the world. The information is delivered in a fast-paced style typical of sporting event statistics—NYSE and NASDAQ most actives, major gains and losses, world indexes, and currency rates. Toward the end of every program, there is a guest commentary by a major financial leader on an issue of importance to investors and consumers. All this in thirty minutes.
Live, From Miami...
The news on NBR may be straightforward, but getting all of that information out to the viewer in thirty minutes is not simple. NBR elements include a live interconnect to the New York Stock Exchange, interviews, and taped packages. Uplinked live weekdays at 6:30 p.m., stations can choose to broadcast the program live or on a delay. In addition to the live feed, NBR sends out two more taped feeds on satellite. Some stations record one of the feeds to air later. “Stations up and down the East Coast will either carry us live or delay the broadcast, usually so it can be adjacent to the NewsHour,” said Ward. In addition, NBR gives stations that choose to do so the ability to insert a locally produced, 90-second rundown of stocks of importance to that area within the broadcast.
NBR has three news bureaus: Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. Every morning, the assignment editor or senior assignment editor at the Miami office holds a meeting with Ward, Feinberg, other staff members, and the bureaus to discuss the headlines in the morning newspapers as well as other sources of news that might need to be covered in that night’s broadcast. As managing editor, Ward decides what stories will be covered that day, although he receives considerable input from other staff members.
Even though an agenda is set at the 9 a.m. meeting for what stories will be covered that day, Ward says content is subject to change with news developments. At any rate, once the topics have been determined, the bureaus, their reporters, and crews set about executing them as stories.
At 12:15 p.m., Ward holds a meeting with the Miami production staff to let them know what stories will be running so they can start pulling graphics, stock images, and video that will be needed. At 3 p.m., one of the Miami assignment editors holds another all-bureau meeting to start discussing the next day’s coverage. Then, at 4:15 p.m., Feinberg holds another staff meeting, this time with all of the technical personnel at the bureaus—the associate and field producers—to bring Miami up to date on the show’s rundown.
During this same time period, from about 4 p.m. on, Feinberg starts receiving scripts from the reporters. She reviews them, helps with any revisions, and consults with Ward for approval.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., NBR starts taking backhaul feeds in from its bureaus, depending on how the stories are breaking. Typically, it runs them in on fiber, but occasionally will use satellite. The feeds include any reporter story packages, as well as sound bites. At about 6:15 p.m., the fiber at the New York bureau is up. At that point, Paul Kangas, anchor of the Miami desk, and Susie Gharib, anchor of the New York desk, are in place. At 6:30, they go live. From the control room, Feinberg is charged with the task of making sure the program times out.
Keeping It Real
As mentioned earlier, the mission of NBR is to inform consumers about financial news and investment information in a simple, straightforward fashion. “What we try to do—I’ve heard this said, and I’ve used it myself—is filter out the noise of the marketplace,” said Ward. “People come to us to hear what happened during the course of the day, to find out news, to find out information, and that’s what we try to do. We try to give them that snapshot, that look at the end of the day.” To that end, there are not many fancy camera angles or graphics. The camera at the Miami broadcast pans straight on Kangas, whose only prop is a solitary computer behind him. Even at the busy New York Stock Exchange, NBR shoots from a tiny corner. There, the only “fancy” camerawork is a wide shot across the trading floor as a bumper back into the program.
Lack of flash is not keeping the viewers from coming back, again and again. After twenty-six years, NBR is considered the benchmark for all financial news shows. It really is a testament to how, even in the “information age,” keeping it simple and straightforward really pays off. Perhaps Ward summed up his show’s winning premise the best: “It’s really not about the camera angles, it’s about the information.”
Sarah Stanfield is the managing editor. She is interested in hearing about regional programming to highlight in future issues. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org