At the Opening Bell: Covering Business
IT HAS BEEN NEARLY 40 years — through Black Monday, the dot-com boom (and subsequent “bubble” bust), the 2008 financial crisis and rapid changes in journalism. Through all these historic milestones and the thousands of days in between, CSUN alumni Bill Griffeth ’80 (Journalism), Hon.D. ’17, Sue Herera ’81 (Journalism) and Ron Insana ’84 (Radio-Television Broadcasting) have been on the air as three of the most recognized and respected journalists in television. In a volatile industry reporting on a volatile financial world, Griffeth, Herera and Insana have served as anchors of stability.
The trio of Matadors recently reflected on their careers (spent mostly at CNBC) reporting on Wall Street and the global economy, their professional evolution and a relationship defined by one word: team.
“I can’t think of any other place where a team has lasted this long, effectively in the same job, and we’ve all been as stable in our jobs as any other place,” Insana said. “It’s odd at any network to see a group that’s been around for this long.”
Herera and Griffeth were classmates at CSUN, where they met 40 years ago at KCSN. After graduation, they launched their careers as anchors at the Financial News Network (FNN). Insana followed in their footsteps at CSUN and then joined Herera and Griffeth at FNN.
Herera left the financial network in 1989 for CNBC’s launch. When CNBC purchased FNN in 1991, Griffeth and Insana followed. Today, Griffeth and Herera co-anchor the “Nightly Business Report,” produced by CNBC for public TV. In November, American Public Television recognized “Nightly Business Report” with the 2018 Program Excellence Award. Insana, a longtime anchor and commentator for the network, contributes to CNBC and MSNBC programming and delivers syndicated radio financial news reports.
A YEAR OF CHANGE
The trio agree on of their four decades on air — starting with Oct. 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 22 percent, a day known as Black Monday. Griffeth recalled it as the day when financial news began to resonate with the general public.
But it was the 2008 financial crisis, which triggered the Great Recession, that affected the entire nation — and ricocheted around the globe — heightening the Matadors’ journalistic duty. “The 1987 stock market crash was largely a Wall Street event, whereas the 2008 financial cri- sis was a Main Street event,” Herera said. “A lot of people still are very shy of the market because of it. People still have not recovered from it. So, I felt a deep responsibility when reporting about it. And I think Bill and Ron did as well, because people were frightened.”
The recession’s effects were so widespread, affecting people’s savings, investments, credit, real estate and business, that it was a more challenging story to tell, Insana said.
“You had to do these deep dives on some really complex structures and try and make it as simple and comprehensible to people as possible,” Insana said.
But with past experience and wisdom earned, the trio took pride in how they delivered the stories.
“When you get tremendous market volatility as we’ve had over the years, yes, it’s incumbent upon us to remind viewers that this is part of the nature of the markets. And I think we’ve been able to do that as well,” Griffeth said. “We can’t lose our head. We have to keep our level head so that we can convey to the viewer that this is part of the game. If you’re going to get into the game, there’s risk involved, and there’s going to be volatility.”
A CHANGING INDUSTRY
Though decades have passed since they earned degrees at CSUN, all three alumni said their education at CSUN prepared them for their work — and taught them how to be nimble in that work. This flexibility has been a key factor in their career longevity, especially in the past 15 to 20 years when content has extended well beyond TV screens and newspapers, which were the sources of financial news when Herera, Griffeth and Insana were in school.
The scope of these journalists’ knowledge and reporting has widened with the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle, after-hours trading and increased audience hunger for news about the global economy.
Insana compared business journalism in the 1980s to banking, because of the hours. Once the New York Stock Exchange closed at 4 p.m., work was done.
“There was no after-hours action, there was no pre-market trading,” Insana said. “If somebody buried a story late in the day, we’d simply get to it the next morning. The network was off air overnight, we were on early in the morning to pick up international markets, but not to the extent that we are today. Once we got the explosion and proliferation of after-hours trading, the job changed a lot — the influences that came from overseas news and other developments that we really hadn’t tracked as much in the past really became increasingly important and made it more of a 24/7 experience.”
“Nightly Business Report” is a 26-minute, weekday program, similar to how Herera and Griffeth delivered news on the CNBC show “Power Lunch,” which they co-anchored from 2003-09. Now, they give people more. “Nightly Business Report” can be viewed in its entirety on PBS or in segments on the internet through the show’s website and YouTube. Audiences also can listen to the show as a podcast.
“Broadcasting online has grown exponentially. That’s our biggest growth area right now, as a matter of fact,” Griffeth said. “It’s not a matter of just getting the story and reporting at one time, but you have to update it continually throughout the day, because the appetite for that news is voracious. People are just always, always logged on.”
“Sometimes the decisions are made that you go digital before broadcast, which is a big change,” Herera added. “We would always say, ‘Get it to air first.’ Sometimes it’s: ‘Get it to the website and to digital first.’ … As a journalist, at first, I wasn’t used to doing cross-platform reporting, but now it’s part of everyday life.”
In March, Griffeth arranged a tour of the New York Stock Exchange for a group that included CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison; Robert Gunsalus, vice president for University Advancement and president of the CSUN Foundation; and alumni Charles Noski, a distinguished business executive and leader at some of the world’s most influential companies including Bank of America and AT&T, Milt Berlinski, co-founder of Reverence Capital Partners LLC, and Michael Kramer, CEO and founding partner of Ducera Partners.
A stock exchange floor governor and friend of Griffeth’s led the tour and then lunched with the group. After the group had dispersed, the floor governor commented to Griffeth how impressed he was by the caliber of CSUN alumni and leadership.
“It is happening more and more now. We’ve been out there — we just didn’t know fellow Matadors on Wall Street existed and had that similar background,” Griffeth said. “But now we are discovering it. And it’s pretty exciting.”
Griffeth, Herera and Insana report on the markets and financial value. They speak of their CSUN education in value terms as well.
“I still think about some of my journalism professors, even now, and I could name them and some of the classes I took and some of the lessons I learned,” Griffeth said. “The education I got from CSUN did exactly what it was supposed to do, and that was to pro- vide me with some of the tools that I was going to need.”
Herera agreed: “The school is a gift. It has been a gift in my life,” she said. “I could never imagine that I would be doing what I’m doing, have met the people that I’ve met and had the chance to interview. None of that would have been possible if CSUN hadn’t given me the confidence to be a capable, competent journalist.”
Insana, too, reflected on his nearly four decades in financial journalism and where it all began.
“At whatever price, including for students today, the return on investment from having gone to CSUN is incredible,” Insana said. “The success rate for people who graduate — whether it’s in journalism or business, computer science or life sciences — is extraordinarily high. I still think it’s not just a bar- gain in the financial sense, but it is the single best investment we could have ever made. And the kids who are there now, whether they realize it or not, they’re going to get more bang for their buck than they could possibly imagine.”
Sidebar: STUDENTS BEAT THE MARKETS
Using the latest investment software, intense research and hours spent on targeted analysis of the financial markets, the students in CSUN Nazarian College classes Finance 491A and 491B: Stu- dent Portfolio Seminar are outperforming finance professionals and turning nearly $5 million of investments into scholarships, research and other opportunities for the university.
“It’s not easy,” said finance professor Mike Phillips, who teaches the seminar. “It’s a lot of hard work, probably some of the hardest work they have ever done, but they are doing it. They are making money for the university.”
From fall 2015 to spring 2019, the dividend portfolio grew from $2,151,315 to $3,297,801, an annualized return of about 14 percent compared to the benchmark return of about 11 percent per year. The “return per unit volatility,” a common measure to see whether investments are gaining return by making investments that are too risky, is about 1.34 for the student portfolio compared to 0.83 for the benchmark. CSUN earned almost $323,000 more on the student-managed portfolio invested in relatively safer assets than the portfolio would have received with the average market return.
When the first investment class met in 1993, the students were allocated $500,000 by The University Corporation, a CSUN auxiliary, to invest with the goal of providing a real-world context for what the students were learning in class. Despite the economic downturn at the time, the students’ investment portfolio beat Standard & Poor’s 500, a financial index, and earned a small profit for the university.
Over the years, the single class has grown into a two-class seminar, and the amount of money the students handle also has grown. They now manage about $5 million, with about $3.5 million from The University Corporation, and the rest from the CSUN Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the university. Their investments, and the two classes, are divided between two portfolios, stocks and exchange-traded funds.
The only thing that hasn’t changed is the students’ consistent outperformance of Standard & Poor’s and other financial indexes.
“The students consistently have portfolios with safer and higher returns than the corresponding benchmark,” Phillips said. “Part of this is because the students take the time to do all the steps and follow a very structured process so they are not plagued by emotions.”
Robert Gunsalus, vice president for University Advancement and president of the CSUN Foundation, and Rick Evans, executive director of The University Corporation, said they were impressed with the students’ investment acumen.
“The students have a high level of accountability, and they are adding value to the portfolio,” Gunsalus said. “It is also a great educational experience for the students, and they get the opportunity to network with members of the foundation’s finance committee, all of whom are leaders in their fields and really enjoy interacting with such promising young people.”
Idean Aminian ’19 (Economics), who took the course during his senior year, said the students in the portfolio seminar take their responsibilities seriously.
“We understand that this class has a bigger purpose, one that is greater than us,” said Aminian, who took both classes and served as a teacher’s assistant for the seminar. “The conflicts that might arise when you are working in groups don’t really happen in this class. We have to do our research, listen to each other and respect each other’s ideas because there’s too much at stake. What we are doing provides supports for research, scholarships and other opportunities for our fellow students. That is more than just a class or a grade.”
—by Carmen Ramos Chandler