Questions For. . . Liz Claman

1203964591Former Channel 7 anchor and reporter Liz Claman is back on the air. After leaving CNBC, Claman has joined up with the just-launched FOX Business Network. We talked to Claman on a snowy Friday afternoon about the nascent network, the differences between local and business reporting, and where Mayor Tom Menino stashes his candy.

Boston Daily: How long were you in Boston?

Liz Claman: Three years and change.

BD: Do they clear the snow better in New York?

LC: Well, it’s much easier to clear snow on 6th Avenue than it is on Pinckney Street in Beacon Hill. One of my favorite shots was to take parking meters on Beacon Hill because they’d be covered in snow all the way to to the top.

BD: You’ve been in business reporting for a while now. What are the differences between covering local news and business news?

LC: There’s no blood in business news. None that you can see. When you cover local news, you’re covering the decapitated body on Castle Island.

BD: Especially at Channel 7.

LC: Oh, Channel 7. Exactly. How many times was I standing on the beach at Castle Island waiting for them to bring the body up? But there are similarities. A good story is a good story. Whether it’s a company that started with $25 in borrowed money in somebody’s garage and turned into a multi-million dollar operation or it’s a great local news story. It’s still wonderful to dig and find out the beginning, the middle, and then the end. People who say business news is boring have never watched business news.

BD: What’s exciting about it?

LC: The way FOX Business does it is exciting. We’re looking at the great American business story, which is always that story of gutsy resolve, of never say die, of never give up and also trying to find out what’s going to happen in this world. Everybody loves to look in the crystal ball. No one can really predict what the stock market is going to do, but we can sure try.

BD: It’s a good time to be in business reporting, with all the economic uncertainty. People must be turning to business news in ways they hadn’t before.

LC: It affects everybody. A murder on the corner doesn’t affect everybody. But if we’re getting close to a recession or people are waiting for stimulus checks and every time they go to a Starbucks they’re thinking twice before opening their wallet, it affects everybody. I feel like we’re on the cusp of an amazing story that will go down in history.

BD: I don’t remember the recession in the 80s, so when everybody talks about that I have no frame of reference.

LC: I’ve been studying stagflation a lot lately. Not that we have it, but we’ve had some guests on who’ve talked about it and the last time we saw stagflation was in the 70s. Of course, what did I know? I was in school in LA. I wanted to call my parents and say ‘What was that like?’

BD: Did you call them?

LC: I haven’t yet, but I know what they’d say. I remember the oil shock from the Middle East and waiting in line for gasoline. My dad was a doctor, so we had a sign on our car that said ‘doctor’ and he got to go to the front. But I remember the pain for everybody.

BD: When FOX Business Network launched, Rupert Murdoch said it would be more “business-friendly” than CNBC. You’ve worked for both, so in what ways do you think it’s friendlier to business?

LC: I think that we look at things from a different angle. Instead of attacking the obvious, we look for the side door. Every day I walk into FOX Business Network, I am stretching my mind and my ability to see things in a different way. Viewers deserve that. They don’t deserve the obvious. They deserve the unique and the angle that will actually give them an edge when it cones to their investing.

BD: Did you feel it was a little more confining to work at CNBC?

LC: No, it was just different. Remember, I came from local news. When I walked into CNBC I didn’t have an idea of what a derivative was. I didn’t know how oil traded or that palladium was a metal and not a disco in LA. So it was a great education to get up and running there. I owe CNBC a lot. They got me to the point where someone like Rupert Murdoch or Roger Ailes would find me interesting and smart enough to be a part of their new operation that was going to take a different route.

BD: How did they approach you?

LC: I left CNBC in July and took a couple of months off because my contract required it. So I picked up my family and went to Provence. It was the first time in my career that I didn’t stress about where the next step would be. I left the ABC station in Cleveland to come to Boston. My whole goal in life was to do news in Boston. There was something very romantic about the idea of being in the city where it all started.

I am not BS-ing you when I say that I used to stand in front of the State House and crying sometimes. It’s so emotional to me how gusty Paul Revere, Patrick Henry, and all the Sons of Liberty were. I got to Boston, did it, met my husband in Boston and we moved to New York when he helped launch CNBC. But when I left CNBC, I wasn’t worried. And FOX Business started this network when I needed a change in my life.

BD: Is it difficult to make the transition into business reporting?

LC: It is extremely difficult. Anyone can stand outside a burning building, look behind them, and describe what they see. ‘It looks like the flames are up on the sixth floor. I don’t see any people hanging out of windows just yet. Oh, look over here. The battalion chief just showed up, it looks like a three-alarm fire. . .’ Anyone can do that.

But if you think that you can sit down on a news set and have that camera go on and start talking about why the bond insurers are moving lower and how they just got downgraded and what that means to the entire mortgage market, that is not an easy thing to do. I studied every single night, and I still do. I read the Wall Street Journal, I go to the Liz Claman school of business every night. I never relax. It’s always a self-educating process.

BD: I’ve read that some bloggers think that your business news is a little on the fluffy side, like stories about Hannah Montana concert tickets. Do you think that’s a valid criticism?

LC: Let me tell you something. Hannah Montana is a huge part of Disney’s earnings. Disney is in just about every one of those blogger’s 401ks. If they own a mutual fund, Disney’s in there. I think that’s a totally valid story and I would completely defend doing that.

We are finding our voice. We are figuring out what works best. That’s what happens when you literally come out of the womb. We are in the first three months of a 150-year-long network career. I’m a hard news babe. I feel that we’re absolutely giving people that.

BD: Does Murdoch come in and yell at you guys to work harder?

LC: I would love it if he came in and yelled at me. At FOX Business, they don’t yell at you for doing things wrong—they support you for doing things right. That may sound a little Pollyanna-esque, but people who’ve been here for 10 years on the Fox News side pulled me aside and said, ‘This will be the best place you’ve ever worked.’ Geraldo Rivera said to me that the atmosphere, if you had to describe it in one word, is supportive.

BD: It must be exciting for you to be in on the ground floor of this network.

LC: There’s no glory in saying yes to a place that’s already up and running and number one. The gusty people are ready to take a chance when they can’t see around the corner. When I got hired, I didn’t know what show I’d be doing. I didn’t know with whom I’d be working. The first thing I said was, ‘Do you want me to get Warren Buffett?’ and they said ‘Sure.’ The glory belongs to those who take the chances in life. I’ve always felt there’s no such thing as a wrong career move. Never. You always learn something wherever you go. Always.

BD: Do you think any of your old coworkers at CNBC will be interested in moving over?

LC: I know they are. I get calls every day. It was funny, when I quit CNBC a lot of the talent kept calling me and saying ‘Are you going? It would be so much easier for me to go if I knew you were going too.’ Well, that’s not how I would ever live my life. That’s my DNA makeup. I’ve always tried to take the road less traveled. Everyone’s scared. Ninety-nine percent of the world is terrified of the unknown. I’m in the one percent that says bring it on.

BD: And it’s served you well.

LC: Yeah, it has. I came from Beverly Hills and almost everybody I grew up with is still there because it’s very cozy, comfortable, and familiar. But I shoved everything I owned into my car and moved to Columbus, Ohio for my first on-camera job. I had never been there, didn’t know anybody, had never been in weather below 40 degrees. But I knew what I wanted to do.

BD: Did it scare you when you did it?

LC: Terrified. Crying for six weeks, every night crying. It was lonely.

BD: Did you have a similar experience when you moved to Boston?

LC: Boston’s an easy town. You don’t feel like crying when you’re in Boston. It’s a great city.

BD: What do you miss about it?

LC: How can you not miss Beacon Hill and the Back Bay? I loved walking up and down Newbury Street, I loved walking on Comm. Ave and looking at all the architecture. I loved the brains that are in Boston and Cambridge. I did so many stories at MIT. I was just open-mouthed walking onto that campus. I miss the Charles River. I just love that city. I loved Mayor Menino. We had so much fun doing stories together.

BD: Did you cover him a lot?

LC: A lot. I covered a lot of what he did. I’d charge into his office and say ‘Where’s your candy drawer?’

BD: He has candy?

LC: He has candy in the lower left drawer of his desk. Don’t let him hide it from you.

BD: Have you heard anything about FOX Business Network’s ratings yet?

LC: Here’s the news we got from Roger about the ratings—don’t listen to the ratings. FOX News took five to seven years before it made any inroads and it’s kind of been my modus operandi to not really pay attention. I let other people worry about that. It’ll come if you do the best you can every single day.

BD: Do you have groupies that followed you over?

LC: Hell yes. We get email all the time. ‘Liz, I’m so glad I found you! Here you are!’ It’s like drops of water on a rock. Initially it’s nothing, but over time we’re going to make a major dent here.

FOX Business Network is available on Comcast Channel 284 in Boston.