Fearless Reporting and Emotional Intelligence

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This week’s guest is Diane Brady, an award-winning writer, interviewer, columnist and Senior Editor at Bloomberg. Miss Brady interviews dozens of newsmakers on stage each year at global events and is a regular guest on BBC and NPR, and other major media outlets.

Diane has also managed corporate coverage at BusinessWeek and has led initiatives to reach new audiences through partnerships, editorial board events and other projects. She has an acclaimed book, “Fraternity,” that was named Best Book of 2012 at Amazon and short-listed for the NAACP Image Awards. Diane previously worked at the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, in Toronto and also at the UN Environment program in Nairobi.

Cathy, can you say a word or two about how you met Diane?

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Absolutely. I met Diane when we were in New York, and it was a pleasure. She is quite a presence. She is someone, who I believe, has been friends with Noel Tichy for a while—a professional friend. As another professional friend of Noel’s, my book was launching that week in and around the nation and I was asked to come along. I was very pleasantly surprised when I met Diane and was able to listen to her as she spoke to a group of 40 MBA students from across Asia. Many, many, wonderful Fortune 500 companies were represented there. Diane just captivated them. If that’s any indication as to what we are in for—I welcome her to the show.

Diane Brady: Thank you for having me. I’m certainly interested in the topic of leadership. It comes up a lot in my work.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Yes, I could imagine. In fact the night that we were with you, you were hosting an event in New York which you do quite often, where your interview CEOs and great newsmakers live on stage. Maybe we’ll talk a little bit about that as we get into the interview.

Tell us what, as you reflect back on your career and where you are now which is a very high-paced fast moving environment there at Bloomberg, who have been some of the most influential people in your career in terms of who made you who you are today?

Diane Brady: Well I haven’t had a classic sponsor like they tell you to have, the person who shepherds you through. But, I have to say I’ve had some terrific editors, certainly, who have pushed me to always do better, reach higher. I think, oddly enough, I have been very inspired by a number of the people that I cover. When I do interview people I’m very curious and I often get great insight into what makes them tick, and how they have taken risks, and how they view the world. I feel very lucky to have that position where I am constantly learning.

In terms of the important points in my career, everybody goes back to their mother, and I have to thank my mother for telling me to go to Nairobi when I finished school and not to England as my first instinct told me. Getting outside my comfort zone really has been, I think, the most important factor in shaping what I do.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Diane, why did she tell you to go to Nairobi? What was it that she saw there for you?

Diane Brady: I had a Rotary scholarship and my idea of a life expanding experience at the age of 21 was to potentially go to Oxford or Cambridge. Of course, she said, as I think we should say to all of our children, go somewhere where you don’t fit in as well, where you might not otherwise go. So it was either Nairobi or Calcutta. I think Calcutta would have also been an excellent choice. What it did really was, among other things, help me to get a better sense of myself, to be in a culture where even some of the common English words were not the same. I think it’s just a great experience and all of us should get the opportunity to feel what it’s like to be a minority I think at some point in our lives.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It certainly is something that I have, as an inner city child, been exposed to growing up. When you feel it in a foreign country I think the compelling experience that you talked about, Diane, really is something that creates not only curiosity but a real fascination with the world around you.

Diane Brady: I think the other thing is that a lot of us, especially during times of economic hardship, tend to view the outside world as a threat more than as an opportunity. I think that one of the hallmarks of what has made the US so innovate, really, has been the fact that it is such a mix of cultures, of people, of experiences. I think that is certainly something I notice when I go to the universities. You know the best universities in Europe tend to by and large draw from the local population. What has been the hallmark of really top universities here, is that you draw people from all over the world. I think it’s been a big factor in what has made us lead in so many different fields.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s really fascinating to hear.  I know we may have certain people, most of our audience are in organizations, who are interested in having a similar career or role as you have. Is there any kind of advice, maybe this is for some of our younger listeners coming up. What kind of advice would you give them if they wanted to pursue it.

Diane Brady: Well, I vividly remember in the early 90’s having the Dean of the Columbia Journalism School tell us there were 88,000 students getting journalism degrees and far fewer jobs. The current status quo is not all that different. I think for a lot of professions it’s easy to get turned off by the number. I think that if you are passionate about what you do and strive to be excellent at what you do, I think that there is a lot of room for growth in the media.

I’m personally very excited by a lot of the disruption in the media right now because I think it creates a lot of new opportunities for how we cover content, how we reach people, and I’m certainly not as dire about our prospects as one might think given the tainting patterns of media consumption. So stick with it.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I want to go a little bit deeper on that because I think it’s intriguing. When we were together with all those wonderful MBA students from across Asia, you were talking about how media has changed and their online presence of instantaneous news making and how that impacted people. When you think about the future of the careers of some of the folks that are listening, these up and coming folks, and given what you know, your leadership wants to invest their time in both online presence and in print reading. What kind of encouragement or direction would you provide for them now given what you have seen as changes in the media and where you think it’s going with this online verses in presence.

Diane Brady: I don’t think it is verses first of all. I think that in the same way people talk about a mobile strategy as if it’s something separate; this is just another way to reach people with great content. There is a book out right now by Tom Doctoroff called “Twitter is Not a Strategy,” in which he argues that social media and Twitter is not a substitute for having an understanding and soul to your brand. I would say, which I think is absolutely correct, in the same way catchy headlines and click bait is not a substitute for intelligence, accuracy, and news judgment. I think there is a broad array of choices out there. I think that we have to, as always, be careful about what we read and I think that one of the great things about journalism, frankly, is that you don’t need a license to be a journalist. Great journalism is great reporting and anybody can do it. The more that you democratize the tools, and by that I mean it’s easier to create movies, it’s easier to create content, radio shows, etc., I think that creates more opportunities for excellence. The challenge of course is how do you find it, how do you get noticed. I tend to think that high impact stories will rise because people have more ability right now to share it. That to me puts us in a better direction for journalism than having it in too few hands.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Diane, when you are thinking about, picking up on what you are saying, these high-end impact stories, how do you go about that given what comes across your desk and the plethora of ways that you could go every day to select a story. What goes behind that when you are thinking about what the audience wants? How do you go about that?

Diane Brady: Well, I think the gauge that I use is everybody has their own questions, but it comes down to first all is this something that is worth taking people’s attention for? I tend to have a bias, which I think most journalists do, towards seeing around the corner to what is next, frankly, than doing a recap of what has already happened. We certainly want to give understanding and context about what is in the news and help us fit it into the jigsaw puzzle of our lives and how it matters and how it will impact us. At the end of the day I think it is about anything that is going to change the conditions for not just the business environment, but our lives. So it does get into regulation, it does get into the companies that have both the power and the opportunity, the technology and talent to really disrupt how things are done.

I think that one of the perils of course is that there is plenty of opportunity now to have media channels and there is a difference I think between actual reporting and opinion. I think there is a good place for opinion. I think there is a difference as well with the sponsored content and the pieces that people put up on sites where they are really promoting their brands and such. That said, I think there is some fantastic content there as well because what people really want is intelligence that helps them make smarter decisions. They want insight into what they should be paying attention to, and none of us feel that we get to few emails or there’s two little information out there. What we really want is a filter to sort of say, what matters, what is true, and what’s next.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Let’s come back to this idea of how you pick your story and headline, is it something that is a bleeding lead such as stories about a leaders failure over their success, or are you looking for something that is more positive. How do you decide where to go?

Diane Brady: I think it can be either. I’m not really an agenda driven journalist in so far as I am trying to either celebrate great leadership or expose terrible leadership. I think that really the filters that I put on are: does this matter to a lot of people? For example, when you have major companies that a lot of people hold stock in, work in, clearly are important drivers in our economy both in the US and worldwide, then you care about how those companies are being run. My general philosophy though is that I don’t think people should be surprised by what they read and so I think that everybody should have an opportunity to certainly answer their critics and I think that accuracy has got to be the hallmark of everything we do.

I’ve had many examples in my career where I’ve written pieces that have been somewhat critical based on the facts, but that has not burned the bridges with the people that I’ve covered because they have been fair and they have been accurate. In essence, my goal was to tell people what is really going on. I don’t know if that answers the question but it really does sort of say that what we care about, of course, is what matters and what matters can vary day to day, it can really vary with the trends. You want to know who are the players that are going to be affecting our lives? How are companies being run, and there are a lot of issues around governments and such which aren’t always celebratory, but I think are important to explore.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Diane, as a Sr. Editor for Bloomberg and Businessweek, how do you decide, with all of the noise that is coming in on the line, what to give your attention to. I’ll give you an example: The late Warren Bennis, one of my mentors used to say, “nowadays, getting through information is like putting a pot on your head and beating it with a spoon and trying to hear people above that din.”

Diane Brady: But yet, you think about the people who have become such household names whether it’s Warren Bennis I think in many circles, the Mark Zuckerbergs, The Elon Musks, the Steve Jobs, Mary Barra, Martha Stewart; why do we know these people? Because they are making a big difference for good or for ill, they are either very important key roles or they are incredible innovators, they are changing how we consume information, they are changing their industries that they go into, so that is the big filter. Obviously, Bloomberg itself has a huge network of 2400 people working in the editorial side in Bloomberg News worldwide, so that gives us a lot of eyes and ears on the ground than lot of networks that really do filter through the noise to figure out what actually is important and what is something that is going to make people smarter about where the world is going.

Here the complete interview with Diane Brady above, without commercials.



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