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In the early ‘90s, CNBC news anchor Maria Bartiromo changed the financial media landscape forever when she became a star in what had traditionally been a male dominated scene. Fifteen years later, Maria’s influence can now be seen as new rising star Poppy Harlow covers markets and interviews legends such as Warren Buffett for CNNMoney.
Poppy started her love affair with financial media while interning at CBS MarketWatch back in the company’s early days. Her smarts and excellent communication skills quickly landed her reporting jobs in front of the camera. Since joining CNNMoney, Poppy has spent most of her time covering stories which other financial reporters tend to forget: the events which are impacting Main Street.
Derek and I sat down with Poppy to hear about her exciting career, how she thinks the economic crisis will affect her generation, and what she envisions for the future of media. Regardless of where Poppy’s career path leads her, she has surely proven persistence pays.
Derek & Damien Hoffman: Poppy, when did you decide to be an online and television journalist. Was this your goal all along?
Poppy: I actually wanted to be a lawyer when I was younger. It was not until college when I worked as an intern at CBS MarketWatch that I decided I wanted to be a journalist. The fast pace of the business fits well with my personality and I work best under pressure – so looking back on it, a career in news is probably what I should have been considering all along.
Derek & Damien: Why did you choose to focus on financial journalism?
Poppy: I spent a few years working at CBS MarketWatch as an intern in college. After that I worked on the international desk at CBS Newspath and then took a job as an anchor/reporter at NY1. While I was freelancing at NY1, I started freelancing for the Forbes.com Video Network. That was in 2007 – when being a financial reporter was really starting to get interesting with the banks taking a turn for the worse and the housing bubble erupting. It was something new and critical each day – and that made it both challenging and exciting.
I continue to be fascinated by financial news and that’s why I do what I do. One wonderful thing about where I work now – CNNMoney.com – is that every day our team takes the Wall Street story and applies it to Main St. We focus on what every individual needs to know – and how the latest news is going to affect them in the near-term and down the road. That’s why what we do matters.
Derek & Damien: Although you seem to be comfortable everywhere, what was it like going from Minnesota to the uber-urban Big Apple?
Poppy: People ask me that question all the time. To be honest, it was a seamless transition. I grew up in Minneapolis which is a relatively big city … and anyone that refers to the great state of Minnesota as a “flyover state” has never been there! It’s full of Fortune 500 companies and world class art, theater and cuisine. In many respects, it’s like a mini-Manhattan.
So for me, the move was easy. I have to say – the longer I am gone the more I miss the lakes and the people. I go home often … but try to make it back for the beautiful summers rather than the ice cold winters.
Derek & Damien: Poppy, you’ve called Larry Kramer [Founder and Former CEO of MarketWatch] one of your mentors. Can you tell the story of your experience at MarketWatch?
Poppy: Larry is the first person I go to for career advice, and I don’t think that will ever change. I got my start in journalism as an intern at CBS MarketWatch – the company Larry founded. If I had never met Larry I very well may never have become a reporter. Over the years it has been Larry who I turn to for career advice – and he has never failed me.
Derek & Damien: Clearly, Larry has given you some great advice! On the reporting side, you’ve reported on an incredible spectrum of things. Which of these are you most passionate about?
Poppy: That changes. Right now, I’m most passionate about Detroit. It’s hundreds of miles from Wall Street, yet I think the city of Detroit embodies this recession like no other. It’s the heartland of America where some of the most storied companies of our time were built from the ground up. Detroit is a city on the brink: the auto industry practically collapsed – and still could, the school system may have to file for bankruptcy, it’s ground zero of the foreclosure crisis, Detroit is battling rampant unemployment, and access to healthy food is a big issue in the city. The stories to tell from Detroit are endless.
Derek & Damien: It’s easy for reporters to jump on a story that’s already hot. How do you get ahead of the herd and find the next hot story?
Poppy: That’s a challenge. In television and online video, you don’t generally see reporters breaking news. In terms of being ahead of others on a story, it’s all about sources. Not only do you need to have the sources, you need them to come to you first and trust you with information.
That’s happening more for our team at CNNMoney.com. Our phenomenal producers also put us at the front of stories because they are constantly out in the field telling the stories of real people. One of my colleagues traveled across the country reporting on the health care debate by taking a bus from Atlanta to Iowa and making stops along the way. This gave us a leg up in that it really gauged the debate in America right now – outside of the town halls we all saw on television.
We’ve got an incredibly hard working team and everyone works on multiple stories at once. We’re always looking out for the important story that no one has told yet.
Derek & Damien: In addition to those important stories, you have also interviewed some incredible people. Who are the most interesting people you’ve ever interviewed?
Poppy: Fritz Henderson, the new CEO of General Motors is fascinating. I’ve interviewed him a number of times and he is more candid than most executives. He gives you the sense that GM really is changing – and that better days are ahead for the company. We’ll have to wait and see if that is that case, but it’s meaningful that Henderson has been open with the public and with the media.
Also, Barry Diller, CEO of InterActive Corp. He says it like it is.
Derek & Damien: Poppy, you have access to an incredible amount of information at the CNN studio. You also travel all over and meet with some of the most influential people in the business world. There’s a story on your site entitled, “The Tale of Two Recessions.” Do you think this recession is further eroding the middle class and leaving us with a more pronounced two-class society?
Poppy: Actually, I think the recession is doing the opposite. From what I can tell, no one has been immune from this recession so it is making everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, reassess their spending and saving, their career and what’s important to them. That said, I do think the middle class in this country is being squeezed – but not as a result solely of this recession. Fortune did a great job of covering this.
Damien: I’ve been out of college for a decade and lived through two bubbles and two collapses. We are now talking about Trillion dollar deficits. The aging boomers are going to apply the biggest burden to the social safety-net over the next 15-plus years. What do you think is the fate of our generation? Will we be the economically lost generation who were too late to enjoy the go-go 80′s and 90′s, but are left to clean up all the irresponsible messes?
Poppy: We will be just fine if we really learn from this mess. My fear is that regardless of how deep this recession cuts, and how vast the casualties of it have been we will revert to our old practices: banks levered too much and Americans charging a lifestyle they can’t afford. If that happens, then we have a lot to worry about. Personally, I think and hope we are smarter than that.
Derek & Damien: Insofar as the future is concerned, there is also an incredible paradigm shift unfolding in media as we move into the bottom of the first inning of the Information Age. Looking ahead 10 and 20 years, what do you think future media and journalism winners will look like?
Poppy: The winners will be those that figure out how to deliver the content people want, when they want it – and not destroy it with invasive advertising. It’s clear the web is the future – but it will not only be the web. I don’t believe people will give up their magazines and newspapers completely. But it is a big problem that the same content I have to pay for in print is free to me online in most cases.
In terms of the future of journalism, I think the bar will continue to be raised. As more and more people around the world have access to the internet – the more informed they will become. That will increasingly push journalists to report in depth – beyond the surface. There’s a reason people gather on Sunday evenings, and take an hour out of their night, to watch 60 Minutes. There’s a reason CNN Presents special programming does well. People depend on us as journalists to dig deeper and deliver more than just the headlines. Finally, I think social networking is here to stay and will merge more with traditional media. This will present a challenge for journalists – and those consuming our reporting – to separate fact from fiction.
Derek & Damien: On a more personal note, who have been the most influential people during your rise to where you are today, and how did they help your personal or career growth?
Poppy: My work ethic comes from my father. He was a trial lawyer and he worked incredibly hard – but he also played hard. He loved his work and he loved his life. He showed me the importance of loving what you do – and realizing how lucky you are to be doing it. From my mother I learned the importance of asking for what you want. Without that lesson from her I may never have gotten the interview I have. Whether it was Hank Greenberg, Warren Buffett or Kid Rock – I just called and asked. The worst that can happen is they say, “No.”
Derek & Damien: You’ve achieved an incredible level of success while still under 30-years old. What can we expect from Poppy Harlow in the future? Are your excellent interviews and journalism preparing you to reach legendary status as possibly the next Barbara Walters?
Poppy: I have no idea what is ahead. As far as what you can expect from me, I will continue to work hard and try to do 100 things at once. I’ll continue to set big goals. I will also love what I am doing, or I won’t continue to do it.
If I can make a living as a journalist for my entire career, then I will be very lucky.
Derek & Damien: What advice do you have to young women who are inspired by you and hope to follow in your footsteps?
Poppy: My advice is simple – be persistent. Nothing good comes easy. If you really want to be a reporter you won’t give up. Never believe those job postings when they say ‘don’t call us we’ll call you.’ You should call.
Derek & Damien: Poppy, thank you for taking the time to chat. We look forward to your continued success.
Poppy: Thank you very much. You guys do a fantastic job. Keep up the great work and keep pushing the envelope.
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