Fox Business Network’s Magee: Everything has a business angle

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TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with major players in business journalism to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Talking Biz News.

As the executive vice president of Fox Business Network, Kevin Magee is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business news channel.

Named senior vice president of Fox News Radio in December 2004, Magee has also been responsible for all radio expansion, including programming and new business in the radio division.

Prior to his current roles, Magee was vice president of news programming for Fox News, where he oversaw all news programming, including the network’s primetime line-up. Additionally, he is the chairman of the Fox News Programming Council, which coordinates programming between radio and television.

Prior to joining Fox in 2001, Magee held various roles in broadcast television and radio.  He served as an executive producer of business news at CNBC, where he was responsible for managing a large portion of daytime programming, which included “Business Center,” “Market Wrap,” and “The Edge.”  During his tenure at the network, ratings for many CNBC programs improved significantly.

Before CNBC, Magee was a senior program producer for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he won an EMMY Award.  Prior to serving in that capacity, he was a broadcast producer of ABC Television, in charge of “Good Morning America”‘s newscasts.

A graduate of Temple University with a B.A. in communications, Magee began his career in KYW radio and television in Philadelphia as a writer/reporter and later as a co-producer of the nightly newscast.

Magee, 56, talked by phone on Monday with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.

After nearly three years on the air, how do you think Fox Business Network is doing?

We’re doing great. We don’t release ratings because we’re not a full-service Nielsen subscriber. We need to have a bit more faith in their ability to count our heads. But anecdotally, we’re catching on ways that we didn’t see six months or a year ago. Don Imus has been a big help to us in terms of visibility. I’m getting more comments from people about Liz Claman. People like what they’ve seen.

In what coverage areas have you been the most happy?

Certainly we’ve made inroads in trying to force transparency. We launched at a difficult time in October 2007, but Billy Joel said, “These are not the best of times, but they’re the only times we know.” There was a lot of questions on Wall Street and Washington when almost everything went south overnight.

Just recently, we discovered that the financial regulation bill had a clause in it that the SEC no longer had to comply with freedom of information requests. We made a big enough stink about it, and by making a big stink I mean covering it, and I have been very proud of that. Our market coverage has been terrific, and Cavuto has been a giant help for us. It’s so wonderful to walk into a field with someone who is arguably the best known in the field. The audience knows him, and loves him.

Where could coverage be improved?

We could always do better at everything. I’m not worried about one thing or another, but we’re always looking to improve our coverage and our presentation. Part of it is making it understandable to the audience. I’ve always had a lot of faith in people provided they get the right information, and that’s what our job it.

The network recently changed some of its programs and has hired some new on-air talent. What’s behind all of that?

We recently hired Lori Rothman from Bloomberg. We’re anxious to get her in here and get her on the air. We think she has a demeanor that our audience will appreciate. She doesn’t try to talk down to the audience. I think she will be a good complement to our strong daytime lineup.

We always tweak; that’s what programmers do. I sit in my office with 42-inch monitors all of the time, with the three business networks and Fox News. And most of the time, I’m happiest with what’s on my screen versus CNBC or Bloomberg. It’s a constant operation to put on the best shows that we can.

What coverage have you been most proud of in the past three years?

We’re currently looking at the biggest tax increase in U.S. history that will occur on Jan. 1. We’ve been very good at keeping that in the forefront. We think that affects our audience, which is a wealthy audience. We want to make sure that they understand what’s going on. I think our Washington operation is the best in business news, and they have helped us with that.

I have been very proud that we have been on the subjects that have been the most important to the broadest audience.

Fox Business has been suing the federal government to access records about the economic bailout. How did that come about?

It started because we identified that as a story early on, and we kept running into stone walls at the Treasury and Washington in general. We have a good, smart legal department, and we thought we could get more out of the government, which is not releasing information to the public.

In terms of the new financial regulations, these bills are also unbelievable dense, terse and long, that someone slipped that clause in there.  That’s what we came up against. There is an old Pennsylvania Dutch saying that the harder you work, the lucker you get. If we hadn’t been in court pursuing these documents we wouldn’t have known that clause was in there.

How do the Fox Business apps help the network?

It just puts out the word that we’re here. We’re everywhere. You invent a new device, and we’re going to be on it. I bought an iPad last week, and it’s a very good app. This is an app developed specifically for the iPad and it helps with our charter, which is to give people information about their investments. You can compare the performance of one stock with another.  The technology is evolving very quickly, and we have to stay on our toes.

You have one show that airs exclusively on the Internet. Do you foresee any more?

The Internet has to help us by getting a bigger audience. I like doing that show, but we work for the audience, and the audience has to tell us that they want more.

How has television changed business journalism?

When I went to work first with CNBC, which was back in 1997, there was still a substantial number of people in the audience who watched for the data, to find out how their stock was doing.

But now, you can get a stock quote on TV, on the radio, on your satellite radio, on your iPhone, on your watch, on your iPad. So it is less data driven than it was. However, we have designed a screen that when the market is open, there is still a lot of information. I can see what’s happening with the stocks I am following, but I also want to see the price the oil. How come? Maybe there is a play there. Why is Merck stock down today? You follow the score of your home team, but it’s always good to see what the other teams are going.

What do you see as far as business journalism’s future on TV?

I think it will be there. It is an integral part of television. The programming on television has become more niche oriented as there becomes more channels. Business news is an immediate need of people, and something that they like to keep on. Whether they’re glued to it or not, I don’t know. But they want to know where the Dow is, and what the business issues are for the day. To the extend we can fill those needs, we’ll be successful. And everything has a business angle. It’s all about the money.