A smart conversation on the issues that matter now
by Chris Roush
Tom Keene is the co-host of “Bloomberg Surveillance,” which airs from 7 to 10 a.m. on Bloomberg Radio and from 6 to 8 a.m. EST on Bloomberg Television. He also serves an editor-at-large at Bloomberg News, where he provides economic and investment perspective to Bloomberg’s various news divisions.
He also created the chart-of-the-day article for Bloomberg News.
Keene talked via email with Talking Biz News about his work for Bloomberg. What follows is an edited transcript.
What are you trying to accomplish with the coverage on Bloomberg Surveillance?
“Bloomberg Surveillance” is about two things: the markets, and our guests. We learned from the advent of “Bloomberg on the Economy” on radio, to “Surveillance Midday,” to our current morning program on television and radio that what all audiences want is a smart conversation on issues that matter now. In the early morning, it’s critical that we go across equities, bonds, currencies and commodities. I want a data check that speaks to the interdependencies of the moment. That’s particularly important with the European crisis.
When do you start working on the next day’s show?
We come off radio and into two meetings that begin the next-day process. We do not plan. Actually, that is the running joke as team members Elianne Friend, Casey Herzog and Rich Trueman do the production. I am really big on short, focused meetings. We go from those meetings to writing up “the blotter” for the TV show and the research literature for the radio show. The blotter lines up the elements across research notes, op-eds and charts. We get about two-thirds done by 1:30 p.m. so we are ready to adjust at 3:50 a.m.
What time do you arrive in the morning before the show, and what is your routine before the show starts?
We come in at various times. I darken the door at around 4:08 a.m. Mondays, I get in at about 3:20 a.m. to get up to Monday speed. But, the truth is I have a dedicated editorial and production team that goes 24/7. There’s so much going on, particularly in economics, that is truly is around the clock.
At that early in the morning, who do you think is watching and what do they want to know?
“Bloomberg Surveillance” has three audiences. Global Wall Street is just that – global. They are pros and have zero patience for dumb. They taught me, demanded, the cross-asset data check.
There is a terrific, very smart, very informed non-pro audience. Way, way smarter than the media thinks. They read voraciously and really let me know when I stray from the “Surveillance” path.
Finally, there is an audience I never thought would be interested: informed professionals and a curious public, striving to understand business, economic, finance and investment trends. Their stories, their e-mails keep me going. This crisis has hit hard. It is into its sixth year. Some, fortunately few, force their children to listen and watch, which is cruel and unusual punishment.
Do you try to spend a specific portion of the show on what has already happened in Asia and Europe that day?
Good question. No, no, no. This is a hot-button for me. We always lead by having on the smartest people we can get. Then, we adjust to where the immediate news is in the early, early morning. We cancel really good people and have been fortunate to have their trust and patience. If China is the story, we rip up the script on other things and get the smartest we can on Asia. I am an advocate, on TV, of the quality “phoner” on the immediate news of the moment.
How much of a role do you play in selecting the guests on the show each morning? How are they picked?
We pull names out of the “Surveillance” hat. No, we are ruthless. My producer Emily Haas-Godsil and I figured the process out years ago. We grade and measure guests all the time and try to discuss the mix and quality we want. I am adamant about trying new names and using less-known smart guests. We try to avoid “talking point” numbness. We want smart people that can adapt fast. I call it velocity. Our best guests have that.
Along with my other producers Sommer Saadi and Tania Chen, Emily pretty much knows what I want. What I want I hope is what the audience wants. Smart conversation that sets up the distinctions in whatever the debate may be.
You’re also on Bloomberg Radio and other Bloomberg TV shows throughout the day. How do you continue to make what you’re reporting and talking about fresh?
There are days where “fresh” is a struggle. But the truth is they gave me a crisis that keeps on giving. I am constantly amazed at how “fresh” just happens because the swirl of business, economics, finance and investment is always interesting. Also, I have no life.
The show airs for two hours on TV and for four hours on other platforms. How difficult is it to fill that time?
Business media needs time filled. Bloomberg Radio head Al Mayers had the courage, with Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matt Winkler‘s support, to let me do longer smarter interviews when “Bloomberg on the Economy” started. It was beyond difficult to convince many that the concept of a long interview on the Dutch disease, Scotland and Hydrocarbon economics would not be watching paint dry.
When the show goes off TV but is still on the other platforms, does the tone or the content change for the other two hours?
Radio is different than TV is different than print. It is little things like how I pitch my voice to understanding that the audience is in a different time and place…the car or the office or the home. I am beyond fortunate to have executives that give me a lot of rope. Bloomberg Media Group CEO Andy Lack has been instrumental in allowing Bloomberg TV head Andrew Morse, executive producer Ted Fine and Mayers to find the nuances between the different media. We argue; then hug.
How do you decide on which bow tie to wear each morning?
The bow ties are slung across a four-poster bed cross-bar. The Keynesian ties are to the left; the Monetarist ties to the right. The Austrian ties are kept under lock and key.
What goes into picking the chart of the day?
The charts are a big deal. It goes back to analytical geometry and trying to understand the core mathematics, arithmetic and log. Most charts in media don’t tell a story. I try to tell the story with all the functions the Bloomberg Terminal gives me. It is incredibly important to write a headline that screams turn up the volume. Alchemy is involved.