Fortune's Gharib: How digital media changed the CEO role

Fortune's senior special correspondent Susie Gharib talks about transitioning to broadcast journalism and why she rejoined the outlet in February.

Name: Susie Gharib
Title: Senior special correspondent
Outlet: Fortune
Preferred contact:

How has business journalism evolved since you started your career at Fortune in 1974?
When I was a reporter in the 1970s, business news was still kind of a backwater. There were business pages, specialty magazines, and newspapers, but there wasn’t as much demand from the public for financial information.

At that time, most working people could rely on a pension and an employer to take good care of them with healthcare or retirement benefits. But the workplace slowly changed. Now you need to know how to take care of your own financial affairs. Because of this, there has been a burst of financial publications and TV programs to tell people how to invest, save, and spend their money. The demand for this information is greater now.

Tell us about your transition to broadcasting?
I left Fortune in 1983 to join a new program called Business Times as an anchor. It was broadcast on ESPN, even though that network is known for sports programing.

Back then, not many households had a cable subscription, but the show was a pioneer as it figured out how to make business news interesting on TV. In 1984 the program won the ACE Award for best news on cable television. I later joined CNBC’s Nightly Business Report (NBR) in 1998.

Tell us about a time when a celebrity interviewee surprised you.
Years ago, I did an interview with former President Bill Clinton at the White House. Beforehand, I was told I could only do a 10-minute interview with him. But he was fantastic and very welcoming. I ended up spending 30 minutes with him.

What has it been like as a female journalist climbing the ranks?
When I started at Fortune, there were only a handful of female writers. The staff was mostly men, covering the male-dominated corporate boardrooms. That changed more and more as women moved up on Wall Street, started their own businesses, joined corporate boards, or landed executive roles.

What was happening on the Street also came into media, as more women reporters were hired to cover the business beat.

In February, you rejoined the magazine, this time as a senior special correspondent, to create video interviews with Fortune 500 CEOs to go along with the list that comes out in May.
My focus is getting interviews with 48 of the top 200 CEOs from the Fortune 500 list in the next 12 months. 

During this time, I will be contacting PR specialists in the hope that they will grant me access to these CEOs as it will be a win-win for both sides. I will also continue to contribute to Nightly Business Report using material gathered from these interviews.

Ironically, this is the same as when I left Fortune and went into TV at a pioneering time to get into the field. It is going to be fun figuring out how we are going to shape business news through video on the Internet. I feel like I am working at a startup with a great brand name.

What will the biggest challenge be in your new role?
Convincing CEOs that getting their messages out online is just as important as being in the magazine or on TV.

How has the role of a CEO at a Fortune 500 company changed?
When I started my career, it was very difficult to persuade CEOs to come on the air. But today, the public wants to know more, so CEOs have to be much more transparent and accessible in times of crises. They also have to be more accountable to shareholders and figures in Washington. 

Moreover, they simply have to be on top of everything the company does. There is no place to hide.

Your ideal PR pitch?
If a PR person came to me and pitched a CEO who is conversational, easy to talk to, good on TV, and has a story to tell, that is half the battle.

What advice would you give to someone starting out now in journalism?
Know why you want to go into it, be willing to work hard, and be persistent to get that good interview because there are a lot of people competing for it. Business reporters have to be more accountable, digging up information and not just accept the answers that CEOs give. Also, be determined and an intrepid reporter, and be able to work as part of a team.

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