Liz Claman, anchor of Countdown to the Closing Bell with Liz Claman (weekdays on FOX Business Network, 3-4pm ET) and co-anchor of FBN’s After the Bell (weekdays 4-5pm ET), has been with the network since October 2007. Along with her business reporting, she has become known for her coverage of the annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder meeting, generally held in early May. Berkshire Hathaway is headed by famed CEO Warren Buffett, and Claman has sat down with the “Oracle of Omaha” for one-on-one interviews for nine years now, she tells us.
Claman again covered the “Weekend with Warren” this past weekend, and will be interviewing Buffett live on FBN this Monday, May 5, from 9:30am-10:20am ET.
In an email interview, Claman told us how her sit-downs with Buffett came about, what’s in store this year, what she tries to bring to business reporting, her journalistic beginnings outside of the business world, and more.
How many years have you been interviewing Warren Buffett during the “Weekend With Warren”? How did these interviews come about, and what continues to make him such a compelling figure to interview?
Liz Claman: This will be my 9th year covering the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder Meeting. I first went when I was an anchor at CNBC. Earlier in 2006 I had landed the first, hour-long, sit-down interview with Mr. Buffett for the network and we had turned it into a special called “The Billionaire Next Door.” He then asked me to come to the shareholder meeting and offered me an exclusive hour-long interview at the market’s open the following Monday—something he had never granted any media outlet before. I can remember my first BRK meeting like it was yesterday. I was most amazed that when you go to shareholder meetings, there’s always an attendee or two who are furious about something. Other companies are in full-on defense mode, defending mistakes the company made over the last year, defending compensation, defending decisions that didn’t work out. Shareholders are throwing verbal tomatoes right and left but in Omaha? There’s *nothing* like it. Probably because Buffett and [Vice Chair Charlie] Munger own up to their mistakes and bad decisions which are often few and far between. They literally put their faults in the FIRST PARAGRAPH of the annual shareholder letter. They’re harder on themselves than shareholders are. Therefore, any anxiety or anger has dissipated and you’ve got 35,000 fans of these octogenarian investors. Never seen anything like it. It’s never been replicated by anyone else. Probably never will be.
What do you have planned for this year’s Weekend With Warren? Will there be questions from MBA students again, or anything else notable in addition to your interview?
My Fox Business Team Buffett always works to be different from the rest of the media pack. It’s funny because we pull this stuff off and then other business networks chase us. We used to be live at the BRK-owned Borsheim’s jewelry store all day Friday, top-shelf guests would come before our cameras, it was a very festive atmosphere. Then the media followed, we left. We now do our Friday show live from the lobby of the Hilton Omaha where anybody who’s anybody stays for the meeting. CEOs and Buffett managers all do live sit-downs with us and it’s a terrific back-drop with shareholders checking in at the front desk and greeting each other. We’re looping in three business schools again for our Monday morning live interview with Buffett, his Vice Chair Charlie Munger, and board member Bill Gates. The three-some is an exclusive and bringing in the business school students via live remote cameras is something other business networks never do. Buffett loves it. He loves including biz school students in the interview.
Warren Buffett is just one of the many major business figures you’ve interviewed in your career. Are there are people you would like to interview (in business or otherwise), but have not been able to sit down with? If so, who?
President Obama is a major goal. Any president would be of course, but President Obama is particularly interesting from a business standpoint considering the U.S. economy is fighting through the quicksand of the recession and slogging its way out. Talking to the man who presided over that would be fascinating. Russian President Vladimir Putin would be a major ‘get’ and I have wanted to land his nemesis, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Putin imprisoned for years. Khodorkovsky was a business rival and oil tycoon who challenged Putin’s leadership. Boom, he was thrown into a prison in Siberia. Just recently released. I’d fight hard for that one.
Have you always reported primarily on business and finance? When did you become interested in those subjects and know you wanted to work in that world?
No!! I started as a general assignment reporter at WSYX-Channel 6 in Columbus, Ohio. I always wanted to be a news reporter. My first job out of college at UC Berkeley was as a production assistant at my local station in Los Angeles. I had interned at KCBS-Channel 2 during my senior year, went back after and wouldn’t give up until they gave me a job. It was minimum wage, delivering newspapers around the network building on Sunset and Vine. 4am start time every day. I was in heaven. Covered in newsprint by the end of my shift but news heaven nonetheless!
What is the most memorable interview you’ve done, or most memorable story you’ve covered?
I’ll never forget covering Hurricane Andrew in 1992. I was an anchor and reporter at WEWS-ABC in Cleveland and begged my news director to go down south to cover the eye hitting Louisiana. We were hit by 177 mph winds but I was in the thick of it. we got prisoners from the local jails filling sand-bags, we got people huddling in school shelters, we got people, in the worst time of their lives, acting so graciously. It showed me a lot about the American spirit. I was young and dumb and took chances I might not today but yeah, we were outside getting pelted by flying bicycles and palm fronts. Crazy. The most memorable interview I’ve done since covering financial news is easily my work on Warren Buffett. He’s arguably the greatest investor of our time and mixed with his homespun Buffett-isms, it’s a business journalist’s dream to land him.
When you report on business, are you aiming toward insiders who already know the details of the business and financial world, or do you also try to make it accessible to people who may just be starting to pay attention to those subjects, and who may only pay attention to finance from time to time? Is that a hard balance to walk?
It’s extremely insulting to aim toward insiders. I let other guys do that. I come from the standpoint that everyone cares about their money: substitute teachers, fast food workers, mid-level managers, UPS delivery folks. I try to strike a balance where I’ll be sure to define words from the business lexicon but make it sophisticated enough for more educated investors. Fox Business’ viewer profile skews toward higher per-capita income viewers but I’ll always be mindful that I might have a college grad tuning in who’s just opened his or her first investment account.
How has business/financial reporting changed, if at all, since you started working at FBN?
The amount of data and information has turned from a lap pool to a tsunami. Huge amounts of information — only some of it reliable — are out there now for people to learn from. And it’s all real-time information. 15 years ago when I first started covering business news, our ticker was 20 minutes delayed. Imagine that. Today it’s within a nano-second of the last print. What *hasn’t* changed is that viewers will always rely on journalists who can clear through the insanity and clutter and give you the facts with a little personality thrown in.
What do you think is the biggest business/financial story right now, and what do you think is the most underreported story?
I feel one of the most important things we need to be covering is the missing push for *moderate but smart and targeted* regulation. Regulation is crucial and needed but it’s gotten so totally onerous that people don’t even want to start businesses anymore. Little nail salons are tortured by regulators. A guy I interviewed wanted to start an overnight dry-cleaner business where he’d set up lockers nationally and people could leave their business suits at any time of the day or night, come back and their clothes would be ready, was struggling. He was raked over the coals by regulators who didn’t like his weighing mechanisms. (You need special scales to weigh the laundry for payment). The regs said the scales were off by a nano-ounce or something. This country needs to provide a fertile and welcome environment for people, including immigrants, to start businesses. We USED to. We need to get back to that and the great American dream.
Liz Claman interviews Warren Buffett May 5 live at 9:30am ET on FOX Business Network (FBN).