Sunday, March 4, 2012

Watching Kelly Evans

Sometime last August I was fiddling around with my iPad, reading news from the various apps that I have downloaded, when I stumbled into the video section of the CNBC app. Please recall that I do not have cable or satellite. Much to my daughter’s dismay, we are cave-dwelling TV antennae people. I won’t pay for TV because, frankly, it seems stupid to pay for all that crap. Cultural norms being what they are, I understand that monthly TV fees are acceptable in this country. I just think anyone paying for TV is wasting their time and their money. But, I digress.

Obviously, I don’t watch CNBC. I don’t even follow CNBC much. I use the app on my iPad to check how the world markets are doing in real-time. They have particularly detailed and complete commodity market information that I haven’t found anywhere else. But, one day last fall I decided to wander over to the video section of the app.

I immediately saw silly financial shows like Jim Cramer’s Mad Money. Why would anyone listen to that guy? There were a few other programs available. But, faltering around randomly in the “most recent” videos section I saw a segment about the (then) current state of the markets (which was extremely volatile). It was a discussion from The Kudlow Report, which I had never even heard of, about whether we were headed for another recession. Anyway, I gave it a tap to see what the various pundits had to say.

Turns out that in addition to the boisterous conservative elder host himself there was a bright, young white guy, forecasting slow but consistent economic growth. The two were joined by Kelly Evans, this young, attractive, articulate reporter from the Wall Street Journal, who completely exuded confidence and a high degree of technical insight. I agreed with much that she had to say but, more to the point, she impressed me because she did not hesitate to press her points in a confident yet non-bitchy (unlike, say, Ann Coulter who is confident in a completely bitchy way and whose obvious intelligence does not compensate for how wrong she generally is about everything) manner, managing a gorgeous southern smile while slamming contending perspectives with hard data and historical context.

I was bowled over by Kelly Evans and immediately googled her. I discovered that she was a native Virginian who hosted the News Hub AM, part of the fledgling and low-budget WSJ Video programming. I started watching the program in the evenings when I had time on my WSJ Live app. It was definitely unpolished and totally web-based. No high-end cameras or sets. All remote reports were funneled in through Skype in the herky-jerky style of fluctuating bandwidth. There were frequent technical problems particularly with the sound breaking up on Skype.

In spite of all this, however, the program was rich in relevant and insightful content. Almost every day I learned something I hadn’t heard anywhere else. Long story made short, I became a fan of Kelly Evans. I immediately turned Jennifer on to this new find and she likewise started watching WSJ Live when neither of us had given it any thought previously. It was a show that was heavy on substance and had almost no TV flash to it. In fact, all the WSJ Live programming is this way. Interesting, insightful, relevant yet not much more technically advanced than what you or I could do with our own Skype and web cam capabilities. That says more about the accessibility of the technology than about WSJ’s lack of commitment to challenge traditional programming. Low-end doesn’t mean dumb-down. In fact, I would argue that most of the traditional TV flash detracts from the quality of the reporting. But, once more, I digress.

Over a period of months that Jennifer and I spent watching Kelly Evans we were introduced to many reporters and editors at WSJ. One of particular note was Evan Newmark, who kind of co-anchored at least once a week (often twice), and who has his own show in the afternoons called Mean Street (which Kelly was frequently on). Newmark is 48 and obviously a mentor of sorts for Kelly. He is a quirky guy with a lot of wealth and innate investment smarts. We found out he lives overlooking Central Park. Definitely, blue-blood and old money who proudly proclaims that he is “part of the one percent.” He is an interesting guy, not someone I always agree with, but certainly a William Buckley wannabe with some credentials worthy of that intellectual conservative bent.

It turns out the Kelly and Evan are terrific on set together. They have entertaining chemistry, constantly bickering in a playful way, throwing facts at one another and challenging one another. Newmark says we are in a “slow slog economy but the fundamentals are in good shape.” Evans is more like, “there are a number of indicators that give pause before trusting any stock rally.” Newmark: “You will eventually see my way of thinking, it is just a matter of time.” Evans: “I’m going to give you an elbow.”

It was fun and informative stuff. One indicator that the two of them had terrific on-camera chemistry can be found in the fact that someone created a facebook fan page for them as a team. A couple of examples I’ll share. From Kelly's show here, here and here. There are better indications of their chemistry on Evan's show, since it is an interview, rather than news, program. See shorter clips here, here, and here.

Kelly had Evan on for the New Year’s Eve Special News Hub. They shared their lists of resolutions. Kelly’s list for 2012 included: “Learn Greek” and “Figure Out Excel Pivot Tables”. Kelly Evans can’t get enough economic statistics. She prides herself in understanding the various fundamental official financial reports and genuinely has fun sorting through all the data. She is geeky, savvy, yet down-home, with a lot of Virginia charm and authenticity.

And she is attractive. And an athlete, in fact. She is a bit over 5’10” and she graduated magnum cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business journalism from Washington & Lee University. In high school she excelled in lacrosse, cross-country, and track. She received a full-ride four-year athletic scholarship to W&L where she served as the lacross team’s co-captain. Kelly has pushed all the right buttons in life. She is a rising star, with genuine talent, intelligence, communication skills, insight, confidence, and charisma.

Which is why Kelly Evans could not simply remain in a low-budget, internet-based video program for The Wall Street Journal. She started there right out of college in 2007. She was 23-years old. She was featured on CNN for her early reporting. After earning her stripes a couple of years as a business reporter, Evans became a columnist for the paper and wrote the daily “Ahead of the Tape” piece for WSJ. Her articles, like her video news anchoring, were filled with statistics and trends and were surgical in their focus of how specific publicly traded companies might fare in the current economic environment. Her swansong column dealt with how lack of start-up companies is affecting unemployment.

Her reputation as a reporter and a moderator earned her a spot on the South Carolina GOP Primary debate’s press panel. She asked very direct questions with quick follow-ups for each candidate. She was particularly probing of Mitt Romney’s economic policy, more so than the other panelists.

Regardless of her entertaining chemistry with Evan Newmark, Kelly Evans has a rich career in front of her and she knows her real talent is in the video, not print, medium. It was only a matter of time until someone in the video realm noticed Kelly Evans and scooped her away, which is what CNBC did in February this year.

Kelly made her debut on CNBC on March 1. She was featured on every CNBC morning and early afternoon program; four appearances on her first day at the new job. CNBC is certainly proud of her and plans to make all their viewers acquainted with her quickly. Kelly is smart and somewhat idealistic (which is part of her youthful appeal) and she understands the nature of television.

So. The new Kelly Evans does not have black hair, she is a brunette with faint blonde highlights. Otherwise, she is the same Kelly Evans, however. And she immediately made an impression in the very first show, a strange early-morning business program called Squawk Box, by speaking of “the Dental Indicator”. By the time she got around to making her fourth appearance of the morning, CNBC had gotten some very rough statistics together from dentists across the country. The dentists collectively seemed to verify Kelly’s assertion that dental activity has generally picked back up, indicating that employees are taking advantage of re-found benefits from new jobs. Kelly’s insights are rarely so personal, generally more statistical, but they are always very precise.

So, as she said half-jokingly in her first CNBC appearance about new colleague, “a star is born.” Her new colleagues echoed the sentiment and made it stick to her. Jennifer and I both hate it that her days with Evan Newmark are gone forever. Next stop for Kelly will be a major network, perhaps NBC, but I’m sure she considers herself a ‘free agent’ available to the market. For now, however, she will fill a London assignment for CNBC, another rung up the ladder.

It is ironic that she would end up on the very network where I first saw her giving a guest appearance last August.

But, Jennifer and I were lucky to have watched Kelly’s low-tech News Hub show for several months. We saw it in what turned out to be its mature stage. There is a lot of great business reporting available at WSJ Live and for awhile Kelly had it at her command. Evan Newmark honored her on her final News Hub appearance. It is worth watching and kind of symbolic of the father-daughter, slash, mentor-student relationship.

Newmark is a huge Bob Dylan fan (and a great fan of Duane Allman I might add) so he quotes the words from “Forever Young” with enthusiasm and a smile sending her off to her future journalistic glory. I was a college journalism student once. I know something of what Kelly must feel, only she has gone far beyond me in terms of career success. Nevertheless, I appreciate success and know something of her craft. Which is why I am watching her so intently. The likes of her are the best promise of journalism.


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