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Margaret Brennan Works Her Dream Job at Face The Nation

“We have the gift of an hour each Sunday and our goal to deliver our news and interviews with context and humanity for our viewers.”

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A photo of Margaret Brennan
(Photo: CBS News)

Margaret Brennan achieved a significant milestone in 2018 by becoming the second woman to host CBS News’ iconic broadcast Face The Nation. Since then, she has not only moderated the influential Sunday morning program but has also assumed the role of CBS News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

Brennan’s journey to her current role has been shaped by her diverse experiences, including stints at CNBC and Bloomberg Television, where she covered global financial markets for a decade. Her time on Wall Street gave her the ability to foresee the implications of financial decisions, even when approaching them from a political angle.

“I think that having spent a decade covering Wall Street and doing so at some pivotal moments, like the financial crisis of 2008/2009, and then the European debt crisis that really became a global one years later at Bloomberg,” she recalled, “all of that does continue to inform how I understand and think of the intersection of economy, politics, policy, and society.”

With the upcoming presidential election, Brennan shared her vision for the show’s coverage of the economy’s role in shaping political narratives. She emphasized CBS polling that reflects issues like the economy and the ever-rising cost of living as major concerns for many Americans.

“These themes also influence how they think in their confidence level about the future and connects to the political choices they want, and will make for who to represent them,” she said.

Highlighting dedication to present a balanced view of the economy and its implications to viewers she said, “We will constantly bring that into our conversations because it is the conversation the American people are having.”

As the media landscape evolves with new social media advancements and AI-generated content, Brennan remains steadfast in her commitment to journalistic integrity. She expressed her concern over the erosion of trust in institutions, including journalism, and the impact it has on society’s ability to function. “I believe as a journalist, that our role is there to help educate and inform the public,” Brennan emphasized.

Beyond her professional achievements, Brennan offered a candid glimpse into her personal life, discussing the delicate balance between her career and motherhood. As a working mother, Brennan is well aware of the challenges many women face when juggling various roles.

“Every woman I know, every mom I know, wonders if they’re getting it right at that moment,” she said. Balancing career aspirations with family commitments is a universal struggle, and Brennan’s openness about her experiences resonates with countless women navigating similar paths.

Veronica Dudo: You’ve moderated Face the Nation for five years. What’s been the most rewarding part of the job?

Margaret Brennan: The most rewarding feeling is when you walk away having learned something new or revealed some element of an issue that matters. Another rewarding part is seeing the commitment from the entire Face the Nation team to produce civil, contextualized conversation with perspective on a weekly basis. I’m a curious person by nature and being able to put that curiosity to use every Sunday and bring the viewer along to learn something new is rewarding. 

News cycles are relentless and there’s a barrage of headlines hitting people every day. Part of the reward is digesting that information and untangling what matters to share useful information with our viewers.

VD: Was your goal always to work in front of the camera?

MB: No. I studied foreign affairs and Middle East studies (and minored in Arabic) at the University of Virginia. At that point, I was interested in something having to do with diplomacy but, like many young people, I wasn’t quite sure of the exact vocation that would allow me to explore all of what interested me.

My mom will tell you that from a young age, I had a curiosity for what was happening around the world. We would always have newspapers at home and, when there was breaking news, we’d watch the broadcasts. It was fascinating to me to watch events unfold and as a student, I was drawn to understanding inflection points in history and social movements where you saw individuals or groups change the direction of their society. I didn’t realize it at the time but that’s essentially what politics and policy are about.

The Middle East was my area of focus in foreign affairs while studying at the University of Virginia. This was pre-9/11. I went abroad to Jordan and when I came back I had a very different appreciation for first-hand experience. I would also share my frustration with my mom about the news not fully grasping the scope of the story or what was happening on the ground. She encouraged me to try journalism and put that frustration to good use. 

I landed a summer internship in Atlanta, at CNN’s international news desk, and the rest was history. I knew my calling was in journalism. 

VD: With so many outlets and planforms vying for viewers—what’s unique about Face the Nation?

MB: We have a hardworking team – led by our executive producer Mary Hager – that puts a premium on going beyond the headlines and to the heart of a given issue we are covering. We’re not after soundbites. The show is not about me. There is no opinion. Our viewers are seeking context and understanding of the current events and policy decisions that are impacting their lives. We try our best each Sunday to elicit answers from our guests that address those needs and hopefully set the agenda for the week that follows.

VD: What do you consider your greatest unforeseen career opportunity that came your way?

MB: I do believe in the idea that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The big opportunities are often not completely obvious at the moment. 

Getting a call from my agent asking if I wanted to try out to be the next moderator of Face the Nation was one of them. It was a dream job. I didn’t imagine that I’d get it.

One of the high wire act attributes of this field of work is that you’re asking questions of powerful people and can actually impact politics and policy. I did not appreciate that until I became a CBS correspondent covering the State Department and then the White House. 

VD: What is the piece of advice you find yourself giving over and over again?

MB: Do your homework. Be prepared. Work hard. Be curious. 

VD: Who are/were your role models personally or professionally?

MB: There are many professionals that I admire in our field. When I was starting out, it was Christianne Amanpour who inspired me. She seemed bold and brave in the field and continues to bring that presence and poise to her current work. 

VD: How do you define success?

MB: As a journalist, you want to get that interview no one else has been able to get. You want to be first, but also accurate and fair. To me, success looks like earning and keeping the trust and respect of your viewers. To know that viewers are counting on you to hold those who come on our show accountable and that we’re gonna try our best to have a conversation of substance. I feel that our work to keep the public informed is essential to the health of our democracy.

I’m also a mom and a wife. Success these days – and it’s not easy and the juggling doesn’t always go as smoothly as I want it to – means showing up and being present for those around me at home and elsewhere. Easier said than done!

VD: Was there a moment or opportunity that changed your life? 

MB: Many, many of those moments. I couldn’t summarize it down just to one. Meeting and marrying my husband. Giving birth to two little boys. The opportunities that my parents gave me as a young shy girl to lean into my interests and strengths, and to have a great education. The people who greenlit the internships that I got in news and, years later, took the gamble of putting a producer on air to report. Working in financial news in the midst of the financial crisis and debt crisis.

The executives who gave me the next opportunities including bringing me to CBS in DC after covering Wall Street for a decade in New York. Friends who helped keep me going when I had to make tough choices or got shot down. Colleagues who helped me learn the ropes on new beats. The network for investing in my development and ultimately giving me the opportunity to moderate Face the Nation. The amazing team of producers who work alongside me to navigate this news environment.

VD: What are the main challenges as a journalist when it comes to covering heavy/tragic topics?

MB: You have a limited amount of time you can dedicate to a story per broadcast. One of the main challenges is doing justice to the pain and devastation people are living when you have to distill a heavy or tragic topic into a single segment. We’re also human and the news weighs on us too.

At Face the Nation, we rely on CBS News’ team of correspondents to not only help set the scene for national topics we cover on a weekly basis like the economy or extreme weather, but also to provide that context and first-person interviews with people affected by a tragedy like a mass shooting or the Maui wildfire. We have the gift of an hour each Sunday and our goal to deliver our news and interviews with context and humanity for our viewers.

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Radio Has an Overloaded Spot Block Problem and Here’s How to Fix It

Raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership.

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While the radio industry insists that our medium is still king, I’m skeptical. I hope the numbers are being spun properly, I just have doubts. In either case, we’re sweeping a lot of stuff under the rug. People may still be “sampling” radio but are they listening? Do they buy what you’re selling?

The typical news/talk station airs 22 minutes of commercials per hour. When you add in five minutes of network news and spots plus recorded promos (commercials for ourselves), we’re talking half an hour of content killer.

I’m a typical listener. With rare exceptions, I only listen while I’m driving. Behind the wheel, my habit is standard: punch around my presets until I hear something of interest or at least actual content and not commercials. When a talk segment ends, I listen to the tease and then punch out. I don’t sit through what I know will be a five or six-minute commercial break. If the tease was done well and it interests me, I’ll try to remember to come back. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

Here in Dallas these days, I mainly listen to our two excellent sports talk stations, The Ticket and The Fan. And I always smile when I hear them constantly trying to convince me that by choosing to listen to their particular station I’m part of an exclusive club. That’s nothing new really but the branding is ingenuous.

105.3 The Fan cleverly labels listeners “TOLOs”, implying people who wisely “Turn it On, Leave it On”. The Ticket merely plays the highest authority card, referring to their listeners as “P1s”. I know what it means but the average listener has no clue. It’s an inside joke. I’ve never heard the station explain it but their faithful listeners supposedly wear the badge proudly.

I’ve never seen any figures on shared listening but I expect the crossover between the two sports talk stations would be nearly 100%. People do what I do, punch back and forth looking for interesting content.

After hiring and inspiring great talent and setting the tone for a station’s identity, a news/talk programmer’s primary job is trying to navigate a sea of clutter. There are various ways to do it but anything short of reducing the number and length of commercial breaks is just rearranging the furniture.

One of the most common tactics is promoting a commercial-free segment. In my opinion, that’s just calling attention to the problem and admitting that commercials are a necessary evil. I’ll bet your clients love that.

I admire and pity radio salespeople who have always had to fight to survive in a dog-eat-dog world but now also have to sell clients on the idea that their money will be well spent even though their message might be buried in the middle of a five-minute cluster.

Are there too many commercials on the air? Hell yes. 22 minutes per hour for talk and news? Why do people sit through that?

They don’t. They pop around the dial as I do, and are increasingly learning that podcasts offer information and entertainment with far fewer interruptions. The RTDNA and the RAB don’t want to admit that. Nielsen puts a rosy spin on the numbers because broadcasters are their main customers. Even highly respected news outlets report the idea that radio is doing great but read this and see if you don’t share my skepticism below the headline:

Americans Listen To Far More Radio Than Podcasts—Even Young People, New Data Shows

“American adults still spend an overwhelming majority of their daily listening time on radio broadcasts despite the rise in popularity of podcasts and music streaming services, new Nielsen data on listening habits in the first quarter of 2024 shows. Though younger audiences are starting to buck that trend by choosing on-demand audio at a higher rate than their elders.” Forbes, May 1, 2024

I’m not the smartest guy in any room. I’ve never been a GM or Sales Manager. I have been an air talent and program director, though, and I can smell as well as hear the problem. There are far too many commercial interruptions for radio to survive this way for much longer.

Retired WGN morning legend Spike O’Dell agrees.

“Are spot breaks too long? Coming from the talent side of this issue my answer is absolutely. I’m a realist and understand that they’re necessary but a five-minute stop set is a show killer and a ratings killer,” he said. “Why in the world would a listener want to wait through that amount of time unless the content was the most fascinating subject ever?

“When I left the airwaves, we were at 23 minutes of spots an hour, and even I got bored with my own show. Spot breaks and amount of spots played per hour is a long-time sore subject to discuss or ponder. But, it didn’t take this talk show host very long to learn that I was never going to win this issue. Money will always win out. Sometimes management should do the wrong thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

Journalist, former media exec, and USC professor Jerry Del Colliano agrees and has an audacious idea: do what every other industry does and raise prices.

“Charge more for spots and limit to 12 per hour.  If there is demand for more, stick to 12 and raise the price of an ad,” he said. “Programmers have known for decades that commercials don’t build time spent listening — and they aren’t doing advertisers any favors by crowding too many spots in and creating an impossible situation to help advertisers succeed.”

Guy Zapoleon is famous for his music radio expertise and innovations but he’s also a veteran radio programmer who has to deal with clutter. He agrees. Cut the spot load and raise the rates. He says it should have been done long ago.

“Telecom and the major companies becoming publicly traded companies along with overpaying for radio stations derailed that idea. Look, I’m a fan of what Now 102.3, a Hot AC type station in Canada, is doing. They only run six minutes an hour versus 12 minutes for most of the competitors but they charge more to meet budget demands. They also go overboard helping their clients with remotes and ideas to drive customers to their clients to increase their ROI value.”

Now, there’s a thought: raise rates but don’t just sell airtime. Sell your clients an exclusive opportunity for a media partnership. Offer them more personal attention, and hands-on assistance than you’ve had time for while juggling a client list and spot load that would choke a horse.

Back to Jerry for a moment. I asked him how and when programmers should design breaks. He brushed aside quarter-hour maintenance and stayed focused on the much bigger consideration.

“Where you place them is less important than the total number per hour but the idea of loading up two-quarter hours to run all your spots obviously isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and won’t work.”

Cutting more jobs can’t improve profitability. Increasing your spot load chases away your audience and your sales strategy. The only thing left is raising rates and reducing inventory.

Explain to your clients that by paying more they are getting an exclusive opportunity to be center stage rather than being shoved to the back of a very crowded bus. Assure them your programming is the best in town.

And make that true.

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Libsyn’s Rob Walch Has Watched Podcasting Grow From Infancy to Audio Juggernaut

“When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

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A photo of Rob Walch and the Libsyn logo
(Photo: Libsyn)

Libsyn Vice President of Podcaster Relations Rob Walch is one of the founding fathers of podcasting, helping and inspiring countless people to start their very own webcasts.

“I’ve been in [Podcasting] since 2004. Got in it early on. I read it in an article in Engadget on October 4th, 2004 and it said, ‘If you want a podcast, just add this enclosure tag to your blog feed and you can podcast.’ I went, what the heck does that all mean?,” he told Barrett News Media over a Zoom call.

“So I figured it out and launched a podcast. There wasn’t many, maybe 100, podcasters at the time. And my podcast was about podcasting. So it was the first podcast specifically about podcasting called podcast411.” Getting the inside scoop from other podcasters, the podcast about podcasting focused on tech and promotions.

His hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Just three years later, Rob Walch joined Libsyn. He now runs podcasting relations, business development, “and a whole lot more.”

The former engineer turned podcaster has seen a lot change since the industry’s beginnings, most notably accessibility. “When I started, Apple wasn’t in podcasting. iTunes didn’t support podcasting yet.”

A “convoluted method” of uploading, transmitting, and manually adding each podcast into iPod tracks and then syncing to iTunes was laborious, and finding a new podcast wasn’t any easier.

“There was not really any centralized directory. There was Podcast Alley and a bunch of other places. Then Apple, in June of 2005, launched iTunes and it supported podcasting and that really was like the first inflection point of podcasting.” Another change to amplify podcasting came two years later with the launch of the iPhone.

However, Walch noted the most notable change that amplified podcasting came in 2015.

“The real big one was iOS 8. When it came out, the Apple podcast app was native and people can tap this purple app on my iPhone, and ‘How come I can’t delete it?’ They they started learning about podcasting.”

Rob Walch believes Apple gave the podcasting industry so much growth because, “At one point in time it was six iOS downloads to every one Android download.” Today the ratio is less skewed with 3.2 iOS downloads to every one Android download.

“I think the other change that happened after — it wasn’t an inflection point, it was a slow burn — was all the apps that you listened to music on began to have podcast directories … I think that, combined with everything else that led to where podcasting became ubiquitous, where we are today.”

Rob Walch also noted no matter what you read, “Apple Podcasts, is the number one place where podcasts are consumed. It’s 50% of consumption.”

Today, Walch believes the biggest trend in podcasting might be hindering to the audience. “People overly expecting video to take them to the next level and finding out that that’s not really the case. I think there’s way too many people that think they can just convert a traditional audio podcast into a video podcast, and it’s going to flower and bloom. Some do. Most don’t.”

“Most people forget that the reason podcasting is popular is because there’s more time in the day to consume audio than there is video,” he later said. “And if your audience is more of a B2B audience and you’re not good with video, don’t do video. Concentrate on the audio.”

Doing this also puts your podcast in direct competition with every video maker on YouTube instead of just podcasters.

Walch’s passion for podcasting has been evident since the very beginning of his career.

“My goal has always been to help people get into podcasting and that was what podcast411 was about. It was the first that said, ‘Here’s how you podcast. Here’s how you get done.’ That was the whole idea of the podcast was to teach people how to do it. I wasn’t selling webinars, I wasn’t trying to sign people up into this mastermind group or any of that into any of those slimy, hyper-marketing type things. I just wanted people to be able to podcast.”

For those looking to take to the mic, Rob Walch has several words of wisdom.

“Anybody could do it. That there is no magic bolt. There’s no secret sauce. There’s no way you’re going to instantly grow an audience. You have to get lucky for a show, in some ways. But you also have to be dedicated to it.”

He also noted people do not ask the right questions when it comes to launching their own podcast. “You got to answer these two questions, which is: What are you going to call your show and what’s it going to be about?”

“When you go into search, it’s called predictive search results. As you start typing, it starts giving you the results. The first word in the title of your podcast is so important. So if you’re starting a podcast, the thing you really want to make sure is: What is the one word that you think people would be searching for your topic? And it’s not your name. If they know your name, they’ll find you. Put that at the end. But what’s the one word in the topic if you’re going to spend money on Google AdSense?”

Rob Walch suggests going to Google Trends and looking at the top three popular words for the topic you want your podcast to be about. He gave this example, “I had a friend whose podcast was called the Fifth Race Podcast, and people are like, ‘What’s that about?’ It was about Stargate because it was this obscure reference in Stargate to the fifth race. And if you were Stargate fan, you got it right. But that’s not what people would say, or even people that were into Stargate don’t search for the fifth race. They search for Stargate.”

“I just said to just put ‘Stargate: The Unofficial Fifth Race Podcast.’ He just changed his title around. He went from not being searched and not being found when you search Stargate, to being the number one show when you search Stargate. Just making sure you know what people are searching for and optimizing the title of your show really will help people stumble upon your show. And that’s so important to grow your show.”

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How Radio Personalities Can Be Both Likeable and Opinionated in Difficult Conversations

Don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast.

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We often talk about being as relatable as possible as a talk radio show host. Be present with where your listeners are. Think like they do. Put yourself in their shoes.

It’s easy to do on paper, but there’s always that push and pull as a talk radio show host. You’re interacting with business leaders, politicians, sports figures, and other prominent folks in your community to whom your listener may not have access.

That is part of what makes you credible in their eyes, and it’s part of what gives you insights on topics that the “average listener” cannot get access to. It’s why they listen to you.

But in the end, they — at least in part — want to listen to you because they like you and relate to you. Which means you have to relate to them. And please, don’t confuse likability with vanilla or milquetoast. Likable and wildly opinionated can, and ideally should, work in conjunction.

I bring all this up to discuss a topic that can apply to news/talk or sports talk radio hosts: stadiums and subsidies. It’s an incredible topic that can cross both formats. 

In Charlotte, city leaders are expected to vote next week on whether to approve the funding of $650 million for renovation projects at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.

In April, voters here in Kansas City rejected a ⅜-cent sales tax extension for the Chiefs and Royals. That topic is back in the forefront this week as the State of Kansas held a special session and passed legislation to use its STAR Bonds program to try to lure one or both teams to the Kansas side of the state line.

I’ve heard overwhelming media reactions suggesting stadium projects involving taxpayer subsidies are no-brainers. Cities or counties, a.k.a. Taxpayers, must help out where needed to fund the building, or upkeep of stadiums. Of course, the fear is that the team(s) will always leave their current city.

Sports media folks typically will support it because, if God forbid, a team were to move, their livelihood would be at stake. Plus, they deal directly with players, coaches, and team executives who can sell them regularly all the perks a new stadium can provide for the team and media members.

News/talk folks can fall victim to hearing too much from their political contacts who often promote and sometimes are the ones who vote on these projects. They’re influenced by lobbyists and others who are legally doing their job but are also on the payroll for the big-money entities involved. 

But who’s looking out for the little guy? That should be you.

While you may have the access and contacts in the higher-end social circles of your community, that’s not where most of your listeners live.

Political feelings always ebb and flow, but we are living in a country where populism is becoming more popular. The last few years have been hardest on those from the middle class on down. COVID’s economy benefited work-from-home white-collar workers, where one parent could stay home with kids who were stuck learning from home.

In contrast, the same economy hurt working-class folks, who were less likely to be able to work from home and certainly could not watch their kids daily as they tried to learn from home. On top of that, the stock market has gone gangbusters the last couple of years, while the working class has struggled to pay for its groceries.

The economy has been very different since COVID, depending on your socioeconomic level.

That said, as populism grows in popularity on the right and the left, understand where your radio listeners are at in their lives and their likely unwillingness, or at the very least, fair skepticism, to fund stadiums for billionaire team owners.

Don’t let your relationship with a player, coach, or team executive overly influence your opinion. Don’t let your buddy, the politician or a lobbyist, get into your ear on how amazing their plan would be.

I think back nearly 15 years, when the New York Giants and New York Jets opened MetLife Stadium to much fanfare. Then, the dreaded PSL (Personal Seat License) came into being, which simply gave fans the “rights” to purchase their seats.

It was, and remains, an all-time scam. Former WFAN host Mike Francesa obliterated the teams. To his credit, while he had relationships with the franchises going back decades and could easily afford nearly any ticket in the building, he never lost touch with where the “average fan” was.

So, as these stadium projects continue to pop up around the country—and they could be coming to a town near you soon—I’m not telling you how to think or what to say on your radio show. Just be aware of the political climate in the country today, and always put yourself in your listener’s shoes first and foremost. You’ll never regret it. And they’ll trust you even more for it.

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