Behind the Camera: Diane Dwyer on working in Television

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You have seen her covering everything from the earthquake to Japan to the Winter Olympics. NBC Bay Area Reporter Diane Dwyer is a Bay Area native and has been working in television journalism for over 20 years. What you may not know is that Diane is a graduate of our Haas School of Business and is a current Haas professor teaching UGBA 167: Media Consulting. I was fortunate to visit the NBC Bay Area studio and see Diane in action. In between the 5 o’clock and 11 o’clock newscasts, I was able to sit down with Diane in her cubicle and talk to her about everything from her days at Haas to her everyday work as an NBC Reporter. I think many will find Ms. Dwyer’s journey from working in banking and taking risks to get to a career she loved very interesting and inspiring. Afterall, my motivation for interviewing individuals like Mr. Sandy Alderson and Ms. Diane Dwyer is to encourage students to seek the career they want even though it may not be under the ABCs.

Being a Haas alum, what advice do you have for current Haas students?
I graduated from Haas when we were down in the basement of Barrows Hall that is very different from how Haas is today—it’s alittle nicer. I focused on accounting and finance because numbers were my strengths despite the fact that I write for a living. My advice for students is to reach outside of Haas. I love the new electives that Haas offers such as Sandy’s class and my Media Consulting class which are more off the beaten path of Business. What I wish I did as a student was taking that random History and English class and learning those different perspectives. English in particular is a class I suggest students continue to take because knowing how to write as a businessperson is vitally important no matter what business you end up in.

My other piece of advice for students that if what you’re doing is not working, you’re young so don’t be afraid to change it. I mean, I went to b-school, my father was an accountant so that was the path I was going to take but I then realized that wasn’t the path wasn’t for me. It is hard to change when you have invested a lot of time, money, and effort into one career and switch but I’m so glad I did. My math background and my accounting and finance background has served me very well in television and journalism but I don’t think I would have had happy and as rewarding a career if I stayed where I was. The first couple of years out of college are the best. It is an easy time to risk because you don’t have a mortgage, kids, and all that stuff going on. 

With a background ranging from financial services to television journalism, can you share your story of how you ended up where you are today?
Well after college, I spent a year working in corporate and investment banking with Chemical Bank. I was able to spend three months in New York, which was fabulous, and with my great education at Haas the work came easy for me. Later, I went to work in the San Francisco office of Chemical Bank. It was interesting but within couple of months of working I knew that this wasn’t what I was going to do for the rest of my life. It just wasn’t a good fit.

After I quit at Chemical I was able to receive severance for three months after working there for 1 year. I was interested in television news and luckily found an opportunity after college because usually they prefer students still in college. I went down to Palm Springs for 3 months working for free at this television network and from the second week I knew this was the career for me. I loved it. I was engaged, challenged, and loved what I was doing.  I then got my first television-paying job in Butte, Montana and actually experienced their second coldest winter on record but even then I knew this was a good job for me. I then relocated to in Chico for a short time but I really wanted to come home to the Bay Area so I took another risk and quit that job. Essentially, I moved home without a job. I did part-time political consulting work and landed work in television KTVU. After about a year of part-time, they hired me full-time. What I can say is that I found my way into the place I wanted to live, the life I wanted, the career I wanted but I didn’t take the traditional route.

What courses have you taken at UC Berkeley and Haas in particular do you believe have helped you most in the field?
Well as a Haas student, I took the basic statistics and accounting. Accounting is another language because it provides you are able to recognize how numbers can be manipulated to tell a story and appear a certain way. Especially with the financial meltdown, having this background in accounting and statistics has the difference. I remember doing a story on the San Francisco SPCA and interviewing a woman who was receiving criticism on the way she was choosing to spend money on behalf of the organization. It was an in-depth interview and I remember when the cameras went off, her assistant came up and suggested that we talk about the hospital in order to address criticism about the costs associated with building it. During the interview, I got into the financials and she said that hospital generates $4 million dollars annually to support SPCA. Immediately what crossed mind in which I communicated to her was, “Is that revenue or net come?” We went round and round and then she admitted that the cost of the hospital is $5 million, which means they were operating at loss. I believe that at my level, most journalists would have the knowledge to delve deep in the way I did but I believe this experience is a testament to my business background.

What are the key personal characteristics one should possess to be successful in this field?
You have to have a huge sense of curiosity. When the events are taking place, having this curiosity innately will motivate you to learn more. Second, you have to be a great writer. My advice for Haas students is to take as many writing classes as you can whether it is marketing or English. The better writer you are prepares you for any field. Lastly, you have to be a person who loves getting behind the scenes and acting as the eyes and the ears of the public. There is a responsibility that comes with being in this position because you are able to find something that shouldn’t be taking place or help get people safe. There are days when I don’t feel good like when events are occurring like the earthquake in Japan but most days are great.

How do most people enter the field of Television Journalism?
The field has changed so much since I’ve started. I mean, CNN had just gotten on air. What has started since then is this huge interest in business news. Prior to these networks airing extensive financial coverage, the only arenas where people can access business news were on the radio or in the newspaper. If you have the business background, you may seek opportunities to work for these networks. On another note, the evolution of newspapers has given rise to citizen journalists. I’m still on the fence about how I feel about these individuals but more content can’t be a bad thing. The key is finding what is worthy among the masses of information.  For a business student, you may consider starting a blog on hyperlocal coverage of business in Oakland. Today, there is an opportunity to achieve that on a grassroots level.

Students at Haas often talk about “ideal courses” that go beyond the ABCs. Do you have any suggestions of courses that Haas could offer?
The more courses Haas could offer staying on the cutting edge, the better. If we could provide at the undergraduate level a class where you are admitted by submitting a business plan then are given the opportunity to launch a business in that semester would be great. Theory is important but the real part is important as well. I think that is why Dean Rich Lyons has brought in people like Sandy and me because we have that real-world experience. I think Rich Lyons is doing an incredible job and has really opened up the box of ideas so I am impressed.

How can students make their resume standout when applying for a position in the television journalism industry?
I haven’t been looking at resumes on that level for awhile so my advice is more theoretical than real-world.  If I’m examining a resume, I look for sincerity. I don’t want to see all these key words but I want to see what’s real. I know that I am the exception but I believe that seeing one thing a person has done well versus a large amount of internships shows passion and strength of character. Afterall, once you get to where you want to be in organization, you will need to explain why you’re different and that may build on what you provided in your resume.

What would you say are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part is that I am constantly being challenged, getting new information and able to learn new things. I am a great conversationalist because of what I learn on the job, I can talk about anything from unicycling to the Olympics.

The worst parts are the crazy hours and prioritizing job and family. As a mother of two and wife, as much as I love getting that information, traveling to other places is no longer what I want to do. I work on Saturday and Sunday, which I like because it lets me do my job as a mom. There are a lot of divorces in this industry because trying to balance is hard. There also have been so many cutbacks with the economy. It is hard to lose friends who are finding it difficult to get back in.

Describe your typical work routine.
My routine begins during the week after I drop off my kids at school. I’m at home researching the news of the days because it is my responsibility to stay up-to-date whether I’m working or not. When it is a workday, I have a 9:30AM conference call talking about about what is important and what is not. Then at 3PM, I have another conference call about the next steps. When I get in, I check in with the producers then begin writing and editing copies for the newscasts. There isn’t a lot of chat time but I try to connect with people especially the writers. Feedback is huge and I have no interest in not helping people get better. When I make a mistake, I am the first one to call myself out but I make sure there is not second or third time. Make a new mistake everyday by all means just don’t repeat.

Besides being a reporter for NBC Bay Area, you are also an entrepreneur. Can you tell me more about Dwyer Media Strategy?
Around the same time I started looking around to teach at Cal and working 2 days a week at NBC, I was looking into getting some media consulting work. It has been really interesting watching that evolve. The first jobs weren’t a good fit but I found a company that was perfect fit. I am currently working with three really good companies that connect with me. I provide media strategy, marketing, branding, and signage design. It is very different from my journalism career but I have learned a lot in the process. I have found a place where I can do what I love, managed to have all these jobs and still get to be a mom. For women, as you go out there in the real world, the more you can look at how much you like the job, try to look long-term and see if this job will fit in the life you want in the future.

After the interview, I was able to tour the NBC Bay Area studios further. Here are some photos from my tour:

I would like to thank Ms. Dwyer and everyone at NBC Bay Area for being so welcoming. It was truly a great experience. Please note that UGBA 167: Media Consulting  will be offered in Fall 2011. As you choose your classes, why not take Ms. Dwyer’s class?

Good luck on finals everyone! 

If you have suggestions or ideas of content you want to see in the Haas Undergraduate Students Blog, feel free to shoot me an-email!

Catherine J. Limcaco
Class of 2012
Go Bears!

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