CNBC News Anchor Meg Tirrell: Five Things You Need To Thrive & Succeed As A Journalist
“More responsibility, more money. I’m still working on this myself. But it’s well documented that women generally don’t negotiate as hard or as much in salary discussions. When I started my first job, I learned that a man who was hired at the same time and same level held out for more money, “just because.” When I left that job, I learned a (different) man who was doing the same job as me was earning about 30% more. It’s not easy, but it’s something I wish I had thought about more earlier in my career.”
I had the pleasure to interview Meg Tirrell. She is the host of a series at CNBC (mainly working with awesome producer Jodi Gralnick) called Modern Medicine, where they tell stories about incredible science that’s changing the way we treat disease. And through daily beat reporting at CNBC they shed light on the incredibly complicated system of drug pricing and paying for health care in this country — from headline-grabbers like Martin Shkreli to the systemic pressures that drive health costs higher for everyday people.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started out in journalism hoping to be an arts critic — until my wonderful advisor in graduate school at Northwestern convinced me to take his business news class. I learned that covering this world isn’t all about numbers and money — it’s about people. From there I went to Bloomberg News as a print journalist and stayed for seven years, spending the bulk of my time there reporting on health, science and medicine. Despite having no scientific talents myself, I feel at home in this world because both of my parents are scientists. And talk about a beat that’s about people; there’s perhaps nothing more personal than our health. I moved to CNBC in 2014, making the jump from print to TV, and have loved getting to tell these fascinating stories about the world of medicine in a new medium.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The funniest story is probably the time our show Fast Money had me sitting side-by-side with Regis Philbin, attempting to deliver a story about the drug Cialis. None of us made it very long without cracking up.
The most interesting stories, to me, have been the public health crises I’ve covered, from Ebola to Zika and even flu. There is a fundamental disconnect between the pace of infectious disease and the pace of science, such that we’ll always be several fatal steps behind disasters. There are efforts underway to change this, and I’ve been fascinated learning more about them.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We’ve got some great pieces in store for our Modern Medicine series this year, including digging into the science of the flu vaccine and the vital quest to develop one that works against multiple strains of the virus. The severe flu season this year is a serious reminder of how important this work is. I’m also really excited for CNBC’s first health-care event, Healthy Returns, March 28 in NYC, where we’ll get to dig into awesome issues like genome sequencing, the pace of developing new medicines, and the impact of technology on our health, among many others.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Well, Regis. But, more generally, the most famous people I get to talk to are famous in the world of science: Jennifer Doudna, pioneer of the CRISPR gene editing technology that’s changing the way we think about medicine; Francis Collins, director of the NIH, and part of the team that discovered the gene that causes the devastating disease cystic fibrosis. Getting to talk with people doing such incredible work is one of the best parts of my job.
On the flip side, Martin Shkreli is probably among the most famous people I’ve covered in depth on this beat — or, as some would say, most notorious. Covering his drug-pricing tactics, and then later his criminal trial, I was grateful for the years I’ve spent covering this world so I was able to cut through the noise and put his actions into context.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
§ Barbara Walters (living history): a pioneer in what was a man’s world.
§ Maya Angelou: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46446/still-i-rise
§ Mr. Rogers: I know this is geeky, but I’m inspired by such kindness. This gets me every time.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in journalism?
This is not an easy business, but journalism’s role in society is as important as ever. If you decide to go into journalism, here’s my biggest piece of advice: learn how to report. It doesn’t matter what medium you’re in — TV, print, radio, digital — if you can report, you’re good. That means holding accuracy above all else, knowing how to find information and verify it, and then how to convey it accurately and quickly. First, learn how to report and you’ll always be valuable in a newsroom.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I cover a topic that people generally don’t pay attention to — until they have to. We don’t want to have to think too much about medicines, because we hope to never need them. But when we or a loved one is sick, good information is vital. I think about my job as providing a view into the complex world of science, regulation and business that come together to influence which drugs are developed and how, and I hope that is helpful to people.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
Putting good information out into the world. Holding powerful companies and individuals accountable. And getting to learn about awesome science and talk with inspiring people — from patients to scientists to entrepreneurs — is just really fun.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Don’t worry about where you’re going to be in 10 years, or 5 years. Worry about doing a great job at whatever you’re doing now — the next thing will figure itself out from there. I’m so happy doing what I’m doing, but when I left college I thought I was going to be an arts critic. Now I cover medicine for CNBC — I could never have plotted my course here, but I’m so glad it’s where I ended up.
2) Know when to ask for more. More responsibility, more money. I’m still working on this myself. But it’s well documented that women generally don’t negotiate as hard or as much in salary discussions. When I started my first job, I learned that a man who was hired at the same time and same level held out for more money, “just because.” When I left that job, I learned a (different) man who was doing the same job as me was earning about 30% more. It’s not easy, but it’s something I wish I had thought about more earlier in my career.
3) Don’t compare yourself (too much). One person’s success does not mean your failure. I remember when a peer of mine was promoted from reporter to editor and I beat myself up that I hadn’t reached that step. Years later, I’m still a reporter — and loving it. Run your own race.
4) Embrace cooking. This is more of a life skill than a career one, but when you’re starting out in journalism, you’re not making much money. Especially living in a city like NYC, cooking for yourself will save a lot of dough and probably be much healthier.
5) Persist. When I was ready to move on from my first job, I knew I wanted to do something different but still loved covering science and medicine. I was introduced to the editor in chief at CNBC, Nik Deogun, through the reporter who covered this beat here before me, Mike Huckman. It was a year from that intro to when I started working at CNBC, and in that year I probably emailed Nik every few weeks, just to make sure he knew I was still there, and still interested. Persistence pays off.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Christiane Amanpour. She was Rory Gilmore’s idol and she’s also one of mine.