Pretty Smarts: Trish Regan
Trish Regan grew up in Hampton and was Miss NH in 1993. Now she's with Bloomberg Television where her charming delivery and good looks help take the edge off some recent ugly years for the global markets.
Covering the economy might sound like a boring beat for a TV journalist, but for Regan it's the launchpad for adventures of the body and the mind. After all, she says, every story, from terrorism to drug trafficking to runway fashions, has an economic angle.
Regan's been the go-to gal for economic reports for the broadcast and cable networks for years, and in January she got a gig every weekday hosting the "Street Smart" talk show for Bloomberg Television. One of her first acssignments had her cruising on a yacht and swimming with whales off the coast of the Dominican Republic with Virgin Group Limited's founder Richard Branson.
Swimming with whales and Richard Branson, what was that like?
Richard kept saying, "It's safe, it's safe. There's nothing to worry about." Yeah, but Richard, that's coming from you. We know that you are willing to take on unbelievable risks. So he grabbed me and we jumped in together the first time we spotted a whale right off the boat. I had what I'm calling a momentary panic attack when I realized there was this giant whale ten feet away from me and there was nothing separating us but the sea water. I started swimming back and everyone said no, no, follow Richard. I said, "But he's going straight for the whale." I went back in a few more times and did manage to get a little bit closer, though not as close as Richard did. At one point he almost pet one of the baby whales. He was that close.
Describe one of your less tranquil adventures.
I speak Spanish and I've done a lot of traveling throughout Latin America in my career. There's an arena in Paraguay I did some reporting from known as the Tri-border where I was doing a story on terrorist financing. It's considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world – It's the Wild Wild West where anything and everything is for sale. I remember the network saying we could send you to Iraq, that's no issue because we have contacts there. If we send you down to the Tri-border Region it's really no-man's land and there's no one that takes responsibility for anyone's safety there. I eventually convinced them that the story was worth doing and that we could take the necessary safety precautions, which at times included wearing bullet-proof vests when we were in certain neighborhoods. I was nominated for an Emmy for investigative reporting. A large Middle Eastern population was living in this area manufacturing counterfeit goods and then selling them all over the world, and those profits were going to Hez-Bollah and other terrorist activities. After my report the State Department came out and declared this area a known area for terrorist financiers and named a bunch of people I had profiled as people Americans could not do business with.
What happened to the reporting of economics that's taken it from a wonky boring job to such a field of adventure?
Well, I think the economy is the number one story that's dominating the headlines across the globe right now. So I'm on the front lines of the biggest story of our generation. I've personally always found it fascinating. My uncle was an economist and I remember as a teenager sitting with him and talking about basic economics and being absolutely fascinated by the subject. It's very clear that this is the number one issue that Americans are focused on right now, and as a result it's probably become a hot spot for journalists.
Must be frustrating that American's are focused on it from such a provincial way while you are looking at the global dynamics across borders and continents. Aren't we mostly just worried if our taxes are going to go up next year?
I would disagree. I think people are very aware of the issues that are going on in Europe right now and how that could affect our economy here. Europe is going through a very similar situation to what we went through in 2008 and it's critical that the situation be resolved for our economy to be on stable ground. The world is very much interlinked. What happens here has a big effect around the world and what happens around the world affects what happens here.
We just did a story on legalizing pot here in NH any lessons from your reporting in California and Colorado that might apply to a small state like ours?
Well, there are some unintended consequences, economic and social, to making a drug like marijuana illegal. You are artificially driving up the price and making it very attractive and profitable to be in the marijuana trade. The problem is, because it's illegal, it also encourages violence. Sixty percent of Mexican drug profits come from marijuana because it's the most profitable drug in the world. This is my own opinion, but to deny someone who is suffering from a debilitating illness a drug that many in the medical community will tell you can help you, while simultaneously creating an artificial market for something, you run the risk of having more problems than you need to have.
But increased availability must have some unintended bad consequences as well.
I'm going to point you to a very interesting study that was done in Portugal. They decriminalized all drugs. You would not go to prison for it. You were offered but not required to get medical help. It was a revolutionary idea. They were having such a problem with heroin addiction and they didn't know what to do, so they decided to try something totally different. Ten years later they have found that drug use has going down across the board and young people are using far fewer drugs, including marijuana. They consider the program very much a success. The radical step of decriminalization.
In an interview after that story, you said you had never smoked pot. You also said you had never eaten ketchup.
Well, I figure I've gone this long I may as well keep it up. But you know, I've got two little girls (twins) and they love ketchup. I wasn't going to let them have it but my husband said he wasn't going to have them grow up in a house where you don't eat ketchup. When they were a year-and-a-half old he was at McDonald's and he gave them some french fries with ketchup and my gosh, did they love it. The last time we were just out with my parents and they had french fries and they each had a bowl of ketchup.
I guess that shows what happens when you try to keep things away from your kids. When they get it, they overindulge.
You are a Phillips Exeter Academy honor graduate. Any prep school memories you care to share (or maybe forget)?
Actually, it was great. Exeter prepared me for the career I've chosen because they encourage curiosity. That's the number one skill or trait of any good journalist, and they encourage the open discussion of topics. So all the classes, even math classes, were done around a table with no more than twelve students with give and take discussions. You tried to push each other intellectually. It developed my skill sets in terms of learning to speak, articulate an opinion or ask a provocative question.
That formula of people sitting around a table talking seems to the formula for many new programs now days.
Yes, and it's what we're using here on "Street Smart." I have two co-hosts and we bring other guests on and it's all give and take interaction so you can hear as many different angles as possible.
Delving into the past leads me to ask about your Miss NH title. You even got a special award for your singing in the Miss America pageant. Do you still perform?
Just for my little girls. I sing a lot of lullabies, but I don't perform anymore. To pursue opera, you really need to give it 100 percent.
What was your first real gig as a singer?
I'd gone to Europe and did some auditions. I came back to the states and I was struggling. I made the decision to go back to school and do something completely different. On the day I got my acceptance letter from Columbia here in New York, I also got a call from an opera house in Germany and they were offering a contract to come over for a year to do all the leading soprano roles. I remember really having to sit down at that crossroads. I chose the pathway I chose and never looked back – I'm thankful I made the decision I did every day.
How about as a child in NH? Any experiences then?
I was involved in theatre since I was a very little kid. I took piano lessons in North Hampton from the time I was about three and a half. When I was around five years old I was preparing for one of my first piano recitals, and I remember how my hands would shake so badly because I'd get so nervous just before I went on. I somehow convinced my piano teacher to let me sing, because I knew I had more control over my voice than my fingers. I was involved in Theatre by the Sea in Portsmouth. I did an Equity production of "Annie" with I was about 10 years old.
One of the orphans, but I got my break one night. The regular Annie, who been on the Broadway tour, had done it for two years and had never missed a performance. One night I came home and had the wig in my hand and the costume and said to my parents, "You'll never guess, but Bridget is sick." I got my big shot. I got to be Annie.
I think I learned how to sing off those Annie 8-track cassettes.
Do you think your pageant experience contributed to your success on TV?
Well, I'd had my Exeter background that had trained me how to think on my feet – how to have an interesting discussion – and in Miss America, the interview question is quite a bit of your score. It was natural for me to be able to speak in the interview process. You have to be able to relate to lots of different people – you have to be able to think on your feet and those are skills you learn in a pageant. The good news is at least I don't have to be in high heels and a swim suit. That's hard. Walking in high heels and a swim suit is a skill unto itself. And one I don't miss.
Obviously it must help to have physical beauty to get a job on TV, but does it bother you that a Google search for your name also brings up the word "hot?"
I didn't know that. [She laughs]. Look, when you are on television trying to take care of yourself and look your best, that just comes with the territory. Anyone who's done TV makes sure they go on with their makeup on. The reality is you can't fake this. Certainly you cannot fake business news. You either know this or your don't, and people could see through you in two seconds if you don't actually have a real grasp of the economy, the markets and the companies you are covering.
I know you have an avid fan base. Do you get mobbed on the streets occasionally or maybe just on Wall St.?
People do recognize me and it's amazing what they know. They always ask about the kids, how old they are and sometimes they even know their names and that's nice. It's good that people feel a connection and I certainly appreciate hearing that. It's wonderful I can have a connection to the viewer base.
It must be especially interesting to have such a connection as a news person when what you've essentially been delivering for the past few years is bad news.
Yeah, it's been a tough road for the economy. Believe me, I'd rather be delivering good news than bad, but I think people have a craving to understand what's going on. As a result financial journalists are pretty critical at a time like this for Americans who want to make educated choices about what to do with their money or what kind of economic policies are going to be best for the country going forward.
Handling such serious topics must make mistakes even more embarrassing and I know mistakes happen. Anything particularly embarrassing happen to you recently that you'd be willing to tell me?
Well, I did forget my swim suit last week when I was sailing off with Richard Branson and there we were 10 hours off the coast. I think the producer wanted to strangle me, but the good news is Richard had an extra wetsuit in exactly my size, so we were covered.
I wonder what that says about Richard Branson that he's always prepared to take shapely women into the water.
He had about 30 wetsuits. He takes lots of guests out all the time and his wife was on board as well, so there was no impropriety suggested.
I joined Bloomberg because it's a tremendous organization that I see as the future of news. They've got tremendous resources with over 2,300 reporters around the globe in more than 140 bureaus. For me it's an opportunity to tell a story – the story of the economy and the markets in a much more detailed, much more intense way than I've ever been given.
"Street Smart" covers the market closely. We look at the big events that are affecting trading not just on a day to day basis, but looking ahead. I'm leading the election coverage here.
It's interesting talking about how New Hampshire relates to what I do for a living and it relates in a very big way. I'll tell you a story:
When I was in first grade, Walter Mondale came to the state to campaign. He was at my parents' house in our front driveway giving a speech and I went out there with my little tape recorder. I taped the entire speech. The next day I went into my class and I played excerpts from the speech. I joke that that was my very first reporting experience. I think that growing up in a place like New Hampshire, where you feel so connected to the election process, has really benefitted me in my career. Granted, I cover everything from an economics perspective, so when I cover the election I'm not looking at the horse race or the mud slinging – I'm looking at who has the best economic plan for our country right now, who has the best policies and who can really be the best CEO for America. But when I think about my interest in this field I can trace a lot of it back to my roots in New Hampshire having gone through the primary process every four years.
Is there anything you cannot find an economic angle on?
Every single story relates back to the economy in some way shape or form, so there's a lot of storytelling for us in the financial community to do and there's a lot of storytelling I want to do here at Bloomberg. I'm really excited to roll up my sleeves and get started.