Finding your rhythm as a rookie anchor in cable news, circa 2009, is in large part about learning to tap your inner outrage. On the night of Tuesday, June 30, Dennis Kneale found his. At the time, the 51-year-old business reporter was several weeks into a tryout, anchoring CNBC’s 8 p.m. hour. He stared at the camera in a TV studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and lambasted the anonymous bloggers who were making fun of him on the Internet for, among other things, his recent and repeated claim that the recession was over. Mr. Kneale called the “digital dickweeds” cowardly and cynical.
“I say dickweed because apparently it is indeed a plant akin to pond scum,” said Mr. Kneale, “and name-calling seems to be the lingua franca of the blogosphere.”
Afterward, Mr. Kneale’s producer told him that his outburst was poetry, the best thing he’d done on the show. The next night, Mr. Kneale returned to the subject. He called the blogosphere the “bitterest realm on earth,” and noted that he didn’t spend much time reading “the vitriol spewing out of these miscreants and these digital imbeciles,” but that, apparently, they were watching him. “Nanny-nanny boo-boo,” said Mr. Kneale.
In the end, it wasn’t as dramatic as Glenn Beck crying. Nor was it as menacing as the anger regularly uncorked by the more robust mega fauna of the cable news tundra like Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann. But it was a start. Something to build on.
SINCE JOINING CNBC in the fall of 2007, Mr. Kneale has been working hard to adjust to television. By training and disposition, he is a print guy. He came of age professionally at The Wall Street Journal, where he worked for 16 years, as a reporter and editor. Then he spent another decade at Forbes, eventually serving as the magazine’s managing editor. TV was tricky. His tendency out of the gate was to use too many charts, too many facts, too many details. He liked to think of print journalism as taking a keg full of information and reducing it down to a beer can. Good TV news, he has learned, is even more distilled. It is the first burst of pressurized air flying out of the beer can.
During his first year and a half at CNBC, Mr. Kneale worked alongside several anchors on the tag-team news show Power Lunch. In late April, CNBC executives decided to give him a five night tryout anchoring the 8 p.m. hour. Some 14 weeks later, Mr. Kneale is still in the anchor chair.
“Now they’ve kind of forgotten that it’s just a tryout,” said Mr. Kneale. “Don’t tell them. … It may not last.”
Mr. Kneale was sitting across from The Observer at the Redeye Grill on Seventh Avenue on a recent Monday afternoon, digging into a chopped Asian salad, and mulling the trajectory of his first solo mission in cable news. Mr. Kneale compared the move from Power Lunch to 8 p.m. to his transition a decade or so earlier from The Wall Street Journal, where individual reporters rarely stand out from the larger brand, to Forbes, where individualism was prized. For the first time in his nascent TV career, Mr. Kneale could do his own thing.
“During the day, it’s like what’s happening and what does it mean right then,” said Mr. Kneale. “But at nighttime, there’s a chance to say, ‘Wait a minute, take a breath. No more emails, no more texts, no more headlines. Let’s decide what makes us happy.’”
And, more importantly, what makes you mad.
Over the years, picking a fight with another member of the media has proven to be a reliable staple of the cable news genre. But historically, the strategy has been to “punch up” at a bigger target, not to beat down on pygmy bloggers struggling at the lower rungs of the trade.
Mr. Kneale said his beef with anonymous bloggers was not some phony yelp for attention. “This is not an attempt by me to stand out,” said Mr. Kneale. “It turns out that I stand out anyway. Unfortunately, I have a high obnoxious quotient. I try and reign it in. Maybe one thing new is that at 8 o’clock at night, I don’t have to.”
Mr. Kneale traces his genuine distaste for anonymous online criticism to a cover story he edited at Forbes in the fall of 2007, titled “Hiding Behind the Net.” The article, by Victoria Murphy Barret, revolved around the tragic story of a teenage girl who crashes her father’s Porsche at high speeds on the highway, crushing her to death. Afterward, a mob of anonymous Web users posted police photographs of the girl’s mangled remains on various Internet sites, along with commentary mocking the carnage. When the family eventually attempted to have the photos of their dead daughter removed, they were met with a mix of malice and indifference.