With over 15 years of print and broadcast reporting on her resume, Sharon Epperson has become one of the country's most recognizable financial reporters. As an on-air correspondent for CNBC, and a contributor to several magazines and newspapers, she regularly gives financial advice to thousands of Americans. Surprisingly, she has little background in finance. "I did not major in economics and I don't have an MBA," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But I took several economics courses in college and graduate school. I also took a variety of other subjects and was exposed to people from all over the world. So when I'm interviewing the CEO of Marriott, for instance, I feel just as comfortable talking to him about the hotel industry as I do his Mormon faith and missionary work around the world. In the end, the most important journalistic skills are people skills." The journalism industry has agreed, awarding Epperson several high-profile awards.
Education Emphasized Early On
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the late 1960s, Sharon Epperson was reared in a home where education was paramount. Her father, David, had a doctorate in political science and public policy and spent nearly 30 years as a dean at the University of Pittsburgh. Epperson's mother, Cecilia, earned a master's degree in education, summa cum laude, and spent over 20 years working as a teacher in the Pittsburgh public school system. Both Epperson and her sister Lia were taught that education was the foundation of a successful future.
Though her family provided her with a comfortable middle-class life in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, Epperson was aware of being a minority. "At Taylor Allderdice High School, there were at most three or four other blacks in my advanced placement and accelerated courses," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It was not until after she graduated and found herself at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that she began to associate with other African-American students. "I spent almost all of my time with other black students," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I was president of the freshman black caucus—we called it The Freshman Black Table because we'd meet in the dining hall after Sunday night dinner and discuss the week's current events and campus issues. I was a member of the Black Students Association. And even though sororities and fraternities aren't recognized at Harvard, I pledged a black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, with other young women from Harvard, MIT and Wellesley College."
In Pittsburgh, Epperson had completed a media course with the Black Media Federation and interned with the Pittsburgh Press. When she entered Harvard, her goal was to become a foreign correspondent in Africa, though she pursued a degree in sociology and government. "Having a liberal arts education has been an essential asset as a journalist," she later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After graduating near the top of her class in 1990, Epperson moved to Columbia University in New York where she earned a master's in international affairs in 1993. While a student, Epperson interned as a journalist with several prominent papers, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.
Found Success On-Air
In 1993 Epperson became a correspondent with Time magazine. She traveled cross country covering everything from culture, health, and business stories to breaking news. She was in Los Angeles for the O.J. Simpson trial and contributed to a Times cover story on the Nation of Islam. She called the latter one of her most difficult assignments. Before attending a service at the group's mosque in Harlem, she was frisked several times and her pens and lipsticks were examined to determine whether they concealed knives. "I was introduced to the then-head of organization as Sharon Epperstein," she told the Journalism Jobs Web site. "I felt like they were very closed, very uncomfortable with someone from Time doing a story, even though I was African American. I was uncomfortable because I had a feeling they thought I was selling out for being there and doing that. I don't know if we eventually warmed up to each other, but I eventually got what I needed." The story won Epperson and her team a first place journalism award from the National Association of Black Journalists in 1994.
While at Time Epperson began to make television appearances as a contributor to The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and the local New York station, NY 1 News. In 1996 she made the leap to broadcast reporting full-time when she was hired by CNBC as a correspondent for their business division. Soon she branched out into personal finance, and has since reported on financial issues for NBC's Nightly News, Today, and Early Today programs. She also began to pen finance articles for USA Today, Self magazine, and Time's "Your Money" column. Of her movement between print and broadcast journalism, Epperson told Journalism Jobs, "I like both. I really like putting pictures with the words and letting people tell their stories. And what I think I bring to both mediums as a journalist is being able to tell someone else's story maybe a little bit better than they can, or more quickly, but then allow them to tell it in their own words." She continued, "I love what I'm doing on television right now, but I would never want to give up being able to write and have the words there for me to go back on because the memory of television is it's here one second and then people often forget."
Epperson's work was recognized with several prestigious industry awards, including a 2001 Gracie Allen Award from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television for her series "Women at the Top" and a first place award from the New York Association of Black Journalists for a story she did on Martin Luther King's legacy and economic disparity. As her career blossomed, Epperson started a family. She married Christopher Farley, an author and senior correspondent for Time, soon after joining CNBC. Despite the pressures of a job that demands full-time commitment whenever a story breaks, Epperson has made her family priority number one. "I don't do the 2 a.m. shifts anymore," she told Redbook. "What matters to me is being there for my family, for Chris." She took eight months maternity leave after the birth of her first child, and was taking another extended maternity leave at the beginning of 2005 for her second child. That attitude has helped Epperson ensure that her success goes beyond the evening's broadcast. "If having a personal life is being successful," she told Redbook, "I'm there."
Working It Out: Financial Fitness for Couples, HarperResource, 2006.
At a Glance …
Time, New York, NY, correspondent, 1993-96;The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, PBS, correspondent, 1993-96; CNBC Business News, New York, NY, on-air correspondent, 1996–; Self, "Your Money Maven," columnist, 1999–; USA Today, "MoneySmart," columnist, 2005–.
National Association of Black Journalists, First Place for Team Coverage, 1994; Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television, Gracie Allen Award, 2001; New York Association of Black Journalists, Trailblazer of the Year Award, 2003; Association of Women in Communications, All-Star Award, 2003; New York Association of Black Journalists, First Place Award for News Commentary, 2005.
Office—c/o CNBC, 900 Sylvan Ave., Englewood Cliff, NJ, 07632.
Redbook, September 1, 2000.
"JournalismJobs.com Talks with CNBC's Sharon Epperson," Journalism Jobs,www.journalismjobs.com/sharon_epperson.cfm (May 30, 2005).
"Prominent Pittsburghers Speak About What Post-Secondary Education Meant to Them," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, www.post-gazette.com/localnews/20031022etabvignettesp8.asp (May 30, 2005).
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