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Alumni in Media: Tanaya Macheel '08

Alumni in Media: Tanaya Macheel '08

As a reporter, anchor and producer, Tanaya Macheel '08 covers the future of money and finance for Cheddar, a livestreaming financial news network.

The following is an interview with Tanaya Macheel, originally obtained for a story in the 2019–20 Convent & Stuart Hall Bulletin featuring alumni who are adapting and thriving in the fast-paced world of media and entertainment. 

What are one or two of your fondest memories of your time at Convent?
The excitement of getting a brand new palm pilot freshman year that never really fulfilled its purpose. Also, the year we turned the cafeteria area into the Hogwarts dining hall and every teacher dressed up as a different Hogwarts professor — I feel like that really embodies the spirit of the school and the student-teacher relationships. Mostly, all my random memories with my friends in class and during free periods — several of my Convent friends are still my best friends today.

Have you always been fascinated by the world of finance and money?
I wouldn't say so, and many of the things I cover are only about 10 years old. I taught myself personal finance in my mid-20s; I was starting to make money so it was time, but also no one before had ever taught me any financial literacy. That had actually been in the corner of my mind since the end of my senior year when Mr. Stafford said something like: "If you only remember one thing from my class make it this: pay your credit card bill on time, in full, every time." Obviously, that subject was not part of the history class syllabus but it was important life advice I greatly appreciated. 

Sophisticated financial advice and investment products for retail customers have largely been inaccessible to most people for most of the history of the U.S. financial system. That took a turn a few years ago when startups began trying to digitize and democratize the same old financial products, but with better user experiences, a different business model (no more profiting on gotcha fees to customers) and lower barriers to entry (no account minimums of tens of thousands of dollars). It's a slow shift, but it's interesting and important.

What is fascinating is that regulators around the world are now re-evaluating what money is and should be. Bitcoin came out in 2008 as a system of electronic money that could be sent quickly and directly from one person to another like email, which, if successful, would remove some of the biggest financial intermediaries in the world. Those banks aren't going anywhere — which is not to say that Bitcoin has been unsuccessful, I'd argue Bitcoin's success looks different than intended. But one of the most important companies in the world today, Facebook, and various central banks, including China's, are now racing to issue their own digital currencies, which could really challenge the U.S. dollar as the world's dominant currency.

Briefly describe a few milestones in your career and how you found the intersection of journalism, finance and money. 
I knew I wanted to be a journalist before I found my beat. I left a yearlong internship in Paris at the New York Times' International Herald Tribune (now called The International New York Times) wanting to learn more about business reporting, but wasn't pulled toward any particular industry. After Paris, I moved to New York. I was watching a lot of Bloomberg News at the time, which was covering the Bitcoin price swings with surprising regularity. I'm not one of those people that read the Bitcoin whitepaper and was swept off my feet by its vision — I just wanted to be a business reporter, and it became obvious to me pretty quickly that even if Bitcoin disappeared in a few years, it would still be relevant for headlines at the time and for a while. So I bet at least the first part of my career on that trend. I got my first job at CoinDesk, the crypto and blockchain industry's go-to news resource and that was six years ago.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to become a reporter is I love learning, but I never anticipated I'd become such a mental gymnast. Covering crypto demands a lot of patience and self-teaching (the industry is very young and no one is an expert). On a daily basis, I'm learning something in history, finance, computer science, sociology, law and politics all just to understand something about money that didn't exist five or even two years ago. And each year new players enter the industry with ideas and concepts that render everything I knew until that point obsolete. 

I had always written for industry-specific publications. Cheddar is the first job I've had with a mainstream audience. By the time I moved here, in mid-2018, crypto was getting bigger and more important, and so was crypto industry news. But I wanted to do my part to close the education gap for everyone else following business news.

What are your different roles as a reporter at Cheddar
Cheddar hired me as a reporter covering everything about the future of money and finance; so cryptocurrency and it's underlying blockchain technology, payments, and fintech (saving, spending, lending and investing companies) from both consumer and corporate angles, and covering startups and legacy financial institutions alike. I break news, do exclusive interviews and write trends and analysis stories for the website, and regularly come on air to break down or weigh in on any news of the day relevant to my beat.

I'm also an anchor. I host our weekly cryptocurrency show, The Crypto Craze, and sometimes fill in on other shows in our general programming. Additionally, I'll hop into the anchor chair to conduct any interviews that fall under the digital banking and finance beat. Because of my focus on this space and the many relationships I've established in it over the last six years, I'm extremely involved in the booking and production of what we cover both in my show and across our general programming.

As the host of a weekly business news show, how do you make complex ideas easy to understand for your audience?
Covering these things on TV is hard because they're so complex and nuanced and I don't get a 1,200-word story to break it down (and who wants to read that many words anyway?), I get five or six minutes. If I'm going on air to discuss a story I always try to break it down into why it matters for consumers and why it matters for the company we're covering (or the overall industry), since it's business news we do. As the co-anchor of the show, I have to freshen up my questions but I always prepare them with that in mind: who should care about this and why?

I often ask for feedback from my friends and family as well as people in the newsroom who aren't so inside-baseball like I can be. I'll ask "What part of this is most interesting to you?" or "What part of this story would you like to understand more?" Cheddar skews younger than most of our competitors and most of our viewers have at least a rudimentary understanding of the topics I cover. There's a fair amount, I would say, of enthusiasts, but also plenty who would say they don't understand digital finance at all.

Empathy is key. Most things in this industry are created in San Francisco or New York for people in San Francisco or New York. The intentions are admirable, but most founders lack any understanding of how people outside these areas really live or what they really need. So I try to give little reality checks, ideally with the founders themselves. 

What should current Convent & Stuart Hall students know about the future of money?
The financial system we've always known is becoming more and more fully automated in efforts to reduce fraud, increase equality in access for customers and ultimately to make markets more efficient. Regardless of what currencies people use — Bitcoin, a digital U.S. dollar, a Facebook-created digital coin — companies in digital finance or otherwise will continue to seek lower-cost ways to transact digital money. Paper cash probably won't go away.

How do you spend your time outside of work? 
I'm an instructor at The Bar Method, which was a long time dream of mine, so when I'm not working for Cheddar you can find me teaching or taking classes. I'm also on the Young Professionals Board of Figure Skating in Harlem, an organization I've wanted to be part of since I was a child (I skated competitively growing up). Otherwise, I'm not one of those people that goes out to unwind; I really like to cozy up in my apartment whenever I can.

How does your experience at an all-girls school influence your ongoing efforts to empower and enhance the lives of young women and girls?
It's helped make me passionate about helping women and girls realize their strength and share it with each other. Community has always been important to me. As a competitive figure skater, I always felt a sense of teamwork, even camaraderie in my community (of mostly girls), even in such an individually-focused sport. Convent was similar: everyone was such a high achiever with big goals. I was constantly surrounded by other inspiring girls who were also fiercely focused on themselves and in being so, motivating me to level up, knowingly or unknowingly. So there was some competition. Often it was friendly, though sometimes it wasn't. There are things to learn from both, as well as the competition you have with yourself. And I'm glad to say the perception in the general public of competition among women has changed in the last few years for the better — less cattiness, more teamwork.