Fame & Fortune: Deborah Norville

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Deborah Norville has been through wars over the course of her career, surviving a controversial and contentious stint as co-anchor of the “Today” show that saw her down-home, beauty pageant good looks work to her distinct disadvantage. It’s encouraging, then, to see how stable her life has become.

Since 1995, Norville has been the anchor of the syndicated newsmagazine “Inside Edition.” During that time, the mother of three and two-time Emmy Award winner has avoided the public turmoil that she faced in her early years in TV.

These days, Norville enjoys the freedom to pursue the sort of stories she might not have been able to on the network morning shows. For one story, Norville spent a week as an inmate at the Davidson County Jail in North Carolina to show firsthand what conditions were like behind bars. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she flew on an F-16 with the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard.

Outside of journalism, Norville has turned her passion for knitting into a fun, side career. She released the book “Knit with Deborah Norville” earlier this year and has launched her own line of yarns, called the Deborah Norville Collection.

Bankrate spoke to Norville about her career, the joy she finds in journalism and her advice for those who lost their money in the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Bankrate: After all this time and considering the twists and turns of your career, does this job still satisfy you as a journalist?

Deborah Norville: It’s not difficult to be satisfied because the news focus has changed a lot during the course of my career. When I first started in television, a sound bite would run more than a minute. Now on “Inside Edition,” we will do packages — which is our term for a complete, self-contained report — that might only last 13 seconds. Were I a child today, I would probably be diagnosed with ADD. So it’s a perfect career because it changes like that.

And it’s even more interesting now, because I think the happy outcome of the presidential election, the financial collapse, the subprime mortgage crisis and the seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan is that people’s attention has come back to what I personally think matters a whole lot more (such as) where this country’s position is in the world vis-a-vis the opinion of the rest of the world. Are we making the right decisions individually with respect to our futures — whether it’s about our kids’ educations or our own 401(k)s — and have we been smart about the way we financed our house? People are asking themselves more questions about their personal lives, about their lives as citizens and about our nation’s role in the larger world, and I think that’s a really healthy outcome.

Bankrate: You write a lot on your Web site and your blog about journalism in general. What’s your take on the state of journalism today?

Deborah Norville: Technology has changed enormously the way journalism is done. I think it puts a bigger burden on journalists to do the story better than the citizen blogger, who may have his or her opinions, and those (opinions) may be based on absolutely stellar information or they may be based on some of this malarky that gets forwarded by e-mail. I think the state of journalism today is an opportunity to step up and report the news in a way that’s going to be useful for our news consumers. If we do our job well, then those people who are sounding the death knell of the newspaper business and the decline of the broadcasting business may have to eat a few of their words because I think people recognize how important useful information is.

Bankrate: For you personally then, given that you have a good job, how has everything going on with the economy affected you?

Deborah Norville: (Knocks on wood.) Our retirement savings are not the attractive number they were a year ago, but we have not been adversely impacted. My husband and I are very conservative. We’re self-made people. I don’t come from money; he doesn’t come from money. He doesn’t come from this country; I don’t come from this part of the world. We came to New York as two single people who really didn’t know anybody, and we worked really hard. We’re blessed to be successful with our careers and to have the friends that we have. We didn’t get involved in a lot of this funky stuff. We saved. We invested. We put it in our mutual funds. We had a few stocks that looked like they would be winners, and they were for a while. They weren’t crap companies so they didn’t go totally belly up. So we’re fine. We were finer a year ago (laughs), but I’ve got all the lights burning right now. I’m not worried about paying the Con Ed(ison) bill. Not this week, anyway.

Bankrate: I’m amazed at how many people I talk to personally know someone affected by the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Deborah Norville: It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I’ll bet you everybody reading this story knows someone personally who has been seriously impacted, if not wiped out. I know people who your readers would recognize their names and go, “You’ve got to be kidding.” And then, I know people who weren’t the gazillionaires who were supposed to be the ones investing with Madoff. So that part of the (Madoff) story also turned out not to be true. It wasn’t just for the uber-wealthy. It was for any poor schmo whose money adviser got him into that fund, and it’s devastating. I know people whose lives are simply never going to be the same again, and it’s so upsetting. I feel like “OK, that is so unfair,” but I’m a big believer of “put it on paper.” I think in a visual sense, you put it on paper and go, “What do I not have?” We’re not going to go there. It’s a very long list.

But what have I got? I have a lot of friends who care for me and if they had an opportunity that I’d be appropriate for, they’d come to me first. I’ve got my health. I need to stay active and physical so I don’t lose my health. I have my family members. If they can help me, they will, and if they can’t, they’re praying for me. And you start making a list. That goes to (what I talk about in) my previous book, “Thank You Power,” which is that when you focus on what you’ve got instead of wallowing — as is so easy for us to do — on the things you don’t have anymore or never got, it actually starts a chemical process that allows you to strategize better. When you look at the benefits in your life, you feel it.

When you get an e-mail from a long lost friend telling you that life is good, it lifts you. When that has happened, you are better able to come up with solutions to your problems. So (I say) to the Madoff victims who are thinking, “Woe is me, my life is over,” your life is different. You’re absolutely right about that. But it ain’t over until they put dirt over you and you’re six feet under. So in the meantime, let’s look at what you do have — what you could call blessings in your life — and let’s focus on them.