Kristie Lu Stout
Hi Kristie! Can you walk us through a typical day at CNN...
Well, I drop off my daughter at her nursery school, then get to the newsroom at around 1.45pm and immediately ‘read in’ all the wires, major newspapers, blogs, social media feeds, everything. I checklist the anticipated breaking news stories and then we have an editorial meeting at 3.30pm and determine our ‘treatments’. After that I prepare our live feeds into the CNN domestic show in the USA, and also prepare the top business stories for that day. Then I focus all my attention on my show News Stream. I also manage my social media feeds.
Is social media important to you?
Personally, I love it. I use Twitter. I use Facebook. I use Google+. You build time for it. It’s a news gathering tool. It helps me cultivate sources and allows me to promote the work of my team to a wider audience. It’s a bit like a garden – you have to constantly tend to it so that it doesn’t get overgrown or neglected. An audience can see when an account is neglected.
How much news writing do you do?
Look at my name card: it says anchor/correspondent. That’s what I am, as are many of my colleagues. We’re not newsreaders. It’s a team effort, of course, but when you have your own credibility at stake, and the network’s, you have to get editorially involved.
What’s the best thing about working on a live news channel?
[Smiles]… It’s the thrill. It really is. You can be plugged into an event halfway around the world. For example, at the protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo earlier this year, CNN had set up multiple cameras... I’ll never forget this moment. All of a sudden these men on camelback wielding whips and clubs started running through the square attacking the protestors. It was an utterly medieval, surreal and brutal scene. You have to explain what’s happening in real time and express the emotion while remaining articulate. That’s when raw journalism comes into play.
What tricks do you use to camera during a ‘technical difficulty’?
It’s live television. The audience knows it’s live television. They can forgive you if you just acknowledge it and be cool and move on. Mistakes happen, whether it’s a dropped satellite feed or a connection is blown out. It’s best to acknowledge and apologise, and move on.
For a news anchor, how important are looks, tone and presentation?
They are important. Television is a visual medium. In addition to being a journalist, you have to be mindful of how you look, how you appear, your body language, and so on. It’s not about being glamorous.
[Laughs] In my presentable way I don’t want to detract from the news. I’m just an interface. I tee-up the news. People don’t tune in to CNN to see the glamorous person reading at a certain hour; they tune in to see what’s happening in the world today.
Some news channels are guilty of ‘infotainment’ – dramatisations, stage directions, mood music…
I totally know what you’re talking about. We have built-in BS detectors here, and our audiences are also incredibly savvy. If you feed them dramatisations you’re doing them a disservice. So, dramatic music playing underneath a packaged dramatic story… if it feels false I’ll take it out.
Did you have to learn oratory styles and rhetorical devices?
Oh god, no! You just have to be the best version of yourself. It comes with experience. I learned to address the camera by imagining my sister behind it. So, I visualised Jodie on the other side and spoke to her about the news. Then I introduced authority into my voice. In television there is more projection. Paradoxically, it’s colloquial but also very serious.
China-related news items on CNN are often blacked-out in the mainland. Tell us about that.
Yeah, well, it’s a reminder that governments around the world watch us very closely. My friends in Beijing let me know which stories are being blacked-out. For example, the Arab Spring protests were blocked out in China. That’s a very interesting sign.
Finally, Kristie, what do you love best about Hong Kong?
The sense of activism in the people. I’ve been very touched by their willingness to stand up for what they hold sacred. And this is a miracle, because Hong Kong is a Chinese city after all.
And what do you love least?
I can’t get a decent taco!
Interview: Jake Hamilton