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My life: Kristie Lu Stout

The American journalist and TV anchor tells Kylie Knott how the development of online media has shaped her career

 

Photo: Edmond So

 

FACTORY SETTINGS I was born in Philadelphia to a European-American father and Taiwanese mother but spent most of my time growing up in Silicon Valley. It was during my time at Stanford University that I decided to become a journalist. As an undergraduate I worked for The Stanford Daily newspaper and KZSU [Stanford University's FM radio station] and I was also freelancing for 10 cents a word. I was 17 years old and pitching to every magazine I could think of so I could put together a portfolio. I'm not precious about my age - I'm 38 - so this was in the early 1990s, a time when the internet was taking off. My first real job was with Wired magazine. It was 1996 and I was an editorial intern when the first ad banner went online … I compare the time to working at the Andy Warhol Factory: there was Stereolab playing; people would bring their dogs to work; there was a masseuse, a gourmet chef … this was a cool place to be and a real game-changing event to see the rise of online media.

MOVEABLE EAST In 1997, after I graduated with a master's degree in communications from Stanford, I surprised many people when I said I wanted to go to China. The only person who encouraged me to go East was my professor, William Woo, who was the first Asian-American editor of a major daily newspaper [the St Louis Post-Dispatch]. I was in China in the early 1990s and I was studying advanced Putonghua at Beijing's Tsinghua University and was also freelancing for the South China Morning Post, doing a tech column I had pitched called Beijing Byte - I thought it was so clever at the time! I was also working at internet site Sohu.com Then I reached an existential moment when I asked myself: "Am I going to be a businesswoman or am I going to be a storyteller?"

LIGHTS, CAMERA … In 2000, I gave a speech at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club about the internet in China. A senior producer from CNN was in the audience and invited me to be a guest, and later asked if I would consider a career in television. I started at CNN in 2001 as a television and dotcom reporter - the learning curve was really steep. I remember [foreign correspondent] Mike Chinoy literally throwing a book on my desk about how to write for television. I remembered him from when he covered Tiananmen in 1989, so I thought I had better read up.

PUBLIC EYE I'm kind of oblivious to the idea of being recognised in the street or labelled a television personality. I think of myself first and foremost as a journalist. As [CNN founder] Ted Turner's mantra goes, "news is the star", not the anchor. My daughter is four and she is nonplussed about me being on television. "Oh! Mummy's on TV," she will say and then it's back to her colouring books.

I'm very social-media curious - I'm active on Twitter, Facebook and Google and I use Instagram. I use them to find out what people are talking about and to interact with my viewers. Stories are breaking on social media and people from Barack Obama to Lance Armstrong use it, so you have to be plugged in or else you are out of the equation as a journalist.

BEST IN SHOW The biggest story I've covered is not a single event but what I call a slow-burn story … and that's the rise of China. I believe that a century from now historians will look back to this point in time and say the most critical event was the rise of China as an economic and geopolitical power. I've interviewed personalities from Lady Gaga to Aung San Suu Kyi, but someone who really stood out was Charles Chao of Sina.com We all know the power of Sina Weibo but what's interesting about Chao is that he's not a technocrat but trained as a journalist in America and now he's the chief executive of China's leading microblog. He's one of the most powerful men in China and we've seen how Weibo is breaking news and scandals in the country … it's fascinating watching him facilitate such big changes while under such pressure.

IMPEDIMENT TO FREE SPEECH Recently, my show on China screened an episode about US-China relations. When I uttered the word "Tiananmen" I was reportedly blacked out [in the mainland]. Having said that, in 2006/07, I was broadcasting live, uninterrupted, in Tiananmen Square. Self-censorship is not something I do - the focus is always on the story and informing the audience. When a mishap happens on air you address it and move on. One time, just 10 minutes before I was going live to air, I got the hiccups so I asked if anyone had a remedy. Someone said pull your tongue but that didn't work. Another person said drink water upside down but that didn't work. With eight minutes to go someone said take a spoonful of sugar without water. It worked!

STAYING LOCAL I love studying Putonghua. I keep it up once a week with a tutor and I read Chinese websites. I hit the gym as often as I can and play golf occasionally - but I'm terrible at it. My husband and I are dedicated to our families, so travel plans revolve around family in America and Malaysia. I've been [in Hong Kong] 12 years and I'm proud to be a permanent resident. I love the sense of civic pride and the people power that's shown time and time again when people stand up for what they consider sacred. And I love how efficiency has been built into the infrastructure so you can get a lot done. All it needs is a really good book store - and a decent taco place!

 

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