- Duration: 10 weeks
- University: USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
- Location: Hong Kong
- Industry sector: Journalism
- Introduction: Emily Frost is a radio reporter and online journalist. She is an Annenberg Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Graduate School for Journalism and a producer at Annenberg Radio News. She is currently interning at RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong) as part of NSC Professional Internship Program in Hong Kong SAR. She will be blogging on NSC’s website on a weekly basis. In her first piece below, she is sharing her experience shadowing a seasoned journalist – and the benefits of watching and listening – some reflections on doing versus watching and a record of what happened during her first internship week in Hong Kong…
The Shadow (Week 1)
In journalism, and perhaps in any field, a lot of emphasis is placed on compiling your own clips, and owning projects. Getting a byline — or authorship — is the ultimate goal. As I learned this week, though, taking time to watch, listen and ask a boatload of questions has enormous benefits.
I’m a radio reporter, interning this summer at Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). Yesterday, I was paired up with seasoned journalist Francis Moriarty. Over the course of the day I shadowed Moriarty, not only did I watch while he worked, I got access to his connections, which he’d spent years building. I felt I was let into an inner circle just by tagging along.
The Club was formed before WWI; its walls are lined with history and its members are among the best journalists in Hong Kong. Bruce Rockowitz, CEO of Li & Fung, a major Hong Kong trading company, was addressing the press in a talk called “Wage rises in China — a growing concern?” Because of Moriarty’s deep affiliation with the club, we made our way to a small room where an inner circle was chatting with Rockowitz before the main event. We chatted and exchanged business cards — I’m quickly learning that Hong Kong thrives on relationships. While it’s an incredibly fast-paced place, it also values slowing down for face-to-face connections.
After our chitchat, we made our way to the main dining room for lunch. I joined a growing group of local journalists in the back, while club members and important international press members — from the New York Times, Reuters, the Economist, etc. had a sit down lunch. The divide between the local and the international press fascinated me.
Rockowitz is an American and so the entire program was in English, perhaps part of the reason the English press had precedence (I went to another press conference where Cantonese was spoken without translation and the local press was treated with more importance.)
Rockowitz spoke to a packed room about how his company was seeing a period of inflation in terms of labor and commodities costs, but that the last 20 or 30 years were “not healthy,” in that the pendulum had swung too far in terms of deflation. He forecast costs increasing by 5% in the next few years for his company and others, but saw this as restoring balance.
Our first stop of the day was the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where Moriarty is on the board.
However, he also said that “U.S. and European consumers are not prepared to pay more,” for the same quality of goods. Thus, companies need to focus on creating better products and getting them to the consumer faster. Rockowitz predicted an era of increased inflation, but also of prioritizing automation and efficiency. He touched on another point I found fascinating. He mentioned that the spread of internet access meant that workers could communicate better and know which factories paid more and understand their place in the global economy; they know how much the good they’re making is sold for and the discrepancy in terms of what they’re paid. Needless to say, growing labor costs in Southern China and the implications for production in the Hong Kong region are complicated issues.
At the end of his talk, a throng of local Chinese journalists approached Rockowitz for questions, but his staff hurried him out. Then, the group conferred with each other extensively. The local journalists formed what almost looked like a huddle, notebooks in hand, as they shared information. Moriarty told me that this was typical among the Chinese press. They’re open to sharing information with each other because no one wants to miss the obvious points, though ultimately they’ll each try to take their own angle to the story. I was impressed by this cooperation — definitely not something I’ve seen in the U.S. Journalists are friendly with each other at home, but they don’t confer on stories so readily.
While I was a tiny bit disappointed not to be covering the story myself, I was more excited to see what Moriarty would deliver, what points he thought were most salient. We had time for tea at the club — a chance for me to ask lots of questions about RTHK and about his life story. I enjoy this kind of tête-à-tête because of my boundless curiosity. I’ve found that most people end up in their careers through an interesting zigzag and through surprising and chance encounters. Moriarty is no exception.
Back at the office, I pulled up a chair and watched while he wrote and rewrote and then rewrote again a one-minute story for the six o’clock news hour. We listened to tape together and he conferred with me on the best audio. I was happy to provide help, but let him lead the process. He got to the point immediately — what did Rockowitz say that was new? What was the reflection that would add value to our listener’s lives? It probably would have taken me much longer to reach his conclusion. I would have waded through more details and hemmed and hawed. One of the things that’s so valuable about shadowing is that you learn about the pinnacle — you have a benchmark for how long a task should take and how it should be done. I know that after many years I’ll reach Moriarty’s level of confidence and excellence. For now, I’m trying to reassure myself that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that while I’m here in Hong Kong some of the stories I produce will may be on par with his, many will fall short. But that’s what this summer is all about.
Forty-five minutes. That’s how long I sat tapping my foot with worry, glancing agitatedly from one speaker to the next, understanding nothing. I was attending my first news conference for the radio news company I’m working for this summer in Hong Kong and not a word of it was in English. I pined for the romance languages, for words that resembled my native tongue in some form. The occasional jokes shared among the other reporters or the angry outbursts by the speakers only made things worse. The presser was getting interesting and I was missing everything! I was desperate to be let into their circle, but I was truly an outsider.
At one point, the lead speaker signalled to me that he would confer with me in English afterwards. I would have to try to digest the lengthy session into a few soundbites. I glanced around me at the other reporters, taking rapid notes. They were getting the story easily. It was flowing right from the speaker’s mouths into their notebooks. I felt panicked, but also experienced the adrenaline that comes when you realize you’re going to pull something off, that leaving empty handed is just not an option. I knew I’d have to ask pointed questions that got right to the heart of the matter. I would have limited time with the head speaker and would have to make it count.
I’m sure there was plenty of nuance that I missed. And perhaps the Chinese media produced better stories than me, but I can assure you that the relief I felt after producing my piece was much much sweeter.
This past weekend, Next Step Connections arranged a trip to Beijing for our group. It had to be a whirlwind tour because many of us didn’t want to miss time at our work placements — but we covered the most important sites. According to our tour guide Cindy, “if you come to China and don’t see the Great Wall, then you haven’t been to China; if you come to Beijing and don’t see the Forbidden City, then you haven’t seen Beijing.” Fortunately, we saw both magnificent sites and also visited Tienanmen Square and the 798 arts district, as well as eating the famous Peking duck and partaking in the booming nightlife.
Hong Kong is both a cosmopolitan and international city, and it’s also fairly walkable (if you don’t mind hills or humidity). Beijing was massive — it sometimes took most of an hour for our tour bus to move through traffic and get from one part of the city to another. Along the way, we saw people riding bikes, motorcycles, pushing rickshaws — though the number of people owning cars is on a dramatic rise, not everyone has one… yet. We witnessed another sign that although Beijing is rapidly modernizing, it’s not all the way there.
In Tienanmen Square, our group was stopped repeatedly by people who were stunned by our appearance. As we moved through the wide square in the flat, hot light of mid-day sun, statues of Mao looming over us, we were stopped by Chinese tourists who wanted our picture. They were either intrigued by us or had rarely seen such Western-looking people. One family in particular was enthralled by our group. We thought they were from a far away province, or a remote village — no, they were from Beijing. Though we were a bit taken aback by our celebrity status, it was pleasurable to share a mutual interest in each other’s differences and our excitement with being here together in such a notorious square.
We became so familiar that one of my friends asked to hold the family’s newborn baby. She giggled upon seeing that there were slits in its romper for going to the bathroom, but no diaper! Apparently, this is a fairly common custom. More than anything, it felt liberating to finally share the curiosity we’d been experiencing out in the open. There were so many new faces and customs — and because this family was equally curious, we could show our intrigue without embarrassment. We didn’t understand what each other was saying, but we did understand the smiles and giggles of delight we shared that day in Tienanmen Square.
Today I took another trip to the top…of one of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. I rode the elevator up to the 57th floor and stepped into a spectacular board room, encased in floor-to-ceiling windows which looked out on the pulsing city. The position of the Cheung Kong Center couldn’t be better. Directly in front is the seat of government, the Legislative Council building, to the right the fertile hillside dotted with the condos of the super-rich, and in the near distance, the bay, with its relentless cranes and construction workers plunging the city ahead in its development schemes. I took all this in while listening to Kevin Gardiner, the head of global investment strategy for Barclays Wealth.
I was trying to keep up in a language that’s still relatively new to me — global economics spoken in finance lingo — when my ears perked up. Gardiner was discussing economic growth, but to my mind he’d hit upon a truth for personal development as well.
“Growth is the normal state of affairs for the global economy. It’s not the exception; it’s the routine. And sometimes we forget that.
And this growth doesn’t come from financial balance sheets, it doesn’t come from the movements in interest rates or exchange rates that we see.It comes about because gradually, most of the time, in most places, workers and managements just get better at doing what they do.
Productivity tends to rise because companies and consumers learn from experience. They learn from doing. They learn from innovation. They learn from new technology.
And this is always out there in the background, but we tend to forget about it, particularly when we’ve come out of events such as the events that have characterised the last few years.”
Yes, I thought. Change is gradual, and it’s always in the background whether you like it or not. It can hit you with great force (like when you realize you’re suddenly dreaming in another language and you’ve crossed into fluency), but most of the time, you’re evolving without taking much note.
And true also is the fact that in the wake of disaster, we become overcome by a sense of stagnation and darkness, instead of trusting in change. We must move on — we must grow — but the great thing is that that’s the norm, not the exception, as Gardiner points out, and it happens without our realizing it.
Traveling to a distant place and jumping in to a new environment is so exciting, I think, because it puts our personal growth in starker contrast. It makes it more real and vivid to us. For me, feeling myself grow is like taking the elevator up and seeing the whole city in front of me — I encounter clarity at last when before all I heard were the busy streets.
One of Hong Kong’s tastier paradoxes is that the hole-in-the-wall, corner eateries, where utensils and plates are washed in a bucket on the ground and the kitchen is practically on top of your table, are just as exciting as the ritzy skyscrapers towering over the water, with their elaborate cocktails and nouveau dishes.
I’ve made a point of eating in my neighborhood — Mong Kok — a place some still refer to as the “dark side” or associate only with its notorious red light district or population density (Mong Kok was listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for its extreme people to space ratio). It may be all of these things, but it’s also home to delicious food, a no-frills attitude and an appreciation for those who do partake in the local economy, be they outsiders or locals.
In the endless sea of moving bodies, people sometimes dissolve into bodies that I just need to keep pushing past. So I’ve tried to counter this alienation with repeated encounters with my neighbors. I’ve gotten to know my doorman George, who says he works “eight days a week” and that most people here do. And I think I’m a familiar face at the nearby Vietnamese restaurant and the sidewalk Thai cafe.
After my second time of ordering pho at the Vietnamese restaurant, the waitress urged me to branch out. I could tell that she sensed that an American is most familiar with pho, and maybe little else. She reminded me ”there are many many dishes in Vietnamese cooking.” It was hard for me to really express my appreciation for her patience translating the menu to us and working with us to get the order right. Since actions speak louder than words, I brought my roommate to try the food. She’s now a regular customer. I know that as foreigners living in Mong Kok, we’re part of a gentrifying process. We’re able to pay more and so we drive rents upwards. If there’s nothing we can do to help that, at least we can keep our money close to home and help the shopkeepers living beside us.
There’s another thing that I’ve found that some Mong Kok eateries have over the chains and flashier haunts of central Hong Kong: they’re not catering to Westerners and therefore not compromising their recipes. At Pop Peer, the Thai place up the street from me, each dish is made to order — the chillis picked right in front of us, the sauces made from scratch. The green curry is so delicious, so fresh. It’s unbelievable that all these riches are right at my doorstep.
The pace of life in Hong Kong is fierce. The daily hours are no longer than those of ‘the city that never sleeps’ or any of America’s financial centers — but the pace of the streets is incomparable. The hive-like population combined with the vertical pitch of the city means if you want to get somewhere you’ll have to maneuver through a crush of people.
After a work week full of bobbing and weaving and trekking, I was intent on a retreat. Weekends should be about looking up, noticing a bird or the streaks of the sunset, not barreling forward, eyes to the ground. So in the knick of time, I leapt aboard a ferry headed to Mui Wo, an undeveloped cove on Lantau Island, half an hour from the metropolis.
Time slowed down — I watched a praying mantis, waiting for him to move from his steely pose — transfixed by arms that seemed to float mid-air. I rented the rustiest bike and pedaled off in an unknown direction. Clouds rolled in over the mountain. The shell of a car sat rusted and overtaken by wild vegetation — who knows how long it had sat there — 30 years perhaps?
And finally, I closed my eyes and let the sound of a small waterfall trickle into my ears. There was no need to dart about, no need for frenzy at all. This water will rush in a few moments time, tonight, tomorrow, in three months time — whether I’m here or not.
Riding back, I saw a red gated door standing in a concrete archway, any wall long crumbled away. It no longer led to other people, just to the jungle beyond.