A “Geek Revolution” — the Impact of Social Networking on TV News

Kristie Lu Stout, an award-winning journalist for CNN International, gave a talk about social networking and its impact on television news to a packed crowd of JMSC students and staff on Tuesday, February 22, 2011.

Kristie Lu Stout talks to the JMSC

Lu Stout is the host of News Stream, a nightly 9 pm news programme broadcast from CNN’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong. The show is known for its use of smart technology.

Lu Stout started by saying that her goal was to ask “how technology, and namely the online world, has changed the physical world…..and, in particular, broadcast news.”

She used the recent uprising in Egypt as an example, calling it a “geek revolution.” Lu Stout illustrated this comment with images of posters and graffiti that have been seen in Cairo bearing Facebook and Twitter logos.

While Lu Stout was clear not to overstate the importance of social media in the Egyptian uprising, which comes from a groundswell of discontent, she pointed out that “social media tools were instrumental in change.” She noted that the fact that the Egyptian authorities were so quick to shut down social networking sites, only two days after protests started, showed how seriously they took them as a tool for mobilising people.

Lu Stout looked at the three main ways that news reporters use social media: Twitter updates, for example Ben Wedeman, who works for CNN in Cairo, and has tweeted colourful commentaries on the situation on the ground; Facebook, for example the page of New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof; and live blogging, for example another New York Times writer, Robert Mackey’s blog, The Lede.

CNN has embraced social media and has a team of digital producers all over the world. Lu Stout’s new show, News Stream, was conceived as the result of a tongue-in-cheek question that she discussed with her producer, namely, “If Steve Jobs produced a news show, what would it look like?”

“It’s not a technology show,” said Lu Stout. “It’s a news show, but we also use an array of virtual tools to tell the news.” Among the tools she listed were the use of ‘word clouds’, Google’s 3D warehouse, and Twitter.

After her talk, Lu Stout answered questions from JMSC students, among them what had prepared her for her job as a news anchor. With some humour, she replied that her mother was a “tiger mom” and had made her learn to touch type, speed read and study mnemonics at the age of 11, “skills that have really helped me.”

Kristie Lu Stout and JMSC students

Lu Stout also responded to a question about how social media has changed the way she works. She replied that she uses it as an additonal resource but is always mindful to apply the same journalistic rigour to social networks as to any other source.

“We’d have to verify it and check it; we’re very careful about attribution,” she said. “But, if it merits investigation, we look into it, whatever the source.”

In summing up, Lu Stout brushed aside questions about the viability of Twitter and other social media sites as tools for journalists.

“As a journalist, you want to keep your ear to the ground and have as many sources open to you as possible,” she said. “[Social media] is more than just a fad. It’s become like e-mail; it’s a way we communicate with each other. Embrace it and use it and become a better journalist as a result.”

Prior to working as a current affairs anchor at CNN International, Lu Stout served as CNN’s technology reporter. Before a career in TV news, she worked for the Beijing-based internet site Sohu.com and also for Reuters new media division in China.

She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Stanford University, and also studied Mandarin at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

You can follow Kristie Lu Stout on Twitter at www.twitter.com/klustout and join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KristieLuStout.