Having covered news and business stories for CNN since 1999, award-winning journalist Andrew Stevens has worn several hats. In his new role as Asia Pacific Editor for CNN, Andrew is looking forward to working on both news and business stories from Asia, his area of expertise. Stevens speaks about some of the most exciting moments from his career, the changes at CNN over the years and the importance of professional journalists in the times of citizen journalism. Edited excerpts:
What was it like tracking a developing story like the missing Malaysian airline MH370 and its fate?
It was about tracking a developing a story when nothing was really happening. The temptation is to start going into the realms of possibilities and speculation and we had to be very careful about what we couldn’t say and sticking to the facts. It was an extraordinary story just by itself. It was exciting to track it by the minute but also frustrating as we kept waiting for that moment when we had something substantial to say. There was enormous appetite for that story purely because of the mystery element in it. There were all angles to report which kept us going. Journalism is about relating to people and telling people stories that they can sympathise or empathise with and in that sense the human angle is important. But in the case of the Malaysian airlines it was the sense of mystery and waiting for the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to come together that was fascinating for me. It continues to be the world’s most famous mystery.
Can you describe your experience of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?
We were expecting it to be a big storm. We ran into a professional storm chaser. It was like being in the middle of a jet engine. As journalists it’s that earth shattering moment, the moment in history that you are a part of. I trusted the storm chaser. To see nature’s impact was quite extraordinary and to see how it ripped apart the city, the communities. That was quite a story. We went back later to do stories about how people were rebuilding their lives and how the city was getting back together.
How has CNN changed over the years?
Journalism itself doesn’t change but the delivery system has changed. We have become more focused on the human angle and how events affect people. We are more involved in the stories whereas before it was like reporting from the outside. Today we get more involved while earlier it was more clinical. I think that people’s concept of news is changing. Before we would put the story out on TV and it would go on to the website, now we tweet about a story and people can just view it on the site even if they don’t watch TV. Social media is great for delivery and a great source for us to get news from people on the ground. It’s a good source for journalists who can get stories out quickly. Pictures are a fantastic way of telling a story.
The Iranian revolution is often cited by CNN where journalists couldn’t get in but about which we got a lot of information from people’s personal tweets. But we had to be careful about what we chose to use as it’s very easy to be misled. One has to be very responsible about how one uses it. So we had contacts in Iran who could verify things for us. Social media and citizen journalism does not render journalists useless. In fact, our role as journalists becomes even more important as we are the filter , we are the people you trust. The voice of clarity coming from professional journalists is even more valuable now as there is so much noise out there, so easy for people to have a platform now.
How important would TV be for most of us in a few years from now or do you think all of us would be watching TV online?
I think media houses and organisations like CNN will have to be careful so that CNN remains relevant for viewers. People have been talking about the demise of the traditional news broadcast and it will become less and less important.
Can you comment on your new role as Asia Pacific Editor for CNN?
I have been an anchor/correspondent for many years. I have enjoyed being a correspondent. But it’s important to keep refreshing yourself , renewing yourself. I have been reporting for a long time in Asia so it’s my area of expertise. It also helps me in having a big role in business reporting as well. As a Business Editor, it would have not been easy to report on stories about natural calamities, etc. But being Asia Pacific Editor allows me to do both business and general news stories.
The world is watching Narendra Modi. What are your expectations from the Modi government?
He has promised a lot and is moving in the right direction. The previous government had run out of ideas. But now he needs to deliver. The concern now would be whether he has raised the expectations too much and will he be able to match them? A general sense of frustration had set in among people and it’s great timing for Mr Modi to come in and ride that wave of popular sentiment and get things working again. He’s a facilitator who’s trying to fix things in each sector. It is about getting the right people for the right policy units to take right decisions. But it’s too early to say whether he will be the roaring success he’s being made out to be. India is incredibly important and the world is tracking this story. India has a domestic market that the rest of the world is salivating over.