From its Asian hubs in Hong Kong and Singapore, Bloomberg Television Asia focuses on the world’s most vibrant economic region. Angie Lau’s show, First Up, reaches 340 million homes globally. Here, she takes Southeast Asia Globe behind the scenes and into the cut and thrust of the news that is shaping the region
By Christian Vits
Describe your average working day…
My day starts at 3:30am when I wake up, and I get into the office an hour later. At that time, I’ve already read the Bloomberg wire and the Financial Times for the stories that happened overnight. The moment I get into the office is when things really start to heat up for me and the rest of the production team, who have already been in the office for at least half an hour. Everybody will be assessing the stories of the day. What are the stories that people want to talk about? What are the stories that could be setting the agenda? What are the stories our viewers might be interested in? We have our team of reporters too and at some point in the morning we all gather for an editorial meeting, where we decide what the top stories are. What is important to us is providing a broad look at the trading day, but also covering stories that could be market-moving and that will be of interest to our viewers.
How do you choose the stories for your show?
Well, it really is about understanding what makes this region tick. And we all know what the top stories are. For example, the current top story is Japan trying to revive its growth after decades of stagnation. Another front story is what China’s slowdown could mean for the region. Then we’ve got political instability in Thailand, elections in Indonesia and India. This all doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The job of a journalist is to connect the dots for the viewer.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I wish that we had more hours in the day. There are so many great stories out there, so one of the most difficult things to do every morning is to make that editorial decision on which stories to cover and which stories to expand on. Every story is worth its weight in gold but unfortunately we only have 60 minutes and some of it is consumed by commercials so we want to give the best information and pick the best business stories – and then we do it all again the next day. It is a great challenge, but a great privilege as well.
How quickly can you and the team adapt to breaking news?
We can do it immediately. If there is something that breaks, something that is integral to viewers and the market that needs to be immediately broadcast, we will do it right away. I wear something that is called an ISP. I have a microphone that broadcasts to a camera that is attached to me. But in my ear, which you will not see, is the earpiece that allows the producer to talk to me in real-time. So even when I am conducting an interview and there is breaking news, the producer will come into my ear and basically say here is what happened, and then they will cut the headline to the screen for me. I will then immediately jump on my iPad to look up the headlines on that specific story. Then I will be able to do unscripted reporting directly to our viewers.
Do you need this kind of adrenaline to do your job?
Yes. We are in a world where we’re so lucky to have information flowing around us. It may be a lot of noise to other people but the difference between journalists and non-journalists is that we are fishermen. We are fishermen in this expanding ocean of information. I would like to think that journalists like yourself are the best kinds of fishermen because they know which fish to keep and which fish to throw back into the ocean to grow into a bigger story.
How often does it happen that a little fish turns out to be a whale of a story?
Every story has the possibility of being a bigger story. We’re constantly looking for these stories, because they help us to understand our world a little better. It’s not always the big stories or the biggest voices that should command our attention. We’re not only interested in covering top policy makers. We also want to talk to the grandmother who lost her farmland because a local government official has just bought it and they are moving her into a smaller, cheaper apartment elsewhere. We cover companies, industries, markets, business and finance. This is all part of the broader story about China. And it is not just China – it is Indonesia, Thailand, many of the countries we cover.
Is journalism going to become more globalised or more regionalised?
I think it has to be more regionalised. I guess the backdrop of this global economy is the broad story. But you cannot understand the world from a 10,000-foot-high viewpoint. You have to get on the ground. You cannot be on the ground doing reporting unless you are in the region, unless you are in the country where you are reporting from, unless you have resources and reporters on the ground that you can count on to be able to provide that analysis. So I think that as the world gets noisier in terms of information, it is more integral and more important than ever before to be highly focused and highly regional – hyper local, as they say.
When did you decide to become a journalist and why?
When I was 16 years old I told my English teacher about my frustration of not knowing where I wanted to go for college, what I wanted to study. And he asked me: ‘Have you ever thought about journalism?’ I hadn’t. But the moment that word escaped from his lips, it was perfect. It was absolutely perfect because it allowed me to be a historian, a mathematician… It allowed me to be a writer, a performer. It allowed me to go from interests as diverse and broad as economics to food and everything in between.
And why did you choose financial and business journalism?
Because, at the end of the day, that is what makes the world go round. It all comes down to markets, business, economics and money. This is what drives us politically and what drives us socially. This is what drives people in making decisions, and what ultimately drives my interest in business journalism.
What has been your biggest scoop?
There are so many, but I think the one I am proudest of is when I was working for the ABC affiliate in the [US] Midwest. I did one of the very early stories on the foreclosure crisis that we were starting to see unveil itself in the state of Ohio and not a lot of people were talking about it, certainly not before 2008. After 2008, everybody knew what subprime mortgages actually were, but I had been doing those stories well in advance of that, ahead of a broader global storm, if you will. Those were some really important stories. It helped people to see, when the crisis actually hit, what the roots of the problems really were – it was as simple as people being greedy.
What is more important to you: getting a scoop or digging deep into
a major issue?
To me, both things are equally important. I have been very proud of being able to get the first statement from somebody who was not willing to talk but who I convinced otherwise. But I was just as proud of the stories where it took me months of research, of data streaming, of analysis, of knocking on doors and really putting a fully formed story out.
What do you do if the interviewee does not want to disclose the information you need?
Well, that’s where our research comes into play. If you know the story and the numbers and if you come upon someone who is not willing to talk, at the end of the day you present the facts and afterwards have somebody respond to these facts. Sometimes it is the lack of response that is the most telling in a broadcast interview. Sometimes when you watch an interview and somebody feels uncomfortable and does not want to answer, that can help you more than the answer itself.
Do you see the relevance of Asean countries growing?
Absolutely. This is one of the most important stories if not the most important story that will define the future of this region: China’s relationships with Asean; Asean’s members and their relationships with each other – this in an integral bloc in the global economy. It is so important to see how each country helps another beyond just economic partnerships. But it is also about understanding that if Asean wants to be an integral part of the global economy, it has got to work together.
Do you think the region can position itself between China and India?
I think you have to put your money where your mouth is. First of all, it is really good that there’s communication of a necessary partnership, but I think actions speak louder than words. For Asean member states, this means really looking at what is going to help in the broader partnership, because you are stronger together. If these nations really wanted to position themselves between India and China, they cannot always depend on the US, and they cannot always depend on Europe. They have got to depend on themselves, and I think that recognition is already there.
Do we need more transparency in Southeast Asian news?
Absolutely, yes, 100%. You have to be transparent, you have to be candid, and you have to get the information out there if you want these foreign direct investors to come into your country.
What will be the biggest news in Asia this year?
I think right now we’re seeing it first hand – we’re seeing the elections. India, Indonesia, Thailand – these are critical times for each of these countries. The political instability in Thailand is also something that is being closely watched. Having recently spoken with the IMF director for Asia-Pacific, Thailand’s GDP was forecast to grow by 5% and now it is set to be more like 2% to 2.5%, simply because of the political instability.
Why do you think political tensions are rising?
When you have wealth disparity in any nation, this is going to cause tensions. You have that situation of ‘having or not having’, and this comes from living in an age where information is free flowing. Getting information to each other through your cellphone or through emails or whatever, this is what drives individuals to fight for what they think is right and to pursue a better life. It is all based on information – and that is a powerful thing.
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