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By Adele Wong | March 19th, 2024

Kristie Lu Stout is a familiar face among television viewers across the globe — and Asia in particular — as CNN International’s stalwart news anchor. She tells The Loop HK how she got to be where she’s at, and some of the most important issues she’s covered for the region.

Kristie Lu Stout
Kristie Lu Stout

Please tell us more about yourself!

I started my career in journalism while completing my undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford University.  Hungry to build my portfolio and help pay off my student debt, I freelanced for any publication that would pay me 10 cents a word.  In 1996, I landed an eye-opening internship at the online division of Wired magazine, which inspired me to pursue the career further.

After Stanford, I moved to Beijing to study advanced Mandarin Chinese at Tsinghua University. During my studies, I pitched and wrote a regular tech column for the South China Morning Post. I continued writing for the SCMP while working inside Sohu, one of the first leading portals in China. That experience gave me incredible access into one of the fastest growing sectors in the world at the time: China’s nascent internet industry.

In 2001, I joined CNN in Hong Kong as a multi-platform technology reporter. For over two decades, I have worked at CNN in various roles covering China, Asia, and the world. During the last year as an anchor-slash-correspondent, I have filed some of my strongest work yet, covering US-China tensions, the rise of AI, and the impact of extreme climate events.

 

As someone reporting on news in the Asia region, what are some important but perhaps globally overlooked topics that you want to highlight? 

Asia is home to the largest number of people in modern-day slavery. Some 29 million people across the region are enslaved today, with women and girls representing the largest group of detected victims.

Through the CNN Freedom Project, my colleagues and I have been shining a constant light on this disturbing trend since 2011. NGOs report that our reports have contributed to changing laws and corporate policies, leading to more than 2,000 survivors receiving assistance.

With My Freedom Day on March 14, CNN was working with young people around the world for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery. We have partnered with local schools in Hong Kong to highlight the work of students who are passionate activists against human trafficking and forced labor.

We’ve covered these horrific stories — now it’s time to act.

Kristie Lu Stout
Kristie Lu Stout

What was one of your most memorable interviews or stories on the job? 

A few years ago, I interviewed renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, who was delivering a number of public lectures in Hong Kong. We discussed climate change and the restoration of the China horn ban. But I just had to sneak in a question about a hug that went viral on social media and melted hearts around the world.

In the video clip, we see Jane visiting a rehabilitation center on the day a rescued chimpanzee named Wounda is to be released. Along with the resident vets and carers, Jane escorts Wounda to her new home. She had never met Wounda before.  But before Wounda returns to the wild, she turns around and gives Jane a huge hug and a little kiss on her arm.

During my pre-interview research at the time, I was surprised to learn that no one had asked Jane what that embrace felt like.

“It was one of the most moving things that has ever happened to me,” Jane told me.

Seeing that hug brought tears to my eyes. And I know I’m not the only one. I asked Jane what it is about that moment that brings so many people to tears.

“I think people have a deep seeded yearning for a connection with the natural world, which we’re breeding out of our children,” she said. “So, I think a part of it is a sudden understanding that we need this connection with wildlife.”

It’s a story of hope and connection, and it started with a hug from a freed chimpanzee.

My daughter Arabella, who was 9-years old at the time, was also in the interview room with me to hear about that remarkable moment.

 

What was a challenge that you experienced related to your career, and how did you overcome it? 

Surfing a relentless negative news cycle is not easy. I regularly cover geopolitical tension, natural disasters, economic uncertainty, human trafficking, environmental devastation, and whatever breaking news is thrown my way.

I maintain focus by always zeroing in on the human impact of a news event. I maintain hope by covering stories of hope. Covering innovation and technology gives me hope — a chance to explore the powers of creation as opposed to constant destruction and despair.

 

How do you see the media landscape evolving in the coming years? 

More and more news consumers are avoiding the news.  According to the Reuters Institute, news-avoidance rates in 2023 were close to all-time highs at 36% across markets. News avoiders are more likely to say they want positive or solutions-based journalism. They want to be uplifted and motivated to act.

As journalists, our goal is to inform. But in an increasingly fraught and dangerous world, we have no choice but to engage with our audiences across all platforms to make sure they feel uplifted and motivated to act. This is particularly the case with younger news consumers who may pass over important news stories that are “emotionally draining” for content deemed to be more “safe.”

Journalists must address this. To continue operating, the industry will have no choice but to deliver more hope and personal agency to our audiences. This can be done through reports, special programs, and community-minded initiatives that address even the most daunting problems head-on while offering a path for a solution.

News organizations will continue to inform, while empowering audiences so they have a way to convert their frustration into innovation, and their outrage into meaningful action.

 

And for yourself?

In the last year, the power of mentorship really hit home for me.

I owe my personal and professional success to several individuals who have given me insight during critical moments of my career. Today, I enjoy coaching students and early-career journalists through the Stanford Alumni Association, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong and the Asian American Journalists Association.

It’s a privilege to assist young journalists to define and reach their career goals with practical coaching and real insight into how newsrooms work. My mentors and I share personal experiences, adopt different perspectives, and become champions for each other.