Perspective susanlifeature

Published on January 30th, 2012 | by Aeris

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CHINESE MEDIA FACES: SUSAN LI

Click here to read this article in the magazine

The articulate host of Bloomberg’s First Up talks about what it means to be a young Chinese woman delivering international news, what the biggest story of 2012 will be and what Hugo Chavez is like in person… Susan has also interviewed co-founder of Baidu Robin Li, US Ambassador to China Gary Locke and Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit. She holds an economics degree from the University of Toronto and was nominated for “Best News Anchor” at the Asian Television Awards 2008.

Susan greeted me at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club in a long sleeved, jewel purple dress and brown leather boots. With the studio makeup gone, her soft, smooth skin was lifted only by her huge smile. Immediately generous, she insisted: “order what you like, it’s on me! I like eating.” Before leaving, her producer added: “It’s true. I have never seen a woman eat so much. Her desk bin is always piled with empty congee bowls…”

When did you begin your career in the media?

After I graduated, I started out as an editorial assistant at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). I used to print the anchors’ scripts and scroll the autocue. I went on to become a research producer for their business channel and started to do a little reporting.

How was it for you when you returned to China?

The last time I saw it I was 3 years old, but it’s still my home. What is strange is going ‘home’ to somewhere family no longer live… I was born in Guangzhou and when I was 2, we moved to Hong Kong for a year before Toronto. I always wanted to return to work there one day. I knew that was where the action was. So I left Toronto for a job at CCTV in Beijing.

What was CCTV like?

It was great! I was there at a really exciting time — we had so much access to interviews. Everyone wants to talk to China, so they came to us rather than us calling them. We didn’t need to look far for guests. I was in my 20’s and Beijing six years ago wasn’t a bad place to be! It was a lot of fun.

“My own roots aside, I honestly believe that there is no bigger story today than China, whatever head line comes.”

Who was your most memorable interview?

I would have to say Hugo Chavez. It was Christmas day in snowy Beijing and you would think that Mr Chavez would be off celebrating Christmas, but he wanted to talk! So off we went to the Diaoyutai diplomatic compound. We set up early and had an English speaking translator accompany us, though they didn’t let her into the building. Ultimately, the translator had to repeat everything he said live, through my earpiece.

What is Hugo Chavez like in person…?

Really nice! When I met him he was very warm and we had a great conversation. I should probably say a CEO.

As a financial news presenter, how do you balance being informative with being understood?

Keep it energetic and immediate — it has to matter to the viewer, right then and there. Keep it simple — no long sentences in TV news. People can only digest so much factual information at once, especially while they are doing other things. Everything has to be short and clear — a sentence with a comma is too long…and having the right pictures to tell the story is so important. I am grateful to our animation team. I think they are doing some fantastic graphics! Financial news can be pretty dry, so we always try to bring it down and explain why it’s relevant to the viewer. Ultimately in any situation, I ask myself ‘what would I want to know?’

How have the last two years of business news coverage been different from previous years?

It’s been so much more dramatic! Even though we’re looking at less glamourous indicators than before, such as bonds (as indicators of corporate or national stability).

That’s exciting because it’s somehow more real. This might be the first time that ordinary people want to understand financial markets. Even my taxi driver at 5am recognised me — he said he watches Bloomberg because he needs to know how his stocks are going!

What will be the biggest story in 2012?

My own roots aside, I honestly believe that there is no bigger story today than China, whatever headline comes.

“Hugo (Chavez) is really nice. When I met him he was very warm and we had a great conversation. I should probably say a CEO or head of research I’ve met, but Hugo was memorable.”

Interview with AERIS Grace Brown

Watch First Up with Susan Li from 7-9am (BST) weekdays and Asia Edge from 11-12pm, on Bloomberg TV.

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