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Career Path

The camera never lies

by Melinda Earsdon

TV Production V Anchorperson
Lorraine Hahn
Presenter of Talk Asia CNN

Anyone who has seen the movie Broadcast News will know that television work can be stressful. The image of Albert Brooks sweating profusely during his first on-air experience has put many an aspiring anchorperson off a career in front of the camera. This does not seem to bother CNN's Lorraine Hahn, however, who insists that television provides a rewarding path to success as long as you are willing to put in the work.

Ms Hahn's list of interviewees reads like a Who's Who of Asian politics. From Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to East Timor's Foreign Minister Jos* Ramon-Horta, she has met them all. But political leaders are not her only forte. She has interviewed people from Tiger Woods to Kobe Bryant, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Henry Kissinger.

Her half-hour regional chat show, Talk Asia, features celebrity interviews, topical discussion and personal insight highlighting Asia's leading business, political and entertainment personalities. Broadcast six times a week in Asia and the States, it is one of the most popular in the region. However, Ms Hahn insists that it is not all smiling for the camera.

"There is a great deal of work that goes into each interview," she explains. "We have a researcher on staff, but there is still an enormous amount of preparation that you, as the on-screen person, must do yourself." Days are long and arduous, sometimes starting as early as 5am. She spends much time reading the papers and biographies, preparing questions and priming herself for every situation or topic that might arise during an interview.


"At the end of the day, it is you and only you on camera. It is your reputation at risk if you don't have the information at hand to provide an interesting exchange"

"At the end of the day, it is you and only you on camera. It is your reputation at risk if you don't have the information at hand to provide an interesting exchange," she explains. "There are no second chances in television and you can't just stop filming so you can look something up. You must be fully prepared at the off."

Something of a household name in Asia, Ms Hahn began her broadcasting career as a radio station reporter in 1987 but moved to TVB the following year, responsible for the station's daily English financial programme and live coverage of regional breaking news. After transferring to Metro Radio in 1991, she returned to TVB in 1992 to develop a China business programme. In 1995, she joined CNBC, hosting five shows, including Business Tonight and the NBC Asia nightly news show. Following CNBC's merger with Dow Jones, Ms Hahn switched to CNN, becoming the anchor for the company's flagship programme, Biz Asia, and has hosted Talk Asia for two years.

She is realistic when it comes to breaking into television. "It is a difficult industry to crack," she says. "In terms of characteristics, it can be very unforgiving. This sounds terrible, but you need to look half decent for a start. You need to be curious, able to think on your feet and not afraid of hard work. These days, some form of formal voice-training is an asset too. CNN look for people who can multi-task, so it is also good to know several different disciplines." She adds, "More and more directors are looking for people with an economic background ... a firm understanding of world politics and economies is a definite advantage."

Opportunities in television might be scarce but that should not put you off. Ms Hahn believes a good way to gain experience and get ahead is to apply for an internship while at university. "Getting experience as an assistant producer or writer gives an excellent insight into the industry and provides an inroad when school is over," she smiles.

Despite all the obstacles, she insists that her role is very rewarding. "I like learning about people and I have to do that on a daily basis. I also get the opportunity to meet people that otherwise I would never dream of [meeting]. I consider myself very lucky."

China Opportunities

With China's accession to the WTO fast approaching and the country opening up to the world, academic institutions on the mainland are beginning to offer more comprehensive courses in broadcasting. While this means that more positions are being filled by local hires, many stations still look to Hong Kong as an example. As such, some opportunities do exist for executives who want to move. Salaries in China are slightly lower than Hong Kong, but so are living costs, so a career move to the mainland is a feasible option in terms of getting ahead.


 

Taken from Career Times 27 June 2003, p. 24

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