By VICKI CHALERMLAPVORABOON
Global Business Journalism reporter
How can you become an effective storyteller in today’s fast-paced multimedia world filled with highly distracted news consumers? Report promptly when news breaks, get to the point quickly and, most importantly, tell a compelling story, says CNBC Washington correspondent Emily Wilkins.
Wilkins told journalism students at Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication that they should imagine they were talking to a person who was directly impacted by a problem described in the news report. Because most television reports last less than 75 seconds, video journalists must learn how to explain complex issues clearly and concisely, she told the Global Business Journalism students on Oct. 26.
“A lot of my thoughts on storytelling would be, how can I make people understand the information as quickly as possible and also how to get people engaged with it,” said Wilkins, who also is vice president of the National Press Club.
Reporters today are competing with text messages and other distractions on mobile devices, she noted. Readers are often on the go, whether they are waiting for a train or in a meeting, and “they do not have a lot of time,” Wilkins added.
This constant time crunch increases the pressure on television correspondents to make an immediate connection with each viewer. Journalists have to report with empathy as they explain how many people are affected by the story or how problems they are describing can be solved.
“If you want to tell them something, you have to make it to the point and make it quickly,” said Wilkins, who currently covers Congress, key regulatory issues and policies that impact American businesses and the economy at CNBC. “People do not have time anymore to sit down and consume a long piece on their phone.”
From Bloomberg to CNBC
Before becoming a CNBC correspondent earlier this year, Wilkins was an award-winning reporter for Bloomberg Government, where she covered the House, Senate and American election campaigns. She also offered analysis on Bloomberg TV shows, including Bloomberg Surveillance, and for Bloomberg Radio.
Wilkins earlier worked as an education and government reporter at The Hill, a political publication in Washington, where she covered federal education policy and spending in Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. She completed two stints as an intern for Global Business Journalism co-director Rick Dunham, covering the 2012 presidential primaries and the Democratic National Convention for the Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers.
Wilkins said she had to change her storytelling style when she switched from policy-oriented, analysis-heavy news outlets to a global television news network.
“One of the things I tried to do a lot when I was covering on Capitol Hill [for Bloomberg and The Hill] was to make my writing edgier and sharper,” she noted.
However, with the shift of news consumption to mobile phones, consumers spend less time reading the kinds of longer news pieces she wrote in the past.
“We now live in a world where our attention has been commoditized,” she said.
The common thread: storytelling
With experiences spanning print, radio and television journalism, Wilkins said that storytelling is the common goal of each medium. She stressed the importance of creating clear narratives and picking compelling angles for each story in every medium.
“There always needs to be a narrative for what you are trying to convey instead of spitting random facts that people might not be able to put together,” Wilkins said.
All of her stories include two components: “here’s what has led up to this moment” and “here is what we can expect next.”
When covering a hot topic in the news – like affirmative action and the role of race in hiring – it is important for journalists to add context and not to simply describe the latest development, Wilkins told the students.
“We shouldn’t just say that ‘this happened today,’ but [we should describe the situation] in terms of how this would impact the company,” she explained. We should see if we can find data and statistics that link affirmative action to the profitably to the company – how well they did, how well they retain employees and [how it impacts] those looking to invest.”
Emily Wilkins’ professional advice for students planning careers in media
“Experience matters – this was one thing that really grounded me. I did eight internships before I got my first job.”
"One of the things that I regret not doing more in college is already begin using social media to build up my personal brand.I came of age when social media was this fun, cool thing that you used to chat with your friends. So I used it as some little fun throwaway.
"And I’ve seen my peers who took it much more seriously and built their brands much earlier have really reaped the benefits of it. And I think it means something to go to an employer and say, 'I already have 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 people following me on social media. Anything I write for you can be shared and promoted to them.' I think that certainly means a lot."
“Journalism is a profession based on trust and relationship-building. I think as soon as you can start building these connections, the better.
"There is that culture that is good to tap into: staying in touch with people, sharing the cool stuff you do, just making sure you’ve got that connection there, because you’ll never know when that person is going to point you in the direction of a job, or make another connection, or be able to move your résumé to the top of the stack.”
"There is a sense that you don’t go into journalism for the hours and the prestige and the money. You go into it because you are passionate about it.
"And what I have experienced is the culture of folks wanting to help – genuinely seeing your passion and excitement – wanting to help any way they can."