Brittany Hite, Online Editor at The Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong is our guest today. Let’s follow her story and see if we can pick up some insights on careers in Hong Kong.
Please give us a rundown of your bio and career to date.
I graduated with a BA in journalism from Indiana University; worked as a news assistant with the WSJ in the U.S. from 2007-09; went to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ China Economist semi-monthly journal as an editor in Beijing from 2009-10; became an online editor at WSJ.com in Hong Kong 2010-present.
What was the original impetus behind your “leap” from working at the Wall Street Journal in New York to your position with China Economist in Beijing?
I had visited China, which was my first trip outside North America, for the first time about a year before I moved, and while visiting, I felt that I just had to come back. China was so lively and vibrant and fascinating, and I wanted to be able to come for more than just a couple of weeks visiting. So I started searching for a way to make it happen, and miraculously, it all kind of fell into place.
What fears and aspirations did you have prior to your placement abroad?
My biggest fear was being alone so far from home and from anyone I knew — I knew only one person in the entire country, a classmate who was working several hours away in Nanjing — and I worried that I might hate it. But I figured a year (the duration of my contract) wasn’t so long, and if it didn’t work, I could at least say I tried and get some good stories out of it.
I also worried—and should have been even more concerned than I was—about not being able to speak Chinese. I hadn’t studied it at all before arriving except for a couple phrasebooks, and I held a major misconception that everyone would be able to speak English since so many Chinese students now start studying English at a young age. That turned out to not really be the case, unless you’re only going to five-star hotels and really living the high life as an expat executive, which I certainly was not. So I obviously learned some Chinese along the way.
Please tell us about your current role and responsibilities as an Online Editor with the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. What might you do on a typical day on the job?
I am part of the Asia news team. Every day is different; you can never predict the news. We edit, post and manage online content from all over the region — the website’s stories, blogs, slideshows, etc. — as well as helping out the global team with whatever is needed.
Many aspiring international careerists would love to have your current position. How has your previous experience prepared you for this role? How can a fresh grad best prepare himself or herself for a similar role in Asia?
As an aspiring journalist, I did a lot of internships in college, and I spent more time working at my school’s daily newspaper than I did studying or in class. The hands-on experience I got working at the paper, the Indiana Daily Student (www.idsnews.com), which is independent and one of the country’s best college newspapers, was most useful. Journalism is one of those subjects that just can’t be taught in the classroom — the only way to learn is to get out there and start doing it.
I also moved a lot for all my internships, which I suppose may have made me slightly less fearful about the big move across the globe. I think it’s good to live in and experience as many different places as possible while you can, whether that’s studying abroad, backpacking and traveling independently, taking an internship in a small town in rural America, or moving to another country.
Please share with us some of the more high-impact, thrilling, and challenging projects you’ve done in your career so far.
The time that sticks out most to me is the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We were in the office as it was happening, watching those horrific images unfolding live on TV. As a journalist, the only thing we can do at times like these it to help get information out there, which is what we did — we immediately got a live blog up and running and maintained it for quite some time after, in addition to other stories and content.
Please tell us about any striking and fascinating differences between the social media landscape in Asia Paciﬁc and the U.S. How has the penetration of both western and local social media platforms affected businesses and consumer behavior?
Social media is obviously a huge phenomenon in Asia as elsewhere, and as journalists we can sometimes learn about stories more quickly than in pre-Twitter days. I think the biggest difference is that in languages like Chinese, you can really post whole paragraphs with the short character limits.
The majority of expatriates who come to Asia for careers or business ventures tend to be male. As a female professional in the international workforce, how has this been an advantage or challenge?
I would say that statement is patently false. In both Beijing and Hong Kong, I have encountered many, many female expatriates. Perhaps it was rarer 30 years ago, but it’s 2012 — there are now women expats all over the world. There may be some places where there are vastly more men expats than women, like places in the Middle East, but there are plenty of women in China and Hong Kong.
What advice or precautions would you give to aspiring female expatriate professionals who wish to come to Asia?
East Asia is a good place to go as a female because many places — especially South Korea, Japan, China — are much safer than the U.S. I have traveled across parts of Asia on my own and never felt at risk. Of course, every place can be dangerous so you still must be practical and use good judgment when traveling as well as doing research beforehand, having emergency plans in place, etc.
Brittany grew up in the heartland of America in rural Indiana and received her journalism degree from Indiana University in Bloomington. Post-graduation, she lived and worked in New York City for two years and then decided that she needed some more global experience. She became an editor at a government-affiliated think tank’s economics journal in Beijing. After a year in China, she relocated to Hong Kong, where she is currently an online editor for WSJ.com.