As a university student from Brisbane, Hilary Whiteman wanted to be a journalist with a leaning toward print, but a visit to a Brisbane newspaper caused her to switch her ambitions to TV.
“I wanted to be a journalist because I love writing and telling stories,” she said. “My first thought was to go into print, but during a school work experience at a newspaper in Brisbane I was turned off by the abundance of old men who smoked in the newsroom.
“By comparison, the TV newsroom was young and hungry and much more appealing.”
Television turned out to be the right move for her. In 1996 Whiteman signed on as a WIN TV reporter in Cairns, filing packages for a nightly half-hour news bulletin for two years.
Now Whiteman is senior editor for CNN Digital Hong Kong following a promotion last month. This is the latest highlight in a 12-year stint with the cable broadcaster that began in 2005 at CNN London where she was a producer.
“CNN digital and TV teams were very separate – now we collaborate every step of the way”
London was her goal from day one. “When I was at university I used to work overnights at Channel Nine in Brisbane,” she said. “Someone gave me some very good advice to get some experience before moving to London. So after two years in regional television in Cairns I thought it was time to go.”
At first in London she freelanced for Sky News, but it wasn’t quite to her liking. Through a contact she was introduced to CNBC, signing on as producer in 1999 and working there until 2002, when she returned to Australia as an ABC supervising producer in Sydney.
After a couple of years at the ABC, London was calling again. She moved back there and after a short spell of freelancing joined CNN London where she eventually moved into the digital side of the business.
“It was an odd move to make at the time,” she said. “I was possibly the first TV producer to switch to the other side of the room. Back then the digital and TV teams were very separate – now we collaborate every step of the way.”
After six years at CNN London she moved to CNN Hong Kong in 2012 to be closer to home in Australia.
“When the job at CNN in Hong Kong came up it was perfect timing,” she said. “The move was made far easier because effectively I was doing the same job, just for different markets.
“That said, no matter where you are based, everyone at CNN has a global remit. If there’s a late-night terror attack in Europe or the US, it could fall to Hong Kong to kick off coverage and make sure we’re well placed for when those markets wake up.”
Working with the digital team also proved to be a cutting edge experience in a rapidly expanding sector.
“Last year Turner invested an additional $20 million dollars into CNN Digital, and created an additional 250 digital jobs around the world,” she said.
“It’s a really exciting time to be at CNN and work in media. The landscape is changing and we’re evolving. We are going where our audience is and offering them more content that ever before. CNN Digital also offers niche premium content such as CNNMoney, CNN Style and CNNPolitics.”
Whiteman pointed out that CNN is now multiplatform, on TV, desktop, mobile and social. While her main role is to focus on CNN.com, she and the team work very closely with the newsroom. Digital is part of every editorial meeting and leads the meetings with real-time stats on what stories are resonating with audiences.
“In fact, when we’re deciding what stories to cover each day, we also decide the best way to present them and the best platform,” she said. “We ask, is this story best suited to TV, is it best suited to digital, is it best suited to social or will it work across all platforms?
“A recent example of this was when one of our correspondents Will Ripley went to North Korea. He did live crosses for TV and produced TV packages, plus he wrote pieces for CNN.com, he posted photos on Twitter and Instagram, and then he did a Facebook Live from the streets of Pyongyang.
“In order to pull this off, it was a true collaboration between Will and his team on the ground in North Korea and the TV, digital and social teams in Hong Kong, London and Atlanta.”