By Amari Leigh
Betty Wong never expected to become a journalist.
As a teenager attending a rigorous, science-oriented high school in New York City, Wong was headed to becoming an engineer — a career path promoted by her family.
She stumbled upon journalism in an English class when tasked with working on the school newspaper.
Her accidental involvement in the student publication evolved into a love for writing, and eventually she chose to focus on journalism at university.
“I was the first journalist in my extended family and feared failure. I am a storyteller at heart,” Wong said.
During her final year at New York University, Wong tested her storytelling abilities by working as a part-time news assistant at the Wall Street Journal.
She started off in the newspaper’s library answering phones and helping with research. Then she was promoted to the newsroom, where she pitched and proofread stories. Eventually she was given her first reporting job covering white-collar crime and lawsuits at the federal court in Manhattan.
Wong, who later became global managing editor at Reuters News, said the chance to work at a reputable news organization is “the best job in the world.”
Be a sponge and absorb everything.
Q: What was the biggest story you ever covered?
Wong: The 1990s stock market boom. The bull market was getting really old, but there was a frightening sense of euphoria only felt when the end is near. I remember asking a well-known stock technician which stocks to buy when they were already trading at high multiples, and he facetiously replied, “Anything with a stock symbol on it.”
Q: What was the most unusual story you ever covered?
Wong: A new world record for the highest number of people doing the hokey pokey at the same time. Even a New York City cop on his horse participated. I received far more reader feedback on that story than my more serious ones.
Q: What was the most challenging story you ever covered?
Wong: The impact of the Great Recession on the wealthy community in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I asked people to share their personal stories on long-term unemployment and being underemployed.
Q: If you had one piece of advice to give to a students nowadays, what would it be?
Wong: Be a sponge and absorb everything. I became a better reporter by sitting next to a great reporter and listening to him schmooze and observing how he questioned sources.
Q: Does the news industry as a business have a future?
Wong: Yes, but it will have more convulsions before getting there. When I started in journalism in the 1980s, everyone said newspapers were dying, and they’re still saying that. Who or what gathers news and what device is used for news consumption might change, but I believe professional journalists will still be needed.
(To read Betty Wong’s articles for News-Decoder, click here.)
Amari Leigh is News-Decoder’s 2019 summer intern. An American citizen, she is studying French and world politics at university in the U.S. state of New York. Born and raised in New York City, Leigh has lived in Brazil, France and Portugal. She enjoys theater, learning languages and exploring new cities.