Leading Millennials: Masuma Ahuja, CNN

"I’ve realized that the work I do and my journalism is always better when I think about the story first, not the technology or platform or app."

Masuma Ahuja works on emerging social platforms and messaging apps at CNN. She’s responsible for building stories for distribution on social channels including Facebook Messenger, LINE and Kik.

She appears here as part of our stories to identify the evolving generation of professionals in the service of journalism.

What do you love about what you do?
I get to tell stories that matter every day. As journalists, we’re literally paid to be curious about the world, to talk to people, and to find answers to questions. It’s the best job! And because I work on emerging platforms, I have an incredible opportunity to experiment constantly, to keep trying new things and finding new ways to tell stories.

 

Where do you struggle most?
My job is to work with the newest platforms, the newest technologies, which means there isn’t a clear path forward to follow. We’re all figuring it out in realtime — this is both exciting and terrifying.

 

What do you think the next 3 years look like for you?
I don’t know what exactly I’ll be doing over the next three years — my job didn’t exist three years ago, so much of the technology I work with didn’t exist even a year ago.

Over the last five years, I’ve worked with text messages and voicemails, Snapchat and Kik, I’ve reported stories for print and produced live events…. at the heart of it all, though, it’s always about the news we cover and the stories we tell.

So, I’ll probably be finding new ways to tell stories, chasing some stories I care about, all the while tinkering with new technology.

I check in with myself regularly and see if I feel like I’m doing work that matters, if I’m having fun, and if I’m a little bit terrified by my job (the good kind of fear means you’re learning and growing).

How do you figure out if you’re on the right track for your career?
I try and think less about the right track and more about whether I’m in the right job for me at the moment.

So, I check in with myself regularly and see if I feel like I’m doing work that matters, if I’m having fun, and if I’m a little bit terrified by my job (the good kind of fear means you’re learning and growing).

 

What is the biggest thing you know today that you didn’t know a year ago?
This is something I’ve been learning through my career, but the learning curve was much steeper in the last year for me: I’ve realized that the work I do and my journalism is always better when I think about the story first, not the technology or platform or app.

I was in Rio covering the Olympics this summer, and I started every day talking over breakfast with colleagues about what stories we wanted to tell that day. We talked about what interesting things were happening, what questions we wanted to answer, and which people we wanted to talk to.

Then, I would go off and find a way to tell that story on Facebook Live or Kik or Instagram, and they would figure out how to tell the same stories on TV.

 

What are the top 3 things that would motivate you in a job?
I’m very purpose driven and story driven. So, if I can see how the small things I’m doing are in service of a larger purpose or help tell an important story, it helps to motivate me.

Sometimes, you have to spend hours lost in spreadsheets to help reach new audiences and get the news to more people; sometimes you have to transcribe hours of tape to find the one moment that captures a story perfectly. Being able to step back and look at what we’re working toward is helpful.

 

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! I’ve gotten story and project ideas from taxi drivers (I know, it’s such a cliche!), from strangers on the subway, from art exhibits, from books, from text messages from my mom.

 

What do you know about managing young talent in newsrooms that most managers probably don’t get?
Hmm… I’ve been lucky to have lots of very good editors and managers in my career who have given me the space to figure out what I’m good at and given me opportunities to do good work. I try to do the same.

It’s not enough to be good. At some point, you realize that we’ve all passed this basic test and are good at our jobs, which is why we’re here.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a boss?
It’s not enough to be good. At some point, you realize that we’ve all passed this basic test and are good at our jobs, which is why we’re here. So you need something more than just being good: You need to work harder, to be trying new things, to be more creative, to be willing to be more persistent than anyone else, whatever it is.

 

If someone came up to you seeking advice on whether he or she should get into journalism, what would you say?
It’s very hard work, the days are long and unpredictable — you give a lot of yourself to the job — you have to be open to unpredictability (both in terms of the actual news and in terms of the industry), but I couldn’t think of anything more fun to do with my life. Think about all those things.

 

As a media professional, what concerns you most about the future of the industry?
Media has always changed — we had print, then radio, then TV, then the internet, then social media, now it’s all the apps. We just have to ride the wave and find ways to continue to cover the news as things keep changing.


We’re looking for people with an elasticity in their views of media and journalism. It’s rare.

The faces of people in the service of journalism are often found on stage. They are often the heads of their newsrooms. They are often men. There’s little space on stage for the younger people sitting further down the hierarchy of these newsrooms. I want to tell their stories because some of them could one day redefine this industry.

So if you want to be featured here (or know of someone who should), drop me an email. I’m alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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