Friday, August 08, 2008

Clamouring to be a crack reporter

An ex-student, James, emailed me on something many ambitious journalists/ new journalists will recognise.

James in the last year has filmed in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, currently the area which has brought Georgia and Russia into conflict.

James, 24, speaks fluent Russian and knows a thing or two about the area and would very much want to report from the area.

To be precise, he would very much want a broadcaster to take him on.

I talk to a fair number of interested parties about this. Once the director of Studies at Chatham House whom I knew had his nephew contact me about breaking into foreign reportage. Then South America was the big news spot to be.

Here's what I usually say:

1. News editors are highly unlikely to send a reporter they do not know to a region in conflict - even if you know the president , well.... but

* a) the insurance is too much
* b) there's a slew of in-house reporters craving to get the next plane out.

2. What they are likely to want is your contacts, fixing skills working with a correspondent or your feeds if you're already in the region and sound reliable.
James Britain, a friend and a reporter based in South Africa in 92 for South Africa's Sunday Times got his break by becoming firstly the fixer of ITN's Southern Africa correspondent's Mark Austin. Then he would later become a producer and continued a highly successful career back in London with ITN.
3. Broadcasters are more inclined to take your eye witness reports if you are in a region.
In the 90s I thought I knew everything there was about South Africa, but for love or money no one would listen to me. It was only after I relocated to South Africa, going into hot zones in the townships; being shot at and getting copy on the BBC World Service that anyone started to listen.
But you can pay a high price, sometimes with your life, so if you're considering such a move talk to friends and family.
4. Your best bet also is firing a wad of emails/calls to specialist programmes (that's what I did) e.g. Outlook World Service, Woman's Hour, Newsbeat (BBC) Newsround, More4.

5. Easier, trawl some of the more credible web sites and offer your footage/copy e.g., UNTV, etc. Didn't have those in my time, but it would have been an extra resource.

6. If you're planning on relocating, get a good sense of how newsworthy the material will be for broadcasters. It's about understanding the news agenda.

Trouble is you're in catch 22 land in trying to do such a big story. If you don't have any cred, they won't take anything, but how do you get cred?

And if you do make it, clamouring to be a crack reporter, many a journalists have gone on to bag awards for their endeavors.

Good luck, but be safe. At 20 something, with the adrenalin rush of war it's difficult not to think you're invincible.

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