Inside Story: From frontline to deadline: the war reporters pick their heroes

The battleground is the office in the fearless world of war reporting. Ian Burrell and Ed Caesar ask broadcast and newspaper veterans who they most admire in the field
Click to follow

Robert Fisk (The Independent)

Robert Fisk (The Independent)

My favourites are mostly dead: Howard K Smith, the last US reporter out of 1941 Berlin; Alan Moorehead - read Eclipse to find out what it's like to report a real war - and, of course, the mighty James Cameron. Today, I'd say the now-retired Martin Bell; not because of his eloquence, but because he let the image speak for itself. A typical Bosnian report from Bell would run like this [pauses at the full-stops]: "Sarajevo. Dawn. The first shells. The wounded. The dead. The cemetery. Dusk. Martin Bell. BBC. Sarajevo." That's how war should be done on television. And not a verb there.

Orla Guerin (BBC News)

I was 25 and working for the Irish state broadcaster RTE in Moscow, preparing to go to Georgia, but listening to a report from Martin Bell in Sarajevo. On the basis of his description, I rushed back to Dublin, got a bullet-proof vest from the Irish army and rushed off to Sarajevo. I had no local contacts, no crew or anything, but Martin took pity on me and was the most incredibly kind person you could meet in a trench or battlefield. He is an extraordinary example of someone incredibly experienced and established, but with time to see a lone figure and point them in the right direction. He is also an absolute craftsman at language: there are things that he said in the course of covering that war that I remember to this day. I would also mention the incomparable Marie Colvin, of The Sunday Times, who I nominate for great courage and commitment.

Jeremy Thompson (Sky News)

Robert Fisk, of The Independent, is fearless, not only in confronting danger, but more in daring to write the truth about the arrogance, greed, corruption and mendacity of those who inflict war upon the world. Ever since we witnessed together the horror of Kuwait's Highway of Death in 1991, I've watched as he has relentlessly pursued the perpetrators of violence and been the voice of the victims. Fisk has exposed many raw, war nerves - most of them the right ones.

Jason Burke (The Observer)

Three scenes from Iraq come to mind. The first is driving south from Baghdad with Rory McCarthy, of The Guardian, and finding two dead journalists, an Algerian and a Pole, on the road in front of us next to their shot-up car. I rang my newsdesk and babbled incoherently. Rory used the incident to correct errors in early wire copy about the day's events in Iraq. Next, arriving in Najaf during the fighting last summer to find, to my immense relief, Stephen Farrell, of The Times, the hardest-working man in hack business, who proceeded to guide me through some of the most intense combat I have seen, got a great story, took pictures and, though he had been working about 18 hours a day for 10 days, was still making calls at midnight. Finally, a group of hacks sitting round the pool in Baghdad's al-Hamra Hotel one evening. Jon Swain, of The Sunday Times, a reporter whose work inspired me to set out in foreign affairs journalism and whose fine, fluid writing thankfully still appears every Sunday, had been quiet while everyone else told tales about how brave, rugged and interesting they all were. There was a long pause after a particularly egregious example and only then did Jon say: "When I was at Khe Sanh..."

Lindsey Hilsum (Channel 4 News)

When we were in Baghdad during the war in 2003, we listened to BBC World Service to find out what was happening with the approaching US troops. I thought Kylie Morris was the best reporter. I always learnt something from her dispatches and she seemed to get more interesting detail than others. Among newspaper journalists, Marie Colvin, of The Sunday Times, stands out because of her bravery and commitment over many years and in many conflicts. Now, some of the best war reporters are young Iraqis going where foreign correspondents fear to tread.

Mark Austin (ITV News)

Martin Bell has to be up there, because of an economy of style that starkly depicted the horror of war. So sparing - yet such impact. And he also had the courage to dump impartiality when the Serbian paramilitaries made it impossible. John Simpson's entrance to Kabul was much derided, but was, nevertheless, a brilliant piece of war reporting, and I have to mention my colleague Paul Davies, an extraordinarily brave war correspondent, whose reports from the siege of Dubrovnik were very memorable. And most important of all, he knew when to pack it in. He doesn't do wars now.

James Meek (The Guardian)

I have a special admiration for those who've made their names reporting the wars in Africa, such as Chris McGreal and Richard Dowden, in places where the boundaries of any law or sanctuary seem to melt; or reporters such as Carlotta Gall and Sebastian Smith in Chechnya in the 1990s, who stuck with the story under fire in forgotten rebel strongholds, when the world wasn't all that interested. That tolerance of chaos and uncertainty - which isn't the same as an appetite for danger - combined with a willingness to report outside the war of the moment is the mark of the best, no less so because it isn't the shortest way to glory.

Anthony Loyd (The Times)

Julius Strauss, of The Daily Telegraph, is an independent-minded old-timer who cut his (gold) teeth in the Balkan wars. He's reported from Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. An inability to even momentarily shut up or sit still makes him a most irritating travelling companion, Strauss's natural feeling for those living beneath the shadow of the gun nevertheless translates into reportage far more engaging than that of others in the stable. Carlotta Gall, of The New York Times, is the real McCoy. A veteran of Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, she embodies an array of qualities which places her in the top league of reporters. Her bravery and endurance take her to places most others would fear to tread, while her diligent adherence to detail and sense of mental independence far separates her work from the "hit or miss" style of rivals. Apparently uncompromised by the personal vanity that blights so much of the work of colleagues, she is something of the unsung heroine of the profession. Crucially, she is also the dancehall queen of Kabul's night scene.

Ben Brown (BBC News)

Martin Bell was a brilliant war reporter and an inspiration. His broadcast voice was devastating: deep and totally authoritative. He wrote like an angel; or rather he didn't write - he thought of something to say and just delivered it into the microphone. He was the master of memorable, spine-tingling turns of phrase: over a shot of the ruins of Vukovar, he said: "And to the victor - the spoils of war." In the field, he was fearless, but no head-banger: safety was always a top priority. Even when he was hit by shrapnel in Bosnia, he still managed to come up with a line on camera: "I'm alive. I'll survive." Martin was also immensely kind: after six unusually quiet weeks in Sarajevo, he handed over to me on the day of a marketplace massacre that led to Nato's bombing of the Serbs. He could have kept the story, but instead he gave way to his young understudy.

Richard Lloyd Parry (The Times)

There's a lot of war porn around these days. Too often, correspondents and editors succumb to the temptation to present conflict as a delicious thrill, rather than the disgusting business that it really is. James Fenton is an art critic these days, rather than a war correspondent, but his reportage from Vietnam, the Philippines and Korea in the 1970s and 1980s has outlasted the rest for its dry wit and self-deprecation. Among present practitioners, the best of all is Patrick Cockburn, of The Independent. He writes with authority and understatement, and he never takes refuge in flashy shows of indignation or self-serving displays of compassion. He'll be read when the rest of us are long forgotten.

Alex Thomson (Channel 4 News)

My nomination would be to anybody who is getting away from the hotels/ facilities/photo-ops in Iraq to attempt to tell the story which has become next to impossible for us to write/shoot/ record. In particular, the local cameramen working largely for the news agencies - very much unsung heroes. That apart, my vote would have to go to Kylie Morris, of the BBC, whose packages are always thoughtfully worked through, jargon free and have a powerful habit of bringing home the human cost of it all, without slipping into the mawkish cheesiness that abounds elsewhere.

Toby Harnden (The Sunday Telegraph)

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Rory McCarthy, of The Guardian, is a very acute observer who lets the reader learn about the people he is writing about, rather than himself. No one has portrayed the plight of ordinary Iraqis better. Brave, but not gung ho, and has that great knack of getting in and out safely to file the story on time. He is humane, fair-minded and prefers to hint at the complexities of a situation, rather than offer easy denunciations or reinforce prejudices. For three decades, Patrick Bishop, of The Daily Telegraph, has been brilliant. Of the new generation, Paul Wood, of the BBC, is excellent.

John Sweeney (BBC, ex-Observer)

The grandaddy would be Martin Bell. The BBC tends to have more technology and safety, such as an armoured Land Rover, and the other correspondents try to get lifts because you would be much safer. The way Martin handled those issues was always straight, fair and generous. In Bosnia, he combined a sense of passion for the story with a very, very black sense of humour. My number two would be Allan Little, who is now the BBC Paris correspondent; a Scottish Martin Bell. He gave me a lift into Sarajevo and there was this Somme-scape of blasted buildings. We were crossing the front line, one of the most dangerous places on earth, and Allan was pretending to be the Queen [high pitched regal voice]: "Are you keeping warm?" Maggie O'Kane, of The Guardian, wrote some stuff in Bosnia that was just incredible. Kim Sengupta, of The Independent, does really good stuff and Justin Huggler, also of The Independent, is a very good writer.

Maggie O'Kane (The Guardian)

Marie Colvin, of The Sunday Times, is one of those who stays around when it gets dangerous. I remember listening to her reports from inside the UN compound in East Timor, as the roughest of the rebels were circulating for the kill and the UN was preparing to pull out. Most of the media (there were three journalists who stayed behind in the compound - all women) had fled. In 24 hours, hundreds of journalists had gone, leaving the terrified refugees. But there was Marie Colvin. Steadfastly, calmly reporting on the terror of the women and children, as the UN prepared to abandon them. In the end - partly because of her reports - they didn't. She lost sight in one of her eyes in Sri Lanka and has travelled less in the past couple of years, but she is still the bravest woman I've met in the field.

John Irvine (ITV News)

Martin Bell of the BBC had it all. By definition, television news reporters should be able to blend words and pictures, but few have done it as well as Bell. His appearance and his voice, with that clipped delivery, gave him enormous stature and presence. Also, he was a master of the succinct phrase. Apparently, when preparing a voice track, he never put pen to paper. Instead, he would get his tape-editor to put the pictures down first and then he'd utter the appropriate words off the top if his head. These days, all broadcasters are keen to "brand" their correspondents and some of it is not so subtle. Martin required no gimmickry.

Patrick Cockburn (The Independent)

I admire those war correspondents who show endurance. It is easy enough to be brave for a day, but to endure the stress of covering murderous conflicts for months is far more wearing. It is also far more difficult to do when the interest of papers and television has died away, but the atrocities go on. I particularly admire the independent film-maker Gwynne Roberts, who for years travelled through the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan to make superb television documentaries about the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds. This was when the regime in Baghdad was being courted and supported by the US and Britain, and the outside world didn't know that a whole society was being destroyed.