Letter From the Editor: It's tough, but not as tough as reporting from a war zone


This was one of those weeks when, as Editor, I freely, but nonetheless uncomfortably, admit to being a hypocrite.

As the situation in Mali worsened, I was badgering Jon Bowd, our Foreign Editor, as to who we had there, reporting on the ground. It's not a part of the world blessed with Western-oriented journalists, so the answer, not surprisingly, was, "no one".

I asked whether Kim Sengupta, our foreign "fireman", was free. It turned out that Kim, freshly back from another war zone, Syria, was available and could go. "Great," I replied, without hesitating, "send him to Mali".

I quickly added: "Make sure he knows not to do anything too dangerous." Madness, really. There I was, making a trip to Mali sound like a day out at a theme park.

The journalist in me wanted coverage from the war-torn African country – the more graphic accounts of the fighting and suffering, the better. But having committed to dispatching Kim to one of the most risky places on Earth, I felt the need to somehow absolve myself with a comment about his security. The truth, though, which we don't like to admit, is that the welfare of the reporter is not our only concern. If it was, Kim would remain in the comfort of the office, cutting and pasting pieces of wire copy.

It's not a one-way process. In my many years of knowing Kim – we go back to long before I became Editor – I've never been aware of him turning down an assignment because it was too perilous. Neither is it the case that he is made to go, that he can't say no otherwise his job would be at risk. Indeed, often, the suggestion to visit a war zone is his and his alone.

For Kim, read Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Andy Buncombe... The list of our correspondents prepared to head off into hazardous territory is a lengthy one.

Not just abroad, either. In London during the last set of riots, our reporters ventured forth, willing to get as close as they could to the violence and looting, without much thought for their own safety. (In fact, they should have been concerned, as the looters turned on television crews.)

We've had journalists shot (Buncombe in Thailand) and nearly stoned to death (Fisk in Pakistan). And who can forget the courage of the late Marie Colvin from The Sunday Times?

We try to ensure they have the best kit possible, that they contact us regularly, and travel with local fixers and other journalists. We do what we can to protect them. But after that, they're on their own. All we can do is worry.

So, while we struggle with the snow this weekend I'll also be wondering about our man in Mali. I know I sent him there, but it doesn't stop me from wishing: safe journey home, Kim.