To make freelancing safer, young foreign journalists need more support and less sneering

It grates when established foreign correspondents lay into young reporters

Share
Related Topics

“I’m going to Libya,” I proudly announced to my family and friends in October 2011.

Those who knew more about me than they did the situation in North Africa were nonplussed. Those who cared about me asked if it is was safe. Those who shared my ambition to become a foreign correspondent were impressed. And those whose papers I desperately wanted to write for were responsive.

After three years of wavering between freelancing and scavenging for full-time employment, I jumped at the opportunity to go to the highly restive post-Gaddafi country. The “job” was with a Tunisian production company to make documentaries, but I knew I would have time to write on the side.

I contacted the foreign editors of most of the major British newspapers to see if they would be interested in stories from the country and try and establish a working relationship. I hadn't written for any of the papers before, nor did I know anyone there, but for the large part the reaction was immediate and positive.

As a young journalist trying to make it in the crowded, illustrious world of foreign correspondency, this was an irrefutable sign that being in a war zone/hostile environment would instantly get the precious attention of editors. Suddenly the abyss into which I had fired so many emails while previously abroad was receding. I sensed that my career could hinge on the next few months.

This is a fact of which young freelancers are increasingly aware.

I find it unfair - although I understand the concerns - that older journalists who have secure, regularly salaried jobs or else enjoy already-established reputations see fit to lay into us. It's really, really hard to get into journalism these days, and even harder to make a living from it. You simply can't expect people to turn down opportunities that instantly put them on a foreign editor's radar.

A BBC journalist who had told me about the job with the Tunisian company pushed me into going on a hostile environment training course with the help of a bursary from the fantastic Rory Peck Trust. The course was absolutely invaluable, but even with financial assistance, it still cost £750, an expense I convinced my Tunisian employer to pay.
 
This is not an affordable base requirement to insist on from freelancers. Much of the most useful advice - the first aid training, being taught how to recognize various weapons and munitions, deciphering which direction shooting is coming from, survival basics - could be done very cheaply over the course of a day. Training could surely be organized by the various papers and conducted in house.

During my meetings with various editors about what kind of stories they were looking for from the country, only one pushed me on exactly what kind of hostile environment training I had. Another asked vaguely about taking security precautions, and yet another didn’t ask at all. Every single one asked me if I had been abroad before, but at the time if felt as if they were assessing my ability to work in a foreign country rather than my ability to look after myself.

I think editors should be spelling out what freelancers need to be doing to make sure they are prepared. It would take very little time to put together some sort of freelancers kit to detail the available resources out there. The Rory Peck Trust, Medecin Sans Frontiers’ freelancer insurance, the Vulture Club facebook group, etc. Knowing about all of these things in advance would not only be incredibly useful, it might also prompt people to think harder about what they’re getting into. It's difficult to assess the risks when you don't know what to expect - and making those risks clear is down to the editors.

Peer support is another crucial factor.

I am not suggesting it is every journalists’ responsibility to take every young whippersnapper they come across under their wing and risk their own neck, but if they’re already out there, then some solid advice and an honest chat can help people make better decisions. We don’t have a huge network of contacts to tap into, that comes with time. Being part of a community, whether online or on the ground, is a completely free way to provide a safety net for people, where they can ask questions, find trustworthy fixers and club together for transport and accommodation.

All of that said, it also comes down to the individual. Sunil Patel’s jaunt into Syria has been widely derided, and I’m inclined to agree with his critics. His behaviour was reckless, and he did risk endangering himself and those he came across. People like this will always slip through the net.

I never went to Libya in the end - the job fell through and I opted to freelance in Tunisia rather than go it alone, largely due to safety concerns. But I know people my age with a similar level of experience who did go and whose careers were made off the back of it.

You're never going to be able to stop young, aspiring foreign journalists from going into dangerous places. Yes, we’re impatient. Yes, we want to run before we can walk. It's been the same for decades. The solution, in my eyes, is more support, and less sneering.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
These young British men featured in an Isis video urging Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria. About 30 British jihadists are believed to have died fighting alongside IS  

Isis in the UK: How the 'War on Terror' radicalised a generation

Alyas Karmani
Dance yourself happy: strutting their stuff is, apparently, better for people than visiting the gym  

How should we measure the 'worth' of our nation?

Dan Holden
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?