Author Archives: Dave Lee

Round-up: Journalists under threat in Libya

A British journalist has gone missing and two other reporters have apparently been taken into custody while reporting on the Libyan conflict.

The Press Association reports that Dave Clark, 38, last checked in with his editor at Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Friday evening.

His colleague Roberto Schmidt and Getty Images photographer Joe Raedle are understood to be being held by Gaddafi’s forces.

Denis Hiault, AFP’s London bureau chief, said:

“It’s now been three days so we are pretty worried. We have quite a few people on the ground trying to find anything about their whereabouts. We don’t know where they are, if they have been arrested or what.”

The trio are the latest in a worrying number of journalists who have been subjected to imprisonment or worse while reporting from what is now an international warzone.

Earlier on Monday, the New York Times announced that four of its staff had been released six days after their capture in the city of Ajdabiya.

Times’ Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid, photographers Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, and British born reporter and videographer Stephen Farrell were – like a lot of western journalists – operating without visas and had entered the country via neighbouring Egypt. From the Times:

“After the New York Times reported having lost contact with the journalists last Tuesday, officials with the Qaddafi government pledged that if they had been detained by the government’s military forces they would be located and released unharmed.”

In an emotional letter to the Times’ staff, editor Bill Keller said the paper was “indebted” to the Turkish government who played an instrumental part in getting the journalists out of Libya and into Tunisia.

Making reference to the Times’ recently-announced paywall, Keller said the capture and subsequent release was proof enough that “boots-on-the-ground journalism” is “worth paying for”:

We’re overjoyed to report that our four journalists missing in Libya since Tuesday morning are free and have arrived safely in Tunisia. The Libyan government informed us through various channels Thursday afternoon that Anthony, Tyler, Lynsey and Steve were in Tripoli, in the custody of the Libyan authorities, and would be freed soon. The four were allowed to speak to their families by phone Thursday night. Because of the volatile situation in Libya, we’ve kept our enthusiasm and comments in check until they were out of the country, but now feels like a moment for celebration. And before long we’ll all know the details of their experience. 

And, in a week when we have dared to declare that the work we do is worth paying for, this is a reminder that real, boots-on-the-ground journalism is hard and sometimes dangerous work. To the many colleagues who are deployed in hard places — the battleground streets of North Africa and the Middle East, the battered landscape of Japan — we implore you to be careful.

An Al Jazeera cameraman became the first journalist fatality of the conflict when he was killed while working near Benghazi on the 12th March. Al Jazeera correspondent Tony Birtley said:

“His is an extension of the campaign against Al Jazeera, and Al Jazeera Arabic particularly – because everyone here watches Al Jazeera Arabic. Their work has been heroic, and it has been a great shock to lose a colleague.”

Al Jazeera now say four more of their journalists are missing.

A team reporting for BBC Arabic were “beaten with fists, knees and rifles, hooded and subjected to mock executions by Libyan troops and secret police” before being released on the 10th March.

Chris Cobb-Smith, Feras Killani and Goktay Koraltan were all detained after being stopped at a roadblock. Describing the ordeal, Cobb-Smith said:

“We were lined up against the wall. I was the last in line – facing the wall. I looked and I saw a plainclothes guy with a small sub-machine gun. He put it to everyone’s neck. I saw him and he screamed at me. Then he walked up to me, put the gun to my neck and pulled the trigger twice. The bullets whisked past my ear. The soldiers just laughed.”

The BBC later received an apology from Libyan authorities.

On 2 March, the Guardian’s staff correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was captured in the coastal town of Sabratha before being detained in a prison near the capital, Tripoli. He was released 14 days later. The highly-respected Iraqi-born journalist has worked for the Guardian since 2004, covering many conflicts around the world. Editor Alan Rusbridger said:

“We are delighted that Ghaith has been released and is safely out of Libya. We are grateful to all those who worked behind the scenes to help free him after his ordeal.”

Young Libyan web journalist Mohammed al-Nabbous was killed in an attack by pro-Gaddafi forces in Benghazi on Saturday. France24 report that the 28-year-old was reportedly hit by a sniper. His pregnant wife broadcast the news on al-Nabbous’ site Libya Al-Hurra (meaning Free Libya).

Journalism graduates, you may be inexperienced but you have momentum on your side

If you’re reading this as a final year journalism student, you’ve probably just finished your course. It’s a good feeling. After a few years of practicing, preparing and, indeed, pretending, you’re now free to be a real journalist in the real world.

If you’ve done it right, you’re being described by your peers as one to watch for the future: A real prospect – the prodigy that’s heading places. Everyone wants to work with you.

And then you graduate.

Overnight, you turn from a young up-and-comer to an inexperienced, untested and – if you’re not careful – unemployable journalist.

Why the change? Well, firstly, you now cost money. No longer can you put on a big smile and throw yourself into your work in exchange for little more than a satisfying “well done” from the news desk. Secondly, all those already in the jobs you want have been on the very same journey. They were all described as “budding journalists” once. They’re you, but older, better, and more experienced.

Frightening, isn’t it? But don’t worry. You have something up your sleeve: momentum. Keeping that momentum until you land the elusive first job is the key to short and long term success.

Remember that editor you did some great work for over the Easter holidays? He probably remembers you. He would probably recognise you in the street. But he won’t next year when another sprightly young journalist turns up on his doorstep offering free work. So strike while the iron’s hot.

Think of all the people you have ever worked or drank with. Check in with your tutors – many know what the local industry landscape is like through social connections – and make everyone you know on earth fully aware that you are a journalist looking for work.

Keep track of your coursemates. Without sounding cruel, their struggle will spur you on further. Or, on the other hand, some of them might strike it lucky and get a quick job themselves. All it takes is one friend within a publisher or broadcaster to spot a vacancy, pass on your CV and you’re one step closer to a done deal.

Cash in all those editors you met along the way that invited you to keep in touch, or gave you their card. Most of them will have just been acting polite – but you’re bound to have stuck in the minds of at least a few of them. Even if you didn’t, being at the right place at the right time can be all it takes to get a set of shifts on a newsdesk.

While it’s easy to be dazzled by your big companies – your BBCs and Guardians – it’s well worth remembering that you may make a better name for yourself working for a tiny publication where they’ll be relying on you to innovate and experiment. That’s where you can really make your mark. Keep in mind that this stage it’s about the job, not the publication. If you’re really lucky, both will be great.

These approaches could see you in a job within a month. Or three. Or a year. Perhaps two. Truth be told, none of these methods are a surefire way of getting a job, and a big part of getting that first job in journalism is about preparing to be unemployed. Maybe for a very long time.

It’s a horrible feeling. On the worst days it feels like you’ll never even have a job, let alone one remotely related to journalism. But that’s where an unexpected luxury of journalism comes into play: you don’t need work in order to be working. Unlike, say, an out-of-work plumber who needs a customer’s pipes to ply his trade, the dole-friendly journo can do so many things.

Fill your days with productive activity. There’s only so much time per day you can devote to job-searching – so apply yourself during your down time to equip yourself with even more knowledge. You’ve really got no excuse not to start a blog. Hyperlocal is all the rage – and forever will be, let’s not forget – so set something up for where you live and get started.

If you’re really good, you may even discover that through the process of unemployment you will end up employing yourself.

Or, after all that hard work, you’ll finally get that phone call or email that heralds the beginning of your career.

Until then, though, prepare to feel useless, depressed and deflated. It’s an unrelenting test of your resolve, and many around you won’t make it. But consider it a quality control mechanism. When you do eventually get that job, you’ll want everyone around you to be as determined as you are.