meet the news journalists changing how we see the world

We feel greedy taking their time, these fearless young journalists who actually say the things that need to be said, on massive global platforms where everybody can see them. In an age of trolling, hate mail and death threats, and in the aftermath of...

by Sarah Raphael
27 March 2015, 11:40am

Julia Macfarlane, 25, BBC broadcast journalist
What did you want to be when you were little?
David Attenborough. Then when I was a little older I read Rory Stewart's book about crossing Afghanistan on foot during the US invasion. It changed my interest in the world around me, and I wanted to know what a girl my age would have been like in Afghanistan.

What's it like working for the BBC?
It's the best. I grew up as an expat in Asia where my parents listened to the World Service, and the BBC was a trusted news source and an anchor to home. It was always the place I wanted to work more than anywhere else. I was thrilled to start working on the flagship BBC Six and Ten bulletins on BBC One earlier this year. The bulletins are the top output from BBC News, and it's incredible to work with the most senior editors and correspondents on a daily basis. I've grown up watching Huw Edwards and Fiona Bruce read me the news - so it's amazing to be part of their team.

Who do you look up to in your field?
Too many to name - I'm constantly surrounded by inspirational people. There are journalists at BBC Singhala who have survived assassination attempts, as well as BBC Persia reporters who are exiled from their homeland for reporting what is happening in their country. Jeremy Bowen, who knows just so much about the history and the workings of the Middle East but works harder than most people I know, with his equally fearless and tireless producer Cara Swift. Fred Scott and Darren Conway are artists with the camera and I can never get enough of their filming. Trying to emulate them is like a baby trying their hand at a Van Gogh.

What's the hardest part of your job?
When you work for the BBC there's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with it. It's both a joy and a privilege - but when you first start out it's terrifying thinking about the many ways you can mess up.

What was the first story you covered?
My first solo TV and radio reports for the BBC were on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon. They aired on the day the 1 millionth refugee crossed the border - but my reports were about how thousands of refugees weren't registering their presence out of fear, so the number was much higher. I spent weeks trying to get these refugees, who were too scared to register in order to receive aid, and to go on TV and tell me about it. It was hard! Thankfully I managed it somehow, and it was amazing to bring those voices to the world through the BBC, both its national and international TV channels.

Which story have you felt the most personally invested in?
I spent most of last summer in the newsroom covering the Israel-Gaza conflict from London for the BBC news website. I generally get tense when there are escalations in the Levant (which is my biggest area of interest) but then I just couldn't sit still, safe in my house in London, while seeing what was happening to the people there, it was difficult to watch. My deployment to Gaza was my first assignment as a staff member (previously I had been a freelancer) so I put a lot of pressure on myself although everyone was really encouraging. I went on my own as a self-shooting video journalist, doing radio and online reporting as well - so the hardest part was juggling those different formats while also thinking of the basics, and how to tell a good story. I'm proud of the stories I produced during this time, but it was a challenge for my first assignment.

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
The BBC takes safety very seriously - sometimes too seriously, hence why some journos have nicknamed it "Auntie"! Before I went anywhere I had to do a week of hostile environment training. I've experienced about an iron filing's worth of terror compared to my colleagues but I have had some interesting moments. I was caught in riots and tear gas in Beirut, which was more of an experience of high adrenaline, I never felt like I was in actual danger. Last summer I was around the corner from a suicide bomb which was surreal, but the reality didn't hit home until I recounted my story on the BBC Radio's 'From Our Own Correspondent'.

Who is the most interesting person you have met over the last year?
After my trip to Gaza I went to Israel a few months ago to meet people on the other side of the fence. I met a family of settlers who lived opposite the Palestinians who carried out the attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem in November, and heard their story. They were kind and gentle people who wanted to live in peace with their neighbors. It really hammered home that these complex conflicts are not seesaws, where you compare the two sides - but you must consider and empathize with both sides on their own, standing in their shoes, and giving them the chance to share their perspective. You always need context - but it's so important to try and see things from their point of view.

What's the strangest story you've covered?
More of a strange experience, than a strange story covered in itself: Before I was with the BBC, I was working in a Palestinian camp in Tripoli, filming undercover with a freelance crew. Half of the team was discovered after a camp spy alerted the camp's militias (the Lebanese army cannot enter the camp). They were apprehended and interrogated but my colleague and I spent the day hiding in a safehouse. It was Eid that night, so once darkness fell we crept out and celebrated with a big family and a huge feast until the little hours of the morning, smoking shisha and swapping stories. It was one of the best nights I've had even though it started out fearing capture and losing all of our story material!

What do you think the point of journalism is?
I hate to sound melodramatic, but I really feel journalism is one of the most important things you can spend your life doing. It's the cornerstone to a free society. We have a duty to the public to cover events, in stark reality, to resist pressure and intimidation and outside influences, and to report on what is happening with truth and accuracy. There's a quote somewhere, that no society can be free without a free press, and I completely agree with that.

Henry Langston, 26, Vice News Editor
Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
Sort of fell into it I guess, I started off as a photographer covering protests in the UK but quickly felt that I couldn't tell the whole story with just photos so moved into photojournalism. I was able to inform the audience so much better but I wanted to do things differently, I wanted to write for people my age and Vice was and is the perfect medium for that. 

Which journalists do you look up to?
I still really look up to Don McCullin, quite easily the best war photographer there's ever been. Such a clever operator and his work stands so well above that of his peers and contemporary conflict photographers. I also have a lot of respect for my colleagues who've been covering the conflict in Ukraine, photographers, writers and other presenters. There's been some excellent, brave and ground breaking reporting coming from that conflict and a lot of it by younger journalists. 

What's the hardest part of your job?
When you cover conflict you tend to see a lot of brutal and heart-breaking things, which is always tough. I think what's hardest though is meeting civilians whose lives are completely dominated by a conflict and they are totally resigned to that fate; that this is all they know and all they may well know for some time. You meet some people who are so accepting of that, that their reaction to their neighborhood being devastated, for example, is a shrug of the shoulders as if it's normal.

What do you think you've made your name on?
I would say my work from Ukraine definitely, from the longer-form films we made covering the stages of the revolution to the shorter dispatches covering the war in the east. Some of those dispatches have had over a million views each, which is amazing, and the majority of those viewers are under 25, a demographic that the mainstream broadcasters have always struggled to reach.

What was the first story you covered?
I covered the arrest of the former Bosnian-Serb President, Radovan Karadzic, who had been on the run for 15 years as he was wanted in connection to the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. I just happened to be in Belgrade working on a photography project for uni when he was picked up. The very same day tens of thousands of his supporters came onto the streets of the city and did so for the rest of the week. It culminated in him being extradited to the Hague a few days later whilst his supporters gathered in central Belgrade and clashed with the police, I had some of the photos published on the BBC website and immediately I knew that this was what I wanted to do. 

Which story have you felt the most personally invested in?
I'd say Ukraine, I've covered so much of it now and I just can't leave it behind. It's an amazing country full of amazing, brave and hard people. The world has failed Ukraine and the propaganda has made it very hard for people to get a clear idea of what's going on, I like to think our coverage has helped to cut through the bullshit. 

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
All the time. This past year I've covered events in Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq, and all have had their terrifying moments. From the constant shelling in eastern Ukraine to firefights in Iraq. But the worst is always when you're caught in an area that's being shelled with artillery, the uncertainty is pretty nerve wracking. I can, for the most part, always leave, but many civilians in these areas have nowhere else to go and I'm always amazed at how people adapt and cope in those situations.

Aws Al-Jezairy, 25, Vice News Reporter
Did you mean to get into media or did you fall into it?
Media was definitely something I was interested in. I studied photojournalism at university but going into my final year, I began to feel that photographs of suffering no longer had the effect they used to have on the viewer, which is a very dangerous thing. That is when I become interesting in video journalism, the art of story telling in video can have so much power if done properly. I was never into the idea of hosting, I have always wanted to be a shooter and filmmaker - but the experience has been invaluable. Both my parents actually work in the same field, my dad was a journalist and chief editor of an Iraqi news Agency and my mum is a news producer. I wouldn't say this is what got me into it at all and I was determined I would get a job off my own back and not through them and that is what I did. 

Who do you look up to in your field?
Perhaps Louis Theroux. It can be a very macho and egocentric field, and I feel he is unpretentious in his approach. 

What's the hardest part of your job?
The responsibility. It can be so daunting knowing that you are responsible for sharing others' stories in the best and most truthful way you can, and that this could possibly or hopefully lead to a positive change.

What was the first piece you presented?
One on a sexual assault protest in Egypt after the horrific gang rape of a woman in Tahrir Square. 

Which story have you felt the most personally invested in?
I did a story on the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey. Visiting those camps was something I had been building up in my head, being a Syrian born Iraqi. Even though we are swamped with images of the suffering of displaced Syrian and Iraqi people, nothing set me up for the reality. I felt a guilt that I didn't spend more time there or do more to help. I know that journalism and sharing their stories with others is a first step, but I didn't feel any gratification or that I did it justice - though it is considered over-covered, it's definitely something I would want to do again and do properly. 

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
The most scared I have been is when I met a man who was rumored to be an ISIS smuggler on the Turkish border. I was so paranoid and reading into everything he said and did, especially after hearing that smugglers often help with kidnappings. I was with my cameraman and was desperately trying to figure out a way of telling him "let's get the fuck out of here, I don't like this", but I couldn't. 

What is the most fun story you have covered to date?
Possibly speeding through the deserts in Kuwait with Charlet whilst sat in a car with a Cheetah. 

What do you think the point of journalism is?

Louise Callaghan, 24, Foreign reporter at The Sunday Times.
Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
I meant to - once I realized I could get paid to be nosy and write then everything else seemed unattractive in comparison.

What did you want to be when you were little?
Either a lion or a spy.

Who do you look up to in your field?
Ron Burgundy. Also Courtney Weaver, the Moscow correspondent at the FT. She does things like hang out at a bar in Eastern Ukraine and get proof Russian soldiers are being sent to fight there. And other really serious stuff, obviously. Lauren Collins at the New Yorker manages to be funny and engaging while writing totally ridiculous things like a 12-page profile on Ikea. That is bloody impressive. And it was the work of the incredible female correspondents at The Sunday Times - people like Nicci Smith, Hala Jaber, Christina Lamb and the late Marie Colvin - who made me want to get into journalism.

What's the hardest part of your job?
Getting hold of people. I think on average only about one in ten people I call pick up the phone immediately. Last week no-one answered for three days. It's nerve-wracking when you've got a deadline coming up.

What was the most recent story you covered?
I was sent to Denmark to work on the aftermath of the Copenhagen terrorist attacks. In the end I managed to get hold of Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist who was the intended target. He gave me his first interview with a British newspaper since the shootings.

Which story have you felt the most personally invested?
I went to Calais last year to report on the migrants camped out there, waiting to cross over to Britain. It was bizarre walking five minutes into a forest in Northern France and finding a thousand people hiding out in the rain. I felt pretty ashamed that the UK was completely ignoring them at that time. 

Who is the most interesting person you have interviewed over the last year?
I spent a really odd morning interviewing a Dutch jihadist, who was fighting in Syria, via instant messenger about his relationship with his former wife. He was saying how they'd mutually decided to separate and he hoped she was happy - that kind of thing. It was bizarre having this relatively normal conversation - complete with occasional wink-face emojis from him - with a fundamentalist killer.

Milène Larsson, 31, Vice reporter and producer
Did you mean to get into media or did you fall into it?
I went to a media high school in Stockholm but in terms of journalism, I'd say I fell into it. When I was younger I was more into music and art, I played in bands and for a while I thought I would do graphic design. Then I started writing and didn't want to stop. I don't think I imagined becoming a news reporter and making films. I probably didn't think I could.

What did you want to be when you were little?
I wanted to be an archaeologist because I was obsessed with history. In sixth grade I learnt the runic alphabet and convinced my mum to take me to Åbo, Finland, to visit the castle where queen Katarina Månsdotter had been kept in house arrest.

Who do you look up to in your field?
I admire my talented freelance photojournalist friends, like Andoni Lubaki, Olga Kravets and Karlos Zurutuza. They take enormous risks to cover new stories, often for extended periods of time under difficult conditions, with little reward. I'm also impressed by sites like openDemocracy, which endlessly uncover injustice with tight budgets. 

What's the hardest part of your job?
I produce, direct, report and host, so the hardest part is being fully focused on everything - making sure you get what you need, that you are up to date, that the crew is happy, that your information is correct and that you convey it in an interesting way in front of the camera. No matter how well you plan it, you usually find yourself in stressful and unpredictable situations, for long days with little sleep, so staying focused and alert while still being relaxed in front of the camera is the hard part. On the upside you get to see and experience the world in ways few people get to, which is a privilege.

Which story that you've covered have you felt the most personally invested in?
What's affected me most is my latest project Europe or Die, a series in which I travel along Europe's borders to find out about the EU's questionable border practices and migration policies and the humanitarian crisis at its doorstep. I saw a lot of suffering, human rights abuses and hopeless situations, and met many who, despite being aware of how thousands perish at sea, were willing to risk their lives taking what they refer to as "death boats" for the chance of finding a better future in Europe.

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
When I did the film Bangkok Rising, covering the protests in Thailand last year in the lead up to the military coup, it got pretty hairy on a couple of occasions because people would throw explosives into the crowds, and twice we found ourselves in shootings. The scariest was the night we visited the camp of the most radical faction of the protest movement. As we finished interviewing their leader, we heard a loud bang. We were in the middle of the crowd and nobody could move because the area was fenced in and the shooters were outside. There was nowhere to take cover so we had to lie down and wait it out. I remember calling my boyfriend to calm me down because I knew my mum would worry to death if I called her. The weird part was that as soon as the shooting stopped, the crowd got back up on its feet, singing and dancing as if nothing had happened.

Who is the most interesting person you have met over the last year?
Soon after the Paris terror attacks I interviewed surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz. He invited us to his flat to speak his mind about the events and the misconceptions that blew up in the media storm that followed. He was in a visible state of grief and I knew I had to ask difficult questions. It was moving because he answered them all very honestly and managed to convey both the sadness of losing his friends and the absurdity of the whole world suddenly proclaiming to be Charlie, which up until very recently was a small, anarchic and satirical zine.

What is the most fun story you have covered? 
Spending 10 days on a small Island in Indonesia called Sumba that had been more or less forgotten by modern civilization until a couple of decades ago. It was a magical place with shamans called ratus and wild horses. I like horses. We were there to cover the Pasola, their annual blood sacrifice ritual, which involved timing the arrival of holy sea worms (which were also eaten during the feast) and then the different clans fought each other with spears on horseback until blood was spilled on the ground to ensure a good harvest.

What do you think the point of journalism is?
I'd say to inform and interest people in what's going on in the world and around them. If people are conveyed information in an engaging way, hopefully they'll form their own opinions and, who knows, maybe that could lead to positive change or resistance. 

Aisha Gani, 25, Reporter at The Guardian
Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
I meant it.

What did you want to be when you were little?
When I was seven, I wanted to be a marine biologist. And then as a teenager I wanted to be a football commentator. 

Who do you look up to in your field?
Lyse Doucet, BBC's chief international correspondent. 

What's the hardest part of your job?
Speaking to victims or witnesses who may be traumatized. 

What's your approach to writing an article, where do you start?
I start by asking myself, what's the point? Who even cares? Then I tweet and call around for as many perspectives as possible. I also think about the best way tell the story: should it be a written narrative, will a photo essay be better, or video, or perhaps a collection of embedded tweets. 

What was the first piece you wrote or presented?
My first published article in a national paper was about Guinness beer-themed Nike trainers for St Patrick's Day, which were stupidly named Black and Tans. Now Black and Tans was the nickname given to the Royal Irish Constabulary reserve force, the violent British paramilitary unit in Ireland, during the Anglo-Irish war in the early twentieth century. That's pretty insensitive - someone clearly hadn't done their research when branding those dunk lows. It was one of the most read articles on the website that day.

Which story that you've covered have you felt the most personally invested in or effected by?
I've been reporting on the three British schoolgirls who were thought to have travelled to Syria. I visited the school the first Monday after the half-term holiday, and stood outside from 8am to try and get some reaction from parents, who were shocked and said their children were terrified. There were cameramen and satellite vans parked right outside too. I was affected by this story, especially as a young British-Bangladeshi woman: I kept thinking these are just teenage girls and something had gone seriously wrong. The commentariat rushed to pass judgement - these were jihadi-brides and devil children. Yet we're jumping to conclusions without actually knowing much, and without even speaking to the friends and family of the girls.

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
Not yet. London is my home and where I'm based for work. But every time there's a terror attack, yes, I do feel scared. I think to myself: what's the backlash going to be against Muslims who have nothing to do with it? What are people expecting me to apologize for now? 

Who is the most interesting person you have met over the last year?
I met the most incredible Palestinian farmer called Dawud. He had lost 250 olive trees that were burnt to ashes in price-tag attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Yet he told me he planted olive tree saplings, that take almost a decade to bear fruit, because he has hope. "If I didn't think I'd still be here and have my land in ten years time I wouldn't plant the trees would I?" I will never forget that.

What's the strangest story you've covered?
A ghost ship crewed by cannibal rats heading towards the British Isles. Yeah, I debunked that myth.

What do you think the point of journalism is?
Journalism is about telling people something new and telling a story. The point of this trade is also to challenge and it's about putting accurate facts into meaningful context. Yet there are incredible citizen journalists out there right now, so unless you're a boss at verifying everything, it will be increasingly hard to be the credible and authentic voice on events. And rightly so.

Do you have a personal agenda?
Don't judge. Go and spend some time with people you don't usually identify with. It's simple really.


Text Sarah Raphael
Photography Harry Carr
Styling Bojana Kozarevic
Hair Louis Ghewy at The Book Agency using Moroccan Oil.
Make-up Natsumi Narita using M.A.C. Set design William Farr. 
Photography assistance Andrew D Moores.
Make-up assistance Naomi Nishida.

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