meet the news journalists changing how we see the world part ii

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 and i-D Team
30 March 2015, 12:35pm

Elektra Kotsoni, 27, Vice Managing Editor
Did you mean to get into media or did you fall into it?
I totally meant to. When I was about eight-years-old, I decided I wanted to work in fashion, and by the age of 13 I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a fashion journalist. And so that's what I did for the next 10 years or so. The fact that I ended up at VICE, reporting on Greece - that was random.

What did you want to be when you were little?
A fashion designer.

What was the first piece you wrote or presented?
The first video I worked on was as assistant producer reporting on a three-day strike in Athens in October 2011. There was one death at the end of that weekend so it was an important demo.

Which story that you've covered have you felt the most personally invested in?
Anything I've done on Greece - whether it was getting together a gallery of the work of this amazing photographer Zacharias Dimitriadis or reporting on riots. I believe that you only really start caring about social issues when they start affecting your life. This might not be right from a journalistic point of view - some might call it biased. But I'm glad I worked on stories that concerned my country in a time of turmoil because I feel it directed me to certain conclusions about how the world works. I came of age through that in many ways.

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
The strangest time was when visiting Golden Dawn's offices [Greece's far-right party] in the outskirts of Athens to try and persuade them to give us an interview. Just before entering the building, which was basically freestanding in the middle of the highway - no cars, or people around - my friend Milene and I saw a group of thugs hanging out on the balcony. One of them was swinging an axe around his head towards our direction. I think he was trying to intimidate an immigrant beggar walking on the opposite side of the street. That wasn't pleasant. 

What's the strangest story you've covered?
I produced this documentary called Sisa: Cocaine of the Poor. Sisa is a methamphetamine that became popular among the homeless population of Athens during the austerity years. It was the first time I had to approach drug users and homeless people in a work capacity and at the time it was the most interesting thing for me as it forced me out of my comfort zone. I'm pretty sure it was that story that got me out of my shell. I used to be very shy and now I'm not really.

What was the most fun?
I just filmed this piece about the life of fishermen in the lake in Messolonghi in Greece. It was really cold and the conditions they live in are pretty tough so spending the nights with them wasn't ideal. But I was hosting so all I had to do was ask questions while being taken on boat rides and eating the fresh fish the fishermen were catching and making for me so I can't complain. 

What do you think the point of journalism is?
Generally speaking, it's the responsible distribution of information. Personally speaking, it's a way of accumulating experiences - I get to hang out with people I wouldn't normally hang out with in situations or places I wouldn't otherwise find myself in. 

Reni Eddo-Lodge, 25
Who do you write for? 
I write regularly for the Telegraph's women's section, but I'm primarily freelance and have written for The New York Times, The Voice, The Guardian, The Independent, Dazed and Confused Magazine and Vice.

Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
It's very hard to just fall into journalism these days, you've got want it enough to work for free for a while. I started a blog whilst I was at university that attracted enough attention over the years that I could start to freelance.

What did you want to be when you were little?
I always wanted to write.

What's the hardest part of your job?
I'm really not a fan of transcribing.

What was the first story you covered?
It was a piece in the Guardian refuting a Daily Mail story about 11 and 12-year-old girls taking contraceptive pills. The DM piece hinted at doctors encouraging underage sex, whereas I argued that pre-teens would only really be subscribed the pill for medical reasons.

What was the most recent story you covered?
It was about a refuge for Latin American women in north London that has had its funding pulled by the local council and is currently struggling to survive.

Which story have you felt the most personally invested in or effected by?
I write comment pieces more often than reports. Whenever I write about race and racism I get such an overwhelming response from people all over the world that I feel I'm contributing to a conversation much bigger than me.

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
Sometimes people send me threats and hate because of the topics I cover, which can be unnerving.

Who is the most interesting person you have interviewed over the last year?
A few months ago I traveled to a majority black retirement home in Birmingham to interview some of the residents for a feature. These were first generation immigrants, people who had traveled to the UK for a better life alongside my grandparents. Hearing their stories about life as a black person in the 60s, first hand, was just fascinating.

Who do you hope is reading what you're putting out?
People who can't talk about race and feminism with their friends and family for fear of being shouted down. That was me once.

Do you have a personal agenda?
I am unapologetically black and feminist in my work, and I hope that shows in what I write.

Radhika Sanghani, 24, Telegraph women's writer
Who else do you write for?
Myself - I'm an author as well and have a book out called Virgin.

Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
A bit of both. I always knew I wanted to write for a living but it was one of my teachers who really pushed me to go for journalism.

What did you want to be when you were little?
A poet.

Who do you look up to in your field?
Sue Lloyd-Roberts. She covers human rights abuses abroad and her BBC documentary on Saudi Arabian women made me want to be a journalist.

What's the hardest part of your job?
Dealing with the trolls online. I get a lot of misogynistic abuse.

What do you think you've made your name on?
Writing about gender equality - whether it's reporting on British girls joining the Islamic State, or my thoughts on Kim Kardashian getting naked.

What was the first story you covered?
I wrote about a new after school club for kids when I was on work experience at the Elstree and Borehamwood Times aged 17. Groundbreaking stuff.

What was the most recent story you covered?
I wrote about Green party leader Natalie Bennett's humiliating interview on air, and how people offered her sympathy and hugs afterwards. You wouldn't do that for a male MP.

Which story have you felt the most personally invested in or effected by?
I visited refugee women in Yarl's Wood detention centre at Christmas. Talking to them was incredibly moving, to the point where it was hard not to cry.

Where's the weirdest situation you've found yourself in?
I had to go to a mass face-sitting porn protest outside Parliament.

Do you have a personal agenda?
I want society to get to a place where women aren't judged on their looks, and no woman ever feels she has to do something just because 'that's what girls are supposed to do.' That and we stop with the rape jokes. They trivialize a serious crime and they're just not funny. 

Etan Smallman, 28

Who do you write for?
I started out as a trainee news sub-editor on the Daily Mail before going freelance in 2012. I've written for The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, Daily Mail, Metro, Evening Standard, The Australian and The South China Morning Post.

Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
I'm one of those sad people who knew he wanted to be a journalist from his early teens. I did my first work experience placements at 16.

What did you want to be when you were little?
I won a Blue Peter badge for a competition in which you had to make a picture of what you thought you'd be in 20 years' time - I painted an artist. After that, it might have been a vet. Then a journalist.

Why did George Galloway block you?
I referred to him by his nickname "Gorgeous George" in a tweet. He replied simply: "Well named", and blocked me. I'm still not sure if he was referring to his moniker or mocking my surname. But I'm in good company - he seems to have blocked thousands of people.

Who do you look up to in your field?
Heather Brooke, the freelance journalist who was responsible for exposing the MPs' expenses scandal. For interviews, Lynn Barber. And Fraser Nelson (editor of The Spectator), who I did work experience with some years back - for being a brilliant journalist, but also just such a lovely guy.

What's the hardest part of your job?
For me, as someone who didn't have a single contact in the industry, it was getting anywhere near "Fleet Street" in the first place. There's nepotism everywhere you look. As a freelancer, it still feels like I'm spending a depressing amount of time breaking down doors just to get editors to hear me out. Julie Burchill has said she wouldn't make it today because the industry has been "totally colonized by people whose parents were in journalism". It's incredibly frustrating.

What's the best part of the job?
As corny as it sounds, feeling that, in some tiny way, you're making a difference. There's also a thrill in being paid to hurl awkward questions at people and getting to publish information that those in power would rather was kept secret. And having the chance to get remotely near to fascinating figures who are changing the world (for better or for worse).

What do you think you've made your name on?
I think my skills lie in longer interview pieces, particularly with people who aren't necessarily household names but have had extraordinary experiences, for example: Shazia and Kainat, the two friends of Malala Yousafzai shot alongside her by the Taliban on their schoolbus; Gill Hicks, the last person rescued alive from the Russell Square tube train on 7/7; and Mo Abudu, a human resources executive from Tunbridge Wells who has been dubbed "Africa's Oprah" after setting up her own TV empire. But, to some of my editors, I'm just a trusty pair of hands for writing quick and witty copy about the latest wacky trend. 

How would you describe yourself as a journalist?
Versatile, passionate and able to lurch from the serious to the frivolous. Friends have said I have a "butter-wouldn't-melt" expression that lulls people into a false sense of security.

What was the most recent story you covered?
I interviewed Camila Batmanghelidjh, the very colourful founder of charity Kids Company, who has to be one of the most impressive people I've ever met. I'm planning a feature about child poverty, abuse and neglect in the run-up to the election.

Which story have you felt the most personally affected by?
I went to Hull for a four-page piece on a pioneering project offering group therapy to domestic abusers - a story that was later followed up by Newsnight. I spent the entire day without a break speaking to men who were disarmingly frank about the violence and misery they had inflicted on their wives and girlfriends, and sitting in on their therapy session. I also spoke to a victim whose partner had put her in a bath when she was seven months' pregnant and tried to drown her, to the point where she lost consciousness. I spoke to a Home Office press officer on the phone at the end of the day and she thought I'd been crying. I hadn't - I had a cold - but it was emotionally overwhelming. It really made me respect the staff who confront these issues day in, day out.

Do you have a personal agenda?
I'm interested in sniffing out great stories and finding fascinating people to interview. Sometimes it's about holding them to account, other times it's about working out the best way to allow them to open up about their lives. I couldn't be less interested in my own political views when I'm writing, but as much as I can, I am interested in giving voice to the voiceless, and giving the oxygen of publicity to people who are trying to improve things in some small way. If I have any agenda, I suppose that's it.

Tess Reidy, 28, The Guardian and The Observer
Did you mean to get into journalism or did you fall into it?
Not really, although I did always think I'd want to do something political. I'd written a few pieces for the New Statesman and spent ages interning for a small political blog. I got a temp role at The Guardian soon after and a job on The Observer newsdesk came up whilst I was there. 

What did you want to be when you were little?
A doctor. I didn't want to be working in an office! 

Who do you look up to in your field?
A lot of the people I work with at the Guardian have won awards, written books and still manage to write week in week out for the paper. I look up to them a lot. There are some big characters there like Ed Vulliamy and Nick Cohen who are fun to have around and some of them are really supportive. People like Yvonne Roberts and Mark Townsend have been so helpful, they tell me if my ideas are good or not and I really trust what they say. 

What's the hardest part of your job?
There are highs and lows. When you write something that gets a lot of good feedback, then it's great, but there are times when you feel like you're not achieving enough. You're only as good as your last story. There's always pressure to get the next thing done and make it better than the last. 

What was the first story you covered?
The first story I did for the Observer was an investigation into school kids paying people to write their personal statements for uni. The companies that do this are pretty dodgy and it pisses me off that rich kids can get an advantage like this. I knew someone that was charging hundreds of pounds to write these things and so that's where the idea came from. 

Which story have you felt the most personally invested in or effected by?
I guess one that I invested quite a bit in was a Vice piece I did recently on why so many jihadi terrorists are coming from my home town of High Wycombe. I'd worked on it on and off for a while, talking to local people, thinking about what the area used to be like and generally keeping track of the story. It was kind of controversial as judging by the comments and tweets i got, some people felt like I had been too down on the place (no one wants to hear bad things about their town) but I also felt that there was something in it that needed telling. After I did it, various other news organizations picked up the same story - Sky, Radio 4 and the Independent all went there too. Plus, it's nice to look at others areas of the UK as the press can seem quiet London-centric at times. 

What websites do you read every day?
The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Vice, The Debrief.

Have you ever felt scared doing your job?
Not really. I covered the story about the two British girls caught smuggling £1.5 of cocaine in Peru to Ibiza, which meant hanging around in San Antonio at night talking to some pretty shady characters, but it wasn't really scary. 

Who is the most interesting person you have interviewed?
I interviewed David Miliband in New York for Vice. I speak to politicians a lot for my work and they're generally very media savvy so it is quite hard to get them to say anything that revelatory. So with him, it was less about what he said and more about what he didn't say. He was so cautious with his words that it was clear he wants to return to UK frontline politics and is so intent on doing it he can't step a foot out of line. I think he's just waiting to see how it all pans out at this next election. Aren't we all? 

Do you have a personal agenda? A message or political view you want to put out?
Politically, I'm definitely left of centre and I've got a lot of friends in the Labour party, but when I'm writing news pieces, I keep that out of it. 

Read Part I here


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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