Peter Greste’s Advice For Young Journalists

Peter Greste

Peter Greste gives a talk on press freedom at the Frontline Club in London

After spending 400 days in an Egyptian prison, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste arrived at the Frontline Club to a standing ovation. He was giving a talk on press freedom and the issues faced by the next generation of journalists. Hannah Gray covered the event for Journograds…

When I asked Peter Greste what advice he would give to aspiring journalists, he laughed. “I was afraid of this question”, he said. “Do as I say, not as I do!”

The 49-year-old Australian was of course referring to his now infamous time in an Egyptian jail. He was arrested, along with his Al Jazeera colleague Mohamed Fahmy, in a Cairo hotel on the 29th of December 2013. Another colleague, Baher Mohamed, was arrested later at his home.

The trio were charged with ‘broadcasting false news’ and ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’, and they faced lengthy sentences. However, Greste was freed on the 1st of February this year and his colleagues have since been released on bail.

Greste’s message to young journalists is clear. “You are entering this business at the toughest time in the history of modern journalism”, he warned. “It’s incredibly dangerous in some places in the world. While you want to show that you are courageous and capable, my instinct is to say to you: don’t push it.”

Greste believes that budding journalists are taking greater and greater risks to establish a reputation. He puts this down to an increasingly competitive industry and what he described as ineffective business models.

He does admit that his own big break into journalism came when he was in Bosnia, in an incident that nearly got him killed. However, he says he was a ‘stupid idiot’ for putting himself at such risk and discourages other from doing the same.

One of Greste’s biggest worries is the safety of freelance journalists. “The market is becoming more and more demanding and increasing numbers of journalists are freelancing. If you are a freelancer going into conflict zones, without the support of an organisation, you can get yourself into real trouble. Be careful.”

Despite everything he has been through, Greste still has a positive outlook. Speaking of the international campaign that was sparked by his arrest, he says it was empowering that journalists across the globe had pulled together.

“The media community are now demonstrating a unity of purpose and sending a very clear message all over the world that unjust treatment of journalists is not acceptable,” he said.

Competitors are united, Greste says, and journalists are all ultimately fighting for the same cause cause, regardless of who they work for. He feels this is unprecedented and has enormous value, and recommends that we make use of this solidarity to help the many other journalists that are suffering right now around the world without the same levels of coverage that he had.

He also shared some of his experiences of being incarcerated in an Egyptian prison, which included solitary confinement and being in a cage. He explained how he was able to stay mentally strong throughout the ordeal.

“I think most people are vastly more capable of dealing with things than they imagine. You learn to adapt and to cope,” he said. “There were some black days where you sunk into despair, but if you nursed it and let your anger dominate then you’d only end up hurting yourself.”

Looking back, Greste is even able to joke about it all. “If you want to lose weight, spend 400 days in Egyptian prison. I’m in the best physical condition I’ve been in for years,” he said.

He recalls on one occasion, after ten days in solitary confinement, how his cell door opened and his Al Jazeera colleagues walked in. The three of them were delighted to be together, and they decided to set up a daily routine to exercise themselves mentally, spiritually and physically.

Greste says he needed structure to get through the long days and nights, so he would start his morning by meditating to control his thoughts. He also sought to keep his mind active by persuading the prison authorities to allow him to start a masters degree in international relations.

An Australian University sent boxes containing letters from the professor, along with lecture notes, assignments and print-outs of essential readings. Greste wrote his essays with a pencil and paper and the Australian embassy sent them back to the university for assessment. The embassy also sent him a physical work-out regime of five exercises that could be done in very small spaces.

On the day of his release, Greste was running up and down the corridor to keep fit and one of the officers beckoned him over and said, “The boss wants to speak to you.” He went to see the boss, who said “Pack your stuff, you’re going.” Greste asked, “To another prison?” The reply was “No the embassy is coming to get you… you’re going home.”

He recalls the disbelief he felt, to know he was about to be free despite being sentenced to seven years. He remembers being overcome with joy when he was embraced by his family, and he says he now feels like he’s had a second birth.

So what next for Peter Greste? He is keen to divert some of the attention that he received towards the many others journalists who have been arrested and imprisoned around the world.

“Although journalists covering journalists can feel self-serving, you have to recognise that this is a societal issue, ” Greste said. “An attack on free speech is an attack on society. It’s a matter of principle”.

This piece was written by Hannah Gray (@HanChan24). If you’d like to blog for us or cover events like these, get in touch via email or Twitter, @Journograds. We’re always looking for talented writers with creative minds and a passion for journalism! 

Shadowing A Sky News Presenter

Sky News Tonight's Sarah Hewson

Sky News Tonight’s Sarah Hewson

Hannah Gray (@HanChan24) blogs about her day at Sky’s Westminster studio shadowing Sarah Hewson, news presenter for Sky News Tonight…

I met Sarah Hewson at an event I was invited to after featuring in a short video about my previous work experience at Sky. She was extremely warm and friendly and she chatted to me for a while about how she’d gotten to where she was today. A day or two later I emailed her to see if I could spend a day shadowing her to get a better idea of what her job entailed and she said it would be no problem (told you she was nice) and we set a date.

I arrived at the studio just before 11am and met the Sky News Tonight team. The show doesn’t start until 7pm but there is a lot of preparation to be done and so some of the producers arrive at 9am to get started. Both presenters (Adam Boulton and Sarah) arrive after lunch. First, I was given computer login details and was shown how to find Sky’s daily news agenda.

Sky’s Westminster studio shares a building with BBC and ITV News near the Houses of Parliament. The Sky News studio here is much smaller than the headquarters in West London, but for me that was nice as I could quickly find out where to make a cup of tea! In the meeting rooms there are pictures of the news presenters with President Obama, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and other world leaders from past and present – so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated!

The bold blue, red and white Sky News branding is everywhere and areas of the newsroom itself around the studio are used for filming too,  so there are always lights and cameras everywhere ready for action. I was recognising reporters every few minutes but there wasn’t long to stand around being impressed –  the team had a show to put together and I wanted to be helpful.

Two of the producers had the responsibility of finding guests and contributors for that evening’s show. The third producer was working on scripts and a graphic element which would explore the top story in more detail. The rest of the team were based at the Sky News HQ in West London, so we met with them via Skype to discuss which stories would be covered and which guests we should aim to find.

I helped with the challenge of finding guests but to be honest I struggled to get hold of any expert who was available that same evening. It’s more difficult than finding a guest for a radio interview as, obviously, there is the visual aspect! They have to be able to get to Westminster and come into the studio, or we have to arrange to have a camera crew to go and visit them – unlike radio, where you can just ask them to pick up their phone from wherever they are. When I worked in the news team at Heart FM, guests could call in from their living room if they wanted to – they needed to be heard not seen!

High on the agenda was a story on the Home Office’s drug report which claimed that tough laws on drugs weren’t having the desired effect – and we were tasked with finding two people with opposing views who could come in to the studio to debate the issue on-air. Eventually two people with contrasting views on the subject agreed to take part.

Another element of the show required an expert on drugs laws and their usage to provide their authoritative view on the matter. One of the team managed to confirm the guest at 5.30pm, an hour before they had to come in for a rehearsal – so things can really be quite last-minute. This guest, Kirsty Douse, who is head of Legal Services at Release, took a close look at the statistics which were presented on air via a large touchscreen and explained what they meant. I also helped the producer with the appearance of these stats and felt pretty proud of myself when my suggestions were taken on board.

One of my favourite parts of the day happened at 3pm when Sarah had a pre-recorded interview with the US ambassador to the United Nations, Sarah Power. I got to sit in the gallery with the technical team and producer, and was given the responsibility of taking the minutes (counting down for the presenter so they know how much time they have left).

I have studied the United Nations a lot in my degree and also have researched Ebola over my time in journalism and so it was brilliant to see a journalist have the opportunity to ask questions to an expert about this. Like all diplomats, Sarah Power was extremely polite and politically correct when Sarah Hewson asked direct questions. At one point she persisted with the same question, asking it in a variety of ways in order to get the information she wanted from the ambassador, who was being vague on the subject. Seeing a master at work was inspiring, and I definitely learnt a lot despite it being a relatively short interview.

When it got to 7pm and the show went live, I again sat in the gallery so I could hear the director’s communication with the team, see the autocue in operation and watch all the different monitors showing the studio and the incoming feeds. A story broke moments before the show began (about a fire in a Stafford fireworks factory) and both Adam and Sarah had to talk about it without having had time to do any research. I was so impressed with the way they make their job look so easy. There was a director talking in their ear, constantly giving them instructions, and they only had moments to read their script before they were live. That’s the excitement of breaking news, of course, but seeing it first-hand caused me to respect presenters even more.

It’ll take a lot of hard work before I could think about becoming a TV news presenter, but having the opportunity to see what it’s actually like has given me a clear vision of a job I would love to aim towards. There were lessons I had learned from interning in radio news that came in handy for this opportunity, but TV has a whole lot more to get your head around.

The day was fast-paced and you had to stay alert and be able to adapt to changes. Many things happened that viewers wouldn’t have been aware of. For example, a guest was late and missed his interview – but the presenters stayed cool, calm and collected and with the help of the team, they made sure the show always looked professional. I think it’s unlikely that anyone at home would suspect a problem had arisen at any point, because both Sarah Hewson and Adam Boulton are so fantastic at adapting and ad-libbing while live on air. This is a skill that probably only comes with a lot of practice so I will continue to apply for work placements and hope that one day soon I’ll get the opportunity to report a story of my own live on air. For now, the University radio station (URF) is an excellent place to be learning!

Have you had similar work experience that you would like to write about for us? Or have you already written a piece you think we should publish? Get in touch with us by email or drop us a line via Twitter, @JournoGrads

My Radio Internship With Heart FM

Hannah Heart Radio

Hannah completed a summer internship with Heart FM in Sussex

By Hannah Gray (@HanChan24)

My internship began in June and lasted for three months – and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The people I worked with were lovely and many had different backgrounds, having worked in different areas of news. They were all down-to-earth, approachable people who were keen to share their knowledge of the industry.

When I started, one of the first things I needed was an understanding of Heart FM’s script-writing style. Of course, meticulous attention to detail was needed and each story had to be accurate – but the news bulletins also needed to be extremely short (2 minutes). It was important that scripts sounded natural, whilst also being interesting and informative to the listener. I soon discovered that telling the story properly, in very few words, is quite a skill.

The news editor got me into the right way of thinking by asking me to write short scripts using press releases. He would then check and edit them, providing feedback which was always really encouraging. At first I had to keep remembering to write “police say the thief is thought to be average height…” rather than stating it as a fact that “the thief is average height”.

Another important aspect of working at Heart was getting to grips with the tight deadlines. There is a live news bulletin each half hour during the breakfast show (6-10am) and each half hour during “drive-time” (4.30pm-7pm). During the day, in between those peak times, it’s pre-recorded and played every hour.

Every moment of the day the team is working towards a deadline. I found that I really thrived in this fast-paced environment and I loved the task of searching for stories and then keeping them updated with fresh news lines – especially when they were big breaking stories.

My favourite aspect of the internship was getting out and about reporting. I had the opportunity to go out into Sussex and Surrey to interview people, attend events and collect vox pops (recorded informal opinions from people in public places to play on air). I loved the variety and the challenge that came with reporting.

During my time there I got to interview a wide range of people. I spoke to sports stars like England rugby player James Haskell and double olympic gold medalist and professional cyclist Laura Trott. I also interviewed many case studies and regular people who had great stories to tell – such as a married couple from Kent who had won the Euromillions, or the children who met Prince Charles’ during his Royal Visit to Wiston House.

Once I had recorded the interviews, I would take the content back to the office to upload it to the computer and edit it using a software called Burli. Normally I would ask a lot of questions during interviews, so I would have to make an editorial decision during the editing process over which part of the interview to play out on air.

It is brilliant to hear something you have worked on being played out – especially when it is a developing story. One example was the Eastbourne Pier fire this summer, where I interviewed residents who had witnessed it burn down.  I also monitored the story via Twitter and updated the radio station’s social media accounts as the story developed.

The situation was changing rapidly, so content had to go out quickly – all the while remaining accurate. It was demanding, yet exhilarating, to report on the story as it was unfolding. Heart Sussex won Global Radio’s bulletin of the week for its coverage of the disaster.

Towards the end of my internship I enjoyed finding my own stories, writing them up and sending them to the rest of the team as suggestions. It was great when they found them interesting and added them to the bulletin. I learnt a lot from my time at Heart and my colleagues there gave me lots of great advice. The experience definitely confirmed to me that I want to pursue broadcast journalism as a full-time career path.

Have you had an internship you would like to share with our readers? Email us if you would like to blog for us, or get in touch with us on Twitter, @JournoGrads


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