Women War Correspondents Share Reporting Tricks

Journalists who face ever-greater danger while working in conflict zones are advised to exploit whatever advantage they’ve got. "Whether it’s knowing the language or knowing the region or simply because it’s your passion, make the most of it," advised Al Jazeera English investigative filmmaker Juliana Ruhfus, speaking at a meeting in London organised by Women in Journalism on July 1. "It will help you stick with it when times are hard."

Her own "advantage" was growing up in post-war Germany, a country with a history of guilt and doing wrong. "It means I see conflict in shades of grey," she explained. “Many of the conflicts I report on are described in the West as being chaotic. But most are not. It’s simply a matter of understanding the logic, and there’s always a logic in someone’s head. Getting to disentangle the chaos is a privilege, it’s where the job becomes truly enjoyable." Ruhfus said that the process of understanding the logic of conflict starts before you travel. "That’s when I swot up on whatever conflict I’m reporting. It’s the part of the job that I do when I’m in London."

Veteran Daily Mail foreign correspondent Dame Ann Leslie agreed that her career had also been built on swotting up on background. She told the group that throughout her career, she’d made the most of being female: "I’d sashay in with fake eyelashes and Hendon bling—and most of these tough guys are very sentimental about their mums and their nans," she recalled. But at the same time, she was well aware of the benefit of understanding the culture that she was writing about. Before reporting undercover from Iran in full Islamic dress in 2005, she studied Iranian literature. "Knowing that the Iranian people adore poetry above all and being able to quote from Omar Khayyam at the right moment made all the difference," she said.