Reflections: Alex Crawford

November 18, 2011


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By Thomas Lowe

Three time winner of the Royal Television Society Journalist of the year award, Sky special correspondent Alex Crawford spoke on trauma, risk, the tools of her trade and why she would rather eat her own liver than be a presenter.

The reports for which most recently she is best known are from Libya; her pieces from Zawiya under attack from Gaddafi’s forces and the final push towards Tripoli.

Disarmingly modest throughout – almost reticent to talk about her achievements, Crawford told Vin Ray, former director of the BBC College of Journalism, about being trapped in Zawiya as Gaddafi’s troops closed in.

“Zawiya in March was an incredibly traumatic time for all of us. I’ve never been through anything like it and I hope I never go through anything like it again. It was very, very traumatic”

The people of Zawiya were desperate for the pictures to get out and prove that, contrary to government propaganda, the city was being crushed by Gaddafi’s forces.

“We felt we had a moral duty to get the pictures out. And whether you agree with it or not… it gave a lot of meat to David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy’s argument that there needed to be a no-fly zone.”

Dealing with the stress of being a foreign correspondent isn’t easy – her children keep her grounded after spending time away.

“I’d say ‘you have to eat that… there are people in Baghdad who would love to have that. And I remember my little daughter saying… ‘well take it to the people in Baghdad, I don’t want it!…”

But what then of the risks that go hand in hand with her job?

“…You have to be able to feel that all those risks and dangers were actually worth it. I want to go back and face my children and them to feel that I’ve done something worthwhile. And that’s what makes it worth it.”

Mindful of the hoard of journalism students in the room – and I’m one of them – Crawford gave a number of hints for effective TV journalism.

Her only rule when it comes to scripting or ‘writing to picture’ is “it has to be simple”. The information, she says, must be ‘boiled down’ because of the short length of TV pieces.

Impartiality is a fallacy Crawford says –

“We should stop apologising for feeling… If you can’t feel it then how can you report with passion?”

Rather than learning lines by heart, Crawford makes sure she’s aware of the anything the presenter might ask her. But –

“Quite often, before I became a foreign correspondent I’d be stuck outside the High Court and (Sky presenter) Kay Burley would ask me a question and I’d think ‘Oh my God I don’t know the answer to that, so [I’d say] – “Sorry I can’t quite hear what you’re saying Kate, but what I can tell you is that…”

She is at pains to make clear that she has fought for every opportunity; from early rejections before landing a post at the Wokingham Times, to repeated rejections for the position of Sky foreign correspondent.

So for budding journalists trying to break into a tough industry she has this advice:

“Keep on striving, and absolutely do not take ‘no’ for an answer”.