JournoFest 2022: Reporting on hostile environments

This year’s JournoFest panel ‘From the frontline: reporting on hostile environments’ focused on managing fear and pressure in the face of conflict, writes School of Journalism Manchester trainee Jessica Sharkey.

In her spare time, you may find Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford scuba diving! The majority of her time, however, is spent reporting from hostile environments such as Syria, Yemen and, recently, Ukraine.

This was the ever-important theme of the second brilliant panel at JournoFest 2022 starring Crawford, The Sun’s defence editor Jerome Starkey and Sky News international affairs producer Sophie Alexander.

While Starkey travelled home from a tough stint in Ukraine and Sophie celebrated an outstanding Bafta win, keen journalists on the call learned exactly what it takes to report in places many would never step foot in.

The top tips of the evening: don’t give up, don’t panic… and keep trying until you pass those reporting exams!

A huge question everyone wants to ask a foreign correspondent is, naturally, if they get scared.

Crawford, who covered both the Libyan and Syrian civil wars, said: “All the time. I think that’s part of the survival technique, you have to be on guard and worry about all sorts of things.”

What can go wrong? What decisions need to be made? How do I keep calm? These are some of the questions running through a reporter’s head when they find themselves in a scary situation.

Family life is another worry. Starkey was living proof of the strain between family life and work as his taxi sped down the motorway to reunite him with his pregnant girlfriend and two-year-old son after five weeks in Ukraine.

Alexander – who joined Sky in December – has made four trips to Ukraine this year so far, leaving behind her girlfriend for weeks at a time.

The guilt of leaving family and friends was a shared sentiment for all three panellists but it’s clear their loved ones respect the incredibly important work they are doing and the stories they are sharing.

It’s not just families who are commending our panellists.

Alexander, who was part of the ITN Washington team embedded with the right-wing mob who stormed the Capitol, won a BAFTA this month for that very report. It is fair to say News Associates is proud to call her one of our very own alumni!

An OBE and a five-time winner of Journalist of the Year are just some of Crawford’s achievements during her astounding career.

Starkey has won the Frontline Club award for excellence and in 2010 headed an investigation which led to NATO admitting to the killing of eight schoolboys in Afghanistan.

Of course, the main talking point of the conversation was the Russian war in Ukraine.

The panel have all very recently reported from Ukraine and they all spoke about how security measures have definitely increased after recent attacks on journalists.

Their words at JournoFest were proof that the world of foreign correspondence is always changing. There will always be wars, hostile environments and war crime investigations. This incredible panel made it very clear how important war reporting will inevitably always be.

As Starkey said regarding taking risks and working hard: “If you don’t go, you won’t know.”

‘From the frontline: reporting on hostile environments’ was the second panel in a week of captivating events. Read about the full JournoFest line-up here.

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