On Thursday 28th May, multi-award winning journalist and author Janine di Giovanni and The Sunday Times’ deputy editor Sarah Baxter came together for an in-depth conversation on their careers as reporters, moderated by Emily Benn as part of Big Tent Ideas’ series of digital events.
Janine di Giovanni, who has reported from numerous wars including the first Palestinian intifada and the siege of Sarajevo, explained how she moved from her initial academic path to journalism in order to share the stories of some of the most vulnerable communities around the world.
“I always wanted to be a writer, but no burning desire to be a reporter,” she said, claiming to be a terrible reporter; “What I’m good at is going somewhere for a long time, digging in, and writing in long format. I’m not interested in scoops, headlines or getting a story first. I’m interested in embedding with families and communities.”
Sarah Baxter, who has both worked as a reporter on the ground and as an editor supervising others heading into dangerous war zones, reflected on how the approach to war reporting has changed over the course of her career.
“As an editor the process has become more bureaucratic, which is right as we try to take more care of journalists in the field.”
Di Giovanni agreed:
“Now when journalists work, there is so much more protection. Back in the day you were literally sent off with a satellite phone and some money if you were lucky.”
Both guests reflected on the psychological toll reporting on violent events takes on reporters, and how they have dealt with that themselves throughout their careers.
“I was a New York correspondent when 9/11 happened and was at the Twin Towers as they fell,” said Baxter. “People used to ask me how I was doing, and I’d say it was fine. What I experienced only hit me a year or so later.”
The session ended on a positive note, with di Giovanni being asked a question about what she has found most inspiring with her work:
“How people refuse to be broken, using sports, music and a whole host of ways”, continuing, “You always find people who are extraordinary and manage to take the best from a terrible situation.”