St Bride’s Thanksgiving Service – Alex Crawford's Address
Its like when I was being interviewed for a BBC job, there’s that many people in the room….
I can see people I trained with on my local newspaper – the Wokingham Times. I always feel the need to say “hail Adam Mackinlay” at this point as he was the editor who took me on as an eighteen-year-old when no-one else would.
Everyone needs an Adam Mackinlay and he would not want me to be frightened.
He came from the school of journalism where it was obligatory to say – at least once a day to your staff – you’re lucky to have this job!
I had to go in and negotiate with him as Mother of the Chapel – in the days when we had things called unions – and try to get him to pay reporters who covered evening council meetings or theatres and film reviews, the sum of something like 4.50 for an evening meal.
And his bargaining point was: but you LIKE doing it…… yes Adam, you’re right we do LIKE our job. It’s the best in the world.
i see those i trained with from the BBC who’re now running the Corporation, a lot of my colleagues, my bosses, my former bosses, …journalists I’ve never met but who I feel like i know, And some of the many mentors who’ve guided me through the years – as well as a lot of my competitors – and numerous journalists I can only aspire to be as good as. There have been quite a lot of Adam Mackinlays.
We are a tribe, a big family, with lots of different branches with our own strengths and weaknesses…. I live with a newspaper reporter who’s spent the best part of 25 years sucking in his breath and saying….You’d never get away with that on newspapers’ – and – ooooh, that wouldn’t happen on Fleet Street you know…
We ARE different – and there are definitely advantages to being able to hide behind a newspaper column or a radio voice. I was a starry junior working for BBC Radio Nottingham when I realized this to my cost. My task was to go out and interview Nottinghamshire’s supposedly last remaining farrier.
I spoke to him several times on the phone and he sounded very excited at the prospect of meeting me. I was sent out – having just got my driving licence – at the wheel of the Radio Car, which was like something out of Back To The Future. I was told… just press this button and it’ll send up this massive, fifteen foot mast into the air. I went off with the sage advice…try not to park under a tree… ringing in my ears.
Finally I turned up at this guy’s farm and he was waiting for me in the drive, visibly excited. But, as I stepped out of the car, his face changed to one of deep, unrestrained disappointment.
“Are YOU Alex?” he said, “are you Alex Crawford?’ I confirmed I was indeed the 20-year-old broadcasting legend.
‘Oh my lord,’ he said… or something like that… “you certainly don’t LOOK like you sound.’
And if that wasn’t enough to crush my ego…there was this from another listener who wrote on March 26, 1980 something …” Alex Crawford, I have to turn the radio down as low as possible, or off ,to hide your high-pitched, adolescent, shrill, semi-hysterical, tuneless, toneless, whining voice.”
If Mr B Denton of Carlton is out there somewhere, thank you for your feedback.
We journalists are all different, a very different community of individuals, with different DNA to much of humankind. We’re designed to challenge, to push, to dig, to question, to irritate, to run TOWARDS danger and confrontation rather than away from it – and, when we’re not tearing each other apart limb from limb, we do have fun together.
I’ve had desperate and competitive rivals risk their lives for me, others who’ve jeopardized their careers to help out a fellow journalist in need. There’s a bond that ties us all together – despite the tribal fighting which has recently been reaching self-destruct proportions.
Yes, there might be the occasional name-calling. But it’s because we have an underlying respect for each other that the worst we can manage is referring to our rivals as either “muppets” or even “fraggles”. Jeez – blood-curdling.
Whether you are a muppet OR a fraggle, we have a lot in common…..and maybe, sometimes, we should just remember why we became journalists in the first place.
You might find that Adam Boulton and Ben De Pear both became members of this fantastic profession for the same reasons….and they are the same as Paul Dacre and Alan Rusbridger …….and that John Ryley and James Harding – and David Dinsmore and Jon Snow, were all drawn to the industry with similar desires, plans and ambitions…… To make a difference, to have adventures, to expose lies, to hold Governments to account, to bear witness, to take on authorities all over the world, to educate, entertain, enchant, enthrall…… To have fun – because this job — our job – is fun and exciting…and its also often dangerous – whether its in the boardroom, the newsroom, a Parliamentary sub committee or the battlefield….. But we get to talk to Presidents and Prisoners, rebels and renegades. We can be face to face with evil, yet witness incredible heroism ………
We might have changed along the way and many of you here are now at the height of your careers, in charge of newsrooms and corporations, television channels and newspapers – but take time now to remember what brought you to this point…..
It wasn’t money I bet, nor fame, nor medals or awards…. It was because very early on when you were working for your student newspaper or your local radio station, you realized journalists had a loud voice – and it was good to be heard – and you could make a difference.
Intoxication is everywhere in this game.
Recently I was invited on to Newsnight, when I think I achieved the rare distinction of being Paxoed and Mackenzied in the same conversation.
It was my job to defend foreign reporting, “this stuff” according to the former Sun editor, who seems to believe overseas coverage is what begins at the bottom of his garden.
He appeared to think you needed to pack a pith helmet and fly swatter before embarking to far-flung places as “Nuneaton, Preston or Glasgow.”
Well, I’ve got news which may well be foreign to him. “You’re wrong, Kelvin”, – now THAT’S not a phrase that was heard much around Wapping in the 80s.
Not everyone is the reactionary, insular and frankly depressing character you make our UK people out to be, though ONE does come immediately to mind. But, despite all that, I forgive you Kelvin, you little fraggle.
I KNOW there are plenty of people who ARE interested, about matters both here and abroad…. And rather than becoming LESS interested, they are MORE so.
I’m often asked about bravery and the courage of foreign correspondents who travel to wars and disasters.
To me bravery is taking on the establishment and the expenses department, as much as dictators abroad. Bravery is not – as some people seems to think – the defining quality of the war correspondent. Bravery comes in little acts achieved in every job or life, every day.
Bravery in our profession is the editor who trusts his or her journalists in the field when everyone else is screaming otherwise. It’s standing up to the accountants who say we can’t afford to cover that genocide, or that natural disaster.
Bravery is being prepared to go head to head with not only your own Government but that of several others by exposing the real extent of one nation’s surveillance and snooping.
Bravery is knowing you’re guaranteed unpopularity but printing or broadcasting anyway because you KNOW it is the right thing to do.
Today new technology is moving so fast that last week I could broadcast live from a canoe in the Congo River Basin about elephant poaching (and that is definitely a sentence I thought I would never use), while my peers were reporting live from helicopters over the floods in Britain or live behind the barricades of Kiev.
We find we’re trying to beat a 69-character message which can be delivered in seconds, often by unqualified, ill-informed, very partisan participants. But despite enormous pressure, most journalists go that extra mile to search out truth, and to take the consequences of being staunchly impartial.
And it’s journalists who’ve made a difference….showing the effect of chemical weapons in Syria; the torture of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, match fixing in cricket or the expenses scandal in Westminster… It’s journalists who can supply the evidence to change a Government’s direction, who can topple dictators – who still remain important, essential pillars of democracy, freedom and justice.
Lets not be deluded that the British public are only interested in Celebrity Big Brother, Benefits street or who Sienna Millar is sleeping with….. They simply aren’t.
Social media, twitter and digital technology have made the world a whole lot smaller and accessible – and made us all MORE concerned about the killing of children in the Central African Republic…. and more empathetic about the typhoon in the Philippines…. not less.
And I KNOW just how much we are valued, by the reaction out in the field. I once walked miles over an Afghan mountainside to meet a Taliban unit – and when their hooded chief with his AK47 met me; the first thing he said was: ‘Thank you. Thank you for coming to talk to us and hearing OUR side.’
Some of you will know that feeling of walking into a refugee camp – I experienced it again just a few weeks ago in the Central African Republic – and being surrounded by desperate people clinging onto you, all suddenly filled with hope because YOU’VE walked in with a notebook and a camera crew – and they know their story is now going to be heard – and maybe – just maybe – help will arrive.
And its then you’re reminded again of just how privileged we are to have this job – and what a responsibility it is to do it well.
So please don’t tell me the public are not interested in hearing about the killings and torture in Syria, if you don’t cover it. Foreign news, any news, IS expensive – and there are massive risks – but do we really believe twitter and citizen journalism is where we are headed?
They can never replace an experienced and questioning journalist in the field..
And more to the point, the public KNOW the difference. We just have to embrace and move with these evolving ways of delivering and collecting the news – and let it enhance, not take over or replace…..
We have to also recognize and applaud the sacrifices that many of our number make in doing this job…. And the sacrifices our families and those who love us also endure….
The Journalists Charity looks after those of us who after a life in the best job ever, fall on hard times – through mistakes, through illness, through old age or just through bad luck. Through being a journalist.
Because there by the grace of God go all of us. We are mainly mavericks and troublemakers, gamblers, workaholics and risk-takers. Sometimes the dice just rolls the wrong way.
We continue to lose far too many of our colleagues through murder, kidnap or jail – for being journalists. Think today of the Al Jazeera journalists still incarcerated in Cairo for simply doing their jobs…. for going to those dark and violent places where mayhem and anarchy are flourishing and which we would not know about – but for them.
They didn’t want us to forget – so we should never let their lights dim.
Lets remember those members of our extended family like Marie Colvin, Tim Heatherington, Mick Deane and so many others who died doing this incredible job.
They weren’t frightened.