“War reporting is a privilege. After three years, the grime and gore of combat, the dreadful logic of ethnic hatred are no longer abstractions for me. More important, every day I see the grace and dignity of ordinary people trying to survive under extraordinary circumstances.” – Kurt Schork
The 2010 Kurt Schork Awards, held at the very glitzy Reuters building in Canary Wharf, are given in memory of the American journalist Kurt Schork, who was killed in 2000 in Sierra Leone. This year Adrian Mogos, a large Romanian who looked uncomfortable in a suit, won the local journalism award for his fascinating Forged Identity – Highway to the EU, and for Fields of Terror – the New Slave Trade in the Heart of Europe. The freelance category was won by Stephen Grey for his reports from Afghanistan, in particular Jonno the Brave and two other stories.
Adrian Mogos & David Loyn
Jeremy Bowen made a good speech about Kurt Schork, saying that he fell out of love with journalism a bit when the day after Kurt was killed another journalist friend died in another war on another continent. Sean Maguire, Reuters’ editor of political and general news, reminded us that whereas in 2000 twenty four journalists had been killed, in 2009 that figure had tripled. I did wonder though whether that may be because so-called local journalists are being counted a bit more seriously than they used to be.
The panel discussion, with the award winners, the BBC’s David Loyn and writer/journalist Michela Wrong was led by journalist Sheena McDonald, who said that when she met Kurt Schork in Sarajevo three unusual things struck her; he didn’t drink, always wore a clean white t-shirt, in a place where water was hard to come by, and he had integrity. The discussion focused on the remarkable and essential role ‘fixers’ play; Stephen Grey went so far as to say, ‘It’s a scandal that we steal the stories of local journalists’.
Sean Maguire looking thoughtful
Sean Maguire looked thoughtful at this point, as well he might.
Inevitably citizen journalism and the dangers it presents to independent journalism also came up, with Michela Wrong being the most pessimistic. My own feeling on this is that the migration of specialist news and analysis to specialist websites and magazines is simply a reflection of the minimal interest which the majority of people have in in-depth analysis, especially of events or wars a long way away.
At this point I noticed Michela Wrong’s wonderful boots – see below, flanked by David Loyn and Stephen Grey. But during the drinks afterwards I made the mistake of complimenting her on both her books and her boots. She seemed to be discomforted by this, or perhaps simply surprised by the compliment – supposed to be light-hearted. Anyway there was no smile, and I felt like an idiot of course.
Michela Wrong with boots
And I really do admire her books, especially the 2009 It’s Our Turn to Eat about the Kenyan whistleblower John Githongo (with whose name Sheena McDonald had a bit of trouble). I moved on swiftly and had a quick discussion with David Loyn about how journalists have for years worked with armed guards – during the discussion he had suggested that it was a very recent innovation – in particular in Somalia, but also elsewhere.
I wanted to apologise or at least explain myself to Michela, but fled before I could make a further fool of myself.