BBC Middle East Correspondent Orla Guerin reveals how she got into journalism

By Orla Guerin
 
I had never seen a journalist, much less a newsroom, when I decided that reporting was the path I should follow in life.
 
There were no journalists in my family, so there
was no example to follow. It would be true to say that I made the
decision first and did the research later – bad practise for anyone in
our profession. But this was a choice borne out of instinct, out of a
feeling that I should be chasing the news – or trying to. And following
your instincts is a big part of this profession.
 
I was educated by Irish nuns of the old school,
so often tarnished nowadays. The nuns I knew were sturdy and often
stern, but they were dedicated, and pushed us to our academic limits. I
loved English lessons, and had a misguided idea that writing would be a
key part of this job. In fact I’ve found that journalism ( especially
in foreign news) is 50% travelling, 40 % hanging around and 10%
frenetic activity. And in the hunt for information and the scramble for
technical facilities, the story is often scribbled in minutes. But even
the scribbled word can have its magic.
 
While still at school, I started to write, for
any publication I could find – mostly unpaid, in the great tradition of
young reporters. After a journalism course in college in Dublin, I
worked for a variety of national newspapers and magazines, did some
freelance work here and there, and was lucky enough to wander into a
job in RTE ( the Irish state broadcaster). RTE gave me a thorough
grounding in broadcasting, and a chance to travel.
 
In 1990, at 23, I set off for what still was the
Soviet Union, where the communist system was grinding towards its
eventual collapse. I’m not sure who was more surprised by my presence
there – me, or the Communist party apparatchiks I had to deal with.
I remember a meeting in the forbidding grey maze that was Soviet
Foreign Ministry, with a corpulent official responsible for ‘assisting’
members of the foreign media. I was welcomed with an offer of vodka. It
was, after all, mid morning. We spoke for half an hour or so. Then it
was time to go.
 
“Please come back any time,” he said, ” and let
me know if there is anything I can do.” Too easy, I thought to myself.
“I have just one last question,” he said. “It’s been great to meet you,
but when is the correspondent going to drop by.” “She just has,” I
announced, to his utter surprise. Somewhere in Russia in those dark and
difficult days a colleague gave me a simple and precious piece of
advice. “Never take no for an answer,” he said.
 
In turn, I pass this guidance on to you, with the hope that you have luck and success if you choose to join our ranks.
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