Guardian Egypt correspondent Patrick Kingsley may have been detained three times this year alone, but he still sees his job covering the crisis-stricken country as a “huge privilege”.
The 24-year-old was named New Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards this month and told Press Gazette: “I suspect people were thinking – who is this guy and what is he doing here…I hope I’ve proved some people wrong by bringing in the stories.”
The work he is most proud of is the 5,000-word investigation which won him the Press Gazette award, into the army and police’s killing of 51 protestors outside government buildings earlier this year.
“It was lots of hard work. I spent weeks talking to the survivors, the people who were there, any officials that would talk to us, and looking at all the video evidence. Everyone was saying that they [the protestors] started it. The results of the investigation showed another story there.”
Kingsley worked on Cambridge University's Varsity newspaper, and got his “big break” when he won journalist of the year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2009, which came with six weeks work experience at the Guardian. He was asked to come back and freelance for the features section after he graduated, which he did whilst also studying for his NCTJ at Lambeth College in London.
“One of the great things about features is that you can cover almost anything you have an interest in,” he says. “One week I was doing an interview in prison, the next at the Lib Dem conference.”
“I found it really tough when I first got here,” Kingsley says, adding that he had expected to spend a week finding his feet but instead had to hit the ground running. “Everything kicked off. I remember thinking, ‘my God, this is not the best possible start!"
Two years on from the protests that led to the ousting of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, Cairo was gripped by violence again, calling for president Morsi’s resignation.
“I think The Guardian thought the story in Egypt was dying down a bit; they’d just had their first elected president,” says Kingsley. “But when I got in, it restarted… hundreds were killed and thousands arrested.”
He attributes much of his success to his translators. “They really are the unsung heroes of foreign reporting, and I’ve worked with six during my time here. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the work I’ve done without them.”
Kingsley interviewed former president Mohamed Morsi, along with Guardian colleague David Hearst, just before the leader was ousted in July.
“We asked him about the police and the army and how confident he was that they would never have to step in, and just got a one-word reply, ‘very’. Five days later, he was out.”
Speaking from his flat in “a nice part of Cairo”, Kingsley says he mostly feels comfortable reporting from Egypt, despite the violence. “It’s at the protests, or when the tear gas comes out, that’s when you’re in danger. You have to be as sensible as you can; there’s a bit of an animosity towards foreign journalists here.
“Some people feel that there are foreign journalists who are taking sides, or not representing things correctly. I know people who have been arrested, and I’ve been detained three times. That said, it’s far more dangerous for the Egyptians.”
He adds: “It was really a privilege though, to see a country in transition, in the middle of such huge changes and trying to revolutionise itself.”
What’s next for the New Journalist of the Year?
“I want to stay in Cairo for as long as The Guardian want me to be here. I want to get a better understanding of the culture here, and get fluent in Arabic. As long as the stories are interesting.”
His advice for aspiring journalists?
“It seems like a basic thing, but as much news and journalism you engage with, the more ideas you will pick up and things you will be aware of.
“Don’t give up. Get a big list of all the editors of all the nationals and keep sending pitches to them. Send them multiple ideas too, so it’s harder for them to say no.”
“Practise in any capacity. At school and at your university newspaper, you are not a student journalist – you are a journalist right now.”