Specialist Africa writer Michela Wrong last night condemned the plight of freelance journalists covering international issues as she picked up the James Cameron prize.
Previous recipients of the prize, announced at City University last night, have included Robert Fisk, Charles Wheeler, Fergal Keane, John Ware and Lindsay Hilsum.
Wrong covered West and Central Africa for Reuters in the 1990s and reported on the Rwandan genocide. She was Africa correspondent for the Financial Times and in recent years has freelanced.
Around 2008 she wrote an acclaimed series of articles for the New Statesman about corruption and poverty in Africa.
Wrong said that when she started out in journalism in the 1980s it had been her ambition to have the same sort of career as Cameron – who died in 1985 after a globe-trotting life which saw him acclaimed as one of the greatest foreign news journalists of his generation.
Wrong said that such a career was impossible now because of cutbacks in the coverage of foreign news coverage and the increasing parochialism of British society.
And she warned that many talented freelance journalists writing about international matters were being forced to leave the profession because of lack of commissions.
She said: ‘We are reaching a stage where outside contributors to newspapers will all be academics on university salaries, authors promoting their books or the independently wealthy.
‘I do think the crisis is temporary and that where there is genuine skill and professionalism market forces will come to the fore. I am an optimist and I can’t wait for this painful adjustment to be over and for things that are currently being offered for free to acquire their true market value.”