New journalist of the year Louise Callaghan: 'Go where nobody else is and write about it'

New journalist of the year Louise Callaghan was interviewing a diplomat in Instanbul when last year’s attempted Turkish coup got underway.

Callaghan, 26, finished a degree in Development Studies and History at SOAS in 2013 and joined the Sunday Times as an intern, before landing a role as a foreign desk assistant.

She made use of her Swedish heritage to get bylines writing about Scandinavia, before eventually persuading the paper to send her to Turkey in January of last year.

Recalling the events of 15 July, she said: “I was in the middle of an interview at the time. I looked down at my phone and realised there was a coup going on. I was about half a mile from Taksim Square so I ran up there and by the time I got there were soldiers running around not really knowing what they were doing.

“We started to see pictures on Twitter of people being shot at from the bridges and helicopters dropping bombs on parliament in Ankara.

“Then of course there was this counter-movement to crush the coup and then all of these crowds started rushing towards Taksim and fought the soldiers, and the Turkish people put down the coup. It was a really fascinating few hours”

It’s been a fascinating year for Callaghan. As The Sunday Times’ Turkey correspondent, not only has she been at the centre of an attempted political coup, she has also been on assignments in Lesbos, where she reported on the detention of refugees during the migrant crisis, and in Iraq, where she was attacked by ISIS fighters whilst covering the siege of Mosul.

“There have been a couple of quite near misses,” she admits. “But at the time you’re just so caught up in the adrenaline of it that you just kind of carry on.

“You’re just so concentrated on getting your story. Afterwards you might think about it and say ‘Christ that was a bit close’ but at the time you’re just so caught up in the adrenaline of it.

“The Sunday Times are incredibly good with security and always concerned about my wellbeing. You just have to try and be as cautious as you can, and plan everything in such intense detail that hopefully things can’t really go wrong.”

Now based in Istanbul, Callaghan covers a wide region from Greece to Syria and Iraq. She spent two months last year covering the Mosul offensive, where she was nearly hit by mortar strikes fired by ISIS fighters.

“Hopefully I’ll be back there soon,” she says.

Speaking about Callaghan’s work, the judges at the British Journalism Awards praised her “compelling” reporting that “cut through the chaos” of the Turkey Coup, and her ability to show “the cruel impact of a realpolitik deal between Turkey and the EU” on migrants fleeing the conflict in the region.

“I’m just trying to let people know what’s happening on the ground,” she says.

“It’s great that the Sunday Times still think it’s worthwhile to send reporters even though it might be expensive or not very pleasant. They haven’t got caught up in this whole thing of writing everything up from the desk and relying on checking Twitter and copying what you see there.

“Obviously there are such insane difficulties in reporting in places like Syria, and there’s still a long way to go. It would be fantastic if there were journalists on the ground there but unfortunately it’s just not possible in most areas.”

At time of writing Callaghan was in Serbia, reporting on the plight of refugees stuck in sub-zero temperatures in the city of Belgrade. She says: “I think that hearing the stories of the people that have been swept up in the migrant crisis can be incredibly affecting.

“I think it’s very important to try and give people human stories so that they can see what’s actually happening. They are people just like you and me, and they’re not this faceless mass that are just coming to take all our jobs.”

Asked what she thinks the future holds for the region, Callaghan says: “I don’t think that the end of ISIS will mean the end of insurgency and war in the region. I think that even if the war technically ends there’s still going to be an incredibly fragile rump state full of insurgency. And then obviously there’s Turkey and their involvement in Syria and their relationship with Russia…

“I think there will still be turbulent times again for the region.”

Finally, as a journalist who entered the industry without formal qualifications, what would her advice to aspiring young foreign reporters be?

“Go to where nobody else is and write about it,” she concludes. “People like Anthony Loyd have made an incredible career of just rocking up where something is happening and writing about it.”

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