From university to the front line of the Arab Spring

Ruth Sherlock, named Young Journalist of the Year at the 2012 British Press Awards, moved straight to the Middle East after graduating from Durham University in 2010. She is now a Daily Telegraph foreign correspondent.

How did you get into foreign correspondence?

I did some work experience with the BBC – with a correspondent in Jerusalem – during my second year at university and then ended up moving to Jordan after I graduated.

I decided I wanted to get into journalism so I started freelancing for the Jordan Times.

I moved to Jerusalem within about three months and was freelancing there as well.

Then the Arab Spring happened so I went to Egypt.

I was working for lots of different outlets but decided I needed to concentrate on one so I prioritised the Telegraph and just focused on them and made clear to the editor that I wanted to build a  relationship.

I had made contact with journalists from the Telegraph and ended up travelling with them to Libya.

When the story went a bit quieter and the staff correspondents left, they started passing my contacts on to editors.

It was less them approaching me as me hammering on their door, but after a while they started calling me.

I started to move to places that were useful to them and then became more of a stringer, and then a staff writer.

What did you get out of your work experience?

Not a lot in terms of technique. I was very lucky to get the internship in Jerusalem but for a number of

reasons I didn’t actually get to travel very much with the correspondent.

I did get to write one useful story – which allowed me to see the atmosphere and see how the process of foreign correspondence works for television – but the best thing about it was the contacts.

The most valuable piece of advice I could give to aspiring journalists is to make contacts, make friends with other journalists in the field.

Was it ever your intention to do a journalism training course?

Before moving to the Middle East, I applied for loads of jobs and wasn’t getting anywhere.

I wanted to find a job at a local newspaper but it was really hard. I just wanted to get out there and become a journalist and I don’t think I would have done a course unless I had no other option – it is very expensive and, from what

I remember from my work experience, I learnt that to do journalism you really just have to do it to learn it.

I know a lot of people who had done journalism training courses and not gotten anywhere – equally,

I know people who have really benefitted from it and have gone on to do fantastic things.

Is there anything you feel you’ve missed out on not doing a training course?

I have struggled in some ways from not doing a course, yes. There are some really useful skills – like shorthand – which I have missed out on.

Also, if you’re working for a big organisation you can’t afford to make legal mistakes, and you have to be on top of the law.

Other things, like writing style, you can learn through books but you have to dedicate the time to do it.

Luckily, I think I will be taken back to do some training with the Telegraph in London soon.

Here, she tells William Turvill how she did it. An extended version of this interview appears in Press Gazette Journalism Quarterly. Click here for information on how to subscribe.

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