Sky News’ Alex Crawford has told young journalists hoping to be foreign correspondents never to give up after revealing she is “still kicking myself” for missing out on an interview with teen ISIS bride Shamima Begum.
Crawford said she and her team had spent the past two weeks in north-east Syria, travelling many kilometres and passing through “countless checkpoints” to access areas normally off-bounds to reporters.
She revealed her experience in a blog post for the National Council of the Training of Journalists, of which she is a patron, as US-led coalition forces arrested suspected terrorists after defeating ISIS fighters on the ground.
She said she had sat in a detention camp reception area in Al-Hawl, Syria, “on a day when it was sheeting it down with rain and freezing cold” and asked repeatedly if there were any British women there, but was told “no”.
“We asked them to check and waited as they sifted through the hundreds on their list. No, again. No British. They told us to come back in two days’ time.
“I weighed it up. We had a long way to travel to another camp where I knew there were British plus I wanted to see the final IS pocket ‘frontline’ and check out what was happening there – and then there were the male IS suspects. I’d been promised access to some British prisoners.
“There was a lot to do and I only had so many days to do it in. We set off and never returned.”
She said a week after she had left Syria the “extremely good and it turns out, much more patient Anthony Loyd from the Times sat in the same room, for three hours longer than I did, and spoke to 19-year-old Shamima Begum”.
Loyd’s interview with the schoolgirl from Bethnal Green, who had run away to join Islamic State aged 15 and was now heavily pregnant, made the Times splash and the front pages of most national newspapers the day after.
Said Crawford: “Do not, fellow journalists, ever, ever give up.”
The Sky News special correspondent also defended journalists’ reporting of terror suspects in Syria in the face of criticism online.
She said her “jaw hit the ground” over the online response to her own interviews with two British ISIS suspects and an Irish passport holder – all men – as well as young women who had ended up marrying IS fighters.
“I found myself having to work hard to stop my jaw dropping at some of the things the girls were saying to us,” she wrote.
“But my jaw hit the ground at the response their interviews got online. It was unabated vitriol with many wishing the young women untold evil and no-one sympathetic to their wishes to return home.”
She said the suspected terrorists saw journalists as a way of appealing to their home Governments to “get them out of there”, but added: “Whatever their reasons, shouldn’t we, as journalists talk to them?
“I believe it’s a no-brainer but if you look at my Twitter feed or glance at the Sky News Twitter and online response, there are far too many folk out there who think otherwise – and believe we are part of the problem, giving air-time to people who do not deserve it.
“‘Leave them there – and leave the reporter too!’ said one. ‘Why do you even give these people the time of day?’ said another, ‘Why not talk to the victims that are left behind?’ said another.
“Of course we do that too – but surely it’s worth investigating how anyone gets lured out to a far-away country where they know no-one, to enter a war zone they know little about?”
She added: “Should this stop us as journalists interviewing these people? I absolutely believe not.
“In fact, I’d say to young journalists hoping to be foreign correspondents, go, seek, be brave and most of all, don’t give up.
“Most of all, do not give up. It’s a lesson I forgot for one small moment out there in north-east Syria and I’m still kicking myself hard.”
Picture: Sky News