At Auckland airport I bought Christina Lamb’s ‘Small Wars Permitting’, a stunning collection of her finest articles, with her own reflective commentaries throughout. Bit like those special features on DVDs that have director commentary over the film.
I have read a few journalism autobiographies now — Jon Snow’s ‘Shooting History, John Simpson’s ‘A Mad World, My Masters’ being my favourite two. They all have a unique quality to them: That tale of the story-behind-the-story being as enthralling as the events deemed newsworthy at the time.
What I like about Lamb’s book is that she seems to hold a deep knowledge of what’s important. By this, I mean she considers her son and husband as a priority over her work. Only just, mind you. But then she wouldn’t have had the success she has enjoyed without the insatiable appetite to be where it matters in the world.
Yet as I read through her memoirs, I long to see what she’s seen.
Travelling Afghanistan, Lamb writes about the groups of women who used to sneak away from the Taliban regime, to meet under the guise of ’sewing groups’. Within moments I felt a whole new empathy with the Afghan culture. These ladies loved a good bit of fun.
In Iraq, Lamb is in pursuit of the action in Basra. She turns down the chance to be embedded — good on her — which brought on new dangers: She didn’t know what either side were doing. On one occasion, on her way back from what she later learned to be beyond the front line, she bumped into ITN’s reporting van. Inside was Terry Lloyd. They had a chat, and wished each other well. Moments later, Lloyd was killed.
It wouldn’t be the first time Lamb would come close to death, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. When Benazir Bhutto was killed — Lamb was in the SAME bus. Incredible.
There are countless other experiences in her book that I could write about. But the thing that lets them all down — only just, mind you — is that they are just words. I come from a generation where words are only part of the story. I want to see. I want to hear. Hell, someday, I may even demand I touch.
If reporters like Lamb were given N95s, or any other mobile journalism device, imagine what could be achieved. Seriously, take a moment to think how important to journalism these tech advances could be in the right hands.
We often hear that newspapers are under threat from citizen journalists. They’re not. There are no citizen journalists doing the work of Christina Lamb, are there? NO!
The only reason Lamb could afford to be in all these places because it was her job. She worked for the Express and the Sunday Times as well as a few other publications. She was well paid. No distance was a distance too far. Her sole goal was to report.
If newspapers are to become the king content producers on the web, they’ll need to work to their strengths. I can’t see any bigger strength than the example I’ve just given.
You know, if I were a reporter in the back and beyond, I would be filming as much as I could. And, by using the N95, there wouldn’t be much I couldn’t cover.
Why is this not happening?
Why isn’t the Guardian frontpage, or the BBC front page, or the NYTimes front page* full of this stuff? First hand reports from the places where reporting is needed most.
As soon as reporters are given the space to report, then the newspaper v print war will sort itself out — mark my words. They’ll work together in perfect harmony. The beautifully crafted words of correspondents the world over, signed off with the text ‘view the video online’. Wow.
* Special mention for the Baghdad Bureau — that’s pretty fantastic.