Rosie Garthwaite shares advice with NU-Q students

November 04, 2011

Two weeks after leaving her position as a news producer at Al Jazeera, Rosie Garthwaite walked an audience at Northwestern University in Qatar down the path that led her from frontline reporting in Baghdad to her latest decision to produce independent documentaries.

Former Al Jazeera news producer Rosie Garthwaite shares advice with NU-Q students from her book How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Survival Guide for Dangerous Places.

“I want to build on the amazing links that I’ve made through my work as a journalist and with the community here,” said Garthwaite, on why she has left the newsroom to set up a company that will be making independent documentaries and TV series.

Garthwaite leveraged the same links earlier this year to produce the highly-publicized book How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone: The Essential Survival Guide For Dangerous Places, which was the topic of discussion at Northwestern University in Qatar on Tuesday. The book combines Garthwaite’s own practical advice with contributions from colleagues and friends that include world affairs editor of BBC News, John Simpson, and Rageh Omar of Al Jazeera English.

During the discussion, Garthwaite shared a handful of useful tips from the book with the university’s aspiring journalists, faculty and staff, and members of the local community. She extracted 10 “top tips” from the collection of journalistic guidance and experience, which includes how to escape from a riot and how to deal with frostbite and heat exhaustion, to impart with students.

“Be ready” and “listen to the locals” summarize Garthwaite’s chief pieces of advice.  “Read everything going on today and every history book you can get your hands on” when reporting on a story, Garthwaite urged, counseling students against the temptation of being “romantically unprepared.”

Garthwaite also encouraged students to get out of the newsroom and immerse themselves in the society where they are reporting.  “By listening to the locals you can find ten stories in what might have otherwise been only one good story,” she advised, describing her experience living with a local, eight-member family during her time reporting in Basra, Iraq.

Her lecture was peppered with entertaining and insightful anecdotes from her own experiences and from the more than 100 interviews with journalists and fieldworkers that she conducted in writing the book.

“Most journalists – war zone or otherwise – find themselves in strange situations all the time and the book will help you translate fears into positives,” said Garthwaite, “The book is really for anyone who enjoys travelling out of their comfort zone.”

Senior Associate Dean for Journalism at NU-Q Richard Roth, explained why Garthwaite was asked to speak at the university, “We wanted our Northwestern journalism students to hear Rosie because even though it is unlikely any or many of them will ever work in a war zone, they undoubtedly will, even as students, find themselves in unfamiliar places and we want them always to be safe.”

Garthwaite began her journalistic career reporting for The Baghdad Bulletin, the first English- language newspaper in post-invasion Iraq, later working as a freelance reporter for Reuters, The Times, and the BBC, before becoming a news producer at Al Jazeera.

“It’s really exciting to be on the front lines when there’s no other way to get information out and no one else can get in to report on the news,” Garthwaite said of her experience as a foreign correspondent, which has been largely based in the Middle East. “Journalism is a very important career in the Middle East,” she added in an interview following the lecture, “If it wasn’t for journalism, the incredible movements in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt would never have been recognized.”

“I wrote this book for people like me,” she concluded, in an effort to provide young and inexperienced reporters with the advice that she could have used as a 22-year old entering the profession.

The lecture at NU-Q was organized by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, which released Garthwaite’s book in June 2011.