Goodbye Al Jazeera
(and here's what comes next....)
Let me start by telling all the budding journalists out there that the transition from ‘bright young promise’ to ‘newsroom matriarch’ seems to happen in a flash. As I write this, I can’t believe I’m closing a chapter of my life that has lasted 16 years.
I joined Al Jazeera English (AJE) as one of the network’s launch faces back in 2006. Joining a new, barrier-breaking and (let’s be honest) controversial channel was a career-defining and life-changing experience. The Doha newsroom was and is a melting pot of nationalities, ethnicities and religions, something which is reflected in the channel’s journalism.
Al Jazeera is the only place where I’ve never felt like a foreigner.
I leave with a heavy heart. What I’ve learnt at Al Jazeera I couldn’t have learnt anywhere else. It’s hard to emphasise now, in 2022, when the need for diversity in media is finally being taken seriously, how different the world was in 2006 when AJE launched. We were 3 years into the Iraq war, whose disastrous consequences were increasingly apparent. The so-called War on Terror was raging. European capitals were being targeted by suicide bombers. The memory of 9/11 was fresh and raw.
Facebook was two years old, Twitter had just launched. The world was divided and there was one dominant narrative. The Western narrative (to my mind more accurately defined as the English-language one - much more on that in future posts) remained mainly unchallenged. Al Jazeera English was not just a new voice, but a much-needed one.
When I announced I was joining Al Jazeera, I remember some then-colleagues taking me to one side and telling me I’d never work again. That I was siding with the enemy. That I was being used. I was dis-invited from some industry gatherings and given the cold shoulder at others. But they were wrong. Joining Al Jazeera was the best professional decision I’ve ever made. It has been a privilege to be one of its anchors. And though I hope to work with AJE in some capacity in the future, I will always miss being part of its core News team.
But 16 years is a long time. Being an International TV News anchor was my dream job for as long as I can remember, but it does have its restrictions. Ultimately, I didn’t feel I could grow and change the way I wanted to while staying in that role. I made a choice, and it feels like the right one.
So let me answer the question I’ve been asked most often since announcing my departure: No, I don’t have another traditional news anchoring/reporting job to go to.
After working in daily news for 22 years, my passion for journalism is stronger than ever but I want to find new ways of exploring and sharing the topics I feel passionate about and to have a more direct link with my audience.
That’s what this Substack blog/newsletter is about.
I think shamelessness will have to become a key part of my new life as a freelance journalist, so I might as well start now by listing the reasons why you should subscribe to this newsletter.
So these are the topics I care about and will focus on:
Migration - As all eyes are on Ukraine, thousands continue to drown in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. With climate change compounding the impact of conflict, migration is one of the biggest stories of our time.
Journalism - Unsurprisingly, I’m obsessed with it. I’ve worked in British, Italian and International journalism and am fascinated by how different the narratives can often be.
The threat of Fascism - I made the award-winning film 'Fascism in the Family' a few years ago and have been researching the topic ever since. Always trying to answer the question: “Could it happen again?”
Bilingualism/second-language English - My claim to fame is having been the first non-native English speaker to present a prime-time news programme on British TV. It wasn’t easy. We know the positives of bilingualism, but I’ll be honest about the challenges that come with being second-language English.
EU citizens in the UK post Brexit - I know, I know, we’re SO bored of Brexit. But many of the 6 million Europeans who applied to stay in the UK through the Settlement Scheme still face difficulties with their status. I’ll look into that and regularly profile some of them.
If that sounds interesting, subscribe! I promise not to send you too many emails.
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And Finally (as they say on TV…..), in 16 years I’ve anchored too many breaking news stories to mention individually, from the Arab Spring to the storming of Capitol Hill. But the clip below probably ranks quite high in my top 10. It was a good news story and needed a sharp eye for colour. Is it grey smoke? Is it…white? A dirty white?…oh wait, maybe it’s….yes, yes it’s WHITE! Definitely WHITE SMOKE! Can you guess where I am? Click here for My most memorable on-air moment
Thanks for reading. Would love your feedback in the comment section below and hopefully I’ll see you here again soon.