“Two people posing as journalists tried to kill him, you won’t get access to him.” I’m sitting in a Sydney coffee shop with a Syrian contact. “Nobody knows anything about him.” I retort.
He slowly sips on his coffee, one of the many he’s had since I first proposed getting access to the leader of the Free Syrian Army. “OK, let me see what I can do.”
A few months later I am in Antakya, Turkey, interviewing the almost anonymous Colonel Riad al-Asaad. Reporting for SBS’s Dateline program, I have been granted rare access to him at a military camp where he is protected by Turkish security forces after several attempts on his life. The camp is meant to be strictly off limits to journalists.
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How does a journalist do a story on a subject they know nothing about?
This is a question which has long intrigued me. Most journalists have to cover all kinds of issues. Many don’t have the luxury of specialising in things they know about. I eventually worked out the basic technique for TV journalists.
First, make sure the names and titles are spelled correctly and assigned to the right people on the bottom of the screen, then stuff the story full of quotes. Try not to actually write anything yourself except vacuous little linking sentences.
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