More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 61

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

Whenever I talk about my experiences in the conflict zones of the world, whether on cruise ships, at social gatherings or commercial events like conferences, the burning issue which most listeners want to know about is the money.

Most people fondly imagine that if you put your life on the line, for whatever personal reason, then you will be handsomely remunerated. I agree wholeheartedly with that concept but, alas, in reality, a freelance journalist is, generally speaking, pathetically remunerated.

Of course, it is different for international megastars. The ITN correspondent and newscaster, Sandy Gall, gave his autobiography the title, Don’t Worry About The Money Now. The title originated with a reassurance given to him back in 1955, by his desk editor at Reuters in London, as he was sent off to East Africa. Reuters was doing rather well in those days.

It was rumoured, whilst I was in Bosnia, that CNN’s top presenter, Christiane Amanpour, had just re-contracted with them for an amount in the region of $2 million. And, of course, she didn’t have to provide her own transport, flak jacket, helmet and camera out of that budget.

I wasn’t particularly fond of her. I was once detained by the Serb police at the notorious Checkpoint Charlie out of Sarajevo which you had to pass through to get to the airport. I had taken a risk and it had not worked out very well. Some local friends in the besieged city, who were totally unable to get any mail out, had asked me if I would take some letters back to the UK and post them from there.

Another journalist had told me that the place to hide illicit materials – you were taking out or bringing in – was inside the lining of your flak jacket, which is stuffed with the supposedly bullet-proof Kevlar. This seemed a fair enough suggestion and that’s what I did. When I got to the Serbian police checkpoint they searched my bag and then asked me to take off the flak jacket which they tore open . . .