City graduate Anna Cavell (Television Current Affairs Journalism, 2007) was an ambitious student at City, which landed her with a contract with the BBC as soon as she graduated. Anna worked in newsrooms in London and Moscow for the BBC and RT for three years before moving to report from East Africa almost 10 years ago. She spent 5 years reporting from South Sudan, considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. In the process, she saw both the good and the bad of humanity, which enabled her to stay motivated to use her career as a tool to assist in the causes of those suffering. In Africa, Anna has reported on topics as diverse as conflict and displacement to arts and culture.
Anna’s dedicated herself to her work, investigating the stories of Ugandan parents, who allege their children were adopted by American families without their knowledge or consent. The documentary earned Anna a News and Documentary Emmy, validating her efforts and giving a huge platform for her monumental documentary Adoption Inc: The Baby Business.
Find out more about Anna and her road to winning an Emmy here :
Can you tell me about your time at City?
The best thing about City was that all of my lecturers were closely connected to industry and had all had impressive careers prior to teaching. This meant that studying there was valuable preparation for a career in journalism and provided students with a network of contacts who were in a position to hire us when we graduated.
What happened after you graduated?
One of our final assessed projects was to make a 30-minute documentary which was shown to people from the industry at the end of the year. The editor of the BBC programme Newsnight came to the screening of those films and commissioned the story made by my team. This was great as it meant that pretty much as soon as we’d finished the course we went straight to Newsnight to re-make the story with their correspondent.
How would you describe your experience as a foreign correspondent in Africa?
Reporting from this part of the world has been an enormous privilege and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity. I’ve been here for almost 10 years, 5 of which I spent living and working in South Sudan. I moved here just after it became independent from Sudan and two years later civil war broke out. While there, I reported on some of the most horrific events imaginable – war, massacres, starvation and mass displacement. However, at the same time, I saw some of the greatest acts of courage and experienced enormous kindness from people enduring terrible suffering. Witnessing these events and meeting these people has forever changed my perspective.
What has been the most rewarding experience in your field?
There are so many! In September this year I received an Emmy Award for a documentary I made about fraud in international adoption. It was an investigation I’d worked on for many years so seeing it recognized by people in the industry was wonderful. Seeing the impact of my work is also a perk of the job. I made a documentary about some victims of human trafficking in 2010 and since then they’ve been trying to get justice through the Ugandan courts. The verdict in their case is due to be announced in November this year and it’s unlikely they would have got this far without the media attention. It came as a surprise when I started in this job that often after people experience trauma it comforts them to speak to a journalist. I don’t know why this is, perhaps the interest of strangers validates their grief or suffering, but it’s rewarding to think we can sometimes help, and almost makes up for all the times politicians tell us to sod off!
What has been the biggest challenge with regards to your work?
That really varies according to the situation. In conflict reporting safety, logistics and communications are usually the hardest parts. Working on investigations in Africa can be difficult because public institutions don’t necessarily keep records (or permit access to them) in an orderly way.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to seek a career in journalism?
Learning about how newsrooms and commissioners work is very important. It can be difficult to get a great story to air if it’s the wrong moment, or the wrong angle or the wrong outlet. Investing time learning about which editors are looking for what is seriously worthwhile, whether you work in-house or freelance.
Find out more about Anna – twitter.com/AnnaCavell