The Old Trouts, living up to Marie Colvin’s legacy
There’s a lot of fuss at the moment about female war correspondents as if we were some kind of recently discovered species. Yet we’ve been around a while.
Lyse Doucet of the BBC and I call those of our vintage the “Old Trouts Club”. Most of us are in our 40s and 50s, although Dame Ann Leslie is certainly a member and she’s more than 70.
Twenty or so years ago we had to fight to get (male) editors to send us on assignment, but these days we’re pretty well established.
One of the joys of being on the road is running into each other. I remember bumping into Lyse outside Benazir Bhutto’s house in Islamabad and collapsing in laughter – we were wearing identical scarlet bum-covering loose shirts and looked like twins.
Marie Colvin (above) was the bravest and best of us, and also one of the most collegial and sisterly. (She was also the most glamorous). I remember an event organised by Amnesty where she was speaking and I was chairing, and an earnest young woman in the audience asked how we coped with the trauma. We looked at each other and paused. “We go to bars and drink,” said Marie.
Of course, we know it’s not good to drink too much. Of course, we’re aware of post-traumatic stress disorder (Marie suffered from it after losing an eye in Sri Lanka). But you know what? Having a drink and swapping stories is the journalists’ time-honoured way of winding down – and it works.
I am horrified about the sexual harassment and rape of female reporters, and we have seen terrifying examples recently in Egypt. Yet I worry that too much emphasis on this will set us apart, and make (male) editors once more hesitate before sending us to dangerous places.
Most of the risks we run are exactly the same as those experienced by our male colleagues – the rocket which killed Marie also killed the French photographer Remi Ochlik; it didn’t discriminate by gender.
At the end of this awful week, which has seen the death of the great New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid as well as Marie and Remi, and the injury of our colleagues Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, we are all feeling bruised and miserable.
The best comfort is the compassion and shared experience of the Old Trouts, as we try to put ourselves back together again and live up to Marie’s legacy.
Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter: @lindseyhilsum