Sue Turton is a veteran journalist who has worked in the industry for nearly three decades. She is also a wanted woman. During her time as a Al Jazeera English journalist, Turton was one of several journalists working for the Al Jazeera network to be targeted by the Egyptian authorities in retaliation for her reporting.
The Egyptian courts found her guilty of “aiding the Muslim Brotherhood” and reporting “false news,” sentencing her to 10 years in prison in 2014. Finding herself unable to visit countries that might extradite her to Egypt, she has had to leave her position at AJE in June 2015 because she couldn’t travel freely to report in the Middle East.
Turton, who was stationed in Afghanistan before covering the Libyan and Syrian conflicts, says being a journalist has broadened her horizons.
How has being a war journalist changed you?
SUE TURTON: It has given me a worldwide perspective that growing up in the north of England, I would never have had. It has made me understand that it doesn’t matter where you’re from; people are people. Some are good, some bad. And it’s given me the chance to see people at their rawest. Whether that’s the best of people — when their life is on the line, their family or their community’s lives are on the line, they can be so kind — or the worst of people. They can do dreadful things to other human beings that should be unthinkable, but [which] are happening on a daily basis.
What do you do when you’re in the field to relax and stay sane?
ST: That presupposes I am sane in any sense of the word! What do we do? Generally it’s easier when you’re with a team, if you’re with people that have been through what you’ve been through, it’s much easier to talk. Generally, talking is the best way of getting through something. If something’s affected you, you just need to keep talking it out. So yeah, verbalising it [is] the easiest way and I shouldn’t say this, but drinking usually helps too; even just to soften something that’s heavy on your heart, just something that gives you some distance.
What’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed in journalism in the course of your career?
ST: The biggest change is the immediacy. I started 27 years ago. And then, mobile phones were only really just coming out. When you went to cover something, you generally went and filmed it, then you would edit it, and then you would feed it back [to the newsroom]. And it would take quite a long time. You might have a satellite truck following you around to do some lives, but it was unusual.
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Now, if something happens, the minute it happens you’re expected to be live. So whether that’s just on the phone because you are dashing to wherever the atrocity happened, or whether that you can get your BGAN (portable satellite network) up, your little satellite link up, you are supposed to comment immediately.
Which means that quite often that either mistakes are made or you’re trying not to be specific about something until more information comes out. So in the past, I think you went out, and you found out what happened, and then you delivered the news. I think now the modern way is to deliver it, either on Twitter or Snapchat or live, and then work out the significance of it minutes, hours, or even days later. And I think that’s probably detrimental to really finding out what’s going on, because that ends up with this tidal wave of information with people saying, “I think this has happened,” and then it slowly starts to filter out [that] it’s not actually what people thought to start with, and that’s not a good thing.