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BOOK REVIEW:

On all fronts : the education of a journalist

War is hell for those who fight and definitely for civilian populations caught in the crosshairs. War correspondents, who are embedded with troops, have their own versions of hell, which Clarissa Ward writes about in her autobiography and chronicle of what it is like to be a broadcast journalist reporting from the world’s nastiest streets. If you think of any wars, conflicts, natural disasters that have occurred over the past 19 years, Clarissa Ward has been there to report on them: in parts of Africa, Afghanistan, Burma, China, Egypt, Gaza, Greenland, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Russia, Syria, and other places. The journalists, who report from these hotspots, have an innate sense of adventure that is combined with a desire to bear witness to what is going on. Broadcast reporting might look exciting and even glamorous, but it is dangerous and challenging to do well.

In Ward’s disjointed childhood, her mother and paternal grandmother were early influences. Both of these women were brilliant, formidable and many times made outrageous, discomforting comments to the young girl. She quotes them, and both women were wickedly funny and insightful, but not very grounded in giving young Clarissa any solid thoughts about her future. With a scattering of interests about what to do, the 9/11 attacks brought her life into focus.

Ward’s sense of drive is like the creed of the U.S. Postal Service,  "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” nothing has stopped Ward from heading into difficult places: not guns, bombs, sexist exclusion, her pregnancy, warnings from experts, and government restrictions. Her fluency in several languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese) has been an asset. Ward’s eagerness to learn more languages has always been important in order to communicate directly with people in other countries. Hard-won experiences and skills have been invaluable in getting breaking news and giving all of us unique perspectives about world events. 

Candid about her successes as well as some of her more foolish actions, Ward takes us into meetings and discussions with news agencies (she has worked for several major ones), administrators, government officials and their lackeys, and also presents the emotional and physical ups and downs of her personal life as affected by her job. Being a wife and mother has somewhat changed her priorities, but not her “ … quest to act as a translator between worlds …to remind the viewer that beyond the geopolitics of power and the brutality of war and the clashes of cultures, people are people.”  The changes in her personal life have quite possibly brought a new urgency to her work.

Clarissa Ward’s book shines a light on women journalists who choose and pursue assignments in hotspots of the world. This book, and Lynsey Addario’s It’s what I do: a photographer’s life of love and war are excellent choices for book clubs and discussions about international freedom of the press and gender equality for journalists.

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