In this week’s edition of ’10 minutes with’, Trew speaks about some of her extraordinary experiences reporting on the Middle East, her upbringing surrounded by journalism and important advice for budding foreign correspondents…
How did you get into journalism?
Growing up, my mother was a local news reader in the Gulf, and one of my father’s indulgences was allowing us to creep to the living room after bedtime to watch her do the 9 o’clock bulletin. News was everywhere in our household; the BBC World Service was a constant backdrop.
My parents were adamant we shouldn’t be shielded from what was going on in the world just because we were children – particularly when we had to move because of the Gulf War and relocate to Latvia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Against that, responsible accurate journalism felt like this amazing tool that could be at once a powerful educator and a lifeline.
It was a no brainer for me to want to be a journalist and so I started writing articles at school and university and then began freelancing from the region during the 2011 revolutions.
Why does journalism matter?
It is an incredible tool to speak truth to power, to help the most vulnerable, to give platforms to those whose stories would not otherwise be told, to halt the erasure of histories, to educate and learn in the process.
There is a kind of positive irreverence to it that is so unique. It is one of the few vehicles where you can talk to all sides from monarchs to militants, where you can march into a government building, demand answers from the most powerful, and contribute to holding them to account. But we need the industry to change, to be more diverse and inclusive.
Best scoop (yours or someone else’s)?
Nothing I’ve written! There are so many world changing stories like the ‘Panama Papers’ or the MeToo investigations. But that almost doesn’t match some of the insanely brave journalism from countries like Egypt where outlets produce scoop after scoop, investigation after investigation, despite the fact their colleagues are jailed or harassed.
What are you working on right now?
I’m writing this as I drive to refugee camps near to the border with Syria to report on how Lebanon’s unprecedented financial collapse is devastating the lives of Syrian refugees.
Career highlight so far?
When I found out an article that I almost didn’t write, which didn’t get much pick up, resulted in three kidnapped activists not being tortured or worse killed and being freed from detention.
I had no idea until I met them months later and they told me that for whatever bizarre reason the story had freaked out the armed faction that was holding them enough to let them go. They were sitting with their wives and children who were running about, as they told me. This is probably a highlight of my life.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
You’re not the story. This is so important particularly working as a foreign correspondent. Sometimes you can’t avoid it when things go wrong, but I really believe it’s vital to have this in the back of your mind before writing any piece, tweet or post. Although I fully admit I don’t always get this balance right.
Who or what inspires you most?
It is cliche to say but the incredible people I meet as part of my job – everyone from Doctors Without Borders nurses saving refugee lives at sea to human rights workers in conflict zones who have been through insane levels of trauma but still ask you if you’re okay.
Who would be your fantasy dinner party guests and why?
Any of the human rights defenders behind bars or on travel bans in the region I cover, like Mahienour al-Massry, Alaa Abdul-Fattah, Loujain al-Hathloul. That would mean they are no longer unjustly detained and so I can listen to them talk.
How do you switch off from work?
I can’t really. Would welcome any tips.
Gym or gin?
Both, but not at once ideally.
If I wasn’t a journalist, I would be…
I would try to be a nurse.