Reporting from war zones in Bosnia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, covering disasters in Bangladesh, massacres in Rwanda and the siege of the Iranian embassy in London? Just part of the job for Kate Adie.
The BBC’s first chief news correspondent has traveled the globe, entering extremely dangerous situations, in delivering the news for 40 years. So doing, she has helped pave the way for female journalists worldwide.
Adie, 66, is being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Women’s Media Foundation at the group’s 2011 Courage in Journalism Awards recognizing those who risk their lives to cover the news. Two events are slated, for October 24 in Los Angeles and October 27 in New York.
Now a BBC presenter, Adie is the author of Corsets to Camouflage, a history of women in wartime, and Nobody’s Child, a book about her adoption. She’s won a slew of awards, including three Royal Television Society News Awards, the Broadcasting Press Guild’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting, and the Bafta Richard Dimbleby Award, and has been appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. She’s also an honorary professor of journalism at the University of Sunderland and an honorary fellow of Royal Holloway, University of London.
We recently spoke with Adie about how she fell into journalism and war coverage, how she has dealt with danger at the front lines, and the advice she has for women starting out in the field. An edited version of the interview follows.
More: Congratulations on the award.
Kate Adie: Well, thank you very much indeed. It was, gosh, quite a surprise.
More: It shouldn’t be! You’ve had an incredible career. When you decided to go into journalism, did you think you’d be covering wars?
KA: Well, I didn’t ever decide to go into journalism. I had a rather sort of strange route into things.
More: So it was a happy accident?
KA: I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had a university degree, but not exactly the most job-worthy one—I have a degree in ancient Icelandic and Scandinavian studies. And therefore, I needed a job. Just sort of by sheer coincidence, the BBC was starting a local radio [network]—we were rather slow off the mark, I suppose, but this was 40 years ago. …One of the news stations turned out to be in my home area in northeast England, so I sort of begged to join and managed to squeeze in on the bottom rung. I spent seven years working in radio as a producer and a technician and not in the news in any way. And I only gradually fell into it over the next few years.
So, I can’t ever claim to have desired to have been a journalist, I’m afraid. …These things, you don’t exactly choose them, but along they come.
More: How did you move into reporting on wars and conflicts?
KA: I don’t think any of us working in a national newsroom in London at the BBC ever thought of it as any different kind of journalism. It just—the phrase I would always use was, it just comes with the turf. You find yourself doing everything from famines to volcanic eruptions, assassinations, terrorism, and at the same time doing economic stories and sports stories. Conflict is just another strand. There’s no suggestion that anybody specializes in war reporting—you just end up doing that kind of thing because it comes with the turf.
More: Did you find yourself being sent off on these big stories more and more often?