Throwback Thursday No.1 - One Week In Iraq

05 July 2018

Here’s something I’m thinking of doing on a regular-ish basis: a trawl back through my own body of work, starting right at the beginning and seeing how my style, ability, and creative direction has changed over the last decade.

My aim is to go through everything - the mediocre and bad pieces included. Too many creatives forget about or even delete their embarrassing works, but I think it’s important for people to see we all started from square one.

So, with that in mind, let’s start at the piece which I think marks the start of the creative trajectory I’ve been on for the last ten years.

One Week In Iraq (March 2009)

The Context: In 2009 I was working in my previous life as a local radio reporter, reading news bulletins in the morning and driving out to interview footballers in the afternoon. I was working for a station in the north of England in a proud working class city.

Low incomes made it a prime recruiting ground for the British Army and with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still brewing, they would often fly local journalists out for a week or so. The Army got cheap PR, the broadcaster got cheap content and the young journalist got something on their CV.

Although it was a very safe exercise, my salary was just £15,000 and there was no hazard pay!

The Story: I was dead excited to be going out to Iraq but I also had my eye was on a life beyond local radio journalism. So I decided to take a camera out along with my radio pack and try and make some “multimedia content” as it was known back then. I bought a second-hand DV camera from Ebay and smuggled it in with the rest of my kit.

My ambitious plan was to create a multimedia project called One Week In Iraq: a mix of videos, audio and photographs. I pulled it off, using some third-party platform and very limited HTML and CSS knowledge.

The site itself is long gone but the videos are still online.

The main piece was this six minute video called Blood and Treasure.

Two caveats for the sub-par quality of the footage: it was second hand kit, and I was doing everything myself, often interviewing for both radio and video with my two hands. I remember facing a bunch of technical problems when I was out there, so this is very much the result of what was possible in the circumstances.

Looking back: Stylistically, this is a young journalist desperately wanting to make broadcast TV. This was what I trained in and where I still thought my career might go. You’ll notice my voice speaks with the earnest cadence of a newsreader.

At the same time I was clearly interested in new editing styles. The use of a quote to start the film, I cribbed directly from The Wire, which I was obsessed with at the time.

Even now I’m quite proud of the writing - I probably would have made a half decent package journalist; the writing to picture, as it’s called, isn’t bad, and perhaps there’s the nascent eye of a filmmaker in the very final shot of the gun barrel over the city.

Lessons learned: One Week In Iraq never led to anything; the project got very little attention, which is probably just as well. But I’d proved to myself I could be a Video Journalist and that was what the next few years of my career would be about.

About six months after my week in Iraq, I quit my job and moved down to London to try and make it as a freelance journalist…