Lindsey Hilsum


What do you do?

I am the International Editor of Channel 4 News.

How did you get there?

I started my career as an aid worker in Central America and Africa. Then I became a freelance journalist, based in Nairobi. I worked for the BBC World Service in London for a few years, then went freelance again. In 1994, I was the only English-speaking foreign correspondent in Rwanda when the genocide broke out. I had been doing a short contract for UNICEF there, but began to report when the killing started. After a few more years as a freelancer, Channel 4 News employed me and I have been there ever since - 16 years now.

What does a “typical work day” entail?

No such thing - depends if I’m in London or somewhere else and on the nature of the story. But if I’m on the road, which I am about 6 months of the year, the constant is that we - myself as correspondent, plus producer and camera operator/editor - must have a story ready for C4N at 7pm. So we get up, go out, find a story and film. Then we get back to the hotel, edit and send by Internet or satellite and I do a live question and answer with the presenter. That’s the essence of it.  

You are both a written and TV journalist. What are the key skills in both jobs?  

The main skills are the same: an ability to pursue a story, find things out, challenge people, seek out the facts, dismiss misinformation and write well.  But you have to write more succinctly for TV and be able to explain a story in a clear and punchy way. There is an element of performance in TV - you have to be able to speak confidently.

What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your job?

The best thing is being an eye-witness to the history of our time, and to hear people’s stories. The least rewarding thing is if the technology lets us down and the story doesn’t make air. It doesn’t often happen, but when it does, it’s devastating.

You studied French and Spanish at university - how does it help in your job?

Well, I wish I’d studied Arabic or Chinese. But I use the languages I have from time to time, and an understanding of how language works and the interplay of language and culture is very useful in understanding new people and places.

What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?

Do not do Media Studies. Do a degree in something else - physics, history, economics, anything that interests you. Then do a Masters in Journalism. Or just get out to a country that interests you and do something: write for a local newspaper, start a blog, become a press officer for an aid agency or a company. Just get out and do it.  

What do you look for in young journalists?

Evidence that they have gone out and done something for themselves. Curiosity, empathy and determination. A sense of humour.

What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?

That you may believe you’re a great reporter with a great story but if you can’t convince an editor, you’ve failed. So you have to pick yourself up and do it again and again.

What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?

On several occasions I have left a story too early. I was tired, I thought it was over, I had had the best of it. I was wrong. I should have stayed longer. I have done this on several occasions but it’s too painful to specify which stories!

Do you have a role model and if so who and why?

Several: Martha Gellhorn, James Cameron, Charles Wheeler. All great reporters who put people’s individual stories at the heart of their journalism but never at the expense of the context and wider significance of what they were witnessing. They made you feel it, understand it and care - that’s what I’m trying to do.

What is the story you are most proud of having covered?

Maybe the siege of Jenin in the occupied West Bank in 2002. Cameraman/Producer Tim Lambon and I had to drive through olive groves to avoid Israeli checkpoints and then run and dodge from house to house. We were the first reporters into the camp and we had just an hour inside. But we managed to get images and eye-witness testimony that revealed the destruction and killing the Israelis had been trying to hide. It was physically demanding - I had to scale a 10 foot wall. It was difficult - the cameraman had to hide the tape in his sock. I had almost no time to report and write. But I think we got it right, and we got the news out before anyone else.

Lindsey Hilsum | International Editor | Channel 4 News, interviewing Afghan elder in Bamyan, Afghanistan

30 years' experience

CV in brief

Studied French and Spanish at the University of Exeter

Previously worked at BBC World Service | UNICEF

Find her online @lindseyhilsum | Blog: Lindsey Hilsum on International Affairs

Apply for jobs at Channel 4

Interviewing Samburu women in Kenya

Interviewing Samburu women in Kenya

Libya in the Time of Revolution with Lindsey Hilsum - Conversations with History

Driving into Gao, Mali as Islamists fled, Jan 2013

Driving into Gao, Mali as Islamists fled, Jan 2013

Lindsey Hilsum live in Libya