[Semaine de la Presse] Interview with Keith Dovkants, journalist

As Crescendo, we have the honor to have Keith Dovkants, now retired war reporter from the London Evening Standard as an interviewee. He has been in various countries at different times such as Bosnia, Ireland and even Turkey. We had the privilege to question him about his career, his old profession and today’s journalism. He provided us with elaborate answers and valuable insights. We sincerely thank Keith Dovkants for his participation and encourage our readers to read his previous articles.

Can you introduce yourself really briefly and summarize your old profession?
I began my career in journalism with a newspaper in Kettering, my hometown, then moved to London where I joined the London Evening Standard. During a long career with this publication I reported from more than fifty countries and covered a number of major stories including wars, natural disasters and political events. When I left the newspaper in 2009 I was chief feature writer and I then worked in magazines. I am now engaged on a book project. I live in Laleham, a village on the river Thames just outside London, with my wife Natalie, daughter Dulcibella and our Labrador Jasper. 

What was the thought process and the planning behind your career choice? Did you always imagine yourself as a journalist in the future when you were younger?
My desire to pursue journalism was really the result of a youthful romantic dream. We always had newspapers at home and I followed the adventures of the correspondents avidly. It seemed to me the perfect job – exciting, challenging and for society, very worthwhile. 

What are some positive and negative aspects of your profession?
The positives and negatives of the profession very much depend on the individual. For me, the act of witnessing important -even historic- events, perhaps uncovering facts that deserve to be known makes one feel you are doing a job worth doing. On the negative side, the hours can be very long and unsocial, you can find yourself in situations of great discomfort and perhaps danger. 

Fleet Street, London. DR.

What was exciting about journalism for you?
For excitement, it would be hard to beat the life of the correspondent, whatever media they work in. Some will be attracted to the opportunity of mixing with celebrities, others will be drawn to battlefields and a great number will find a thrill in covering the day’s news. For me personally, going to new places, meeting new people and witnessing great events was always exciting. But excitement is ephemeral. More enduring perhaps is satisfaction. I did a lot of investigative reporting and on occasion was able to expose wrongdoing and corrupt individuals. In the 1990s I did a series of articles on poverty and hardship in a deprived part of London which resulted in a greater awareness and a desire to help. I look back on that as my best work.

What are some important events you have found yourself in as a journalist? What was being a war journalist like? Can you talk about your time in Ireland and Bosnia?
War reporting is a strange business. I know people who are addicted to “bang-bang” as it’s jokingly called. They yearn for the adrenaline rush of proximity to danger, life and death action. Winston Churchill once said there was no feeling as wonderful as being shot at with no result. I know that feeling. During the siege of Mostar in Bosnia a sniper’s bullet whistled past my ear and in that same town a Land Rover I was traveling in took several rounds without hitting anyone. I narrowly escaped a mortar attack in Sarajevo where two of my friends were wounded. I have had numerous lucky escapes. Urban warfare, as in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, is also horrific, with many innocent victims. The journalist must see and report things that leave indelible marks on him or her, but it is important to try to remain objective. 

Keith Dovkants. DR.

Turkey very recently suffered an earthquake. Since you were working as a journalist during the earthquake of 99, can you share some insights? Is war and catastrophe journalism still like how it was during your time?
The 1999 earthquake was an event of such painful tragedy I find it depressing to think of even now. The recent disaster -in terms of lives lost, even worse- only sharpens those dark memories. At the scenes of destruction, I saw human grief in its most raw, heartbreaking manifestation. But the correspondent’s role is to report, to inform. In the old days they used to say “don’t get involved – keep your opinions and emotions to yourself.” This brings me to your question about how things have changed. These days there is a movement towards the reporter putting themselves into the story. Not as an ego trip (that would be unfortunate, but it does happen) but in an effort to better explain, to give human context. I support this trend because it can, in its best form, yield that precious thing the journalist must always seek – truth. The greater the truth, the better the story. And, I should say, the person writing it. 

Lastly, do you have any advice for young people who aspire to become a journalist one day?
What advice would I give to a young person wishing to embark on a media career? I think the best advice is always- follow your dream! Look around at what is being done in the press, on TV and radio. What appeals to you? Who are the exponents you admire? Study their output and methods. Successful journalists can often be very approachable. Don’t be afraid to make contact, seek advice. If you experience rejection, don’t despair. It will help to toughen you for the road ahead. 

Keith Dovkants. DR.

On the behalf of Crescendo and our readers, we yet again thank Keith Dovkants for the eye-opening information which he has shared with our community. We hope our readers will enjoy reading this article as much as we enjoyed redacting it.

Article mis en page par Arif Kılınç

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