CRAFT: Persistence and Preparation
Kim Ghattas, Beirut-based journalist and author of Black Wave

CRAFT: Persistence and Preparation

Bradley Hope

Kim Ghattas is an incredible journalist. Her body of work shows a huge range, from intellectual synthesis and scoops of insight to emotive stories from the frontlines of conflicts. She got her start in her hometown of Beirut before joining the BBC, Financial Times and the Dutch daily de Volkskrant (she's half-Dutch). In 2008, she moved with the BBC to Washington, D.C., to serve as State department correspondent. She traveled the world with Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Her first book, THE SECRETARY, about her experience from inside American foreign policy, was a New York Times bestseller. Lately, she's been contributing to The Atlantic.

Her latest book BLACK WAVE is highly readable, yet ambitious in scope. She goes on the hunt for how the Middle East became what it is today, zeroing in on 1979, a momentous year that included the Iranian revolution, the siege of Mecca and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As the description of the book says, these three events made Saudi and Iran "mortal enemies, unleashing a process that transformed culture, society, religion and geopolitics across the region for decades to come."

One of her best decisions was to focus on characters in the midst of those events, which allows readers to connect with the story in a deeper way. She kindly agreed to answer some questions for this week's edition of CRAFT.

You’ve had a long career in journalism, including radio, TV and print. How did you break through when you first got started? Based on that, is there something you’d recommend to fledgling journalists trying to make their way in the profession?

It took a lot of cold calls, quite a few rejections, hard work and a knack for knowing when I was in the right place at the right time. Also—kindness. I tried never to use my elbows. It pays off, for everyone. I’d wanted to be a journalist ever since I was 13. While at university, I cold-called a local newspaper in Beirut asking for an internship. They said yes. On my first day, I offered to drive their star reporter to cover a breaking news story in southern Lebanon, where the Israelis had shelled a town. He said yes. From then on, I went down south on every reporting trip with him and began learning the trade from him. There I bumped into American correspondents in town for a story. They asked if I would take them around and translate, set up interviews for them. I became a fixer for visiting correspondents. I began writing for the local paper but didn’t stop being a fixer. It was an incredible learning experience. I also wanted to write for foreign organization. I’m half Dutch and on one trip to Amsterdam, I cold called 14 newspapers and news organizations offering my services until one of them said yes. So don’t be shy but don’t be cocky, don’t shy away from the more mundane tasks, don’t be afraid of rejection. Check your facts.

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