It was as Michael Lawrence recalled being the subject of a kidnap plot, thwarting him from re-entering war-torn Iraq, that it dawned on me: this polite and down to earth man I’d spoken to on a number of occasions, had experienced significantly more than most.
It happened again when he mentioned an impassioned debate he’d had with the Turkish Prime Minister about the definition of a terrorist. And again recountint a meeting with the US top brass in Iraq, uncovering a hugely significant change in American military operating procedures.
It’s testament to Michael Lawrence the man that the former Global Editor at Reuters does not announce himself with fanfare. But as his Campfire talk proved, don’t let his modesty fool you.
Tracing a narrative through his journalism career, from copy boy on a Sydney afternoon newspaper to global news editor meeting Popes and Presidents, Michael’s story focused less on his numerous personal achievements and more on the transformations that have taken place in the media. And as someone whose reporting career began on a typewriter and progressed to issuing social media guidelines for thousands of journalists worldwide, there can be few better placed to comment on this subject.
A key theme throughout his talk was the importance of community journalism. Michael recounted that while working for 2GB radio in Australia, the station’s coverage of a local flood was heavily reliant on information provided by listeners. This was an early example of what would contemporarily be called crowdsourcing; dispelling the myth that such practices are a 21st century phenomenon. He compared this to The Tuscaloosa News; an Alabama based local newspaper, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting. Covering the story of a deadly local tornado, staff at the paper used social media in combination with traditional reporting to provide real-time updates and help locate missing people. Michael’s point was clear: despite great flux in the industry, the principals and purpose of quality journalism haven’t changed, even if the tools and techniques have.
The night was not without poignancy. Michael spoke of the numerous conflicts he helped cover whilst at Reuters. His memories of the Iraq War and its aftermath were particularly emotive, paying tribute to his colleagues for whom the assignment would prove to be their last. For those in the audience like myself who’ve never been near a conflict zone, hearing the perils involved in reporting news from such an inhospitable location was both an eye opening, and harrowing experience.
Throughout his story, Michael was always at pains to point out how fortunate he has been to work with such talented staff, one of whom, photojournalist Goran Tomasevic, was exhibited downstairs on the ditto doors. As Michael said, “Goran tells a better story with one click than I could do with 2000 words”. I’m not even going to try and explain the vivid nature of Goran’s images, except to say if you get chance, please view them here.
The evening was rounded off with a lively Q&A, with many of the enraptured audience keen to hear Michael’s views on the future of journalism in the Internet age. It was just left for ditto to thank Michael, an engaging speaker, esteemed journalist and gentleman, for a privileged insight into the sharp-end of global news reporting.Listen to Michael Lawrence's Fireside Favourite radio show here