Barry Moody can tell you firsthand about journalism: sleepless nights come with the job.
The former Reuters reporter spent 43 years on the front lines before retiring from the international news agency in 2013.
As the son of a journalist who covered the liberation of Europe from the Nazis for the Royal Air Force news service, Moody remembers how “there was plenty of the mystique of journalism around our house.”
Moody decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by applying to Reuters and other graduate news training schemes during his final years of university in England.
“The foreign travel was a big attraction,” said Moody. “It was only after joining that I got totally hooked on reporting.”
During his tenure at Reuters, Moody held a string of noteworthy positions.
He worked as the Africa editor for 10 years, where he met leaders including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. As the Middle East editor for seven years, he led Reuters’ coverage of the 2003 Iraq war. Finally, he returned to Europe as the head of editorial operations for Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal during the euro zone debt crisis.
The adrenaline rush is unrivalled.
For Moody, one of his greatest joys was working with Reuters’ “elite breed” of journalists.
“Good teams always do better in the long run than selfish prima donnas,” said Moody. “The camaraderie at Reuters was incredible, and that is why we did so well. I and many of my colleagues were far more interested in winning the esteem of our peers than plaudits from distant editors.”
As one of the original correspondents for News-Decoder, Moody has written 15 articles for the site, sharing his expertise on Africa, the Middle East and Italy — where he keeps a second home. Most recently, Moody wrote an article about the role of populism in Italian politics.
Moody is one of four News-Decoder correspondents who write regular columns for the African News Agency. The apple does not fall far from the tree: His daughter Jessica Moody, a PhD candidate at Kings College London, is one of the four writers.
Barry Moody has some guidance to offer the students interested in pursuing this line of work.
“If you want to work regular days and avoid long nights without sleep, forget it. It is a wonderful profession, and the adrenaline rush from covering a major breaking story is unrivaled. Absolutely unique.”
* * *
Q: How did you start out?
Moody: I worked for the BBC while still a graduate student, in a special team monitoring the sound feed from Apollo 11, 12 and 13. I can still remember listening in (and may even have a tape somewhere) of Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man…” broadcast from the moon’s surface. I later applied to Reuters and got on the graduate programme.
Q: What was the biggest story you ever covered?
Moody: I worked for Reuters for 43 years so I covered a lot of stories, some huge. But the biggest was undoubtedly the 2003 Iraq war, when I had to organise and run our coverage. Fortunately, we had quite a long time to prepare, although I had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about whether we would get it right.
We had to decide where to put our correspondents, win slots for embedded reporters with the U.S. and British military and select reporters for the roaming multi-media “unilateral” teams. We obviously spent a lot of effort on how to be first with the war starting (which we were) and then staying ahead on the key moments of the war and its aftermath, like the capture of Saddam Hussein. Above all, I had to think very hard about safety and protecting our reporters, cameramen and photographers, who were strategically placed around the region, including Baghdad.
We held hostile environment courses and trained staff on how to stay safe in chemical warfare attacks — I still remember the ashen faces of seasoned war reporters who attended a briefing on chemical warfare. I established a desk to cover the war and take copy from our correspondents in Dubai and carefully selected the best staff for that. Our coverage was extremely successful, because of good planning by a large team and good staff. We beat other media many, many times by getting our embedded reporters to send text messages, sometimes in the heat of battle, from satellite phones at the front line — something our opponents apparently hadn’t thought of.
Q: What was the most unusual story you ever covered?
Moody: Again, too many to recall properly, but I always remember a story I wrote from Papua New Guinea about a young Los Angeles musician who trudged through the jungle with a double bass on his back playing Bach to local villagers and collecting the songs and music of the indigenous people in an extremely remote area. It turned out that he bought the double bass from a Los Angeles theatrical shop and it had been used in the film “Some Like it Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe. There were three patched bullet holes from the film in the body of the instrument. Discovering that kind of detail makes a reporter feel like he has gone to journalist heaven.
Q: What was the most challenging story you ever covered?
Moody: Again the Iraq war and its aftermath. Although our coverage was very successful indeed, it was terribly marred by the death and severe wounding of several correspondents. During my time as Middle East and Africa editor, five colleagues were killed on my watch. That was very hard to deal with despite having done all we could to try to make sure they were safe and to get redress from those responsible for their deaths.
Q: If you had one piece of advice to give to a students nowadays, what would it be?
Moody: Make sure you know what you are getting into. Good journalism, especially agency journalism, is hard both physically and mentally and requires huge effort, dedication and concentration. If you want to work regular days and avoid long nights without sleep, forget it. It is a wonderful profession and the adrenaline rush from covering a major breaking story is unrivalled. Absolutely unique. But there are many pitfalls and traps. Plus, these days, job security is difficult given the problems facing mainline journalism in an age of uncontrolled, often manipulated social media and wall-to-wall internet access to news.
(You can read Barry Moody’s articles for News-Decoder here.)
Amari Leigh is News-Decoder’s 2019 summer intern. An American citizen, she is studying French and world politics at university in the U.S. state of New York. Born and raised in New York City, Leigh has lived in Brazil, France and Portugal. She enjoys theater, learning languages and exploring new cities.