Interview: Richard Powell - Presswire &

Interview: Richard Powell, Director of Presswire and (Interviewed as site goes live) 23rd April 2003

How did you break into journalism and media?

I literally broke into journalism in professional terms when I marched into the offices of the Sunday Mirror at Canary Wharf in London one night. I had a good story and I needed to find a reporter who would look at it. It was about 9.30pm and having been turned away from The Independent, a couple of floors above, I was pleased to find a Sunday Mirror journalist working a night shift who was comparatively hospitable. His eyes lit up when he heard the ex-Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who was under arrest in London, had flown in ‘supporters’ from Santiago to stand outside Parliament waving placards demanding his release.

Only they were normal citizens rather than supporters; temped by the lure of a expenses paid holiday to London with a bonus of being paid £9 for every hour they protested against the General's arrest.

Days later the paper ran the story as a world exclusive. It dealt a heavy blow to pro-Pinochet supporters' credibility in the UK. The Sunday Mirror paid well for the story and the new relationship lead to further work in Kosovo the following year."

What are your prime aims and objectives?

As a journalist, my fundamental aims are to keep my copy original, respect my sources, deliver what I'm expected to when I'm expected to and be objective. No matter how busy I am or what conditions I’m working under, if I'm really enjoying what I'm doing and coming up with the goods I’m expected to then most of the time reporting doesn't even seem like work. It rarely fails to reward, even if you're the only one who knows it was you. How many professions can you say that about?

What is the propose of you website, which is about to launch in less than 24 hours?

Primarily, it is a showcase for the work of young reporters and reporters who are new to journalism, regardless of age. It's a global platform for stories that are professionally written, interesting to others and valuable to the rest of the world, either to inform or engage debate. The articles we feature are being made available to everyone where before, they might have just been put into a draw because an editor rejected it for x, y or z reason.

I also hope the site will assist reporters in their approach to writing and interviewing, as the site entry level for submissions has been set very high. Some articles that are submitted will not make publication so I expect to have professionals guesting on the site from time to time who will show how specific stories should have been written to make them more attractive to editors.

If a story we publish gets picked up externally then we will seek to get that reporter paid.

How many interview requests do you receive?

You're the first for I was interviewed a bit when I was at university because local papers took an interest in a venture I started called the Latin American News Agency, in the midst of reporting the Pinochet affair. This has since grown into Presswire Ltd. which offers editorial, photographic and public relations services to clients around the world.

What's the most interesting story you have ever reported on?

The most interesting for me was in 1998 when Kurdish demonstrators stormed the Greek embassy in London's Holland Park and held it under siege. They were protesting against the capture of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan. I was in a lecture when I heard about it and just got up, dashed home to grab my camera and hopped on the next train.

I think you know when something's really going to captivate you as a reporter because you get itchy feet no matter what else is going on at the time. The same itch prized me away from my television as a war in Iraq grew more certain by the day. Before I or anyone else knew it I had started on the long journey to the North Iraq border.

I don't have any ties to the Kurds, but for some reason I'm drawn to reporting on them. The nights spent outside the Greek embassy in 1998 had a magical quality about them as I went from person to person interviewing them and taking pictures and has lead to a lifetime of interest in the subject. All of these reports are on

How do you see the relationship between offline (traditional) media and online media?

In terms of the press, the Internet has definitely shattered a very traditional mould. News web sites can now be competitive with established newspapers so long as they are accurate and professional. A definite danger is the speed with which news sites can publish information that sometimes hasn't been properly verified in a bid to undercut traditional media. is part of the new media wave but I am confident it's accuracy and quality will set it apart. I really believe no-one really knows how the Internet works yet in terms of marketing and provision of content and that the boom and bust we saw in 1999/2000 was part of this strange new beast finding its feet within a wider media arena. Because of this I think there are boundless opportunities to shape how sections of it will end up and I'm looking forward to being a part of this with the site. I’m most excited by the increased opportunities faster connection speeds afford.

What gives you the edge?

If I have an edge it's simply feeling that reporting is a calling rather than a vocation.

Do you think it's important to be different, and to have a good story to tell (as in life story)? (I do).

I'll spare you my life story - but yes, I do think it's important. If you haven't experienced the high and low points of life, how will you relate to and gain the respect or trust of your sources? But that's not to say a learned scholar from Oxbridge who has only ever known privilege cannot be an equally sharp social commentarist: history has proved that.'s raison d'etre is that it is truly meritocratic - the way journalism should be.

What other journalists do you respect the most?

I'll try to be concise! I think the 'decisive moment' - to borrow a term from Henry Cartier-Bresson, a fantastic journalist of sorts - came during the Rwandan genocide of 1993.

I was 15 when I watched those images each night with horror and fascination in equal measure - the horror of the Ulindi river flowing with dead bodies, the fascination of reporters in the midst of the killing fields acting as our eyes and ears risking death by machete.

I happened to change channels late one night and caught the beginning of the Oliver Stone film ‘Salvador,’ with James Woods playing the gonzo stringer, Richard Boyle. The film had such a dramatic effect on me that I knew by the time it had finished I wanted be a reporter. Boyle has since been a rather dubious role model for me in equal measure with more respectable characters like: John Simpson, John Pilger, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky - some of whom are supporting

What is the most dangerous situation you have ever been in?

I stupidly pulled over by a destroyed village in Kosovo once so I could go in and take pictures, then wondered why cars driving past were beeping at me as I stood in the middle of it. There were anti-personnel mines, left by the retreating Serbs, peppered everywhere so I walked very carefully along tyre tracks and hopped between boulders until I was back on the road.

Have you ever received a death threat? (don't answer if not comfortable)

.No. I have been told it would not be in my best interests to interview certain people in no uncertain terms.

What countries have you travelled and reported from?

If I blurt out a list, it sounds like quite a few. But I was sticking pins in a map the other day and I realised how small the circle I have been moving in is when considering the rest of the world. For example I've never reported from Asia, Africa or the Americas (with the exception of Cuba). Michael Palin, I am not!

What's the wisest piece of advise you have ever been given?

Keep your head down.

How do you manage the balance between reporting and having a social life, or do you find there is a certain cross-over?

I think there's a crossover in respect that there are networks of journalists in most cities. You've got to network to keep a healthy contacts book. But saying that, a larger portion of my friends aren't reporters or otherwise involved in the media.

What are your future goals?

Firstly, to make a success and gain the attention its writers deserve. I also harbour a secret desire to work on the BBC's Newsnight, which I hope will come later. I'm working for BBC News 24 and BBC World as a freelancer at the moment.

What other information would you like our readers to be aware of?

Never listen anyone who criticises your work unless it's constructive.

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Link to published version of interview at