The Golden Rules of Journalism: In Conversation with Ibrahim Helal

Last week, MA International Journalism Students were joined by Editorial Advisor to the Al Jazeera media network, Ibrahim Helal. Noura Boughaith and Jade Hughes tell us about this exciting opportunity to learn first-hand about what makes a successful career in journalism.

With a career spanning almost 30 years working for news outlets such as Egyptian TV, the BBC, Radio Union and Al Jazeera covering big stories like the Arab revolution, Ibrahim had plenty to tell us in terms of what it takes to be a principled and ethically minded journalist. He was the latest in a series of industry guests to talk to this year’s cohort of MA International Journalism students.

First, he told us that journalists must have a passion to know what’s going on in the world. Since it’s important to dig deeply and widely as possible when identifying sources for stories and to develop an extensive knowledge of the law, arts, education and culture, it is this passion that will sustain you as you work to establish yourself.

Ibrahim talking with the class of 2020/21

Attention to detail is also very important, he reports, reminding us that fake news and inaccuracies can destroy your career or ruin a media organisation’s reputation. As one of his bosses at Al Jazeera told him, journalists are like “a white dress” in that “one spot of ink can ruin it”. More widely, Ibrahim suggested that the profession of journalism still has work to do to rebuild the audience’s trust.

In a broader sense, he suggested, journalism is not about “catching the bad guys” but to improve people’s lives and to inform the audience. It is, he said, a very autonomous profession where each day is different, and one where your first duty is to your audience. It needs a good deal of fearlessness too, he added, but being true to your journalistic ideals you will find happiness and satisfaction in your work.

Such principles have helped Ibrahim become a respected and successful journalist. All in all, he says, being a good journalist is about being a good listener and being patient enough to get the full story. Every week, as a group, we are building our understanding of what good journalism is all about, and we are grateful to Ibrahim for helping us along the next part of our journey.