A 5-foot-tall English woman sporting a tailored safari suit carrying a pearl-handled revolver stands at the front lines of the war with guns pointed towards to her.
Sounds like a scene from a Hollywood Blockbuster, right? Instead it’s Clare Hollingworth, the famed war correspondent who broke the news of the start of WWII. She died at 105 years old this past Tuesday, January 10, but she left behind a tremendous legacy. One that teaches us about the importance of good journalism.
According to the New York Times, on August 28, 1939, the 27-year-old British native was only on the third day of her new job as a part-time correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, when she drove across the Polish border to Germany in a borrowed diplomatic vehicle and spotted the tanks lined up to invade Poland. She was witnessing the start of WWII and her exclusive news tip was included on the front page of The Daily Telegraph the next day, announcing the beginning of the war to the world.
Thus started her fifty-year career as a foreign correspondent, working for publications such as The Telegraph, The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Economist, Time and the Chicago Daily News.
Before “embedding” a reporter was even a thing, Clare traveled around the world, covering some of the most important news stories in history.
The Washington Post reported that to “practice” the uncomfortable living arrangements of war, she slept on the floor of her apartment – even into her 90s just because she could. While reporting on the ground, she lived under the open sky in the middle of the desert eating nothing but bully-beef, biscuits and whiskey for days. She knew how to parachute, pilot a plane and could identify shell and bullet types from their in-flight acoustics. She had two whirlwind romances with an author and a journalist. She wrote five books. And yes, her outfit of choice really was a tailored safari suit.
In short, Clare Hollingworth was a total badass.
But Clare wasn’t known for her writing. According to the Washington Post, one editor said her first drafts read more like communiques than narratives and she relied on her second husband, British journalist Geoffrey Hoare, to polish her stories.
What she may have lacked in her writing ability, she made up for in curiosity, endurance and fierce determination. She always dug deep to get the story – many times, putting herself in great danger. When the boys in the industry (of which there were many) didn’t take her seriously, she proved them wrong.
Lately, the news has been filled with reports of “fake news,” politicians making false claims and journalists quoting false sources. I personally believe that the blame doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of journalists. As PR professionals, we are responsible for providing factual and truthful commentary. And it is the reporter’s job to research and fact-check before hitting send to their editor.
What Clare can teach all of us in the communications industry is the significance of good reporting and sources.
Clare knew the importance of having creditable and willing sources. She had many, including generals, diplomats, government ministers, socialites and rebels. These strong relationships allowed her to report on the facts to those back home. This was a time before social media or the Internet and print was the only vehicle. Clare was a portal to the outside world.
While we remember the legacy of this strong, determined woman, let’s recognize those who are today’s “Clares” everywhere in this industry. Journalists and PR professionals who are committed to and passionate about their profession. Journalists like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, the Boston Globe Spotlight team, Sarah Cohen, Sheri Fink, Seymour Hersh and so many more. In the PR realm, professionals like Steve Dowling, Marian Salzman, Richard Edelman, Margi Booth, Barbara Hunter and our very own Ralph Katz, Andy Cooper and Anne Green. In today’s media landscape, communications professionals like this are a saving grace.
We salute you, Clare!
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