Hello, my name is John Simpson. I have been a BBC reporter for nearly 45 years. I travelled back from Paris to Tehran with the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, reported from Tiananmen Square, Beijing in 1989, and on the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Bucharest later that year. I was in Baghdad for the early part of the 1991 Gulf War and reported from Belgrade during the 1999 Kosovo War. In 2001 I was one of the first reporters to enter Afghanistan, disguised in a burqa. Last week I travelled to North East Nigeria and had rare access to investigate the impact of Boko Haram on the area and local people.

Here's a link to BBC online story I wrote about Gamburo, the town Boko Haram destroyed: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-27399656

My proof: Here's a picture of me ready to answer your questions: https://twitter.com/BBCWorld/status/469478552812158976

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who's troubled to write in. Apologies to those whose qs I missed, answered wrong or misunderstood - and special thanks for being so pleasant and polite! Hope to be in contact again some time. Cheers, John.

Comments: 292 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

JohnSimpsonBBC94 karma

Hello it's John here - I'm all ready to answer your questions and comments, so why don't we get started?

amkkhan65 karma

I'm a journalist myself, albeit one very new to the field. There doesn't seem to be very many jobs like your left in journalism -- everything seems to mostly be reporting from a desk, due to a lack of funds to send reporters abroad. How do you think this will change coverage of major events in the future?

JohnSimpsonBBC92 karma

Sadly you're right - big outfits find it hard to get the cash to have lots of foreign corrs around the world, and the BBC is one of the very few nowadays.

magicbullets54 karma

Hi John. I've grown up watching you report from the frontlines - very brave, kudos! Over that time the media landscape has dramatically changed. To what degree do you think social media has played a part in the uprisings and revolutions that we've witnessed over the past five years or so? Do the benefits outweigh the threats?

JohnSimpsonBBC71 karma

I think social media has changed the whole thing. Imagine if we'd had mobile phones at Tiananmen Sq -- the BBC's pictures from a distance were clear enough, but we were driven out of the Square itself. We'd have been flooded with pictures from the ground. Just like the Tehran demos in 2009, largely driven by social media.

salloumi53 karma

John, if you could go back in time and meet your young self on his first assignment - what would you say to him?

JohnSimpsonBBC101 karma

Lovely question. I'd tell my younger self what my main professional lesson has been - don't give up too soon, don't back away before you have to, grit your teeth and keep on going even when things get dodgy. They're never as dodgy as you think.

mendi92649 karma

I would like to ask some questions about the '99 Kosovo War (since I'm an albanian living in Kosovo).

  • Do you think that the media in Serbia portrayed the war and situation in Kosovo fairly? Were there hints of propaganda?
  • Do you have an opinion on the war? Do you think that NATO did the right thing by intervening?
  • Do you have any story from that time that you would like to share?

Thank you for doing this AMA.

JohnSimpsonBBC70 karma

Contrary to what lots of my friends in Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo believe, I think the international media were (or intended to be) fair. But I think there was a big lack of local knowledge and understanding. I no longer have any real opinions about the war - it was so complex, and NATO tried to make out it was all so simple.

pankoman49 karma

Hi John - long-time admirer. You were nearly a victim of a friendly fire incident in Iraq which tragically and unnecessarily killed 18 of the people you were travelling with. As you've pointed out several times, there was no proper inquiry afterwards.

Looking at it more broadly, do you think the US and UK have generally failed to atone for their roles in Iraq, from the use of white phosphorous to the abuses at military prisons? What do you think were the most egregious breaches of human rights by western militaries in that war, and what do you think should be done about it?

JohnSimpsonBBC95 karma

I think the best way for any government to make its peace with what it has done is to be honest about it. I went to Fallujah a few years ago and saw the aftermath there -- terrible high degree of birth defects. The only way to come to terms with this sort of thing is to be open about it. It doesn't actually help govts in the long run to try to hush things up. It just makes people cynical.

joelochi48 karma

You have had a long a successful career. Would you say the state of the world currently is worse, better, or about the same?

JohnSimpsonBBC212 karma

Well, there are about a fifth of the number of wars there were in 1966, when I started with the Beeb, and far fewer people were educated. Fewer could feed themselves. Countries didn't co-operate nearly so much. So things are actively better nowadays. But it's hard to persuade anyone of that!

WispyShoe43 karma

You've seen and reported on conflicts all over the world and during particularly dangerous times. You mention having to wear a burqa in order to enter Afghanistan, what is the most precarious situation you have found yourself in whilst reporting in the field?

Also I've always been interested to know if foreign correspondents from all over the world interact and spend time with each other (ie stay in the same hotels), or is it more of an independant affair?

JohnSimpsonBBC76 karma

TV correspondents try to avoid each other because they're in such intense competition. Newspaper journalists tend to group together because they are usually single-handed and need to be together to get the latest information.

Most precarious sit. -- lots of them. Being in a Belgrade hospital with a badly damaged leg while American bombers flew over and often hit the hospital by mistake was certainly one of them.

NZFR39 karma

Hi John, on a scale of 1-10 how much does being called David Attenborough annoy you?

JohnSimpsonBBC87 karma

About 9.75. The only thing is, he's a magnificent old boy. Imagine if people mistook me for... no, don't think I'm going to finish this post!

villl37 karma

Hi John, thank you for all of the world class reporting you have provided us in the UK over the years.

2 questions:

  1. In Nigeria did you encounter a lot of local support for the Boko Haram ideology or are they seen to be extremists going out on a limb?

  2. Which parties do you hope to see gain seats in today's European elections (if you are allowed to say)

JohnSimpsonBBC62 karma

I haven't found any sympathy among either Christians (naturally) or Muslims for Boko H. They're so violent and indiscriminate (must have killed almost as many Muslims as Christians. In the town of Gambora, where I went, BH utterly destroyed the town centre and killed more than 300 people, the majority probably Muslim. Many BH volunteers come from surrounding countries. No opinions about the Euro elections - I don't support any party, though I've voted for a lot of them in my time, and just regard it as being really interesting.

villl15 karma

Thank you very much, very informative reply. It is interesting that they claim to be an Islamic organisation but are killing Muslims - I presume there must be some justification for this in their eyes?

JohnSimpsonBBC42 karma

Boko Haram is fighting against Western influence, particularly but not exclusively in Western-style education, particularly for women. That's the rationale for a lot of their attacks on their fellow-Muslims. But in the recent bombings in Jos and Abuja they just seem to want to kill people -- any people -- in order to show how strong they're becoming. Abubakar Shekau, the BH leader, said recently in a video that he enjoyed killing the people God told him to kill, just as he enjoyed killing a chicken or a ram.

Swift71230 karma

Hi John,

Was their ever a incident which made you consider giving up your job due to the danger you faced?

JohnSimpsonBBC87 karma

Only very very early on. In 1970 I was rescued at the last moment from being shot in a Belfast cemetery when the IRA thought I was a British army spy. But after an hour or so the story was so interesting I decided to stay on and keep reporting. I've had a lot of close shaves since, but I always think I should be more careful -- not give up the job.

TripleDan30 karma

Where do your priorities lie on ethical issues? For example, you see a dying boy whilst out in the field with your crew, do you attempt to help him/find someone who can, or do you get the best possible footage to tell your story?

As someone studying a journalism degree, I've actually been pretty put off journalism as a career choice by being told I should always prioritise my coverage before any ethical duties come into play, I find the idea of shoving a camera in the face of a dying child THEN calling for help fairly disgusting. What are your thoughts?

JohnSimpsonBBC82 karma

I agree entirely with you. I think the kind of people who say 'the story comes first' don't get out enough. Of course we are human beings first and journalists second. I've done some weird things in my time, though -- wading in to protect Chinese soldiers from the angry crowd at Tiananmen Sq in 89. But I'm glad I did it. People and their lives come first.

genericenemy29 karma

How noticeable was the "Tank Man" image back in 1989? We've all seen it now 25 years later but did it only really come to light after the event had happened?

JohnSimpsonBBC70 karma

Well, my cameraman shot the video pics of the Tank Man from our hotel balcony overlooking him. I smuggled out the pics in my sock! It was the strongest image that day, after all the bloodshed of the night.

devitch29 karma

Hi John, thanks for doing this AMA. Being British I have of course grown up with you and your coverage. I would like to ask you not about what you have seen and done but actually about this.

As less and less people seem (key word there) to care about the news and what's happening around the world beyond the basic concern over how it will affect them directly, do you feel that more direct involvement with the audience, such as this AMA, will become more of a requirement to help engage them?

JohnSimpsonBBC40 karma

Well I'm sure this kind of thing really helps (though I don't even know what AMA stands for!) and it's lovely to speak to people this directly anyway. It does seem to be true that people are less interested nowadays in the world around them, but in my experience whenever that happens to a society something comes along and gives them a nasty shock (think US in September 2001). So we just keep plugging away and try to reach as many people as broadly as possible. I've now been told what AMA stands for, btw.

TarvarisJacksonOoooh28 karma

What do you feel are a few advantages working for the BBC, compared to other news organizations?

JohnSimpsonBBC108 karma

I've got a lot of respect for most of the news organisations around -- as long as they don't take their instructions from governments! There are big advantages in working for the BBC: it's got a good reputation around the world, and it's serious about covering real news, not just celeb stuff. And in 48 years of working for it, I've never been told, or even had a hint, that I ought to change my reporting for political reasons. That's worth a great deal.

Banana_Hammock_Up26 karma

How does BBC stay so seemingly unbiased? BBC has set itself apart in my eyes from the likes of Fox, CNN, etc. Thanks for being a great source of world news.

JohnSimpsonBBC70 karma

Thank you very much for this - much appreciated. To be honest, though, I wouldn't agree about CNN or several other international or British television news outfits. There is a real culture of staying unbiased at the BBC, and anyone who breaks it finds his or her colleagues are critical -- and that's worse than having the boss writing you a nasty note. As for Fox, and other US outfits like it, the trouble began when Ronald Reagan abandoned the law that obliged American broadcasters to be balanced and unbiased. It's done them nothing but damage, in terms of reputation. Earned a lot of money, though.

justgivr25 karma

What can the Nigerian government do to stop Boko Haram?

JohnSimpsonBBC46 karma

Very hard - army no longer particularly effective, government seems to find it difficult to to counter Boko Haram extremism. Afraid I think the chances of finding the 276 girls and freeing them pretty slight; maybe ransom is the best the Nigerian govt can do now.

CultureShipinabottle23 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA - A Mad World My Masters and Strange Places Questionable People are two of the most insightful books on the state of our world and the times we live in.

A bit of a 'big philosophy' question but have your extensive travels given you any surprising insight into a commonality amongst all humans?

Are there obvious and not-so-obvious traits you have seen that transcend faith, language and culture?

JohnSimpsonBBC55 karma

Very nice of you. Yes, I genuinely feel there is a commonality among people that transcends everything. Not everywhere demonstrates it, of course, but I've seen so many examples of the basic decency and kindness of people under difficult circumstances. Just one example: in Rwanda in 1994, when hundreds of thousands of people were murdered for being of the wrong tribe, and sometimes the wrong faith, I met a woman who had been saved by a rampaging mob by her neighbour, who was both of another tribe and another faith, and who had never actually spoken to her before. She helped her to hide in the water of a ditch, provided her with a straw to breathe through, sang a song when there was danger so the woman could dip under the water, and gave her clothes to escape in afterwards. She'd have been chopped to pieces herself if anyone had caught her hiding the woman. What makes a human being do this? Only a real basic sense of decency and humanity, I suppose.

DogBotherer22 karma

Of all the unpleasant people you've been called upon to interview in your delightfully mild mannered yet probing style, who is the one that you most wanted to just drop the technique and shout at for all the horrible things they had done?

JohnSimpsonBBC50 karma

Colonel Gaddafi was certainly one of them. Mad, and kind of absurd. It infuriated me to see that. But after interviewing him a couple of times I was attacked by a leading newspaper whose owner was doing some dodgy deal with Libya, and later by Downing Street (this was several years ago) for not taking an international statesmen of Gadaffi's standing seriously enough. Britain at the time was trying to cosy up to Gadaffi. That sort of thing really upsets me. Still, I don't find many people praising Gadaffi for his statesmanship nowadays.

sloth-says-what21 karma

What's your favorite pie flavor?

JohnSimpsonBBC37 karma

Oh, apple every time!

karadan10020 karma

Mr Simpson, Many thanks for your dedication to news these last few decades. You're one of the few people I trust for talking about situations with as much impartiality as possible.

My question is, have there been any moments in your career where you felt like packing it all in? I'm guessing you've seen more than your fair share of atrocities. How do you get over some of those things?

JohnSimpsonBBC22 karma

Thank you for being so kind. It's people like yourself that make the job worthwhile. I've never felt like throwing it all in, because I always feel that there are decent, open-minded people who need to be told what's going on in the world. I've seen plenty of nasty things in my time, but I find that broadcasting and writing about them acts as a kind of therapy. Bottling things up because it's too dangerous or inconvenient to talk about them openly is bad for you, I think.

sp0720 karma

Hi John, I read somewhere in the thread that you have covered 48 wars. I understand they were all dangerous but which one did you feel the least safe in?

JohnSimpsonBBC69 karma

I suppose I felt least safe during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The American armed forces are pretty awesome when they get going, and they don't worry too much about people who get in their way. Before my team and I headed out into no man's land I lectured them to make their wills and ensure their families etc were OK. Within a day or so we were with a group of American special forces, clearly marked, when an American plane, after circling overhead for fifteen minutes, dropped a 1000-lb bomb into the middle of us. 18 people killed, including my translator. No real investigation, and the pilots were apparently flying again a day or so later.

karmanaut20 karma

What story do you wish you could have personally covered but you were unable to?

JohnSimpsonBBC39 karma

I wish I'd covered the Vietnam War! I could have, but I was married with a small daughter at the time and decided not to go. Never made the same mistake again!

barrbarian8419 karma

Besides your brilliant reporting over the decades, how does it feel knowing that you'll always be remembered as the man who single-handedly liberated Kabul?

JohnSimpsonBBC50 karma

Very nice of you, but I never said I liberated Kabul!!! There was a BBC team of 7 with me when we marched in.

Nallenbot18 karma

Hello John, thank you for doing this. Do you think the Arab Spring ultimately achieved anything meaningful or did anything for the populations of the places it touched?

JohnSimpsonBBC33 karma

The decline and disappearance of the Arab Spring is one of the more depressing things that have happened in recent years. Govts like Syria have realised that if they crack down hard and don't lose their nerve, all this business of demanding greater freedom will fade away. All the same, the brief-ish experience of being free and speaking openly won't just vanish without trace. In Egypt and other places people have tasted the real pleasure of behaving like free men and women.

mescober17 karma

Hi John, when ever you appear on BBC especially on Panorama I would pause and watch until it ends. I am amazed at your Afghan front line reports just after 9/11 somehow you keep your cool or stiff upper lip even if bullets are whizzing by and still conducting a long interview. I guess since you went through "a lot of close shaves" but how did you deal with those first few close shaves?

JohnSimpsonBBC21 karma

I was incredibly chicken and grovelled on the ground till I realised everyone was looking at me. Now I think I don't notice because I'm dopey. Getting old does have its advantages (not many of them though, alas!).

squarepegg17 karma

What's your take on the practice of reporters being embedded with military units during wars, as happened during Iraq? Can it compromise objectivity? And do you think it's likely to happen again if (when?) the US or UK intervenes in (or starts) another major conflict?

JohnSimpsonBBC33 karma

I don't like embeds, and I don't like being embedded. If you're reliant on one army or another for your security, your transport, even your food, you can't help but see them in an overfriendly fashion. And if they start doing things they shouldn't, there's always the danger that you'll make excuses for them. But it's very dangerous to be out on your own in a war, and in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a frightening number of non-embedded journalists were injured and killed. Having said this, embedded teams gave some excellent coverage in 2003 and in Iraq and Afghanistan after that. But I don't like it myself.

IScoredOnce14 karma

How difficult is it to stay impartial, both in a report with the way you speak and when discovering new information?

JohnSimpsonBBC52 karma

No, not really. I think you just have to tell the story to a television audience exactly as you would to a friend or relative who asks you: openly, honestly, and not covering things up. Mind you, I think it's easier to do this as you get older: you become really impatient with people who hide things. That's what spurs on older people like Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, I know. Great quote from Paxman: he once told me he looks at an interviewee and asks 'why is this lying bastard lying to me?' I know the feeling.

thesyntaxofthings14 karma

Over the course of your career we've seen a move towards more cynicism from the public about the role of news media and media bias. What's your view? Are we right to be less trusting of news media and the 24 hour news cycle?

JohnSimpsonBBC18 karma

This cynicism is part of a more general distrust of authority, and there's nothing much we can do about it except try to prove day by day, hour by hour, that it's unfounded. But we live in a world which knows less, cares less, and is more cynical than it was. It'll change, no doubt -- but will I see it?

wilbeario14 karma

John. With China becoming a more influential world power, and the nationalist-tinged censorship it carries out domestically, do you think the memory and outrage of what happened at Tiananmen Square will gradually fade away?

JohnSimpsonBBC28 karma

Of course the Chinese govt would prefer everyone to forget about Tiananmen Sq. But I feel that unless and until govts open up about what they have done -- and the government that shot down the students was a very different one from the much more open and sophisticated one that's in power now -- these things will never be dealt with. This is why Japan still faces so many awkward qs about its behaviour in China from the late 30s onwards. Much better to be open and honest about things.

silversticks13 karma

Is there a country you have not visited that you would like to one day?

JohnSimpsonBBC58 karma

Actually - I'm embarrassed by this -- I've never been to Australia. Nothing horrible happens there, except the defeat of the English cricket team.

muricas_team13 karma

Thank you for doing this and thank you for putting your neck on the line for the sake of informing us. On Tiananmen Square, is there any current or recent movement that you could compare the initial mood to?

JohnSimpsonBBC25 karma

There've been all sorts of idealistic movements which have changed things in the 25 years since Tiananmen: in Egypt, in Iran, in Eastern Europe among others. The problem is, keeping the idealism going. So often these movements are hijacked and come to nothing. One of the best things of its kind I've ever seen was the entirely peaceful revoluion in the former Czechslovakia in Nov 1989. Not a window broken. And of course there was S Africa in 1994 -- the high point of my career.

SufficientAnonymity13 karma

You've reported on some pretty traumatic situations; how do you handle your own emotions at such times?

JohnSimpsonBBC29 karma

You just have to -- no one wants a weeping gibbering person to tell them what's going on, any more than they want an ambulance driver to say 'Oh, you do look bad - it makes me sick to look at you'. Professionalism is what's required.

AlmightyB12 karma

Hi! I have two questions -

1) People seem to be asking about all the danger you've been through, but what is the most heartwarming event you've witnessed in your career?

2) What advice would you give to someone who hopes to enter the same line of work?

JohnSimpsonBBC38 karma

  1. There've been dozens and dozens of heart-warming experiences which have shown me you must never give up on human nature. People saving other people's lives when it put their own at risk, people showing kindness when it would have been easier to look away. Maybe the most far-reaching event of this case was in S Africa in 1994, when it looked as though things were descending in to civil war. The Zulu Inkatha leader, Butelezi, stormed out of a meeting in Joburg after being threatened and insulted and took off in his plane for his heartland in KwaZulu Natal. The he decided he'd been wrong -- that this would lead to open civil war, and he told his pilot to turn round. He swallowed his pride, walked back into the meeting, and they reached agreement. Not bad, eh?

ConnorMH12 karma

How'd you wind up getting the job?

What do you do on a day to day basis?

What's the craziest thing you've ever seen?

What's a day in the life like?

JohnSimpsonBBC24 karma

A day in the life can be waking up at 5 am in Nigeria and heading out for a 12-hour drive. But I've got an 8 yr old son at home in Dublin so I like to spend as much time as poss with him

insane_young_man11 karma

Many of Shah supporters and Shah himself in his memoir have accused BBC of siding with protesters and Ayatollah Khomeini, Do you think these accusations have any truth in them? How do you feel about the similar accusations about BBC from the Islamic government during 2009 protests?

And if I may ask one more question, how was the mood on that flight? most of liberal politicians who were in charge at the moment got exiled or stripped of power after a short period, what was their prediction when they were starting the new regime?

JohnSimpsonBBC22 karma

People get upset when they hear things they don't want to hear. The Shah died believing the BBC had orders from the British government to encourage the demos against him to bring him down. It was nonsense - I would never, ever allow myself to be used in this way. I'd chuck the job up if someone told me to, because I'm a free man. The Iranian govt in 2009 was terrified by the scale of the demos and blamed -- guess who? -- the BBC. You can imagine what I think about that. Mood on the flight -- high excitement among Ayatollah's supporters, a certain gloom among the journos especially when we were told we would be shot down by the Shah's air force.

randy88moss10 karma


JohnSimpsonBBC27 karma

Well, Nigeria has always been just a geographical expression since its founding a century or so ago. Another of the pen-stroke states of colonialism. Still, it seems to me it's better to stay together. If it splits, it won't just be into 2, it'll be into lots of divisions, and they'll mostly be weak and some of them will be poor. Much better to strengthen the central govt, get the army back into shape, and improve its politics.

davidtomclarke10 karma

Hi, out of all the places you have been to, what had the best food? Why did it that so nice?

JohnSimpsonBBC26 karma

I've eaten an awful lot of good food over the decades, and have the figure to prove it. China takes a lot of beating. So does Iran. But some of my best meals were in Peru and Brazil....

NapoleonThrownaparte10 karma

Hello Mr Simpson, I read and enjoyed "Tales From A Traveller's Life" from a hospital bed. It made me wonder, how does somebody with such an interesting and willingly unrelenting lifestyle transition to retirement? Are you looking forward to some tranquillity or do you intend to always engage the wider world to some degree?

JohnSimpsonBBC33 karma

I'm afraid sitting looking out of the window and saying to my wife 'It's raining again' doesn't hold many attractions. Also I think she'd go mad having me lurking around. My life is so interesting, and such great fun, that I'd never willingly give it up. And although I have my disagreements with the BBC it's been quite good to me. My new contract allows me to carry on working as long, effectively, as I want to or can. I hope you're up and about now, and that I didn't slow your recuperation with my book.

T-town0410 karma

When you travel for a non-work assignment, do you find it easy to relax or do you find yourself always looking for the next story any favorite non-work travel locations?

JohnSimpsonBBC22 karma

I find it amazingly easy to relax nowadays -- something about being ancient, but also something about having an 8-yr-old son, who isn't the slightest interested in Boko Haram or the EU. I read a huge amount, and watch a hell of a lot of films. So I sleep well and hang out with friends of mine. I'm easier to get on with nowadays!

Ihavetoestoo9 karma

Do you feel the media (news) has changed in recent years? Working for the BBC, do you feel bias has crept in either purposely or unintentially? What do you think of journalism via Youtube (such as Vice news) compared to old established organisations (such as the BBC/Times etc)?

JohnSimpsonBBC19 karma

There's been a big move away from authority. When I started in TV (1978) people still sat in front of the News as though it was part of being a British citizen. Not any longer. A lot of people don't get any news at all; others get it from a source that simply fits in with their own beliefs. There's real cynicism about the very effort to be unbiased, as though it's impossible and stupid. Fortunately there are still plenty of people who watch and listen and read and make their own minds up. But I really like most of the new media and think it gives news a new life.

abrakadamnit8 karma

Have you ever felt unsafe / been in danger on any of your assignments? What was your favorite story to report?

JohnSimpsonBBC28 karma

Once or twice! I've covered 48 wars and that's a lot of bullets and shelling. Best story I ever covered was the peaceful change in S Africa from apartheid to democracy.

tabletopdesk8 karma

Hi John, big fan of your work.

What are your thoughts on the US' growing energy interdependence/self-sufficiency and the resulting impacts on geopolitics? Will this reduce the influence of resource-rich regimes such as Middle Eastern countries and Russia? Might this create or reduce conflict?

Thanks and stay safe.

JohnSimpsonBBC15 karma

Many thanks for this. Being less reliant on imported energy has got to be good for the US, and it would be good for other countries too. Back in 1972/3 Iran and the Arab oil states tried to use their energy supplies to make Western countries do their bidding. Now, although Russia denies doing it, you can't help seeing some very questionable initiatives it's taking. It's hard to think that behaving in this way will add to the world's peace and tranquillity. And I don't actually think it works in the longer run.

ZMild7 karma

Thanks for writing to us today John.

Have you yet met anyone that openly supports Boko Haram? Is dissatisfaction with Nigeria's (fucked-up) government enough to explain its emergence?

How often do you need to 'grease the wheels' to pass a roadblock or bring crucial material through an inspection or whatnot?

Of all the myriad shitholes you've been in, which has since recovered or positively changed the most over your period of observation?

JohnSimpsonBBC22 karma

Never met anyone who says they support Boko Haram. Pity - it'd be interesting to hear. Don't think it's to do with Nigeria's govt, I think it's the wave of extreme Islamisation that's swept northern and central Africa. I don't think I've paid anyone a bribe since I arrived at Kinshasa airport in 1975, when you couldn't land without putting a 20-dollar note in your passport. Bribes are bad for business, really. I've got a pathetic (but so far pretty reliable) faith in my ability to talk my way through road-blocks etc. Didn't work recently in Ukraine, though.
Loads of places are better than they were. The Czech Republic is delightful now - was unpleasant and creepy till 89. S Africa, despite the crime, is far better than it was under apartheid. (Not that it was ever a shithole). Plenty of others.

NoelofNoel6 karma

Hi John. I love your work and have a lot of respect for some of the more "classical" journalists working in a modern media. I was wondering - how connected to the local community do you try to become in your visits to some of the toughest places in the world? Do you allow yourself to become emotionally involved with idealism or causes, or do your deliberately keep your distance and try to stay impartial? I'm not sure I could do your job and not find myself incredibly depressed at the end of a working day!

JohnSimpsonBBC10 karma

I hope you won't think I'm being smarmy when I say that questions like this make me feel the job is worth doing! I do try to get close to the local community (not always possible) and I'm determined to keep as impartial as I possibly can. I don't want to support particular causes, but I do think we have to be loyal to and supportive of ordinary decent people and their concerns. And the one thing after all these years that I do feel passionately about still -- human rights. Being free to speak your mind and say what you think is the most important right we have, I think. And I'm sure, if you saw as much good and heart-warming things as I have, you wouldn't be at all depressed -- quite the opposite. Best wishes to you.

wanderingoz6 karma


JohnSimpsonBBC12 karma

Oh yes, Nigeria in general is absolutely fine and is quite a pleasant place to be. But there are car bombs, and you have to be careful.

Extradaemon4 karma

What advice would you give to inexperienced journalists on how to stay safe in dangerous areas of the world?/ How to report on potentially dangerous issues?

Are there any situations real or fictional that you would refuse to travel to and report?

I have huge respect for your job. Keep doing what you do.

JohnSimpsonBBC15 karma

It's a dangerous world for young and inexperienced journalists, which is why I always feel a real sympathy for them. But of course the only way to get more experience is to do the job. It's probably safest to link up with people who do know what they're doing. Still, no one ever said journalism was supposed to be a safe profession, and there's no point trying to make it that way. No, there's nowhere I would refuse to go to and report, and I don't have much admiration for people who do that. If you take the money, it seems to me, you should go whever you're asked. Thanks for your kind remarks - very generous.

MrBiscuitESQ3 karma

Hi John,

I'm a big fan, so glad you're doing this AMA.

I've got quite a big question for you - As newspapers try and re-engineer their businesses to adapt to the immediateness and virality caused by the web and social media, is it getting harder to measure the effectiveness of the journalism they are producing — or is pleasing advertisers enough?

JohnSimpsonBBC16 karma

Pleasing advertisers seems to be the only way newspapers can keep going. Actually I'm usually pleasantly surprised by the way the more serious British newspapers keep doggedly on despite the shortages of cash. Imagine a Britain without the BBC licence-fee: the BBC competing with ITV etc for a shrinking pot of cash.