Rania El Gamal on reporting from the OPEC meeting
Last week, Reuters was ahead of the competition on reporting key developments from a dramatic two-day Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) policy meeting that ended in collapse, sending global oil prices into a tailspin. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Chief Energy Correspondent Rania El Gamal gives a behind-the-scenes look at how she and the team reported the story.
Q: How did you and the team stay ahead with key developments from the OPEC meeting?
A: The Reuters OPEC team goes to Vienna every meeting thinking of all the options and the likely outcome of the meeting, but also what could go wrong, which is what I think helps us stay ahead of the competition. It is about being ready for a surprise. I have been covering OPEC for about 10 years now, and others on the team have been doing this for even longer. We, as a team, collectively have a solid pool of sources whom we are always in touch with to make sure we are on top with every twist and turn of the story. We cross check with each other on what we are hearing to connect the dots and know how best to tell the story, because OPEC never ceases to amaze us. I try to never assume I know the full story; I have to keep asking the people whom I trust the most on what’s really going on behind the scenes, but above all, I also need to trust my instinct and common sense and keep questioning.
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: I think reporting on OPEC comes down to the basics of journalism. You need to know the story well, you need to be fast and 100% accurate in reporting and cultivate as many trustworthy sources that you can stay in touch with to tell you what’s really going behind-the-scenes. A lot of it also comes down to your own sense of news judgment. Sometimes you have to stop and think if what officials and sources are saying actually makes sense or is there something else bigger going on that you should dig more to find out. You also need to have a good pair of shoes and lots of patience because you will be running after ministers and officials up and down the stairs, and waiting in hotel lobbies a lot. A good sense of humor is always a plus because it can easily become a stressful and complicated story at many times.
Q: What kind of impact did the news have on the market?
A: OPEC has always been a top story; it moves the oil market, so it is very competitive. We have to be first, but we also must be 100% accurate. Traders and policy decision-makers watch the outcome of the OPEC meetings and every headline can move oil prices. Because many of those oil producers’ economies are depending on oil, and you have political rivalry between the members, it’s such a great story across the board through which you can tell the oil, economy and politics of more than a dozen of countries.
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: Journalism for me is about knowing how to tell a story that many don’t know about and fleshing out why it is important. It’s that “aha” moment of finding out why such a story matters, how best to report on it and keep readers well-informed of what’s really going on with so much misinformation out there. You cannot do that if you are not passionate about it and having fun with it.
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: I cover energy news in the Middle East, but I have also covered political stories in the region for many years from wars to uprisings. I find energy coverage the perfect combination of reporting on a story that has significant impact on different aspects: from pure technical oil and gas news, to impact on the economy and the politics involved.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: There are many experiences, but for me, the most difficult experience is when you know there is something else going on behind the headlines or what people are telling you on record. The most rewarding is when you actually find out what really happened behind closed doors and write it as accurately as you possibly can, while maintaining the trust with your contacts and your credibility.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: Since I was young, I have always wanted to travel, loved writing and I would not stop asking my parents “why, why” this and that is happening. I think that’s what a journalist does. I can’t imagine being anything else now.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: Never stop having fun with journalism. Once you do, it becomes a regular job and you lose that sense of why should continue asking why.