Monday Inspiration: Q&A with Digital Journalist Louise Dewast of ABC News

Oh So London - the city life

I love meeting journalists who work in different fields. And as I started my career in newspapers, I find it especially interesting when I cross paths with someone like Louise Dewast, who works in the fast-paced newsroom of ABC News.

Louise actually works as a Digital News Associate at the London arm of the American Broadcasting Company and she has reported on a huge range of international stories, from Baby Beckham Outfits going on sale in London, to Donald Trump’s presidential run and the devastating Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Louise Dewast

I met Louise through her sister Barbara, co-founder of Workout at Work and I was delighted when she agreed to do a Q&A for Oh So London.

Here, she shares what it’s like reporting on some of the world’s biggest breaking stories, what it was like living in NYC, plus a little bit about her life in London…

I hope you enjoy the read!

Hi Louise. Tell us about your role at ABC News….

I started my role as Digital News Associate at ABC News in September and my key responsibility is to produce digital content for their website.

The kind of content I produce completely depends on the news agenda. So if there’s a lot of international news on one particular day, I will mostly be spending my time checking information on the news desk and writing short articles for the website. If there’s not so much international news, I’ll be doing feature stories. This often involves making short feature videos on newsworthy and quirky events happening in London.

As I work for the foreign desk here in London, we cover everything that’s non-US. So I help producers and reporters who are sent to every corner of the world to report on the biggest new stories. I also get to go out in the field to assist, for example in the Alps after the Germanwings crash, or in Switzerland during the Iran talks.

Journalist Louise Dewast

What did you do before you joined ABC?

I’ve been in journalism for the past three to four years and I freelanced and interned for a lot of companies like AP and Fox News. I recently did a Masters Degree in Journalism at Columbia University in New York and I lived there in Manhattan until May 2014 before briefly living in Paris for three months where I was a video journalist for the Associated Press. I came back to London In September and now live in Chelsea. My parents are French and I am French-speaking but London is where I grew up.

Oh So London New YorkHow did you find living in New York compared to London?

NYC and London are very similar in their mentality and their lifestyle. They are very cosmopolitan cities where you feel like you are connected to people from all around the world. So they’re both great cities for starting a career in news.

New York has such dynamic arts and culture and going-out scene and like here, Manhattan has that constant ‘buzz’ about it.

What I love about London though, is it has everything Manhattan has, yet lots of green space and more residential areas too, so it’s not quite as intense.

What were your favourite places to go in New York?

Ramen is a big thing in New York and my boyfriend and I used to love going to Ippudo, near the East Village. You can’t book so we would sometimes wait two hours just for a table, but it was so worth it and we’d go there regularly. So I was very happy to find there was one in the West End when I got back to London.

It might sound cliché, but while I lived in Manhattan, I also loved Central Park. My apartment was in the Upper West side, just a block away from Central Park and I used to particularly love it in the winter when it was all white and beautiful.

Central Park Oh So London

How do you spend your time in London when you’re not working?

I like Café 1001 next to The Truman Brewery off Brick Lane. It’s quite ‘New York-y’ actually. It’s a big loft and it’s great for popping into any time of the day. There are big leather sofas and background music which make it great for dropping by to do some work. But you can also visit during the evening and there are a couple of other rooms and a BBQ outside. So it’s great for enjoying a burger in the sunshine with your friends. I also love the Troubadour by Earls Court. It has great food, good music and a nice garden area.

Trumans Brewery

Cafe 1001 © Fabio Venni via Flickr

How much are you influenced by your French heritage?

Culturally I feel quite French, I was brought up reading French literature, listening to French music and eating French food. I also went to a French school in London, but I definitely feel that I’m a Londoner! I was born in London and know it like the back of my hand. And while I love Paris (I lived in the city for a year and have lots of friends there) I don’t feel at home there, I feel like a tourist! It’s that weird scenario where you feel more French when in London but more British when in France!

Being bilingual has helped you in your job and you reported on the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. What was the experience like for you as a reporter?

It was a huge step for me professionally, to be sent to Paris to cover the attacks, but it was equally, a nerve-wracking and highly emotional point of my career.

I was actually on holiday in New York at the time but as I’m fluent in French, ABC felt it would be a good idea for me to go over there. I had to fly back from the States and get on a flight to Paris and I spent at least two weeks in a hotel there, working non-stop every day.

The situation was really intense. The news was breaking as we were covering it and it was obviously a highly emotional situation to be in. My job was to constantly verify new information and communicate with ministries, authorities and family members who had links to the events going on. I then transcribed the information and interviews into English for our news crews covering the attacks. I was with people who’d been doing this kind of work for decades but it was the first big story I’d covered in my career.

It was intense but I learned a lot in those two weeks. Being able to report accurately on breaking news is of paramount importance for a reporter and it confirmed for me that this is what I want to continue to grow and do well in.

As well as the more serious events, you also get to cover some quite fun news stories. Tell me about some of those you’ve enjoyed the most  …

One of the stories I did recently was a video called the Chap Olympiads. It’s basically a very British sports event for people who aren’t good at sport! It’s very British and people dress up in eccentric 1930s clothing. They then have these events throughout the day that test your sporting ‘talent’ and one of them is ‘umbrella jousting’, where you’re on a bicycle, fencing with an umbrella. They have another event on the bicycle where they have to pour tea into someone else’s teacup and all sorts of other ridiculous stuff. It’s fun, it’s colourful and as a visual journalist, reporting on things like this is great as it allows me to be really creative with filming and editing.

What do you like most about your job as a digital journalist?

I love that I have a lot of freedom in the stories I can do and how I tell them. It doesn’t have to be related to hard news and London is great for that. Sometimes it is related to serious current affairs, but you can tell it in an interesting way.

A recent example of this was reporting on Humza Arshad – a Muslim comedian who creates parody videos about radicalisation on YouTube. He was hired by terrorism police in London to talk to school children about the dangers of radicalism. Combining comedy with radicalism is such an interesting approach to the issue and he’s been going to over 60 schools in London, talking to kids about the dangers.

The story reached New York and a reporter from the NYC offices came over from London to report on Humza too. It just shows how much stories that start in London can resonate all over the world…

Journalist Louise Dewast

Louise with Humza Arshad

How do you find your stories?
I will just search for London news every day and that might lead me to talking points on social media, fashion blogs, forums and local news sites. I can find the start of a story in so many different ways…

What’s your favourite blog (aside from Oh So London of course..)

The Londonist is one of my favourite ones. It’s better than some of the biggest websites for London interest..

Have you ever written a blog?

I used to have a blog when I was in Paris that covered women’s issues. Every week I would write at least two posts profiling women entrepreneurs, or writing a women’s perspective on news. Since I’ve been back in London I’ve definitely become more of a ‘consumer’ of blogs than a writer of them. But they do come in handy in my line of work.

Journalist Louise Dewast

Louise working in Harlem, NY

Is talking about women’s issues one of your passions?

Yes, definitely. I founded a Women in Media club in New York and organised a women’s conference in New York when I was there. I try to continue that here – I’m really supportive of womens’ initiatives and I follow the work of a lot of feminists and successful women out there. Some of my favourites include Soraya Chemaly, Monique Villa, Subrata De, Alex Crawford and Laura Bates…

What are your top 3 tips for someone who wants to get into digital journalism?

I would say get as much experience as you can, whether it be through internships, shadowing, or work experiences. Even meeting with journalists for coffee can help, because you never know what you’ll learn. Before interning at Fox News, I had no idea I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. That experience was completely out of my comfort zone, and it taught me what I wanted and didn’t want from my career.

A huge thank you to Louise for taking part in a Q&A for Oh So London. To find out more about Louise, follow her on twitter @LouiseDewast, on LinkedIn and search for her on the ABC website to read her latest features. 

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Q&A with Louise Dewast