Interview with Shaunagh Connaire -Emmy Nominated Irish Journalist and Filmmaker

Bernie Higgins

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Working in a career that is no longer satisfying and it is leaving you frustrated; maybe it’s a  sign that you need to make a career move? It can be a pretty tiring existence working in an environment that does not fully challenge you and leaving you unfulfilled. It can also  have a huge impact in your work atmosphere. But change takes courage. Once you make that change, you are inspiring people. Simple?  You’re never too old to change careers; life is short and  pursuing a career that you love is is key.  So challenge and scare yourself when you can. Because the day will come when you can’t, and you will live to regret it. Fact.

Inspiring

Shaunagh Connaire is a Longford Emmy-nominated journalist and filmmaker who did exactly this in 2008. By 2009, she was shortlisted as ‘Student Broadcast Journalist of the Year’ by The Guardian and Sky News. She has achievements in many fields. Before pursuing a career in journalism Shaunagh trained as an accountant with KPMG in Ireland. She now reports for Channel 4’s critically acclaimed foreign affairs series Unreported World and worked on over 30 Unreported World films and their flagship show Dispatches investigations. She’s also produced for BBC HARDtalk, BBC World News, CNBC and worked on various PBS Frontline productions.

In 2014,  she travelled to Sierra Leone and filmed and reported on the chilling Ebola epidemic in the epicentre of the deadliest outbreak ever recorded. The resulting film created was nominated for an Emmy Award and won the prestigious Columbia-DuPont award. Among her many accomplishments, Shaunagh also gave a TEDx talk in 2015 about her experience as the first filmmaker to cover the Ebola crisis.

Shaunagh’s work has taken her from almost every corner of the globe from solar engineering schools in rural India to the World Economic Forum in Davos.  In 2015,  she went undercover to China and worked with LGBT activists to expose clinics who were offering conversion therapy and sometimes even electric shock therapy as a so-called cure for homosexuality. In 2016, she was the first reporter to make a film in Iran for Unreported World- Irans Dating Revolution. She explores the difficulty of LGBT refugees who have escaped persecution in Syria and Iraq only to find they’re exposed to the same levels of homophobic abuse in Europe. Her recent film Dying to Come to Britain – she travelled to Lebanon to report on the seriously sick refugee children who are “falling through the cracks” of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) resettlement programme. The Unreported World documentary follows the stories of two young boys – one with cancer and the other with a blood disorder – whose families are struggling to pay for treatment and who hope to be resettled in Europe and the United States.

I recently spoke with Shaunagh in a  very revealing  and inspirational interview.  She talks  about her previous career , her desire for change, her wonderful ideas and her idols.Most importantly – I asked her for advice as I am in admiration of her work and would hope to follow suit in a similar path.

What made you change careers?

Eight years ago I was tucked away in Dublin working as an accountant for KPMG. I’d studied International Commerce with French for my bachelor’s degree in Dublin, so winding up in one of the ‘Big 4’ consultancy firms was inevitable. However, after two years of auditing big banks and liquidating small businesses, I was beyond disillusioned. It became very obvious that what I was doing on a daily basis was not creative nor was it satisfying. I felt stifled, frustrated and I desperately wanted to break the mould. In 2008 I decided to quit my job and chase my dream – journalism.

Did you always intend to make documentaries?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a journalist and back then I saw the role in very simplistic terms. Journalists were the people who stuck up to the bullies of this world. They were the folk who represented the underdogs and who always found a way to give a voice to the voiceless.  However, it wasn’t until I joined the industry that I realised that documentaries was the platform where I would find the journalism most satisfying. With film I believe you can really have an impact, give context and also elicit empathy from your audience – it’s more difficult to do that in news.

You have such an IMPRESSIVE  CV: 2009 – shortlisted as ‘as ‘Student Broadcast Journalist of the Year’ by the Guardian and Sky News.TED talk,  Emmy-nominated and DuPont-Columbia award-winning journalist and filmmaker. Your first film – Unreported World in Sierra leone to reporting in Iran, China, America, Lebanon,  filming David Beckham (how was this) –aaah

 With much more to add – but what has been the highlight?

I’d say the highlight of my career so far was getting my job as a reporter for Channel 4 Unreported World. It’s quite a coveted position in the industry and it was always the dream for me. I fought hard to get there so when I heard the news that I’d been successful, I was pretty ecstatic.

What has been the most challenging?

Reporting the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has been without a doubt the most challenging part of my career. It was my first gig in front of the camera so that was pretty daunting but also the depth of the destruction and tragedy we witnessed on the ground was very difficult. I found it all quite traumatic.

Who influences you?

Powerful women. Not just Michelle Obama and Beyonce ! But also my friends, bosses, family. I love seeing women pushing each other forward and being successful.

What advice so you have for journalists /aspiringfilmmakerss starting out?

Don’t take no for an answer (in a very polite way!). Have full faith in your abilities and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Be the person who comes into the office first and leaves last and is not beyond making cups of tea for your team.

What is your favourite Documentary /Film?

Very hard question! I watched Hunt for Wilderpeople recently and loved that. I’m a big fan of Last Chance U on Netflix too. I’m really struggling to answer this question, sorry! Exodus on BBC was pretty brilliant – think they set the bar for reporting on refugees.

Where do you get your inspiration/vision for your work?

Characters. Normal people like you and I. The first thing I do when I land in a country is to try and find the best character who my audience will relate to. They need to have a great story to tell and usually tend to be facing some personal jeopardy. Once you find your character, you can educate your audience about an issue then.

Any other advice you an offer to us eager journalists hoping to make change for the better…?

Build a following online NOW. Be vocal. Get behind a few issues you really believe in and start shout loud. I’d also advise you to look beyond the big news outlets and focus on the smaller start-up types. That’s where it’s all at now!

As a result of  Shaunaghs groundbreaking work – there is an online petition calling for a young boy named Moussa,  injured in the Syrian conflict to be brought to Ireland after he appeared in a documentary which calls for greater support for Syrian children suffering from chronic diseases. He hopes his family will be able to live in Ireland.

With the power of the internet, the people – Joe.ie  and Legendary George Takei  have come onboard to support and share this campaign.  Do click on the link and support.

https://www.joe.ie/news/petition-syrian-moussa-child-ireland-584808

https://www.facebook.com/georgehtakei/videos/10154735218901939/?pnref=story

When we look at people who inspire us, they are often successful at what they do. They tend to be passionate; it naturally awakens something inside us. When they have boundless curiosity, it makes us question other options for ourselves.

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Bernie Higgins