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Samira Ahmed

Samira Ahmed (1986) works for the BBC, where she presents a range of programmes including Sunday Morning Live  and Newswatch on BBC1, Night Waves on Radio 3, Front Row and Something Understood on Radio 4. Her latest BBC Radio 3 documentary was The Fundamentalist Queen about the life of Lady Protectress Elizabeth Cromwell.

She also presents The Proms for BBC Four and has presented PM, The World Tonight, Profile and Sunday on Radio 4. She has a column in The Big Issue and her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and on The Spectator magazine's website.

Samira is a visiting Professor of Journalism at Kingston University and has contributed to three volumes of the book series World Film Locations, published by Intellect Books.

She was a reporter and presenter on Channel 4 News from 2000-2011 and made the Channel 4 documentary series Islam Unveiled about feminism and Islam in 2004. In 2009 she won the Broadcast of the Year award at the annual Stonewall Awards for investigation into so-called 'corrective' rape in South Africa. She won the BBC's Celebrity Mastermind in December 2010.

Samira won the Philip Geddes Journalism Prize for her work on the student newspaper while at the Hall.

 Samira on English at Oxford 

What influence did studying at Oxford have on you?

It wasn't till about 10 years after I left the Hall that I realised how practically vocational my English degree had been. My critical thinking, which developed when studying Shakespeare, Anglo-Saxon and Philip Larkin, was later refined by years of news reporting... Every day in courtrooms I took down criminal proceedings in shorthand, and then looked for the "real" story hidden in the testimony. The more I read and reported, the more depth I had in approaching a new story, or recognising when history was repeating itself.

What do you recall about the English course at Oxford that helped you to become a writer?

As a young student, you assume you know nothing, or that your reactions to literature are trite and superficial and could even be "wrong". My tutors at the Hall taught me to build my critical faculties and, with experience, to trust my instincts. I never thought I'd feel I was actually using my degree nearly 30 years on, but I'm conscious I draw on it every day, sometimes finding a more significant story than the rest of the hack pack, at the same trial or news event.

You refer to your degree in English as 'practically vocational'. What are the practical skills you have in mind?    

Distilling this huge range of sources and opinions down to required length and form whether for radio, TV or print, requires a love of word play and compressed thought, something I started to deal with in my first Anglo Saxon classes and studying the formality of forms such as the Petrarchan sonnet. Eventually I found myself able to conduct interviews while simultaneously editing them in my head for broadcast.

What advice would you give to young people who want to become journalists?

I now tell school students at every opportunity that there is no substitute for reading as much as you can, and that English comprehension, critical appreciation and precis are the most valuable things you will ever learn.

A Celebration of Writing at the Hall 2013

Samira spoke about The world in words: The art of news-writing’ (introduced by Lucy Newlyn) and then answered questions from the floor. You can read her blogpost about the Hall Writers' day and listen to the podcasts of her talk here.