Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Why I moved to Istanbul – by Samantha North

with 5 comments

It was a wet and windy Saturday afternoon in Istanbul. Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), Istanbul’s main tourist artery, was crammed with people waving colourful flags, shouting and chanting.

Samantha North (pictured) tries freelancing in Turkey.

Samantha North (pictured) tries freelancing in Turkey.

The police hovered close by with their riot shields and tear gas guns. Looming behind were the giant vehicles used in Gezi Park to water cannon protesters out of the way like rubble.

But this time everything stayed peaceful. The good-humoured crowd were yelling in Ukrainian and Russian for Putin’s exit from Crimea. They sang songs and posed for photos.

Some of them paused in their chanting for interviews with Turkish media. All the time the rain was lashing down on the crowds with their rumpled umbrellas.

Spending the weekend in the middle of a political protest is probably not everyone’s idea of a good time. But for me, a freelance journalist new to Istanbul, it was a timely reminder of why I’d moved here in the first place.

One might question why any newbie foreign journalist would move to a country notorious for jailing others in the same profession. Indeed, a recent Al Jazeera feature described Turkey as the “world’s biggest prison for media” – right up there with well-known offenders Iran and China.

Recent announcements from the government suggest that the the situation is only going to get worse. Parliament’s passing of a bill to tighten internet control has become the latest cause for concern.

From last month onwards, the authorities can now take down any ‘unsuitable’ website, without warning. There has even been talk of banning Facebook and YouTube, under claims of ‘immorality and espionage’. Clearly, this sets a worrying precedent and has sent many Turks back to the streets in protest.

Street protests are becoming a regular feature in Turkey these days. In fact they are becoming an integral part of the country’s national image. But protesting as a way to express discontent and cause social change appears to have lost much of the impact it had during last year’s Gezi events. It also seems to have little effect on government policy-making.

So why would a journalist head to a place like this? It’s pretty obvious really. Turkey is a key geopolitical player in the Middle East. It’s safe, stable and foreigner-friendly; especially when compared with neighbours like Iraq and Syria.

Those places are accessible from Turkey if the foreign journalist feels so inclined (I don’t, yet…). Iran is close by, as is Israel. Even the Crimean peninsula, where Russia’s latest power play is currently unfolding is just a short hop over the Black Sea. There are plenty of stories to be dug up by the bold and imaginative foreign journalist.

For a Brit, one big advantage is being an English speaker. If you’re a good writer and have some ability in editing, work with Turkish publications is out there. Opportunities can usually be found by doing a bit of strategic networking. And don’t forget to network with other journalists in town, especially the really experienced ones.

In a future post I’ll go into more depth about getting started in Turkey. It’s still very early days for me and my lofty dreams of writing for the Guardian, Independent and Daily Telegraph are yet to be made reality. But I’ve just started freelancing regularly for an international print magazine…so more news on that to follow.

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Read Samantha North’s follow up: Freelancing in Istanbul: the breakthrough

Samantha North is a British freelance journalist currently based in Istanbul, where she writes for Time Out magazine. She is founder and editor of the website PlacesBrands, which specializes in issues concerning soft power, public diplomacy and country branding. Samantha has lived in Qatar, Belgium and China over the past eight years, before moving to Istanbul in February 2014. Her website is samanthanorth.com

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5 Responses

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  1. I have met quite a few freelance journalists and of the ones that I met that weren’t living in Istanbul when I met them, practically all have moved there since! Hope it won’t lead to an oversupply, it’s already such a poor man’s profession.

    Steven Hermans

    May 21, 2014 at 9:06 am

  2. Hi Steven – well, since I wrote this post, Istanbul has stood me in good stead. I just had my first byline in the Daily Telegraph, writing about visa issues for Brits in Turkey. Are you also based in the ‘Bul?

    Sam North

    July 1, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    • Oh yes, I read that! Not in Istanbul, a few days at a time is enough for me 🙂 But always happy to pass by when the occasion arises.

      Steven Hermans

      July 2, 2014 at 2:17 pm

  3. […] this newbie freelance journalist in Istanbul, July 1 was a day of celebration in more ways than […]

  4. […] this newbie freelance journalist in Istanbul, July 1 was a day of celebration in more ways than […]


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