John Schofield: 25 years on, the legacy of a young British journalist who died covering conflict

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John Schofield died at the age of 29 while he was covering the Croatian conflict for the BBC.

If you ask a journalist, a good journalist, what they want to achieve in their career, you may hear this: first, to do work that makes a difference.

Second, to hold the powerful to account. Third, to create a legacy.

The first and second can be done through determined reporting, hard work and often a bit of luck.

But the last one, the legacy, is something achieved by the rare few.

In the case of John Schofield, he never knew what his legacy would be.

John started his career as an ITN trainee journalist and then joined the BBC.

In 1995 he was covering the conflict in Croatia, when he was shot by Croat troops. He was just 29.

“John always wanted to go,” Sky News presenter Mark Austin remembers.

“He wanted to be there, to witness the event as it happened, and I remember that because it was exactly what I felt.”

Tom Bradby, the presenter of the ITV News at Ten, says: “The thing I most remember about John is just what a lovely man he was.

“He was a trainee a few years above me and just the kindest, most thoughtful, most lovely man.”

This weekend marks 25 years since John’s death – and it’s a chance to reflect on his legacy, which has changed UK newsrooms for the better.

                              John Schofield: 25 years on, the legacy of a young British journalist who died covering conflict

After John died, his wife, Susannah Schofield, founded the John Schofield Trust.

The charity provides mentoring and training opportunities for young journalists in the early stages of their careers.

“When John died I was swamped by letters that said he was a rising star, that he was going to be the next leading journalist of his generation,” Susannah says. “But the pathetic thing is he knew nothing of this.

“He didn’t think he was rated by his peers, he was constantly looking over his shoulder.

“It is, and it still is, a cut-throat industry, highly competitive. And I vowed that no young journalist should ever be in that position – to die and not know their worth.”

A main feature of the John Schofield Trust is that it pairs young journalists, “mentees”, with a mentor, a journalist who is well-established in the industry.

Like some of my colleagues at Sky News, I’m a John Schofield Trust mentor.

Last year, I was paired with an incredible young journalist from Liverpool called Layla Wright.

I volunteered because, in any small way that I can, I think it’s important to try to create an environment that simply didn’t exist 15 years ago when I was starting out in the profession.

                              John Schofield: 25 years on, the legacy of a young British journalist who died covering conflict

Like Susannah Schofield says, journalism is a competitive environment.

Getting a foot in the door, when I was trying to, was as much as about who you knew in the industry, as what you knew.

And I knew no one.

It’s taken years of hard graft, too many rejection emails to count and, again, a bit of luck to now have the job I love.

Sadly, years on, my mentee, Layla, says not much has changed. That is how the mentor scheme can help.

“Sometimes it still feels like an echo chamber,” Layla told me over a mentor/mentee catch-up. “It can be a really daunting industry.

“I’m a freelancer in Liverpool, I don’t really know many journalists and it’s so important to have a network, a safe space where you can just go and chat and ask questions if you’re feeling worried.”

The proof of the trust’s success is in the diversity of its mentees, who have gone on to have successful careers.

I cheered from the sidelines watching Layla’s new investigative documentary into alternative cancer cures on BBC Three last month.

For Channel 4 reporter Ayshah Tull, being a John Schofield Trust mentee opened doors that might otherwise have remained shut.

She said: “It’s such a vital scheme to get people from different backgrounds into this industry.

“If you think about it, journalism is still overwhelmingly made up of people that have private educations – that are of a certain background.

“My dad was a plumber, my mum’s a stay-at-home mum – I didn’t know anyone.

“Having a mentor that understands how this weird and wonderful industry works, who you can ask really silly questions, is just priceless.”

John Schofield’s life was cut tragically short.

But his legacy lives on.


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