A Foreign Correspondent's Frustration Spills Out on Twitter

Rob Crilly was apparently unhappy about some edits to a piece on Libya

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Writers and editors often spar over articles, but one imagines the tension is only heightened when the writer is reporting from stressful war zones. On Monday, Rob Crilly, an Islamabad-based freelance journalist who covers Pakistan for The Telegraph, lashed out at his editor, Neville Dean, on Twitter for, he wrote, reworking a story Crilly filed on Libya's interim government and suggesting that the country's new leaders were refusing to work with Western governments. Crilly, who reported from Libya in August and September, urged Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher to fire Dean, who The Guardian identifies as a deputy news editor. "Hate being a freelancer when you've just gotta suck it up," he wrote to his 8,000-plus followers. As Twitter meltdowns go, Crilly's expletive-laden tirade was catnip for those who like to peek into the sometimes fraught editor-writer relationship. We won't hazard a guess over which side was in the wrong here -- it's not even clear what Crilly got set off about -- but here's how things went down.


Last night, The Guardian's Simon Ricketts captured a screenshot of of Crilly's missives, which have since been deleted.  The screenshot has been widely circulated on Twitter:

The blog Fleet Street Blues also has a screenshot of Crilly's tweets appearing on the homepage of The Telegraph, which had decided to publish automatic feeds from its journalists' Twitter accounts to its site.


We're currently relying on the screenshots above for this story. Crilly appears to have removed the tweets captured by Ricketts, though some remnants of the spat remain. Late on Tuesday, Crilly tweeted, "Completely wasted my time today. Morons." When a fellow journalist inquired, "Spiked? Or given the runaround?" (we're not sure if he was referring to the article or Crilly himself), Crilly responded, "Runaround, but would be nice if editors actually called once in a while. Goes with territory I spose." The Telegraph's automatic Twitter feed on Libya that Fleet Street Blues highlighted also doesn't seem to be appearing anymore.

What's more, it's not clear what article got Crilly so upset in the first place. A look at Crilly's archive indicates no recent articles on Libya, and The Telegraph's Libya coverage over the last few days makes no mention of the interim government's policy toward its Western allies. Perhaps the story was pulled in the wake of Crilly's outburst or never published at all.

We also imagine Nevill Dean might have a very different account of what happened yesterday.


Holes in the story notwithstanding, the feud has generated buzz on Twitter among journalists who know a thing or two about wrangling with editors. Many are sympathizing with Crilly. "I really hope Rob Crilly is okay today," writes journalist Patrick Strudwick. "Everyone who cares about what they do has said something they regret the next day." An editor with the Twitter handle @GingerElvis expresses a similar sentiment: "Hope Telegraph sensible over [Crilly] & don't sack him," he says, while adding that disciplinary action may be necessary. "Seems like good reporter doing stressful job. Having copy ruined is frustrating." But not everyone's convinced. "Why's Twitter ... sticking up for @robcrilly?" asks media consultant Michael Taggart. "Good journo but he was wrong to call publicly for the sacking of someone who made a mistake." In a similar vein, journalist Sam Moir asks, "What good is going to come from venting on Twitter?"

Crilly, for his part, is well aware that picking fights with editors can get dicey. Back in 2008, he noted on his personal blog how editors often mangled his byline but added that he rarely brings this issue to their attention, because "they are a sensitive breed, to be handled with caution." A year earlier, on the same site, he expressed much more enthusiasm about being a freelance journalist than he did yesterday:

Being a freelance foreign correspondent is great. I'm my own boss, picking the stories I want to write, when I want to write them. For weeks at a time I sit around drinking coffee, reading the papers and scouring the internet--and I call it work. Some mornings there's time for 18 holes and I can still be at my desk before London wakes up. Then a phone call and it's a week bouncing around in the back of LandCruiser in northern Kenya, or following Ethiopian troops into Mogadishu, or racing around Botswana's Okavango Delta in a speedboat searching for celebrities.

There's no security. No health coverage, pension or holiday pay. But so what? Other than chief taster at Harvey's, there can't be a better job.

We wonder what he's thinking about the role this morning.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.