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Alumna Wins Award For Refugee Article

Edinburgh alumna Anna Burnside was among winners at the Refugee Week Scotland Media Awards, which took place at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow on 24 June.

Anna Burnside

The awards, which are hosted annually by the British Red Cross in association with the Scottish Refugee Council and the National Union of Journalists, formed part of a week of events aimed at highlighting issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.

Anna’s article, entitled ‘Hope in a Place of Destruction’, originally appeared in the Scotland on Sunday, and focused on a night shelter for asylum seekers set up in a church hall by the Glasgow Destitution Network. It won the National Print (Features) prize.

“This is my favourite kind of writing,” says Anna of her article. “A colour piece that takes the reader straight into a world they might never otherwise experience.”

“The volunteers who give up one night a week to cook a meal and supervise, and the guests (that’s what the organisers call them) who have come from the other side of the world and now have nowhere else to go, had so many fascinating and sad stories. A lot of the things I write about are light and daft so I particularly enjoy being able to tackle something a bit more chewy. The worry, of course, is doing a good job of what is the stuff of people’s souls. I do my best.”

Opportunity

Anna graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1985 having studied Politics here. Although she had wanted to be a journalist since childhood, she admits that she went through University without a definite vision of how her career might pan out. Then an unexpected opportunity arose.

“I graduated into a horrible recession”, she explains. “I sold earrings made by a fellow graduate and made canapés for drinks parties. Then I spotted a Basic Media Skills course for unemployed people at Radio Forth and signed up for that. It was extraordinary and it felt so natural. It dawned on me that maybe journalism could still be for me. I was right and I soon got a part-time job at the Gorgie-Dalry Gazette.”

'Education is never wasted'

Since then, Anna has been a prolific features writer in the Scottish and national press, including stints at the Edinburgh Advertiser, The Dunfermline Herald and Post, Scotland on Sunday, the Sunday Herald and The Sunday Times. She works freelance, too, and her articles can be regularly seen in publications as varied as the Daily Record and The Independent. One particular career highlight was interviewing the Nobel prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, and it was then that her time at Edinburgh came to the fore.

“Getting an hour on your own with someone of his stature is a joy but also a worry”, she says. “No one wants to sound like an idiot. However, my Edinburgh education stood me in good stead. Having taken an honours option in Sub-Saharan African politics 20-odd years earlier, I was able to confidently discuss Nigerian politics (and political correctness, and witchcraft, and how weird Switzerland is) with a world figure. It was a great feeling - education is never wasted.”

Industrial relic

Despite the successes, Anna remains endearingly pragmatic:

“I think being nearly 50 years old and still working as a print journalist is a huge achievement. When I started in national newspapers I thought I had the most exciting job in the world in the best industry in the world. I had no idea that I was, in fact, living through a seismic change in the way we consume and create news and information."

“I am, in my own lifetime, an industrial relic, which feels a bit weird as I still wear Converse and ride a bike, and I try not to bore the young people with too many stories about the old days. But I still use my broadsheet-length ruler, which has my name on it and was given to me on the day I joined Scotland on Sunday as a sub-editor, to measure my knitting.”

Your story

Do you have a story you would like to share with your fellow alumni? If so, email Brian Campbell with the details:

brian1.campbell@ed.ac.uk