By Andrea Pang
It was early morning on April 6, 2009, when international reporter Deepa Babington, J/MS 2001, was roused from her slumber in her home in Rome, Italy, by the precarious swaying of her bedroom lamp.
Moments later, Babington, who was then a foreign correspondent in Italy for the international news agency Reuters, was out of bed, scrambling in the pre-dawn gloom to get ready to head out and report on the source of those nighttime tremors—a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
“I was in this giant rush where all I did was basically throw on the first thing I got out of my closet,” she said. “I took my laptop and just ran — just hopped in a cab and got to work.”
Clad in an old Abercrombie t-shirt, she and a fellow photographer bolted to the city of L’Aquila and were greeted with an “intense sight” of collapsed buildings and screaming people.
Together they witnessed the firsthand destruction of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake — a disaster that claimed the lives of over 300 people, making it the deadliest earthquake to hit Italy since 1980.
“One of the great privileges of being a journalist is to be able to see things that you otherwise couldn’t unless you were one,” she said. “You really do get a chance to be at the front lines of history.”
For 14 years, Babington’s vibrant career with Reuters has led her to the front lines again and again. Today she is Reuters’ chief correspondent for the Greece and Cyprus bureau.
Since joining the news agency in 2000 as an intern, the 34-year-old journalist has traveled to a host of different countries, including Afghanistan, Libya, Italy and Greece. Her assignments have taken her to the war zones of Iraq and to the basement of a hotel in Rome, where she met with former Libyan energy minister Shokri Ghanem after he defected in 2011.
“I’ve always wanted to be a journalist,” she said. “I think I was one of the lucky people who knew what I wanted to do before I got into college.”
In the summer between her junior and senior years at J/MS, Babington landed at Reuters as an intern.
After finishing her internship, she worked part-time for the news agency throughout her senior year.
Once she graduated, she joined the New York newsroom full-time in 2001.
“I was quite lucky that way,” she said. “But I’ve always had my sights on moving abroad… I wanted to become a foreign correspondent.”
That dream became a reality in 2006. After applying for a position in Italy, Babington found herself in Rome as a new foreign correspondent of Reuters — with zero fluency in the Italian language.
“When I actually moved [to Rome], it was the first time I’d ever been to Italy,” she said. “I didn’t know very much about the country. It was all very new.”
But she did not let her inexperience deter her. Her first few months in Italy were spent familiarizing herself with the country’s politics, culture and, of course, its language.
“Every morning I would get the Italian newspaper and take it to the local coffee shop near my house,” she said. “I’d sit there and read every article and underline the words I didn’t know. I’d have an Italian dictionary with me, and I’d go over them, just back and forth.”
Additionally, by working in the smaller Rome bureau, Babington had the opportunity to cover a wide variety of subjects — ones she was unable to do as often while working in New York.
“You really do have much more of an opportunity to go out and pick up whatever story you want,” she said. “And Italy is, of course, a natural place to write about all sorts of things, from art and architecture to fashion and food.”
When she first began, Babington was mostly doing specialized business reporting. Now, from wars to fashion shows, art to politics, the journalist’s experience abroad reflects more than just what is on her passport.
“I’ve really enjoyed my reporting trips to conflict zones, places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “They’ve always been intense experiences, and I’ve always found them to be very enriching and rewarding experiences.”
In late 2011, Babington was posted to Athens, Greece, and was tossed into the chaos of the country’s debt crisis.
“I basically only saw the inside of the newsroom and the inside of my apartment,” she said. “I would be in the office until 2 or 3 in the morning. It was a very intense first year.”
Although the crisis has somewhat abated since then, its effects can still be felt. As bureau chief, Babington focuses on reporting the social and economic impact it has left on the country.
“Now that we’re out of the eye of the storm that we were in in 2012, a lot of my job is to put together story ideas about how Greece has changed or not changed as a result of the crisis,” she said.
Instead of reporting, her duties today mostly consist of writing, editing and managing her team of eight reporters.
“I still love going out on reporting trips,” she said. “I love being able to go out and report on some part of the country that we haven’t written about before.”