As a journalism professor, I struggle to explain to my students what “journalism” really is and what it means. To me, the highest calling of the profession is to bear witness, to be the kid in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” who points out the obvious, and consequential, delusions that society is living under.
In recent days, two humans, a man and woman who were doing real journalism, have died in the line of duty, along with a third man, a photographer.
I didn’t know them, but one of the bloggers I follow, Broadsideblog, written by freelance journalist and author Caitlin Kelly, had this to say about the death of Anthony Shadid:
“Soldiers expect to see their comrades killed, instantly. They often have a medic or Medevac copter to evacuate a wounded soldier…Journalists and photographers working independently, working with local fixers in dangerous territory, do not.
“The next time you gulp down what Facebook — risibly — calls a ‘news feed’ or scan the headlines of yet another celebrity scandal, perhaps mistaking that for journalism, please say a prayer for Shadid and Hicks and all the men and women, armed only with bravery, street smarts, cameras, microphones and notebooks, committed passionately to bringing us the real stuff.
“This is what news is.
“This is what it can truly cost.”
Well stated, Broadside. Read her full post.
And then read her heartfelt words on the more recent death of Marie Colvin. A brave French photojournalist Remi Ochlik also died in the bombardment that took Marie Colvin’s life.
When you’re covering a street paving scandal in some local town, if you care and do the legwork and write with courage, you are performing the work of Colvin and Shadid—you are bearing witness.
Still, it must be noted, they were among a rarer breed, the special members of the journalism tribe who take the greatest risks to get the most consequential news.
They put their lives on the line. That’s courage. That’s journalism.