February 27th, 2012
The cruelest month: Mourning journalists killed in Syria
By John Ensslin, 2011-12 SPJ President
Poet T.S. Elliot wrote that April is the cruelest month.
But so far this year with the numbers of journalists killed in the last few weeks, I would assign that dismal distinction to February.
Syria has been the source of the most heartbreaking news, where the indiscriminate shelling of the civilian population also claimed the lives of two journalists last week, veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik.
Their deaths came one week after New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died of an asthma attack while covering the conflict in northern Syria.
(Though, to be sure, the fourth month is cruel in its own right, as April 2011 brought the deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Libya.)
The loss here is incalculable. All three of these journalists put their lives on the line — as they had so many times before — to describe in basic human terms the harrowing extent of the suffering by Syrians under daily bombardment.
It was particularly chilling to hear Colvin’s voice on CNN as she described watching a 2-year-old child die from a piece of shrapnel embedded in his chest. Colvin was killed the next day.
It was also incredibly sad to read the final dispatch from Shadid, who by all accounts was one of the best and brightest foreign correspondents. Reading his work, you could always detect a well-spring of humanity and his respect for history.
I was especially moved to hear him in an interview describing how important it was for him to share his knowledge with younger journalists.
Their deaths come against a backdrop of a recent Committee to Protect Journalists report, which found that at least 46 journalists died in the line of duty in 2011, the highest level on record.
Colvin, Ochlik and Shadid all lost their lives while answering the highest calling of our profession, to tell difficult and important truths in the face of tremendous adversity.
On behalf of SPJ, I wish to extend to their families and colleagues our most heartfelt sympathies.
In other news: Be sure to tune in to the next episode of Studio SPJ on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 1 p.m. ET when our guest will be Thomas Peele.
Peele is the author of a new book, “Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash and the Assassination of a Journalist.”
Peele was one of the lead reporters in a collaborative investigation into the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey.
The book tells the story of Bailey’s murder, the history of the Black Muslim movement and the cult to which his killers belonged.
The program is hosted by the Northern California chapter of SPJ. Former chapter president Linda Jue will serve as moderator.
To listen to the live broadcast or hear a podcast later, click here.
Tags: Anthony Shadid, Black Muslim, Chauncy Bailey, Committee to Protect Journalists, Killing the Messenger, Linda Jue, Marie Colvin, New York Times, Northern California SPJ, Remi Ochlik, Studio SPJ, Syria, T.S. Elliot, Thomas Peele, war correspondent