The cruelest month: Mourning journalists killed in Syria

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.

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  • How do you define a “real” journalist?

  • Excellent, reasoned post, Andrew. Doing SPJ proud.

  • Blondy Van Weirden

    In this society, where men are re-elected to office while in custody for crack cocaine, or after they have fled to some South American country with their illegal alien mistress, the faux pas of this talking head will pass. (If a woman had done this, she would have been crucified.)

    Because Williams became a “rock star” of sorts, he has set aside one of the rules of journalism…don’t become part of the story you are reporting. Rock star talking heads are allowed to do that. Hopefully this will curtail that type of behavior by all the other rock star reporters and slow that activity in print and broadcast journalism…for a little while anyway.

    Here are just a few of the Society’s codes that I believe he is guilty of disobeying:
    · Never deliberately distort facts or context…
    · …Pursuit of the news is not a license for
    arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
    · Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if
    others do.
    · Consider the long-term implications of the
    extended reach and permanence of publication.
    · Abide by the same high standards they expect of

  • Edeltraud

    This is an extraordinarily unsatisfactory – murky, gray – analysis from SPJ. A reporter keeps notes, takes photos and is trained to have a very precise recollection of what happened. We observe in a specific way and years later can recall details and almost verbatim conversations. Why would Williams have flawed recall on this one issue and then repeat that flawed story? If a journalist isn’t absolutely sure, she says so and then looks back on notes to find answers..
    When I think of how much time reporters take to be sure they’ve caught the context, the nuances… it’s ridiculous to even entertain the idea that Williams might have been unsure etc. If so, he should have kept quiet.
    If SPJ can’t take a harder stand, well this profession is doomed.

  • DevinDenver

    By “giving “Williams the benefit of the doubt”, are you not diminishing the SPJ Code of Ethics? Regardless of whether he intentionally distorted the facts or “misrembered” them, he was not truthful. Nor, as it turns out, did his apology/retraction/correction come anywhere near the standards of the SPJ Code of Ethics in being held accountable or being transparent.

  • Lanie Peterson

    I agree with Edeltraud. SPJ’s stance is not tough enough. A journalist is supposed to report the facts, not make them up. I think Williams should have been fired. Maybe after the continuing investigation by NBC will lead to his dismissal. –Lanie Peterson


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