I remember several years ago when an Irish journalist was killed by gangsters the murder triggered a flood of editorials and columns which almost celebrated how dangerous journalism is and how important journalists are to society. I found it nauseating to see glorified gardening correspondents seeking to boost their own egos by invoking the Irish woman’s death. Journalists have a bad habit of making a big deal when a reporter is killed, at least when a white reporter is involved. When a Canadian journalist was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan, the media here went crazy. But who remembers the names of the soldiers killed in the same explosion?
I would have expected the recent spate of stories following the death of Sunday Times Marie Colvin in Syria to be equally irritating. But, through my own work in war zones, I know several of the people who paid tribute to her. They were no superannuated gardening columnists seeking to attach themselves, through vicarious association as fellow journalists, with the dead woman. They are the real deal and Colvin was obviously the real deal too. She knew exactly what she was doing and what the risks were. She was no naïve girly who thought she wouldn’t be killed or kidnapped because she was doing a touchy-feely story about medical clinics for refugees. Nor was she so naïve as to not take death threats seriously. She died because she was prepared to put herself in harm’s way in order to bear witness to atrocity. Her luck ran out; it could happen to anyone. In truth, she was part of an all too rare breed – in which I would not include myself, despite reporting from Kosovo and Afghanistan. So-called “conflict zone reporting”, is a branch of the journalism that is over-populated with frauds, poseurs, the mentally unbalanced and war tourists. Colvin was not one them.