Journalists like to tell the story. They do not like to become the story.
Unfortunately, during the past several months, journalists have been thrust into the spotlight under tragic circumstances. Around the world, journalists are putting themselves in harm’s way to report on the most important stories of our time and, sadly, the results have been horrific.
In August, the gruesome and senseless murder of James Foley stunned the world. His death was a vivid and painful reminder of the risks journalists take when reporting from conflict zones. Since 2011, 66 journalists have died in Syria alone and another 30 are missing, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. This is not acceptable.
Only a few weeks after James Foley’s death, we were shocked and appalled again by the murder of journalist Steven Sotloff. As with Foley, a video showed the beheading of Sotloff, the second American journalist killed by ISIS.
The murders remind us of the dangers journalists face in seeking the truth, and reporting those truths to us. Reporting from the front lines, they shed light on the darkness of war.
If there is anything good that comes from these tragic and brutal murders, it is the hope they will further raise awareness about the importance of protecting journalists and freedom of the press. These are the men and women who ensure the public knows what’s happening in their neighborhoods and across the globe.
Foley and Sotloff lost their lives because they believed finding and delivering the truth was worth the enormous risk. We will never forget their contributions to the public’s knowledge and the craft of journalism.
While these horrific acts of violence have drawn enormous attention, there are still many journalists at risk on a daily basis. In August, we lauded the fact that American journalist Peter Theo Curtis was released from captivity. However, we must remember that he was kidnapped and held in Syria for nearly two years.
This spring, two reporters — Anja Niedringhaus of the Associated Press and Nils Horner of Sveriges Radio — were killed in Afghanistan. In April, the Newspaper Association of America endorsed an Inter American Press Association (IAPA) resolution condemning the violation of human rights in Venezuela, where more than 100 reporters have been arrested, threatened or victims of violence this year.
These examples serve as sobering reminders of the world we live in and the great lengths journalists go to report on the news.
They believe, as I do, that the free flow of information is a key tenant of democracy and freedom. Without a proper understanding of what is going on, we cannot vote, make sense of world events or hold leaders accountable.
To maintain this freedom, we must prioritize protecting our courageous reporters and their newsgathering processes — both abroad and at home.
As a nation, we are collectively focused on responding to these terrorist threats and protecting those abroad, as we should be. But, we must not forget to protect our reporters on the home front as well.
The free flow of information by journalists gives the public the opportunity and responsibility to understand their communities, their country and the world. And with that, the power to shape them. At NAA, we have been fighting for a media shield law, known as The Free Flow of Information Act.
It’s time for Americans to prioritize our courageous journalists and our right to know. We must protect journalists and honor those journalists who are killed, missing, threatened or held in captivity. It is critical for our democracy.
Caroline Little, president, Newspaper Association of America