Journalists grieve for slain comrades in Syria
From left to right: French photojournalist Remi Ochlik and prominent American war correspondent Marie Colvin are shown in this combined image
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2012 10:19PM EST
NEW DELHI- Shelling is a particularly brutal ingredient of war if you consider lethal explosives are fired to the sky without regard or need for an exact target with the sole intent of yielding enough damage to call it a "good strike."
Repeat or sustain that for hours, even days, or longer in the case of Homs, Syria, and you get a sense of the sort of treachery people endure when caught between warring and often unbalanced forces.
On this day, the shelling in Syria centred on a house that was a makeshift media centre where journalists were working and staying. From initial accounts they ran from the house and tried to escape but at least two were killed by either explosions or shrapnel.
Dead are Remi Ochlik, a French photographer in his late 20s, and Marie Colvin, an American reporter for The Sunday Times of Britain who was in her 50s. Others are injured but reports of who they are or the severity of their wounds or how they will be treated are murky at best.
I had met Marie Colvin a few times, mostly recently in Libya. As a journalist she was a legendary combination of authority and grace. To arrive at a place and see Marie Colvin seemed a sort of validation you were in the right place. She was a woman of incomparable bravery and fine humour when levity felt necessary.
If you are unfamiliar with her work with The Sunday Times, a Google search will return no shortage of stories about conflict and its consequences. She covered mostly Arab affairs but also reported from Chechnya, Gaza and Sri Lanka. She lost an eye there to shrapnel, but as one Twitter post recalled, "she recovered, wore an eye patch and returned to work."
In a statement, the editor of The Sunday Times, John Witheroe said, "Marie was an extraordinary figure in the life of The Sunday Times, driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered."
Ochlik was born in 1983 and covered conflict in Haiti and the Arab uprisings. Last month he was awarded a first place finish at the World Press photo contest. The French government says it will demand an investigation.
Violence is intensifying in Syria. Yesterday Colvin did a video report for the BBC and CNN in which she described the situation facing Homs, the battered town where food and water are scarce (not to mention hope).
"I saw a baby killed today," she said, describing the bloodshed as absolutely sickening.
In a report she wrote, "The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one."
Conflict has made for a costly year for journalism. Last week Anthony Shadid of The New York Times died of an asthma attack on assignment in Syria. A Syrian journalist was killed yesterday and a French television reporter died last month when a shell exploded near a group of journalists on a visit organized by the Syrian government.
The conflict in Libya also rendered a terrible toll on the ranks of those who commit themselves to "bearing witness." Yesterday the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual survey of attacks on journalists. You can read the full report at their website.
Even before I met her I admired Marie Colvin for her fearlessness and brilliant storytelling. She cast a necessary light, so to speak, on the sort of darkness that is difficult for many of us to understand. In many cases, her stories allowed people and their plight to exist.
In 2010 she made a speech to London newspaper executives and said: "Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers, children.
"Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.
"We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?
"Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price."
Journalists who report conflict or turmoil comprise a strange community of people attracted by (or sent to) certain headlines. In difficult circumstance you see familiar faces. Often you work in close quarters and share drivers or information or cell phone chargers or Nescafe. You help, you compete, you protect, you argue, you worry.
And on days like this, you grieve.
Follow Janis Mackey Frayer on Twitter at @janisctv