Why do we do it?

Michelle Lang’s death capped the “deadliest
year ever
” for media workers, according to the Committee to Protect
Journalists, with reports of deaths ranging from 68 to 130. At Berkeley campus, a panel
of American war correspondents asked the big question: why do we risk
our lives for a largely complacent public

The simple answer is, “They
risk their lives to get the truth
.” But in today’s highly managed
environment, truth is hard to come by. Even the details of Lang’s death have
been suppressed
by Canwest’s embed agreement
, according to noted American war blogger
Micheal Yon. Meanwhile, Thomas Kunkel argues that embedding puts journalists in harm’s way
like never before, with fewer truth-telling opportunities.

The other answer is that we
do it for democracy
– a questionable project in much of the world, if not
here at home. With 40 years of war reporting experience, John Pilger wonders if
journalists can ever truly disentangle themselves from state propaganda and power.
Timothy Appleby writes, “the art of reporting in Afghanistan has evolved into
the art of compromise” – yet the benefits
outweigh the risks
, so journalists still make their way to the

Why? A straightforward reason is the simple and powerful
idea of bearing witness, so eloquently explained by James Nachtway in this
TED talk
. As anyone who has reported from the world’s frontlines can tell
you, whether or not North Americans care about the story, it’s clear people
living in war zones want their daily anguish recorded and witnessed. And they
want questions raised. This is the job handed to us by history.

Michelle Lang was the seventeenth journalist to die in Afghanistan since the latest conflict began in 2001. A full list of
journalists killed in Afghanistan since 1992 is posted here. These have also
been dangerous times for fixers.
Afghan journalist Borhan reports the press corp’s daily triumphs and tragedies
on his blog Journalism Today in

Professional resources:

Journalism and Stress
– an online stress management assessment for
journalists, from the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Journalists at
a community of media professionals with work experience
in hostile environments, including war zones.

J-Source sections:

Military Reporting

Covering Violence and Trauma


Michelle Lang

Committee to Protect

Institute for Peace and
War Reporting

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

International News Safety Institute