Responsibility for rising reporters


Have you ever seen the way a piece of meat is cut? The shredding and vicious motion? It is with great disgust that I parallel that to the tragic decapitation of American-Israeli journalist, Steven Sotloff.

I, along with hundreds of other unprepared Americans, mistakenly clicked that play button on Sept. 2. The memory of it still haunts me.

The horror of it all, the stark reality of the video forced me to take a step back and gather my thoughts: what do I do now?

Three years in at the School of Communication at UM and I feel I am three years too deep to go back. More importantly, I have always known I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to shed light on truth and step out of my comfort zone. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a war correspondent, but I did know I wanted to be an international correspondent. And I’ve always known I’m not the only one.

To the millions of you who are drowning in story leads and paper cuts, who are declared journalism majors and aspiring writers, I ask you: What roles will we play in the war? (Should there still be a war when we’re working journalists, that is).

Will our allegiances lie with the American audience or the global audience? And how will we set our priorities?

Ernie Pyle, a journalist for Scripps Howard during World War II, was assigned six months overseas in North Africa. With the humor of Mark Twain and a voice similar to that of Ernest Hemingway, he wrote personal, relatable columns about the GIs he came to live with. Eventually, he died alongside those GIs after being hit by Japanese machine gun fire.

“The Writing 69th” were the first reporters ever to ride shotgun in a bomber through a bombing raid over Germany during World War II. Robert Post of The New York Times died on that fateful mission.

In more recent news, James Foley and Steven Sotloff were both freelance journalists during the Syrian civil war when they were abducted for ransom and eventually used as chess pieces in an upsetting power play. Pyle, Post, Foley and Sotloff are only four of the hundreds we do or do not know about.

For the longest time, the war correspondent has faced conflicting morals. The question of responsibility in wartime has always lied between wanting to swim against the tide of public opinion and wanting to talk about the heroes and the patriotic highlights.

Now, I believe, that question of responsibility has changed to wanting to find the next big conflict to report to a global audience and wanting to maintain self-preservation and safety.

Julian Reichelt, a freelance writer who was in the same area as Sotloff on the day he was taken in Aleppo, admits that “all journalists in war zones operate on the assumption that bad things are what happens to other people.”

How far will we go anymore and what fuels our crazed quest to throw ourselves into the midst of chaos? More importantly, who are we throwing ourselves in the flames for? The majority of the American reporters in the Middle East today appear to be freelance writers. Is it for their country, or an international audience, or is it perhaps for themselves?