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DEAR READER: Photojournalists gave their lives to bear witness

Friday, April 22, 2011 | 4:10 p.m. CDT; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dear Reader:

Both of the photojournalists who died this week in Libya had been to our fair city.

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Chris Hondros, a photographer for Getty Images, helped judge the Pictures of the Year International awards competition three years ago at the Missouri School of Journalism. Rick Shaw, the POYI director, said Hondros was also a frequent winner of the prestigious competition.

“It was an honor to work with Chris,” Shaw said in a note to colleagues.

Tim Hetherington was in town, albeit in a virtual sense, last year. Bad weather grounded him on the East Coast, according to a Missourian report, and reduced his visit to an appearance via Skype before the Missouri Theatre audience.

He was great anyway, and so was his documentary, "Restrepo."

Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent a year with a platoon on the front lines in Afghanistan. The result was a stunning witness to the terror and boredom of war and the close relationships developed from living on the edge of the abyss every day.

After the showing, the two young soldiers from the platoon who stepped on stage were, rightfully, in the spotlight that day at the True/False Film Festival.

But the smart audience knew it had watched something special in these filmmakers, too.

I wondered at the courage it had taken for them to be at arm’s length from the soldiers taking fire and from the one who would never make it home.

Hondros and Hetherington died on the streets of Misrata while covering the fighting between Libyan rebels and the government.

Dozens of journalists will die this year as a result of their pursuit of the news, if recent trends hold. According to the Associated Press article, four have died now in Libya alone.

Attacking journalism and journalists is trendy sport these days. Before you make the next game of it, I hope you’ll recognize the sacrifice of the journalists who continue their daily work to be bear witness to some of the worst that humanity has to offer.

There are war zones for journalists regardless of whether troops are involved. Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema has been beaten twice in the past decade after writing articles critical of his government.

On Friday, he made it clear to the Missourian staff that he knows of the risks – of the ultimate risk – and chooses to continue anyway. He does it to make his country a better place.

I don’t know why Hetherington and Hondros did what they did. I don’t know why they would go to front line after front line, year after year. Most of us aren’t willing to put our lives on the line in our professions. It’s not worth the cost.

We benefit, though, from their courage to shine the light in dark places.


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