lundi, février 20, 2012

My fierce heroes

When I saw last Thursday that New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid had died (of an apparent asthma attack) in Syria, tears sprung to my eyes.

A pall of grief settled over me, one I couldn't shake for a day or two.

That was perhaps to be expected. Shadid, whose dispatches from Lebanon, Egypt and other war-torn countries allowed us to see inside the minds and hearts of the victims of so many battles small and large, was a fantastic reporter.

One could not read Shadid and pretend that one didn't know what was going on.

When he was interviewed and asked why he put himself in harm's way in battle zones like Syria, he answered, with his apparently normal modesty, that if he wasn't there, he was worried that the story might not be told.

Without a small group, really an elect number, of journalists willing to risk their lives to bring us these stories, we would have no more than grainy videos of men, women and children racing down streets and the sound of gunfire close by.

The world grieved for Shadid. So no surprise there. Many of us felt the same when photojournalist Tim Hetherington died last spring in Libya.

What did set me back was the anger I felt at those who take potshots at mainstream journalists.

Honestly, you don't see too many Fox news reporters on the ground in war zones.

I'm not sure why that is.

Maybe Fox is consumed with domestic politics.

Maybe the best foreign correspondents want to work for the WaPo, Reuters, the New York Times or the AP, media outlets that have a long history of amazing reporting from the battlefield.

My frustration stems in part, from how easy it is for some of us, both conservative and liberal, to be critics from the safety of our desk chairs, doling out judgments stolen from someone else's Facebook page.

It's ridiculously easy. I've done it myself.

I don't do crushes much anymore. But I have an unswerving admiration for those journalists (here's to you, Lara Logan) who believe that sometimes the stories we need to read and see involve risk-- physical risk and the risk of getting your heart broken.

I know that, while reading Shadid and others, my heart has been rent many times.

They are my heroes.

When I was much younger, I came across a quote from the essayist V.S. Pritchett, and it became my journalistic motto.

Actually, it's a lost motto, since I can't find it, or even recall where I read it.

But the gist of it was that a writer's craft was to tell the stories of those who couldn't tell their own.

And in my modest way, the subjects I choose to write about (when I have a choice) reveal that bent.

Pagans, clergy in crisis, abused children and Mormons (though they have been flavor of the month thanks to Romney) aren't necessarily the stuff of much mainstream religion reporting -- but their voices are part of the national conversation on religion.

In addition, I am drawn to the middle ground -- to that conflicted, grey area where so many of us spend our lives.

Those are the voices that so often get missed in much reporting, mainstream and partisan.

I will always be impelled to the side story rather than the blockbuster.

That's for others to tell.

I have neither the authority, stature or desire to be a talking head -- it's a prospect that, frankly scares me.

But if I can get a few readers to question something they took for granted, to replace ignorance with a little new knowledge, to open up their minds and spirits to those unheard voices, then I will have done my job for the day.

Thank goodness for journalists like Shadid. They set the standard for small form writers like me.

They are heroes, mentors, and standard-bearers. I watch them disappear down the track as I trudge along miles behind -- just proud to be on the same road.

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