The recent news of the shooting death of Associated Press journalist Anja Niedringhaus in Afghanistan and the wounding in the same attack of fellow AP journalist Kathy Gannon struck a nerve with me.
The two women were traveling in a convoy in March delivering election materials on the eve of the recent presidential election in Afghanistan when an Afghan police officer opened fire on the women after the convoy arrived at its destination. They were still sitting in a car at the entrance to a police station.
The policeman then killed himself.
Niedringhaus, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed almost immediately. Her colleague was hit twice and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
The slain photographer was the 32nd AP journalist killed in the line of duty since AP’s inception in 1846. That is a lot of people but the number could have been greater in a span of 168 years. AP journalists and those from various news organizations follow the news, often into dangerous places during dangerous times like wars and natural catastrophes. It is a wonder that AP hasn’t lost more of them.
By one count, nearly 200 journalists have perished in Afghanistan and Iraq since 1992.
The shooting of Niedringhaus and Gannon was actually the third attack on journalists in Afghanistan in less than a month.
Way back in my journalism school days, studies of journalistic history, made us want-to-be journalists aware of heroes of the profession, those who risked life and limb to be sure stories were told accurately and that truth was not suppressed.
The two victims of this shooting in Afghanistan were AP veterans there and in Iraq, having served the past few years. They were award-winning journalists who could have walked away at any time and returned to safer assignments in more secure places.
Make no mistake, they are heroes. Military personnel and nationals who knew them could attest to their dedication and their heroism.
I personally have never been a war correspondent, but as a journalist of 40-plus years, I feel the same kinship with these women as any other fellow journalist. It is a terrible feeling to read of soldiers lost on the battlefield, and it is hard to take the loss of veteran news gatherers simply trying to do their jobs, too.
These are people to be respected and honored for their contributions to this noble profession and their service to us all. There are thousands more just like them still deployed in challenging places and circumstances around the world.
They deserve admiration for what is often selfless service.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.