Last night on Facebook, I saw in my newsfeed that several journalism school friends were attending a virtual event at 9 p.m. EST -- a #jtoast in honor of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros -- who died earlier in the week in a terrible firefight in Libya.
I snagged a glass of red wine, then clicked "attend" and over to the event wall.
Let's honor them with a drink Thursday (or Friday, if you got a late invite!), wherever you are. Whether it's coffee, water or beer, have one for all the journalists who have died in the line of duty. As journalists, let's stand together for those who risk their lives to get the best stories. Our hearts are with Hondros and Hetherington's families.
Within seconds, the comments from hundreds of fellow journalists, some friends and colleagues of Hondros and Hetherington, but most from people who had never met them before, had me weeping into my keyboard. People thanked them for courage and for the will to tell stories that would otherwise not get told. They remembered working alongside them in newsrooms and in the field. They prayed for their families and for the peace of their souls. They remembered others who have died in the line of journalistic duty.
Hondros and Hetherington were extraordinary reporters, each in his own way. Chris Hondros worked for Getty Images at the time of his death and had made iconic images over the course of his career, perhaps most notably a shot of a five-year-old girl who had just witnessed the death of her parents at the hands of American soldiers. The New York Times retrospective shows his work from Hurricane Katrina to Liberia to Iraq to his final images of Libyan firefights.
Most recently well-known for directing Restrepo, a film about a platoon of American soldiers in Afghanistan that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, 2010, Tim Hetherington was a longtime photojournalist who had recently shot the Japanese tsunami and dedicated years to documenting the war in Afghanistan. His image of an American soldier there that ran in Vanity Fair, where he was a contributing photographer, was the World Press Photo of the Year in 2007. His recent short documentary "Diary" is a compilation of footage from his years of covering conflicts around the world.
Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were not just willing to travel to places of violence and conflict to tell stories. They did it again and again, and there is no doubt that they would have kept on doing it for as long as they were able. As New York Times photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who was kidnaped in Libya in March and released, said:
I will cover another war. I'm sure I will. It's what I do.
They embraced a life that would send most of us running, and in doing so they made it impossible to ignore unspeakable things. Hetherington's friend Jon Lee Anderson wrote in the New Yorker:
I think it’s safe for me to say that what Tim was trying to do by going to war was to look into the souls of men, whose truths are perhaps more exposed in that environment than in any other—and to show the rest of us what he saw. He gave us a legacy in the important work he left behind, and, for those of us who had the honor to know Tim as a friend, a cherished memory of a man whose own soul was very intact.
Tyler Hicks, another NYT photographer kidnaped in Libya with Addario, knew Hondros well, and remembered him in the paper's Lensblog:
He wanted to tell the story. He wanted to show the world what was going on. And he was willing to take the personal risk and make the personal sacrifices to go along with that.
Journalist CJ Chivers was with the men in Libya and has written this wrenching account of what it took to get their bodies home on a ship of evacuees:
There is no way to dress up anyone's violent death, even one faced with eyes wide open. But what these men did for a lackadaisacal j-school grad was to remind me that in a world of good and bad reporting, where media can be a four-letter word and many times it's hard to tell what it is anymore, that at the heart and soul of what reporting is meant to be, there is a true story and a person with the will and the skill to tell it. And for the most extraordinary among us, there is a willingness and courage to travel the world and look fear in the face so certain things do not go unwitnessed.
The Newseum's Freedom Forum Journalist's Memorial is too full of names, like Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, that humble me, that send me diving into gallery after gallery of their work, amazed at their skill and the eyes of the people they captured in images. And while I will likely never do work as extraordinary as that of these two men, what I can't stop thinking this week and hopefully for good is "From where I stand, how can I witness? Whose story do I have a means and the courage to tell?"
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