“The Last Column”

“The Last Column”

Photo credit: Alfredo Flores

“Marie Colvin. Samir Kassir. James Foley. Shujaat Bukhari. These are just a few of the more than 1,300 journalists who have been killed in the line of duty. To honor their memories, we gathered a selection of their last works to share them widely with the world. Introducing The Last Column, a way to remember those who gave their lives to uncover the truth, and to demand justice so those responsible for their murders are held accountable.”  Committee to Protect Journalists.

Sponsoring host David Chavern sat down with Hollywood on the Potomac at the Kalorama home of Juleanna Glover and Christopher Reiter to discuss the project.

David Chavern, President and CEO at News Media Alliance

“This is a project of the Committee to Protect Journalists and it fundamentally tells the story of journalists on the edge – out there where we need to find the truth, but also where the most danger lurks. It is the last columns published by journalists who have been murdered. It is fantastically sad, but also it shows the importance of what they were doing right up to the last minutes of their lives and what they were willing to do and sacrifice in pursuit of the truth and great journalism. It’s really a powerful testament as to the value of journalists in the world today and at a moment where we need great journalism more than ever.”

“We’ve gotten very used to seeing journalists reporting from very extreme situations. Maybe we’ve gotten used to it,” Chavern acknowledged. “It happened in World War II with Edward R. Murrow up to the first Iraq war when people were talking about the bombs flying overhead. Sometimes we forget where they are and what dangers are presented and why they’re there. Why they’re there is to be a testament to what’s happening and to tell us that story of what’s happening. Sometimes I think people don’t fully understand just what danger these journalists are in and what they’re willing to sacrifice potentially to tell us what is happening in the world.”

“There’s no central author to the book,” David explained.  “It’s from Daniel Pearl to Adnan Khashoggi and it is the work they were doing right up until minutes before their lives ended. It’s that incredible moment of they’re still doing their work and you can read it and you know what’s happening next. What they’re doing is they’re out there on the front lines conveying truth for us. I think it’s a fantastic idea. We’re in an interesting time where the need for great journalism is clearer than ever. And I think people’s consciousness about journalism and its importance is clearer than ever. People are talking about what reporters are doing, the great journalism we need in society today. At the same time, journalists are under threat incredibly, both from physical threats to political threats.”

“The vitriol thrown at journalists today is incredible. I mean, times are extremely difficult.  One of their number one issues these days is physical security because they get so many threats toward reporters – direct physical threats. Rhetoric creates and furthers an environment of vitriol toward journalists. It really endangers journalists in an immediate physical way. What we don’t see and what a lot of publishers don’t talk about is the daily threats they receive of an immediate direct physical harm to reporters; and that’s over and above people just complaining about journalism. There a lot of people out there who want to hurt reporters while reporters are still going out and doing their jobs.”

Is there a solution to the safety?  “It starts at the top,” said Chavern.  “First of all, I don’t think there’s any president that universally loved the press going back to George Washington. But there’s a long history of them celebrating the role of the press in society in saying that we need a vigorous fourth estate, but that has the ability to put it in context that we may not always agree but we’re in this together and journalists are in this with us. And so we really need some different messages coming from the top would a great place to start.”

“I definitely have friends who have been threatened and we get a lot of vague, crazy threats. But you just find a lot of reporters are getting people who list out their home addresses and talk about their family members and who make very immediate and direct threats that can’t be ignored. It’s actually one of the biggest challenges to news publishing right now that we don’t talk about enough which is just security. The other thing is that journalists don’t like to be separated from society. You can hide behind plate glass but then you can’t tell the story. And actually that’s what this book is about.”