Monday, August 6, 2007

'Every reporter's worst nightmare'

Jessica McBride wrote this recent one-liner, with a link to a story about the assassination of a black newspaper editor in California:
Arrests made in slaying of Oakland journalist
Every reporter's worst nightmare.
That's the entire post by journalism teacher McBride.

Let me preface this by saying that, as a former journalist, I do not want to minimize or understate the courage of those reporters and photographers who put themselves in danger to report the news, in war zones and in other dangerous situations. Many of them regularly risk their lives.

But it is a giant leap from recognizing that bravery to suggesting that "every reporter's worst nightmare" is that he/she will be gunned down on a street corner in the US by masked assassins, as the Oakland editor was.

If that truly is their worst nightmare, they should not lose any sleep over it.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 636 journalists have been killed worldwide in the last 15 years, including 109 in Iraq. From the group's website:
CPJ applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a death. We consider a case “confirmed” only if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment.
Since 1992, four journalists have been killed in the US under such conditions.

One was a Haitian, killed for political leanings, one a Cuban-American exposing a NYC drug ring. Another was a 9-11 victim and the fourth a victim of terrorists who sent anthrax to his newspaper. (Details below.)

What's my point?

That a journalism instructor who is introducing college students to the profession does it a disservice by portraying it as a glamorous, dangerous business where reporters routinely risk their lives. It's far more likely that I will be bitten by a rabid right-wing blogger than it is that one of McBride's students will be shot for some crusading piece of journalism.

They may well get an abusive phone call now and then, an angry email or letter to the editor, but anything more, like even a punch in the nose, would be a rarity. (Read this morning's Journal Sentinel and ask yourself who's likely to be murdered for what they wrote. See what I mean?)

Her students' worst nightmares should be that they end up in a dead-end reporting or editing job where they're just punching the clock and waiting to retire in 30 years.

McBride's worst nightmare should be that someone will fact-check her work.


Details on the journalist deaths:

Manuel de Dios Unanue, El Diario/La Prensa, March 11, 1992, New York City

Cuban-American de Dios, the outspoken former editor of El Diario/La Prensa and the founder of weekly magazine Cambio XXI and monthly magazine Crimen (Crime), was shot in the head in a New York City restaurant. Police believe that more than a dozen drug traffickers and businessmen plotted to murder de Dios in retaliation for hard-hitting stories he had written about their drug and money laundering operations. Daily death threats were telephoned into the offices of El Diario/La Prensa after the journalist's murder.

Dona St. Plite, WKAT, Miami, October 24, 1993, Miami

St. Plite, a Haitian-born reporter and commentator for radio station WKAT in Miami, was murdered at a benefit for the family of Fritz Dor, a colleague killed two years earlier. His name had appeared on a hit list of supporters of ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was the third Haitian-born journalist killed in Miami in three years.

William Biggart, free-lancer, September 11, New York City

Biggart, a free-lance news photographer, was killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The journalist's body was found on September 15 in the rubble at Ground Zero, near the bodies of several firefighters. Biggart had rushed to the scene with his camera shortly after hearing about the attacks.

Robert Stevens, The Sun, October 5, 2001, Boca Raton

Stevens, 63, a photo editor at the tabloid newspaper The Sun, died of inhalation anthrax in Boca Raton, Florida. Authorities opened a criminal investigation into the killing but have not determined where the anthrax came from. However, officials did confirm that the type of anthrax that killed Stevens is the same strain that was mailed to NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw.

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