Monday 25 August 2014

James Foley: What drives journalists to do what they do?

Like many people I was shocked and disturbed by the brutality of Islamic State in the beheading of American freelance journalist James Foley.

I watched the video of his death earlier this week after finding a clip of it on Twitter. I debated whether I should watch it or not and wondered whether it was disrespectful to Foley.

I did watch it, but I did so because I wanted to understand more about what we're dealing with. The 5 minute video is without doubt uncomfortable viewing.

James Foley was a freelance photo journalist doing his job and in doing so this ultimately cost him his life.

In 2011 he'd worked in Libya during the uprising against Col Gadaffi. He'd been kidnapped by forces loyal to Gadaffi before being released.

When I heard this my immediate thought was why did he go to Syria knowing the risks when he'd already been kidnapped before. But as soon as I thought this, it made me think about what motivates people like James Foley and other freelancer journalists to risk their lives reporting stories from some of the world's most dangerous war zones.

Journalism is a strange industry. There are so many cases where journalism does itself no favours in the way some reporters operate. Think back to the phone hacking scandal which revealed some of the worst aspects of tabloid journalism to the public. Such stories show journalism at its worst.

On the other hand the death of James Foley reminds you that journalism is also an incredibly dangerous profession in which people risk their lives to report and tell stories that we might otherwise not hear.

You realise that journalism is still very much an idealistic and noble profession. All over the world governments, terrorist groups and religious extremists like Islamic State know how influential journalists can be in their reporting and this makes them a threat.

After returning from Libya, Foley took up an editing job for the online website
GlobalPost but it seems life in a Boston office was too dull and the urge to return to the frontline was too great.

Did this make Foley reckless? From what I've read he was certainly fearless and possessed a huge amount of self confidence but I suppose these were the qualities that allowed him to become and be a successful freelancer photojournalist.

In this line of work you have to take risks in order to be in the right place at the right time and to get the pictures to tell the story.

James Foley's tragic death has reminded me of the bravery that he and many other journalists display everyday all over the world reporting and telling stories to the outside world that many others would prefer not to be heard.

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