Skip to main content

Opinion: Colvin fought injustice, armed only with words and images

By Hannah Storm, special to CNN
February 23, 2012 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in Homs, Syria, when a makeshift press center was hit by a shell.
Sunday Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in Homs, Syria, when a makeshift press center was hit by a shell.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former reporter Hannah Storm says Marie Colvin was an inspiration to journalists
  • Storm, of International News Safety Institute, says reporters face dangers in course of work
  • Storm: Colvin "shone a light on the worst suffering humans can inflict on each other"

Editor's note: Former reporter Hannah Storm is deputy director of the International News Safety Institute, an organization which works to improve the safety of journalists and news crews working in dangerous environments.

(CNN) -- I was 23 and a graduate trainee journalist when Marie Colvin survived an ambush in Sri Lanka that robbed her of an eye.

To me, she was already part of a small band of women war correspondents, starting with Martha Gellhorn, who were my role models. To me, these women lived the story, gave voice to the voiceless and urged the myopic world to sit up and give a damn.

The romantic in me yearned for their life of exotic travel, dangerous liaisons and hushed confidences over drinks and cigarettes in dingy bars, where stories were written and lifelong friendships made.

The realist in me did not understand the risks then. It wasn't until later that I realised I am not brave enough to be like Marie and some of the women I've met in my work. I've travelled to some dark places and reported from some danger zones, but nothing of the magnitude that she and they have encountered.

I had first come across Marie while doing work experience on the foreign desk at the Sunday Times. To a young, hungry, aspiring foreign correspondent, she was an inspiration.

Hannah Storm of the International News Safety Institute
Hannah Storm of the International News Safety Institute

But her experience in Sri Lanka several years later gave her added gravitas in my eyes. She was a survivor in a world where safety had not yet really become part of the culture and conversation in news rooms and, even then, in the years before the inexorable rise of social media raised the stakes and cacophony of information for traditional journalists, she was a rare breed.

Having decided in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that I no longer wanted to report from these so-called hostile environments, that I no longer wished to do so as the mother of a small daughter, I now work for the International News Safety Institute, a charity that provides safety advice and training to journalists working in dangerous situations.

At INSI, I've seen the risks journalists take and face across the world and I've learned about the people whose names and lives are hidden behind the statistics -- who represent the 120 or so men and women working in the news media killed every year trying to do their job.

Unlike Marie, most of them aren't well-known journalists, reporting for famous newspapers. Most come from countries like Pakistan, the Philippines and Mexico, where ineffective governments and corrupt officials, businesspeople and gangs want to silence them.

'Colvin lived so others could learn'
Amanpour: Colvin gave her life for truth
Marie Colvin's family on her life, work
Deaths highlight danger in Syria

Along with Tim Hetherington and Anthony Shadid, Marie Colvin is probably the best known journalist to die whilst covering the Arab Spring. However, almost 30 more news media workers have died doing their jobs since the uprisings took root across the Middle East last year.

With their unknown names and faces, they are unlike her. But like Marie, they are men and women who felt compelled to fight against injustice, armed only with their words and images.

Marie knew that no war was risk free. And, after Sri Lanka, she knew that more than most.

But she knew too that journalists have a responsibility in helping write that first rough draft of history. In a speech that's been much quoted in the past 24 hours, which she gave at a service in 2010 paying tribute to journalists killed in their work, she said: "Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?"

There are many who turned back before Marie. Her mother said she wanted to finish "one more story". Her bosses urged her to leave the besieged Syrian city of Homs.

One friend, the BBC's Jim Muir, says he sensed in her a vulnerability he'd not seen before in the days before she left for Syria. Shortly before she died, she told another friend, Channel 4 News' Lindsey Hilsum, that it was the "worst they'd ever seen".

And, yet she felt compelled to continue shining a light on the worst suffering humans can inflict on each other, to give voice to the voiceless and expose the truth - in her case at a terrible price.

Her death and that of the brilliant French photographer Remi Ochlick have highlighted risks that journalists take to do their jobs. It has shown that there still remains a rare breed of talented, humane journalist who believes it is worth risking everything to tell the story of the victims of war.

At INSI, we want to pay tribute to Marie and the men and women like her. I hope her death will make the world sit up and realize what's going on in Syria and I hope her death will make people realize the risks that journalists across the world take every day to bring home the news.

Marie Colvin remains for me a role model, the Martha Gellhorn of her generation: An extraordinary woman who combined grit and glamour. Women like her are rare in an industry long dominated by men. Often the risks they face are no different from their male counterparts. But, on many occasions they are.

At INSI, we're launching a book dedicated to the safety of women journalists. In it, 40 women from around the world, including CNN's Hala Gorani, tell of covering war and civil unrest, corruption and disaster. They detail episodes of desperate detention, of kidnap, assault, extraordinary escapes and moments of awe-inspiring bravery, as they share their experiences of being a female journalist.

The decision to put together this unique book was triggered by the terrible attack on Lara Logan in Tahrir Square last year. It went to print just days before Marie's death.

"No Woman's Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters" will be published on March 8, International Women's Day. It will be launched with a tribute to Marie.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Hannah Storm.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT