Newseum honors fallen colleagues

After each name was read aloud, the ring of a bell resonated through the studio auditorium that included many relatives, friends, and colleagues of the journalists whose names were being added to the Newseum Journalists Memorial. Some, like Tom Borrelli of The Buffalo News, died unexpectedly; Borrelli fell while climbing steep stairs on his way to a press box to cover a high school football game. 

Others, like Armando Rodríguez of northern Mexico’s El Diario, died in a way that was not entirely unexpected, after receiving multiple death threats. Rodríguez was in his car getting ready to drive his young child to school when he was shot dead by a lone gunman in front of his daughter, Ximena, who survived. His case is not unusual. Two masked gunmen shot and killed freelance online and TV journalist Sarwa Abdul-Wahab as she and her mother, who survived, were walking back from a local Iraqi market.

Such scenarios are all too common. Most journalists killed worldwide don’t die accidently, even including those who die while covering combat. Instead, more than 70 percent of all journalists killed around the globe are murdered, usually in gangland-style assassinations in direct reprisal for their reporting. Even worse, the killers get away with it in over 85 percent of journalist murders.

Newseum Chairman and Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibargüen flagged the ongoing problem of impunity in the murders of journalists, as well as the widespread practice of imprisoning journalists, in his keynote address Monday at the Journalists Memorial Rededication Ceremony. But he noted that the Inter-American Press Association has made progress in recent years in bringing more murderers of journalists in Latin America to justice. Today CPJ is pursuing an Impunity Campaign to try and reverse similar trends in countries from the Philippines to Mexico.

After the rededication ceremony, Newseum CEO and former USA Today Editor Ken Paulson moderated a panel that included Mexico’s Televisa Washington Bureau Chief Gregorio A. Meraz, The New York Times‘ former veteran correspondent Donatella Lorch, NPR’s “Weekend Edition” host Scott Simon, and myself. Paulson asked whether the risks to journalists are rising: The risks to Western journalists have risen in recent years, I replied, but the risks to local journalists in many countries have long been higher.

Televisa‘s Meraz recounted the daily dangers facing Mexican journalists, although he could have been talking about journalists in many other nations. Simon confessed that covering wars has given him “street cred” that has boosted his career. Lorch and I talked about how technology has lowered economies of scale for freelance journalists, who are increasingly on the frontlines of foreign news.

Afterward, a young man approached and thanked me for the panel. His brother, Ryan Rendleman, was a photojournalism student at Southern Illinois University. He died in a traffic accident two weeks before he would have graduated while on assignment for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian. His brother told me Ryan would have loved the discussion.

Intrigued, I checked out some of Rendleman’s photographs on display at the school paper. No doubt he would have had more plenty more to contribute, not unlike the 1,912 other journalists who died covering the news around the globe between 1837 and 2008, and whose names are etched into the memorial’s rising, clear plates of glass.