Light persists: The work of journalism in times of tragedy

On March 13, an American journalist for the New York Times, Brent Renaud, was killed and his partner Juan Arredondo was injured by Russian forces while filming the refugee crisis in Kyiv, Ukraine. The following day, reports came out that Fox News Cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski alongside Ukrainian Journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova were killed in Horenka when their vehicle came under attack, also leaving Correspondent Benjamin Hall injured.

The tragic death of Renaud has been recognized by the New York Times, the American Government and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Likewise, Fox News, Prime Minister of Ireland Micheál Martin and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization put out statements following the deaths of Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova. However, these deaths have also sparked controversy about the safety and purpose of sending journalists into areas of world conflict and danger.

Since the invention of the printing press in 1439, newspapers and journalism have become the foremost way to spread information, especially when powerful people and institutions did not want the public to have access to that information.

From Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, to the Society of Letters in the Scientific Revolution to reports from the frontlines of the World Wars, journalism spreads news, ideas, opinions and most importantly, the truth.

The work of journalists is a necessary element of Democracy. Look no further than the countries in which the press is censored or controlled by the government to display its importance; those who have risked their lives to bring the truth know the grave consequences of their heroic actions.

The Washington Post expresses this important message in their slogan “Democracy dies in darkness.” Even Hi’s Eye, in its own small way, works to discuss difficult topics with a level of transparency in order to educate the WHS community: “For the Students, By the Students.”

The most famous journalists in the history of the American press are those who recognized an injustice and exposed the truth for the world to see: Nellie Bly’s exposé on the mistreatment of the mentally ill in the Blackwell Island Asylum, Upton Sinclair’s work on the meatpacking industry and Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation of the Watergate Scandal. Beyond them are thousands of unknown journalists, whose voices were silenced and their lives taken through their pursuit for justice.

Over 60 reporters died on the frontlines of the Vietnam War, but their intel pushed back against the biased reports from the U.S. government and educated the public with the truth. While fame and recognition are not the desires of most journalists, the emphasis placed on these reports expresses the core importance of journalism; it is the path to change.

The world has lost some of the best journalists and reporters in the recent tragedies, whether they were well-known figures who stood on our screens every day, or quietly held cameras that brought war realities home. These were people who had worked in several other war zones, each time depicting their bravery, integrity and commitment to telling the stories that the world must know. They showed courage and strength that to many would be unfathomable; they did not carry guns; they knew they were at risk and they continued to dedicate themselves until their final moments.

The work of journalists in Ukraine, along with countless other journalists everywhere, should be honored as a commitment to the fundamental rights to truth and the freedom of the press. Journalists protect the foundation of society through their service and sacrifice. Without them, the world would be stuck in darkness.