The deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya today seems to give ample reason to reflect on the role of visual journalism in covering conflicts around the world.
Often, when the journalists are recognized with all the awards the response is to wonder, often aloud, what business journalists have in documenting this strife. Whether itâ€™s the combat or the lives affected around the conflict, the sensibilities of those of us safe at home are often offended, our lives maybe made a little less comfortable by seeing these reports.
And therein lies the rub, doesnâ€™t it. Hetherington, nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary on the war in Afghanistan â€œRestrepoâ€, and Hondros, a Pulitzer finalist, are killed while covering the civil war in Libya. The question will inevitably be asked, â€œwhat business did they have being there?â€. How important is it really that I have photos of the war there with my morning corn flakes?
As you can expect, I would argue that my morning corn flakes have no meaning if they are part of a routine that keeps me insulated from the troubles of the world.
Too often I hear from readers of my own paper berating us for only covering the bad news. The problem of course is that actual numbers of stories do not bear out this observation. Itâ€™s just that the bad news, the wars, the disasters, that make us uncomfortable and stick in our memories.
But thatâ€™s what they need to do. There will never be any impetus to improve the plight of those affected by poverty, disease and conflict if weâ€™re comfortable with those situations.
Itâ€™s the work of journalists, like Hetherington and Hondros, that forces us to think about these things. Hetherington and Hondros have been honored by their peers, but they should be honored by all society for risking (and losing) their lives to be sure we donâ€™t live in blissful ignorance of the world around us.
Tim and Chris will never return to covering conflict but now is the time to think of all those who put themselves in danger that we might know our world better.