As Marie Colvin is laid to rest, news organizations assess the dangers of reporting from inside Syria

Marie Colvin reporting from Egypt. ()
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Today, Marie Colvin, the legendary conflict reporter and correspondent for News Corp's Sunday Times who was killed in an attack in Syria on Feb. 23 along with French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, was laid to rest in her native Oyster Bay, N.Y., amid a flurry of stories about the difficulties of reporting from Syria.

"She said that going to the dark corners of the world was the justification for the kind of work we do," said friend and BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen, who was among the speakers at a 300-person funeral service this afternoon whose attendees included News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and former assistant secretary of state James Rubin, according to a Guardian report.

For the most part, Western news organizations are currently reporting on the violence in Syria remotely, from posts in nearby Beirut, Lebanon.

Syria has barred foreign journalists from entering the country, and reporting from there has become extremely dangerous. Reports that the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad targeted the media compound where Colvin and other reporters had been staying further fueled news outlets' fears about putting boots on the ground.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

But some have managed to sneak into the country illegally and to escape unharmed with stories to share with the world.

One such reporter is CNN correspondent Arwa Damon. In an interview that was aired on her network last night, she said: "No story is worth dying for, but at the same time, with a story like Syria, and others as well, you have to be there.

"You have to be in it, seeing it, smelling it, listening to it, so you at the end of the day can do justice to what the people are suffering."

Roughly 7,500 people have died since protests against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad began a year ago. Colvin and Ochlik were not the only journalists who went in to document what's happening in Syria but didn't make it it out alive.

It's been almost a month since New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid died of an apparent allergic reaction to horses while on his way out of the country following a clandestine week-long trip with Times photographer Tyler Hicks. (The Assad regime has barred journalists from entering the country through official channels; and anyway, as was the case with Libya, any government-sanctioned reporting excursions wouldn't be expected to yield much in the way of truth.)

Hicks recalled Shadid's final days reporting in Syria in a front-page Times feature two Sundays ago.

Likewise, this week's Time magazine cover story is a feature in which French photographer William Daniels, who was on assignment for the magazine, describes the moment when rockets landed near the house where he was staying with Colvin, Ochlik and several other foreign journalists. Even more harrowing is his telling of the dangerous escape that followed for those who survived the blast, in which a badly injured fellow French photographer was at one point carried on a stretcher through a secret tunnel only to be stymied by explosions.

"It was a nightmare," Williams told Time writer Vivienne Walt. "We were alone. I didn't know what to do. She was saying, 'We have to move. We have to move.' And I was saying, 'Wait, let me think.' I thought, O.K., if this is the time for us to die, it's O.K. But I did not want us to suffer—getting shot and bleeding to death for hours."

Two Western citizen journalists, meanwhile, who entered Syria after being inspired by the live-streaming techniques of the U.S.-based Occupy movement, also managed to escape just days after Colvin and Ochlik were killed.

"The day after I got there, we got the horrible news about Marie Colvin and Remy," one of them, Geoff Shively, told Reuters' Anthony De Rosa in a video interview posted this afternoon. "What we were hearing was that the satellite phones were being targetted ... They can target and lock and we were warned by the Al Jazeera team in there as well that they'll fire a rocket right down our throat if we turned our [communications equipment] on."

Following the deaths of Colvin and Ochlik, and as a result of stories like these, Western news outlets, including two of America's most influential newspapers that maintain bureaus abroad, are being cautious in their calculations about whether or not to send journalists in.

"We're just going to have to see how the situation evolves in terms of whether or not it makes sense to try and send a photographer or reporter in," said Joe Kahn, foreign editor of The New York Times, in a recent interview with Capital. "We were fairly reluctant to put anyone in the country illegally in the first place. And now with what happened to Anthony and then Marie Colvin, we’ll be very, very reluctant to sort of casually say to someone who wants to go in, 'Yeah go ahead.'"

"Two of our correspondents have spent time inside the country in recent months," said Douglas Jehl, foreign editor of The Washington Post. "We'll make decisions about future coverage inside Syria on a case by case basis, while giving paramount importance to the safety of our correspondents."

A few Western outlets have maintained a presence in the war zone. The major newswires, for instance, have continued to file photo content from Syria. And a BBC correspondent just returned from a reporting trip that took him to three cities.

In all, nine journalists have been killed in Syria since the uprising began last March, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The CNN interview with Damon and her two colleagues, cameraman Neil Hallsworth and security risk advsier Tim Crocket, who had been with Colvin and Ochlik days before they were killed, is the latest account to emerge of life as a reporter inside Syria.

Billed as "72 Hours Under Fire: CNN’s Unfiltered Look at Reporting from Inside Syria," the hour-long feature described the team's five-day trek through farms, backroads and safehouses to the city of Homs, which has become ground zero of the Syrian military's offensive. They stayed indoors during the daily morning bombardments and hit the streets to speak with civilians, activists and doctors in the afternoons. Back at CNN headquarters, producers tracked their movements via satellite.

"You get angry that people have to suffer that way," said Damon, an Arabic speaker whose reporting took her to the bedsides of people on the verge of death, many badly mutilated; and into underground bunkers where women cried hysterically because their children were hungry and sick.

"If we cannot have a certain level of compassion that is reasonbly translated in our reporting," she said, "how can we expect people thousands of miles away sitting in their living rooms to even begin to relate to what it is that they’re seeing on their TV screens?"

After just three days in the country, CNN pulled its team out after they received intel that the media house where they'd been staying with a group of citizen journalists had become a potential target.

"I wanted to go back," said Damon. "I don't think we did enough. I don't think we did nearly enough."

This article has been expanded and updated from an earlier version.