By Emily Leayman
For the 12 years he worked for the Associated Press, KU journalism professor Patrick Walters has seen many colleagues die from covering news all over the world. In light of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, held hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, appearing to be beheaded in ISIS videos, he can relate to the loss journalists and Americans alike feel.
Walters had seen the AP lose many people to tragedies such as explosions and shootings. Just in April, one of his former colleagues, a photographer in Afghanistan, was fatally shot.
According to Walters, when an employee for a company like AP is killed, the employer condemns it “as they should.” The employers always reiterate the importance of safety on the job when a death happens.
The countries impacted by ISIS are no strangers to violence against journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iraq holds the record for most journalists killed since 1992 with 166 people. Syria comes in third with 70 deaths.
Walters argues that journalists are not fighting but are just getting the word out. There is always outrage when violence against journalists occurs. This violence is a statement against freedom of information, one of the important U.S. freedoms, he said.
Students involved in journalism and the student government at the university have responded strongly too.
Liz Holland, an aspiring journalist, looks up to foreign correspondents like Marie Colvin, who died while covering Syria in 2012, for putting their lives on the line to report the news.
“No one deserves such cruelty for doing their job and reporting the latest information from one of the most dangerous places in the world,” she said. “As a journalist, it is scary to think of wanting to report in other countries, especially after recent events. However, I think that is what makes journalists amazing.”
Chris DeWalt, parliamentarian of Student Government Board, believes the United States should not negotiate but respond since the Islamic State is hurting so many innocent people.
“ISIS is such a violent force…to the local region and further the international community that it is a threat that needs to be addressed,” he said.
He believes that it is crucial for journalists to keep covering the region, since the international community needs it.
Rachel Mullen, student affairs chair of SGB, agrees, adding, “It’s how you get the word out to your fellow people.”
Mullen, whose boyfriend is in the armed forces, understands the danger of covering the region.
“It’s scary for our people that are trying to go out and do good in the world,” she said.
She stresses the importance of paying respect to the armed forces, the lost lives and the people trying to stop the crisis. However, she believes that more innocent people will die if the United States does not address the problem of ISIS.
In the videos, the anonymous ISIS killer attributed the hostages’ deaths to U.S. airstrikes. A third hostage, British aid worker David Haines also appeared to be executed in a video released on Sept. 13. A fourth hostage, another British aid worker, Alan Henning appeared in the end of Haines’s alleged beheading video as the next victim if the United States and its allies do not comply with ISIS’s demands.
“When you’re reporting in war zones, it’s never going to be safe,” said Walters.
While Walters knows that the job is always dangerous, he says aspiring journalists should not be discouraged, since reporting is a very important job.
“You have to know there’s risk in everything you do,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it.”